3 Questions to Ask Before You Pay For Services

A few years ago, one of my coworkers told a story that had our entire department cracking up. He had just gotten married, and he and his wife were living in an apartment while their new home was being remodeled. One night he noticed that the lightbulb in the fridge had burned out. He called his landlord to ask him to come replace the bulb and was pissed when the landlord refused.

My coworker told that story expecting us to agree that he was renting from a total jerk. When everyone burst out laughing, I wish you could have seen the look on his face. “You mean I’m supposed to know how to do stuff like that??” he asked. “Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of renting?”

The Clueless Generation

I tell my dad all the time that I have no idea what will happen when all the baby boomers are dead. It seems like no one in their 20s or 30s knows how to do things for themselves. I have friends who pay people to do their gift wrapping, yard work, cleaning, and even laundry; not because they’re so busy, but because they don’t know how. I can’t think of a single plumber or contractor under the age of 50, because everyone I know shunned trades in favor of college.

I’m fortunate to be a girl whose father didn’t have a son. My dad taught me how to do all kinds of things for myself (though I admit I tend to call him when things go wrong) and it’s rare for me to shy away from the unknown. That said, my dad has a career and stuff of his own to do, so there are still times when I have to make a decision - will I attempt this myself, or will I pay someone to do it for me?

Here are 3 questions to ask before you pay for a service:

1. Can I do this myself?

I mean, seriously, folks. If you can do something yourself, there’s no reason to pay someone to do it for you. However, there are also variables that turn this question into two sub-questions:

A. Do I have the capability to do this? If you’re in a wheelchair, you probably aren’t the right person to clean out the gutters each spring. Similarly, if you need to rewire something and you know zip about electricity, don’t electrocute yourself in the interest of saving a dollar. But with all the DIY videos available online, there is little excuse for not figuring out how to do simple tasks (like changing the lightbulb in your fridge).

B. Do I have time to do this? Let’s say you work 70 hours a week and you need the outside of your house repainted. Unless you plan to paint by flashlight, you probably don’t have time. But many people use the “I don’t have time” excuse when the real reason is, “I don’t choose to have time.” Don’t make excuses - you know darn well whether you really have time or not.

2. Do I have a friend who knows how to do this?

I’m not saying you should bum off your friends or family all the time. But you could always trade something you DO know how to do for something your friend can do. For example (I’ve talked about this before), one of my friends and I trade household chores - laundry vs. mopping the floor. Not because we don’t know how but because we hate certain chores. There’s no reason you couldn’t do that for things you don’t know how to do as well!

Another example: I bought my mom’s gift for Mother’s Day because my sister lives on the other side of the state. Instead of having her Paypal her half of the money, I asked her to fix the zipper on one of my purses when she was visiting this past weekend. Why? Because I don’t know how to sew. It worked out well for both of us.

3. Can I afford to pay someone to do this?

Final consideration. If you can’t do it and neither can anyone you know, you’re probably going to have to pay someone. That is, if you have the money. Unless it is a real emergency, you should not go into debt to pay for any kind of service unless you have a plan to pay it off. If you’re remodeling, you’re probably going to go into debt, at least for a little while. That’s expected. But don’t use a credit card just because you want someone to make you custom window treatments.

It’s almost ALWAYS more expensive to pay someone than to do things yourself. (That is, unless you don’t know what you’re doing and you have to repeat steps or buy extra supplies.) When you pay for a service, you’re paying for the time and materials, but you’re also paying for the value of that person’s knowledge and skill. And when you need something done, you’re pretty much at their mercy when it comes to price.

The moral of this story? LEARN HOW TO DO MORE THINGS.

Don’t pay for services if you don’t have to.

Don’t call your landlord to ask him to change a lightbulb.

You’d be amazed what you can do (and how much you can save) if you really try!

23 Responses to “3 Questions to Ask Before You Pay For Services”

  1. Shellie says:

    I think you just don't know the right people…..I know plenty of 20-30 year olds who do things for themselves, my husband and I included! Not everyone has a dad to call on for every last thing. Not to mention the 40 bajillion DIY blogs out there filled with new homeowners learning the ropes!

  2. Sean@OneSmartDollar says:

    Depending on what the task is I tend to always overlook #1. Moving for example. Can I do it, yes I can. Do i want to do, not a chance. I would rather pay to have that done.

  3. Debt and the Girl says:

    Very well said. We had some tenants that were truly horrible. The woman would whine and complain when she saw a bug and then expect us to pay who knows how much to get the whole place fumigated. Hello? Maybe if you didn't leave food out, there wouldn't be any critters. I felt so sorry for her husband! Needless to say, we were pickier about the next tenants that moved in. I could write a whole post just on that experience alone.

  4. socarr says:

    I have wondered the same thing for years - what is going to happen to us once the baby boomers are gone? I come from a find a way to do it or fix yourself family - my dad also taught me so many wonderful things like changing the oil in your car, changing a tire, etc. My husband has zero experience with any of these things. Just the other week the headlight went out on the driver's side of my car. I was all, no problem let's just get the bulb and change it! My husband was nervous and wanted to take the car in. After explaining it was going to cost over $100 to take the car in for something that will take ten minutes he jumped on board my way fast (the pleasures of owning an import lol)!

    I love my husband and I love his family, but none of them know how to do anything handy - like change a tire, or drive a stick shift. They just expect someone else to do it for them. Of course, he comes from a wealthier background than I do, but I am not sure that is necessarily the reason why so many in our age group are just not very good at doing something themselves. And seriously, there are how-to youtube videos for everything!

  5. Careful Cents says:

    I'm guilty of using the "I don't have time" excuse when I really just don't want to do it (or I don't want to take the time to learn to do it). But I agree, there aren't many people these days who know how to do things for themselves. My little brother (who's 20) is a big example of this. Since he was the baby of the family, he had everything done for him/given to him. So he didn't NEED to learn to do things, which is where a lot of parents think they're helping when they might be crippling the kids. I will definitely ask myself these questions more, because like you said, "You'll be amazed at what you can do if you really try".

  6. Briana @ MTASAHM says:

    I, too, am often shocked at how some people don't know how to do things that I would consider basic knowledge (i.e., changing a bulb, using a screwdriver, etc.) We have a neighbor who called my husband to come over to help her with something….that something was hanging a picture on the wall! She had absolutely no clue how to do that.
    I am definitely a do-it-yourselfer, but I do call professionals from time-to-time. We have a two-story house with a steep metal roof and a home improvement person is more comfortable doing repairs up there than we are, and that is worth the cost to us. But, most everything else is done through our current knowledge or we get the book or look online to figure out how. Great post!

  7. Brian says:

    The very last light is the TRUTH. My grandfather taught me this. I did so many projects with him and learned alot. I also learned that sometimes I just don't have the expertise or desire to do something, but at least I had tried it first and learned from it.

  8. DebtsnTaxes says:

    When I bought my dirtbike I had no knowledge of how to fix mechanical problems. I went out and bought the manual for the bike, which explains pretty much everything I would ever need to know. Sure it takes me longer than it would take a professional mechanic, but I save a boatload of money doing the mechanical work myself.

    When something in our home needs fixing I like to try to do it myself. This sucked when a pipe started to leak. I went online and found a tutorial on how to fix it. Then I went and tried it. I couldn't do it so I called a plumber to come out and he had it done in 20 minutes. Total cost was $80ish, but I also gained valuable knowledge from that plumber as I was watching exactly what he was doing, now I don't have to call a plumber if the problem happens again. I am dumb when it comes to electricity also, but will definitely try to fix electric problems myself first (after reading some tutorials) before calling an electrician.

    I think our generation really needs to start relying on themselves and learn how to take care of problems without expecting someone else to do it for them. Like you said, the baby-boomers won't be around forever.

  9. Debt and the Girl says:

    Very well said. We had some tenants that were truly horrible. The woman would whine and complain when she saw a bug and then expect us to pay who knows how much to get the whole place fumigated. Hello? Maybe if you didn't leave food out

  10. Rafiki says:

    Not only that, sometimes all you need to do is try. Things like changing a light bulb aren't things you need to learn to do, and if by some chance you make it worst, then you can call someone. With the internet as well, a lot of simple things can be DIY if you just make the attempt.

  11. 100wordson says:

    And I would add, on the "do you know someone who can do this" side, learn from them. Sure if you're trading chores you hate, that's one thing, but if you don't know how to do it, learn. My father came and visited last fall and saved us probably over $1,000 in electrical work. Every step of the way, he made sure to show C and I how to do it ourselves so that we can fix some of these things ourselves. Rewiring our entire kitchen is always going to be something we hire someone to do, but fixing a light switch or a single recepticle? We can do that.
    And if you hire someone, hang out with them while they make the repairs (if possible). Watch what they do and learn. We're also very lucky in that our roommate is a mechanical genius (honestly). There are very few things that C and J won't try and figure out how to do on their own, and it has saved us quite a bit of money.

  12. WorkSaveLive says:

    It's not that I don't really want to do the stuff, it's that I just value my time too much. I HATE taking up my time to do tedious crap when it could be used hanging out with my friends or family.

    With that said, if you can't afford to pay somebody then it's a BIG deal to learn how to do it on your own. My wife and I are looking to buy a new house and we think it will be kind of fun to find a place that we can do a little remodeling on. It should be interesting considering I have no clue what I'm doing. :) I fit in with the normal 20-year old.

  13. bogofdebt says:

    My ex couldn't do laundry to save his life-or so he said. I mean, he would literally wait for vacations to bring home his laundry so that "his mom/grandma could have something to do".
    I'm the type who will call my dad if I don't know how to do something and see if its something I can do or if I really should call someone up about it. This year, we bought the bug barrier stuff and lined our houses. I did call the landlord when the shower wasn't working but that's because they had to replace some pipes and the nozzles. We were told that we are some of the better tenants they have because we don't call over every little thing. It does amaze me with some of the things people don't know how to do.

  14. stacyverb says:

    Very timely post, as I just spent several hours with a power sander, working on refinishing an old metal porch glider. And the thought actually did cross my mind how many people wouldn't bother even trying. They would just throw some money at the project and hire someone else to do it, or buy something new instead. That's just not how I was raised. Hiring someone was the last resort, and not just because of money (although that was definitely a factor). It's mostly about being able to take care of yourself, like you're doing now with cooking instead of paying for food that someone else has cooked.

  15. smallivy says:

    One thing you left out is, "Could I make more money working extra than I could save by doing that myself." (This also requires that you actually work over, and not do the cop out of saying you could make more and then spend the time watching youtube videos.)

    If you have a job that allows you to work extra, or if you would need to take time off work to do the job, it might also make sense to hire it out. Remember also that it is the time you would take to do it, not how long a professional would take. It might take a guy with the right tools and experience an hour to replace your water heater, but if he charges $200 to do it and it would take you 10 hours to do it, you would be better working over if you make more than $20 per hour. You also will impress your boss more by working extra than you will by replacing your water heater.

  16. Charlotte says:

    The baby boomers didn't have the internet to learn the How To's of life, they learned from doing it or from their parents. I think you should pick and choose what you want to take the time to do. I'm having my carpet replaced with laminate. I see a lot of people doing it themselves, but neither my husband or I have the knees and backs to do that. On the other hand, if I can fix something I do. The internet has been a big help, but I still call one of our parents from time to time for questions, and I'm 58.

  17. Catseye says:

    I still can't get past the guy who expected his landlord to change the fridge bulb. O_O

  18. Jai Catalano says:

    That's funny. My step father who is 73 is pretty good online. He knows a lot of things most people in his age group don't. He might be slower than some of the youth but he gets it which is a step in the right direction being that he likes spending a lot of time online. Can he change a light bulb? I don't know.

  19. Nunzio Bruno says:

    Great post! I think you missed one question though - am I prepared to deal with a contractor that might be sub par. I've seen some pretty horrific things happen with unfinished kitchens or even businesses that pay for services and what gets delivered is sub par. Part of paying for a service is that you have to deal with the providers and make sure that they really are delivering what they claimed.

  20. @FrugalBeautiful says:

    I think open communication is a great thing- money conversations need to happen in a variety of ways and the "cross pollination" of ideas is vital. Prior to the internet, you typically on had these convos with people with similar incomes/money experiences as yourself- typically family, friends or coworkers.

    Open dialogue about money (or hell, color schemes lol) is important, haha

  21. BalancingMoney&Life says:

    I definitely have a few things I prefer NOT to do. I hire a cleaner, because I hate cleaning my house. But I cook, do my own laundry, and my husband (a Baby Boomer) is pretty handy, and I've picked up a few skills from him. I will often attempt to fix small things myself before calling in a repairman - Google can help you find just about any instructions.

    • Andrea says:

      I can only dream of the day I can pay someone to clean my house! There are plenty of things I do, but I'd love it if that wasn't one of them. :) <p style=”color: #A0A0A8;”>

  22. insomniaclabrat says:

    People I work with are always surprised when I do things like bake from scratch (or cook for potlucks from scratch), or sew costumes for Halloween or skits or whatever. I guess they're all used to buying whatever they can buy pre-made, and I guess Ryan and I were both just raised to do stuff ourselves when possible, and we're pretty self-sufficient. We do a lot of internet searching and calling our parents with questions, but we've managed to handle every minor fix-it situation that has come our way (so far, anyway!).

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