What triggered this post was 2 conversations; a local Facebook group asking how much to have an exterminator remove a hanging wasp nest from the house, and my neighbor mentioning how much it costs to get her yard mowed. I ask for a bit of latitude as I explain my position here; I need to share it to explain why this shocked me.
I live in a rich part of the country, the suburbs of New York City. I am an engineer, so I am someone who makes a good salary. I am literally, as is my wife, living the American Dream. My wife’s father is an Irish immigrant who came here in the 1960s after leaving the family farm. The rest of her family and mine came to America 2 generations earlier and were all as dirt poor then as her father was. My father in law literally had dirt floors and a thatch roof in the home he left.
My father is a retired auto mechanic as his father was before him. My parents generation left the slums of Brooklyn, the were born into the tenements, but were able to get good jobs to help lift them from that poverty. While I did join the military to pay for my education, many of the men in my family took their turns when the nation called.
My parents raised me in a clean, safe, but to this day inexpensive suburb of NYC. They got out of Brooklyn, but things were tight. Mom took about 10 years off to raise my sister and I. They did not know how to do a lot on the house, having grown up in tenements and other such apartments. They were able to move into better apartments when NY opened the Projects. That NYTimes article shows how nice they were in the 40s and 50s when my parents left the tenements for that housing. But still, they had to learn how to care for a nice home in the suburbs that was next to active farms. Those farms closed in the 90s after I left for college and the military.
Still, I grew up with the concept that you did as much as you could for the house without paying someone. In the 70s and 80s there was no internet, so mom and dad turned to other tradesmen and women, and they all shared their skills. They still barter their skills that way to this day. Mom’s an artist with oil paint, and dad spent about most of his working life with the phone company, while still working part time as a mechanic. I remember helping them doing telephone repair or car repair for others in trade for plumbing or electric work in the house. Mom also did oil painting on canvas for others; give mom a photo, and she’ll put in on a canvas as big as you want.
That’s how we made it work, and the approach was always about doing as much as you can. I am an engineer now, and am lucky to have skills currently in demand. My wife has a degree as well, and is also doing well. The dreams of my great grandparents in coming to America, and even that of my father in law, have come true.
Still, I have not forgotten the lessons of my parents and grandparents about doing your own work. Last summer, I put in a new thermostat in my home. I could have paid a few hundred for it, but while it took some effort, it really is quite easy. In my area quotes are for $200-$300 to have it done; and that does not include the thermostat.
So my town, like many others, has a local group on Facebook where homeowners ask about who’s a good provider of one service or another. I was shocked when someone asked about how much it would cost to get a wasp next killed and removed from their home. Last year, I had to do that, and it cost me less than $20 for two cans of Raid. I also had a to take a shovel to it to remove the nest, but honestly, it took me all of 20 minutes. They were quoting $450 for that service. I could not believe it. $450 for something that takes 30 minutes and costs $20?
Coincidentally, also this past month, my neighbor, who has a yard about the same size as mine, was telling me how bad it was that she had to pay so much for it. Now I have a expensive mulching walk behind Honda mower that cost me about $500, and one which I don’t have to collect the grass. It’s one of those mulching mowers, and as long as you file the blades, it’s great at mulching the grass. I’m convinced that it’s saving me fertilizing costs as I put the grass back where it came from to rot and “refeed” the grass. Having done the bag and take to the dump as a kid, I find this much easier.
So my neighbor was telling me that it costs them $75 a week to have that done. Wow! Now I have to cut the grass most weeks starting May to October. That’s six month’s a year, or about 26 weeks. That works out to be about $2,000 a year; it’s actually $1,950. Now assuming you stay in your house for 20 years, that will be $39,000.
I went to moneychimp.com for their quick compound interest calculator. I installed a free app version of this one my phone to help me control my spending after reminding myself how Buffet thinks not of the $5 coffee, but of how much invested gains he lost.
If you do a simple 7%, 20 year, compound interest calculation, that $39,000 becomes $93,000. These are becoming very large numbers. Of course, I do my own oil changes on the mower, and I get new blades every other year or so. I also get a professional carburetor clean-out and tuneup from a pro shop every 4-5 years, it’s still a minor cost. I will not deny the time investment is not small, and as chores go, it does suck. If I compare this to my salary time, then it’s below my salary considering it takes me about 2-3 hours to do my yard. It does, get me outside, and it is a big way I can save cash which ends up becoming an investment.
$93,000, when you look at that, it’s real money. Few of my neighbors do their own lawns, and who knows if I will stop at some point. I’ve been doing mine the 7 years I have had this home, and I did destroy one mower once. I hit a stump that I thought was at ground level, and it wasn’t. I bent the drive shaft making the mower not worth repairing compared to the cost of a new one. I won’t be getting all of those $93,000, but it will still be significant.
Would you pay $450 to have someone kill a wasp nest on your home? Do you do your own yard work?