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What I really saved by changing my own battery

When you save money, you are earning money.

By Donna_Freedman Oct 6, 2009 5:47PM

Some readers thought the headline on "Earn $50 an hour: Change your own car battery" was misleading. Their basic gripe was semantic: "You're not earning the money, you're saving it."

That's not how I see it. When you do a project, the money stays in your pocket instead of landing in someone else's. You are paying yourself. You are earning money.

But when I thought it, I realized that the headline is misleading -- just not for the reason those readers thought.

The hidden cost of hiring it out
Suppose I need a new deadbolt installed. I find a locksmith who will do it for a $50 house call plus the price of the lock. The thing is, I have to earn more than $50 in order to pay him.

Social Security, federal income tax and usually a state income tax (only seven states don't have one) come out of the dollars I earn. When I worked in Philadelphia, I paid a city tax, even after I moved across the river to New Jersey.

So I'm probably giving that mythical locksmith the equivalent of $60 or more. Say that I make $10 an hour. I'm handing over at least six hours of my workday.

If I install the lock myself I get to keep my pay, or at least what's left over after Uncle Sam and various state and/or city officials have taken their cuts.

Tool time
Some readers think that DIY in general isn't worth it. "It's a lot easier to write a check," commented one. Another reader suggested, "Spend the money on yourself. You deserve to be pampered by someone else. Let them take care of you!"

Well, of course it's easier to write a check, and who couldn't use a little pampering? But I happen to think that learning new things is a fine form of self-care. The more jobs I can do for myself, the more confident and capable I will become.

I can't say that I love installing faucets, fixing leaky fridges, caulking tubs, replacing window blinds, changing fill valves in toilets or, yes, replacing deadbolts. Yet I'm glad I have done these and other chores as a resident manager. There's real satisfaction in being able to say, "I can take care of that" when something needs fixing.

And by keeping the cash in my pocket, I am spending it on myself. Each time I save money in this way I move a little closer to my financial goals: a home, a decently funded retirement or, within seven or eight years, a replacement vehicle.

Or maybe I'll earmark the money I saved on the battery toward a visit to New Seattle Massage, where my dollars go even further thanks to the 25 percent student discount. Why wait around for someone to pamper me? I can take care of that, too.

Published Jan. 7, 2008


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