When is it worth it to pay for convenience? Do you ever feel guilty about paying for something you know you could do yourself? How do you know if you can afford it?
I think many of my clients struggle with this, and my family does too.
What Does it Cost?
Here are some of the costs of convenience in New York:
- Cleaning Service: $100/week
- Laundry (wash, fold, deliver): $25/week
- Grocery Delivery: Additional $25/week (I spend more at FreshDirect than Trader Joes)
- Landscaping: $50 every two weeks
- Parking garage: $400/month
Ouch, that’s $1,100 per month! Many people spend on rent or even everything monthly.
And these are fairly basic; I left out things that many city dwellers spend money on for convenience, like takeout every night, personal trainers and hair blowouts.
Doing it Ourselves
I am conscious of cash flow and wary of lifestyle inflation. And – I may be in the minority here – I kind of like doing certain things myself. I can my own tomatoes, for goodness sake!
So until recently, we did a lot on our own:
- I had cleaning help years ago, but she stopped coming when we moved to Brooklyn. That coincided with increasing expenses due to a new baby, so I never replaced her. So I have been personally in charge of most of the cleaning and laundry for years (sometimes it feels like decades, haha).
- We never had a nanny or babysitter for our son’s pick-ups and drop-offs. (My son is in school now, but went to daycare when he was a little guy). Hubby and I traded off and coordinated among ourselves. (Full-time childcare was always non-negotiable, however).
- Why pay $400/month for parking when you can park on the street for free? Again, it’s a tradeoff of time versus money. It can take a long time to find a space in my neighborhood, and you need to move the car every day or so because of street cleaning. (And if you ever had to pick up your car at the city tow pound, you never want to do it again!)
- We cook most of our meals at home. Yes, it takes more time and effort, but it’s healthier for the family and costs less too. (OK, we order on Seamless when we’re feeling lazy, but we try to eat most meals at home).
- Landscaping. (Pretty sure my husband was the only man in the Hamptons who mowed his own lawn …)
I have a lot of insight into my client’s budgets, and I know what people spend. It’s probably a little unusual that we did so much on our own, considering our careers and income.
So why keep doing so much ourselves? There are a few reasons.
- It is often the right thing to do. Too many of us spend way too much on things we could do ourselves, then complain that it’s impossible to save for retirement or pay down debt. I’d give us an “A” for retirement savings, but I’d like to save more for other things as well.
- Setting an example. I’m a financial planner, so on some level, I feel obligated to be ultra-responsible financially so I can be authentic to my clients. This includes saving for retirement and my child’s education, as well as being responsible with debt and somewhat frugal. Sometimes I need to tell people to cut expenses drastically to make their budget work. That would have been harder for me if I was spending on those same things.
- Fear. We really couldn’t afford it a few years ago. What if one of us loses our income and we can’t afford it again? (Totally irrational fear; we could always cut expenses like we did before.)
- Guilt. Yep, I feel guilty spending money sometimes. In theory, there is a comparative advantage to my paying someone to do a low-value task (like laundry) so that I may spend more time on high-value tasks (like working with clients). But am I really going to use that time productively? Because if I’m going to spend it watching reality TV, I’d be better off cleaning something.
I know our time is valuable. My husband and I both have pretty demanding jobs, and I don’t want to spend it mopping the floor when I could be doing something fun with my family. And our hourly rates are a lot higher than what we pay someone to do these tasks.
We Are Not Superheroes
Now, that I am pregnant (!) with twins (!), times have changed.
Carrying twins and being a pregnant woman of a certain age is a lot harder than my first pregnancy. I am tired, prohibited from exerting myself physically, and getting bigger every day. Frankly, I need to reduce my stress level and reserve my energy for my family and my business.
We’re suddenly doing a lot more “outsourcing” and it feels like the right thing to do. And no guilt required – I’m doing it for the babies!
Find a Balance
Are you feeling overwhelmed with responsibilities? Taking a few things off your plate can be a big load off your mind.
So what are the conveniences you should pay for, and what should you do yourself? Here are a few questions to ask yourself to help you make a decision:
- What will it cost and how will I pay for it? Credit card? No, no and no. Cutting back on something else? Probably OK, but be realistic. Extra money in the bank every month? OK.
- Are my financial goals on track? Do you have an emergency fund, retirement savings, adequate insurance? Make sure the basics are covered before you go crazy treating yourself.
- What is the benefit worth to me? I really like coming home to a clean house, but I actually never minded doing laundry. Decide what is worth most to you, and prioritize.
If you can afford it (which usually means you have room in your budget to save adequately for the future), it’s all good, and your financial planner will approve. At least I will. 🙂
This material is being provided for information purposes only and is not a complete description, nor is it a recommendation. Any opinions are those of Sara Stanich. The information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but The Stanich Group, LLC does not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete.