In my other life as a gay personal finance expert, I write a lot about saving money, but what about time? That's worth something too, especially if you can save more of it by eliminating some of the tasks you dread doing. From having your groceries shopped and delivered to hiring an occasional housekeeper, here are a few affordable ways to farm out your chores to enjoy life a little more.
1. Yard Work/Lawn Care
There's not much I won't do around the house – I clean toilets, pick up the dog poo, I even scrub the bottoms of those nasty trash cans every once in while – but I try to avoid yard work and mowing the lawn at all costs. I just don't like it, and it takes up more of my leisure time in the summer than I want to give up.
A 2017 survey conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of TruGreen found that of the 12 hours Americans spend in their yards per week in the summer, more than half are used working to maintain their lawns. But who needs that when there are burgers to grill and margaritas to blend?
Hiring a lawn care specialist to tidy up my space so I can enjoy it is worth the cost to me. It's about $500 for the first visit right after a long winter of neglect (there's A LOT to clean up on my small parcel of land) and then about half that or less for a spruce up every other month while the weather is nice; to save money, I don't usually have the backyard serviced from October to May since nobody uses it for recreation. I still have to mow the lawn a few times in between during the summer, but not nearly as much as if I didn't have someone doing the hard parts for me. Rates will vary, of course, depending on where you live and how much work you need done, but it's worth the inquiry if you want to wash your hands of it.
2. Pool Maintenance
Maintaining a backyard pool can almost be a full-time job during the warm months – seems that way, at least – which is not altogether time-consuming in four-season locales, but it can take up a lot of time if you have to do it year round.
Money-saving expert Andrea Woroch says she fought her husband on hiring out the pool maintenance at first because it seemed like an easy job, though admittedly she had never cleaned the pool herself, but eventually submitted when pool care started cutting into his free time.
"The truth was, it was hard to keep up with and he found himself working extra over the weekend to get the right balance of chemicals," she explains. "Not only were we already paying a lot for chemicals and supplies, but it sometimes cost us more to fix issues that a professional would've maintained from the start. We spend approximately $100 per month for maintenance service and this includes supplies, so it really isn't that much more of a cost."
If you want to try out a maintenance service for your pool, ask friends and family for recommendations and collect bids from multiple contractors. You can always try haggling, too.
3. Grocery Shopping
I don't have my groceries delivered on a regular basis, but I've tried several different services to mixed results. The deliveries are fine aside from one or two missing items over the years, but for a couple services, it was hard to justify the additional fees that I would have saved by doing it myself. In one case, there was about a $40 markup on the groceries – and that was with free delivery; I decided not to use that service again.
Busy small business owner Marty Estelle Lundstrom – a senior attorney with a large firm and the founder of Manners Pro, which offers etiquette and social skills classes and seminars – swears by grocery delivery, however.
"I live and die by Instacart and Amazon Prime," she says. "It saves traffic time, line waiting, hunting and gathering in stores, and my budget because I don't idly buy things; I only buy from my list. Instacart can be about $10 for each delivery, but I have an annual membership for $129 (now $149) for as many deliveries a year as I want at no additional cost. But don't forget to budget for tips for your shoppers. Amazon Prime is typically $99 a year and allows for free two-day shipping on many items."
4. House Cleaning
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2015 women spent an average of two hours and 15 minutes per day and men spent one hour and 25 minutes per day performing tasks such as cleaning, food preparation and laundry. Hiring a cleaning service could save the average family nearly six hours per week.
I recently hired a housekeeper to give myself a break, and it's really made a difference. My lady comes every two weeks on Fridays (coming home to a clean house at the end of the workweek totally helps me relax going into the weekend) and she spends about four hours cleaning my three-bedroom home for $70. Very affordable in my opinion, considering that she mops my floors, which is right up there with mowing the lawn on my list of tasks I like to pretend don't exist.
The fee for my housekeeper is rather low I think (I'm a bargain hunter!), but anywhere between $80 and $120 per clean is quite reasonable, depending on the size of your home.
5. Pet Grooming
I've never attempted to groom my dog – it would probably look like Attack of the Flowbees if I did – but some folks do, like Woroch, who has a shaggy golden doodle who needs regular grooming to keep his hair from getting matted and unmanageable.
"We bathe him in our backyard and dry him using our Shop-Vac in the garage, which saves us some money, but we decided after a couple of years that it was worth sending him to a groomer to get a proper haircut every few months," she says. "This costs us $80 each time but saves us so much time. We used to spend over two hours trying to cut and buzz him – yes, it took both of us to do; my husband to cut and me to hold him – and another 30 minutes cleaning up the mounds of hair and then another hour the next day trying to fix the jagged cut. It was always the thing we dreaded doing the most. You can find companies that come to your home to save you the hassle of driving to a groomer and oftentimes there are coupons available for pet store groomers for additional savings."
Check your local papers for pet grooming coupons and deals, daily-deal sites, and the websites of the grooming services.
6. Home Energy Audit
Is your heating and air conditioning system working as efficiently as possible – even if you don't have energy-efficient models? You probably don't know, or you may be trying to fix problems that don't need fixing because you can't find the real culprit. That's where the professionals come in.
"We keep up with general energy maintenance like caulking around windows or sealing drafts around doors, but we have an HVAC company reassess our heating and cooling system every year to ensure there are no leaks in the air ducts so that it runs efficiently to maintain costs," says Woroch. "It gets really hot here so our A/C goes into overdrive and it's really important for us to make sure it runs smoothly and efficiently."
This service usually costs around $120. Angie's List is a great resource for more information on a home energy audit.