DIY Decide It Yourself
April 10, 2008 11:47 AM   Subscribe

Help me create a template for determining when I should DIY or not.

In general, I always vacillate when trying to decide whether or not to do something myself or hire someone to do the task. I've decided it would be helpful to have a decision making template. Here are some othe areas I have been struggling with.
1. Bathroom
2. My tax person just made $4,000 mistake that I wouldn't have made myself. I could do both my business and personal taxes with turbo tax but thought a professional would be simpler.
3. I recently switched my retirement money to a broker who has put it all into mutual funds with high expense ratios as well as his own fee. I tell myself I don't have time to follow the market but I could save money doing it myself.
4. I tore the door baffle/rubber ring on my front loading washer. I have the replacement part. I'll save $200 by doing it myself but frustration/aggravation costs may be high.

Is there a simple formula for making these decisions in terms of time/cost/frustration?
posted by Xurando to Work & Money (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Sure. Estimate how long the task would take you to do. Multiply that by how much you think your time is worth (you could use your hourly wage as a starting point, or raise it if you particularly value your personal time). Compare this cost to what a professional would charge.

Of course, this will have to be adjusted according to your level of interest (or disintrest) in the project at hand...some projects are time-consuming but satisfying, others might be quick but utterly painful and best left to the pros.
posted by Jemstar at 11:58 AM on April 10, 2008

You might want to add "will I void the warranty by doing this myself" to your home appliance repair decision tree.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 11:59 AM on April 10, 2008

Seems like only you can place values on your time and frustration. Still, my general approach is this:

1. How busy I am waxes and wanes. When I'm more busy (or when I have consulting work), my time becomes more valuable, and I figure it on my consulting rate. When I'm less busy, I think of my time as worth something like my salary rate (based on an absurd 40 hour/week assumption) or slightly less.

2. I determine whether I'm likely to get something out of the job. (i.e. Will I learn something? Will I enjoy doing it?) I assign those things a value.

3. I weight the time it will take me (with an allowance for the value in part 2) against the cost of getting a professional to do it. I also try and determine whether a professional will do a better job than I would. If not, I adjust the math accordingly.

Finally, if I find I'm unhappy with the answer I come up with using this procedure, I go with my gut. For example, if I find it's much more cost-effective to do something myself but I REALLY don't feel like it (and I can afford to pay someone else), then I realize that I underestimated how much I didn't want to do the job and pay someone. Conversely, when I'm frustrated at work, somethings a task using my hands and very little brain power is therapeutic.

When all else fails, flip a coin. If you say "damn" at the outcome, you know the answer.
posted by JMOZ at 12:01 PM on April 10, 2008

All three of the previous answers are excellent and I'll one more to the mix.

I can only speak to the home improvement and appliance repair questions. I always try to assess how often I will use the skills in the future.

Appliance repair (for me) is a no-brainer. I will ALWAYS be repairing stuff, I have good resources online, parts are much, MUCH cheaper than labor. I do the appliance repair.

The bathroom (for me) was something I hired out parts of. The labor is the most cost, but! The skills required to do the work that I wanted to have done had a pretty steep learning curve, I didn't want to be without my bathroom for the incredibly long time it would have taken me to learn the skills, and the tools to do the job I needed were too expensive to use just 1-2 times. So, here is how I broke it down:

- Design, research and selection of materials = us
- Demo = us
- Framing for straightforward bits = us
- Electrical and plumbing replacement = experts
- Stripping wood built-ins and restoring them, purchasing and installing medicine cabinets, doing all of the finish woodwork = us
-Refinished old clawfoot tub, outside = us
-Refinished old clawfoot tub, inside = expert
-Tile work and installation of large bath fixtures = experts
-Installation of glass shower stall = experts
-Installation of faucets, hooks, towel bars, etc. = us

I had the tools and skills to do the parts of the work that we did. And it wasn't cost-effective for me to buy the tools or learn the parts of the work that the experts did. Though if I had been younger (I'm in my early forties), without a toddler and knew I would have another house someday, I would have wanted to learn it myself.

posted by jeanmari at 12:14 PM on April 10, 2008

I consider myself to be pretty handy around the house but there are plenty of things I would never attempt. Every situation is different buy these are some of the things I think about when deciding whether or not to DIY (in no particular order):

Will I get personal satisfaction out of doing this? I did two rooms over in my previous house, my first shot at home improvement, and every time I walked into them I got hit with a jolt of pride. Well worth it, even though it probably took me ten times longer than it would have taken a pro, though I only had a few hours a week to work on it. Even watching water go down a drain that I’ve unclogged is satisfying.

What would I really be paying a professional for? Is this a job that requires a huge amount of skill or specialized tools, or is it just some niche industry that most people can’t be bothered with DIY? Washing machines are generally easy to fix once you figure out how to take the top off. Remember these things are built to be serviced, unlike, say, a digital camcorder. A lot of people don’t realize how easy it is to find parts for home appliances.

What happens if I do a half-assed job, will it be obvious? Tile in the bathroom, no thanks. I’ll be looking at that shit for the rest of my life and cringing every time I take a shower. I’ll let a pro do that. They know the tricks, I don’t. Putting up drywall? Sure… doing it right just takes time. (and I freely admit I may be ignorant about the differences)

Will I be able to re-use any skills I learn or tools I buy in doing this? The answer is almost always “yes”, but if you only have one bathroom you probably won’t be tiling it again for a long, long time. Will you ever use that tile-putter-upper-thingy tool again?

Can I kill myself if I fuck up, or burn down my house, or flood my basement? Strangely enough, I have no problem doing electrical work. I can use a volt meter and I’m not going to touch something that is live. I can do the math and not overload the breaker. Climbing up onto my roof, however, is not something I’m comfortable with. I’m leery of plumbing work beyond unclogging drains because what if it breaks when I’m on vacation and I come home to an indoor swimming pool.

Where are my skills? I’m good with tools, I’m good with electronics and electro-mechanical stuff. I’m not great with financial stuff. I’ll put up shelves and fix my laser printer, you do my taxes.

How valuable is my time? Do I want to spend 12 hours doing my taxes or can I pay someone a couple hundred bucks to do it?

If something goes wrong, do I want to be the one to blame or would it be better to blame someone else? There aren’t too many things I’ll do with my car, I’d rather take it somewhere.

How “fun” will this job be?

How much time do I have to do this? Will it matter if it stretches out longer than I planned? That spare room you don’t use, you can spend six months fixing it up. Maybe not so with your kitchen.

Can I get by without it if I get stuck in the middle? Again, maybe not your bathroom.

How hard will it be to find a pro to do this? Ever try to find an electrician to do a small job?

Will it be a hassle arranging to get a pro out here? Will you need to take the day off to wait around?

Do I have friends who can help me? Not just physical help, but sometimes just having a friend who can give you advice is a huge help.
posted by bondcliff at 12:19 PM on April 10, 2008

Will I likely have more than one occasion to do this? If so, then the experience of doing it the first time will help make subsequent times faster and better. Even if I hire someone else in the future, my experience of doing the task will help me in hiring someone (I'll find out about techniques or trouble spots that I can discuss up front).

Am I likely to injure myself?

Would I likely be exploiting others by depending on cheap labor (e.g. landscaping work)?

Am I so picky that a typical approach to solving the problem won't satisfy me? Or do I have special circumstances that will make my problem difficult for a randomly-selected contractor to solve?

Do I know someone who can recommend a really fabulous contractor, or would I just be going with the luck of the yellow pages?
posted by amtho at 2:17 PM on April 10, 2008

I feel your pain- it is maddening to hire a professional to do something you *could* do yourself, and then have it backfire.

My thresholds are these-

-will it COST me money to do it myself, and result in no greater benefit? Meaning, will the tools and materials outweigh the labor savings?
-will I be ignoring more important things to save this money? Am I taking a day off of work to save $50??
-do I *know* the person I hire will do as good a job as I will?
-can the pro do it a million times quicker than I can? I'm not mounting my own tires... (I have done my own alignment, however. Took for-freaking-ever.)

Just as an example, the only thing in your list that I would leave to the professionals is the mutual funds. I don't have the time or attention span to follow and compare stocks/funds. I would have done a little more oversight on what the person did.

And as a real aside, you cannot violate a warranty by doing your own work.
posted by gjc at 4:59 PM on April 10, 2008

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