Paycheck Chronicles

Budgeting for Help


My husband is getting ready to deploy early next year, and he will be gone most of the fall in preparation. I've been tweaking our budget to reflect the changes that his absence will bring: a little less money on food, a little more for babysitting. Less on gas, more on babysitting. Less on car insurance, more on babysitting. Did I mention babysitting?

One issue that comes up every deployment is whether we should try to make room in our budget for help around the house. I can usually convince myself that a cleaning person isn't worth the money, but yard work is another issue. I've been trying to rationalize, from a purely financial perspective, how it makes sense for me to hire a person to cut my yard. It costs me $50 to have my lawn mowed and it needs to be done about every two weeks. Okay, I admit it, it probably should be done more often, but I can justify the last five days of long grass because "the lawn guy is coming in a few days." Fifty dollars is a lot of money, but what would it cost me to do it myself? (Keep in mind that I'm trying to make a case for this expense, so my numbers might be a little skewed.)

First, there is the time. We have a pretty big lawn, and I'm not a fast mower. I figure easily an hour just for the mowing, and then I'd never get around to stuff like edging or sweeping. I don't make anywhere near $50 an hour, so what other costs do I need to consider? From what I can figure, it uses about 1/2 gallon of gas to mow my lawn, plus more for the edger and blower, so I can add at least $2 to the bill. We just purchased a new lawn mower, so that expense is taken care of. However, I do know that even a simple trip to the lawn mower repair shop can cost nearly as much as a new mower. I've estimated that our lawn mower goes into the shop every 2 years, at an average cost of $75. Figuring bi-weekly mowing for seven months a year, that is $75 every 15 mows, or $5 per mow.

I can't figure out any more actual expenses, and I'm still searching for a "good" reason to justify hiring someone to cut my grass. How do I calculate the value of not having to worry about that job? I find it really hard to do that. What I do know is that I feel so much more relaxed when I'm not worried about how long my grass has grown. I leave my house several times a day, and I feel tense each time I return if the lawn looks terrible and I know that the only person who can fix it is me.

Obviously, our specific financial situation is a factor as well. While we don't have a lot of spare cash lying around, I think we can manage the expense of having the lawn cut without making the rest of our budget unworkable. There have been times in my life when the decision would be more difficult for purely financial reasons. At this point, I'd rather work a little more than have to worry about the yardwork.

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