Focus on Finance: Do it yourself or call a professional?

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By Frank Anderson

Question: What items in my life should I do myself and when should I call a professional?

Answer: This is a question I have faced many times since I married and became a home owner and a vehicle driver. I think it depends a lot on your capabilities, your confidence in your abilities, the time you have available, and your willingness to learn new skills. Doing your own work can save you a lot of money if you are successful and can cost you a lot of money if you attempt something far above your skills. Recently my 40 year old son called to find out about the Akebono brake pads I have been bragging about. He was going to replace the brake rotors and pads on his car and save money. He went through the same difficulties I have gone through doing that job, but in the end he saved $100 and gained a skill. I am going to list some of my experiences in the “Do it yourself” area and the savings I have achieved.

Doing Taxes. I am convinced anyone with a college education should be able to do their income taxes provided they are not complicated by estate issues, large incomes, tax shelters etc. Just a normal 1040 with interest and dividends should be a snap if you have the time, the inclination, and will read the instructions. I admit I am a numbers person and like this kind of thing. Complicated tax issues should be taken to a tax professional/ CPA. I estimate my savings at $500-800 per year.

Mowing my own grass. I can do this and it is fun to get outside, and I need the exercise. I have a $1,200 mower that will last 20 years. I think I save $60 per mowing for my 0.8 acre vs. paying a mowing service. At 32 times per year that saves $1,920.

Oil Changes. I have been changing my own oil for 30 years. I do our two vehicles and my daughter’s. Savings is about $10 per change. At 6 changes per year that’s $60. Lying on your back under a car is not for everyone and it is a dirty job. You may want to let a professional do this one.

Minor car maintenance. I can do brakes, spark plugs, battery changes, belt changes, bulb changes and other simple items. I love mechanics. It is hard on the hands and body. It is dangerous if you are not careful. If you love getting greasy and skinning your knuckles, you can save some money here. I started doing this when I was younger and did not have the money to pay someone.

Tire rotation. I do this once per year for each car. Savings is $25 per vehicle for a total of $75.

Home repairs/modification. I have limited carpentry skills, but I have enhanced them by working on Habitat for Humanity homes and Habitat Home Repair projects. Recently I removed all the fixtures and cabinets from an old bathroom and turned it into a closet. Estimated savings $1500. The Habitat ReStore took all the items removed.

“Do it yourself” is not for everyone. It involves a lot of hard work as well as saves a lot of money. The decision to be made is whether this is beyond your skills. Also, do you enjoy working with your hands? If you do, try a project and save a few dollars. It is the American way.

Frank Anderson is a successful retiree living in Hardin County.