Counting the Time Cost of Purchased Service

As you know, we’ve been talking quite a bit about the way that time relates to frugal practices and frugal though I am, I’ve said that sometimes, it makes sense to pay for a service in order to free up some time.

But as I was cutting my dear son’s hair recently, I was reminded that it’s also important to remember that even some paid-for services have a time cost too.

In short, it’s not always as if the DIY option takes 100% more time than the pay-someone-else option.

For instance, if I had someone else cut my boy’s hair, I’d have to drive to the barber/salon, wait for his hair to be cut, and drive him back home.

I’m guessing that would probably take about 30 minutes of my day, right?

Well, I can cut his hair myself at home in about 20 minutes and then clean up the mess in 5 (less if it’s nice and we can do the haircut outside!).

So, not only does his haircut not cost me anything in real dollars, it also doesn’t cost me any time. In fact, it might save me a whole 5 minutes. ;)

I also remind myself of this fact when I’m tempted to get takeout instead of cooking at home. A lot of times, I mentally figure the time cost of takeout as 0 minutes, but that’s not really true.

(ok, maybe it is if you’re getting delivery, or you happen to be out near your favorite takeout joint. But neither of those things are usually true for me.)

That’s because I have to decide what takeout I want, order it, drive to pick it up, and drive back home. A lot of times, that IS faster than cooking an entire meal from scratch at home, but it’s not 100% faster.

And if you compare the time it takes to make, say, pizza bagels, to the time it takes to order and pick up a pizza, there’s not a lot of difference.

Of course, sometimes I do decide that it’s worth it to pay someone for a service even if it doesn’t save me a lot of time (I sometimes order takeout and I don’t cut some of my girls’ hair).

I’m not trying to say that DIY always saves time and money because that’s just not true!

But when we’re considering the relationship between frugality and money, I do think that we need to take into account not only the time it takes to do it ourselves but also the time we’d spend getting it done by someone else.

And if you’re like me, taking that into consideration might give you the push you need to keep on keeping on.

What do you think? Do you ever find that paying for a service doesn’t actually save you much time?


Today’s 365 post: Well, hello there, end-of-the-math-book!

Joshua’s 365 post: Baby Robin


  1. says

    I’m not the one who actually does the oil changes, so it certainly saves *me* time, but we’ve found that DIY oil changes are a huge time- and money-saver.

    • says

      You have to look at ALL the costs. For oil changes, our car company sends us a discount coupon every time it calculates we have driven the 3000 to 7000 additional miles whereby an oil change is due. Their fee is less than what we would pay for 7 quarts of oil and new filters. Plus, you have to calculate where we would have to dispose of the used oil. Environmental rules apply and the oil can not just be dumped anywhere. That means we have to take the used oil back to the car dealer/repair shop anyway and properly dispose the used oil. Duh?
      For us, it’s more economical and cost-effective to just have the car (Ford) repair department change our oil and do the oil change. As long as we keep getting those discount coupons! Ford ain’t so dumb!

    • says

      We have a really old car, so taking it to a dealer isn’t really helpful for us. There are a ton of coupons in the mail that we could use, but then we’d have to go out of our way to make an appointment iwth a car shop. And who knows what else they might try to find wrong with our car.

      For us, it’s so much easier to visit my dad. On any ol’ regular visit, he’ll pop my hood, take a look at my car fluids, change my oil, replace the filter, and dispose of it all for me. It’s his way of helping me and my husband out and staying in touch with the family at the same time. He ‘s always over at the auto parts store, and just drops the oil there (AutoZone is where we take it, but PepBoys and Sears will also dispose of the items for you).

      So, everyone has different ways. And this is looking at ALL the costs. What is a cost saver for me, might not be a cost saver for Cindy! Or you Lori :)

  2. Jill says

    I would have to say that takeout isn’t worth the time for us. In the time that we take to decide what we want, track down the phone number, call, go get it, etc. I could just as easily have made up a box of macaroni and cheese. Granted, macaroni and cheese isn’t the healthiest of options – but is take out really all that much better?

    I would also agree with Lori, that oil changes certainly save my husband quite a bit of time. He used to do them all himself, but since opening his own business, time-wise, it’s just better for us to hire it out.

    • Kristen says

      I think Lori was actually saying that DIY oil changes save time. I could see that if you have to sit and wait while your oil is being changed…it’s sort of like having to sit and wait for your son’s hair to be cut.

      Although I suppose one could argue that if I was waiting while someone else cut his hair, I could use the time to read or get some work done on the laptop.

      • says

        Yes, for us, we actually save time changing our own oil. Otherwise we end up driving into the suburbs, spending about 20-30 minutes on line at the oil change place and then getting the oil change, and then driving home. So it can easily take 45 minutes or an hour.

        And any time I have to drive with the kids, I have to factor in the time of getting them all in the car. And, actually, even just out of the house. I know that will be much less as they get older, but right now I’ve got one who needs my help with her shoes/socks/coat, one who needs me to get him ready entirely, and both of them need me to strap them into their car seats. And even my oldest can take a while to coax out the door. It can easily take 20 minutes from the time we decide to go out until we’re actually pulling away from the curb.

        So, really, at this point, almost anything that requires me to get all the kids out and into the car probably won’t save me time over doing it at home. ;)

        • Kristen says

          Oh yes! In the years when my four were young, I was willing to do almost anything to avoid having to load them all up and run an errand.

      • Susanna says

        I don’t do oil changes myself – not really sure how – it’s messy – and I have the oil to dispose of – blech! I take mine to the shop and tell them to take their time – they have a/c, tv, and I take a book and settle in to enjoy myself – unfortunately it never takes more than 30 minutes

    • Shannon says

      Weighing in on oil changes, it depends.

      I usually take my car to Wal-Mart, early in the morning, before the crowds. While my car is being serviced, I can do whatever shopping I needed to do there. Since, in my area, their prices are competitive for both oil changes, household goods and dry/ canned goods, it’s a win for me.

    • says

      For me and my VW Beetle, hiring out for the oil changes is definitely worth it. It’s expensive, yes, because my car takes 100% synthetic oil, but considering it literally took my husband 45 minutes to change my headlight (everything is tucked up in there and impossible to get to, also he had to look up how to do it, haha) it’s just easier to ask someone else to do it for us :)

  3. Kathy says

    Sometimes, figuring out cost savings can be very tricky. Take my situation, for example: I have significant arthritis in my hands, neck and back. Believe it or not, for our family, having a weekly cleaning lady saves us money in the long run. If I do much housework, I have pretty bad flare ups in my joints and degenerative discs. That may land me in bed, unable to do the stuff that would be tough to outsource. Stuff like cooking from scratch, taking kids where they need to go, grocery shopping, going on family outings. Having a good family life despite chronic physical problems is priceless!

    • Kate says

      We did something similar a few months after I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. When I was flaring, my husband would be going going all-out trying to manage everything: work, dog, house cleaning, cooking, laundry, trying to make me feel better… HE was on the verge of burnout.

  4. Shannon says

    I think that you are underestimating the time cost to your buy-out son’s hair cut. You also a) have to make an appointment (or risk waiting longer), b) be sure to remember the appointment c) co-ordinate with your husband or another care taker to watch your other kids while you are out of the house.

    Also, the DIY option has a fixed cost of 25 mins, whereas the buy-out option is variable. What if the salon is packed? What if a hair-dresser called out sick/ had a family emergency? What if a logging truck flipped over on the only road to the salon?

    • says

      I agree, at least for our situation. I think for my hubby to go get his hair cut it would take longer than 30 min, if you count the time he leaves the house until he gets back. It’d probably be closer to an hour.

    • says

      I third that idea. Just the washing of the hair and the haircut itself will take about 30 minutes, plus the driving time, waiting time, and making of the appointment. All together I’d say it’s about an hour.

    • Susan H. says

      I also agree. I live in Los Angeles. It takes us 25 minutes to drive each way to the hair salon and at least another half hour in the salon (depending on if they are running late.) You also need to figure in gas costs for the drive. I probably use a half gallon of gas in my gas guzzler car (gas currently 4.33 a gallon for regular.) I’d actually save quite a bit of money if I cut my son’s hair. I keep wanting to try to do it but I’m afraid I will mess up and cut it unevenly. I thought I would wait until summer so at least his school friends won’t laugh at him.

  5. says

    I have been cutting my husbands hair since we moved away from a beauty college (can’t beat a $4 haircut!) Haircuts are something that are hard for me to pay for as my mom went to beauty college and always cut our hair!

    I agree that take-out isn’t necessarily faster and does waste time. However if you do get delivery it can free up time to do other things, so another factor is to consider what you’d be doing WHILE it was being delivered… would you be actually accomplishing something or not (I’d have to go with the usually not, however we don’t usually order delivery – delivery and take out options are limited in my rural area… which helps us be more frugal!)

  6. says

    You really have to take a close look don’t you. I cut small one’s hair and cook 99% of our meals from scratch (I enjoy it, it’s cheaper and I’m fussy) but for the first time in my life I just booked a housecleaner to come next week. I’m not saying that it’ll be a regular thing but boy, having one Saturday of not needing to clean bathrooms, vaccuum and dust…that is so very going to be worth it.

  7. says

    As my newborn sleeps and my husband goes and gets takeout with our 2 year old: The main difference in takeout in our family is not that it saves time overall, but that it saves ME time and energy, because my husband goes and does it, whereas I do most of the cooking. That said, we don’t do it much, unless we just had a baby, which has only happened twice in our lives so far.

    • Kristen says

      Yes. Fortunately that’s something that doesn’t happen every week.

      (having a baby, that is!)

  8. WilliamB says

    I will purchase house cleaning services till someone claws that from my cold dead hands … but I don’t want my housekeeper to put away the dishes. Judging by her efforts, some of the places I keep utencils is non-obvious and it takes me more time to hunt for where she put the large wisk than to put all the dishes away myself. The effect is doubled when you consider that I can sometimes put away the dishes, a few at a time, as I’m cooking dinner.

    I’d rather she spend her time noticing that the top shelf of glassware is dirty and deciding to clean all of them, on her own initiative. (Note to self: give her another raise before someone lures her away.)

  9. says

    I often have the thought that if I just work a few more hours a week, I could outsource things like cleaning. Even though the cleaning takes more time for me than the amount of work I would have to do to pay someone else, I’m not sure I want my life to be about working more and more hours to pay someone else to live it. A balance is important.

  10. Inga says

    I’ve discovered the same thing with getting take-out meals. There are days when I feel too tired and hungry to cook, but here’s the process for take-out:

    1) Make sure my son’s backpack is packed w/ water, emergency snack, epi-pens, etc.
    2) Pile in the car and strap the kid into his carseat. Include all the extra time needed for him do things himself, like his snail’s pace climb into his seat.
    3) Drive to restaurant.
    4) Wait in line to order, then pay.
    5) Wait for order to be ready.
    6) Drive home.
    7) Get together dinner for my son (he’s food allergic and can’t eat out) and get the table ready.
    8) Eat.

    Especially since I have to make my son’s dinner anyway, I’m saving zero time and actually adding time and energy to the process. Somehow, it just seems like a luxury at the time to have someone else cook my dinner, but afterwards I’m always wondering why I just did that! It’s a waste of time and money for us.

    • WilliamB says

      I expect you know the answer but … why not delivery, or calling your order in before you leave? (If the gods were really kind you could call in your order while your son is moving at a snail’s pace.)

  11. Michael says

    While I could probably cut my son’s hair, I choose not to. The one time I did it (mind you he is five), he was really upset with the way it looked. I admit, I’m no hairdresser and I couldn’t get it to look right. Plus he would not hold still to let me do it (like he would normally do for someone else). I somehow nicked his ear in the process, and that inflicted that much more drama into a already dramatic situation. Then while trying to calm my son down – our cat decided to play in the hair on the floor. By the time I was done, we were both in tears. I found hair tracked everywhere and of course ended up cleaning our entire downstairs level because it just seemed to be EVERYWHERE. The next day his dad took him to the barber to get his hair fixed because he was still upset about how it looked. He even told the teacher I cut his hair and burst into tears. I felt like the worst parent ever.

    I guess while doing haircuts on your kids can be frugal, some things are better left to someone else. For me personally, this is one of those things. While it may cost time and money, it saves my sanity and my son walks away happy

    Plus now that I think about it, I remember when my mom went to beauty school and I became her guinea pig. She whacked off my long hair and permed it, and I remember crying not wanting to go to school because I was so mortified about how I looked. To add to the insult, her and my dad held my head up (with me crying and snot running down my face) and took a picture – that I still have tucked away somewhere.

    Yes, this is better left to someone else. I’ll find the frugal somewhere else in my life ;)

  12. says

    Ooh, I love the topic of time vs. money trade-offs! As you noted, hiring things out is not always a time commitment of zero. But there are other variables, like skill level. I have tried to cut my son’s hair and let’s just say the barber does it better. Another key variable is how much you enjoy doing these things. If you hate cooking, then you’re willing to take the time and money cost of going to a restaurant, because having someone else cook has a high utility function for you. Or maybe you value certain things above the time and money cost. Good Housekeeping ran an analysis a while ago showing that school lunch is cheaper than what most people pack. You’d also save the time of packing it. But some people want to control what their kids eat, so they’re looking at that variable instead.

    • Kristen says

      I knew you’d like this! ;)

      And yep, totally agree on the variables. Like I said in a recent post, picking money-saving activities that you hate isn’t especially wise. You’ll be happier and more likely to stick with it if you pick things that you at least don’t despise.

  13. Aubrey says

    I cut both my husband’s and son’s hair, and we love it. We don’t have to wait for an appointment to open up, we save almost $40 every 5 weeks (which we now use for used-to-be-impossible-to-afford date nights! Yay marriage), and anytime my husband has an extra twenty minutes I can sit him down and cut his hair. Now I’m the only one whose hair costs money, but I’m growing it out a bit right now, so it’s essentially free :-).

  14. Jen says

    It all depends on your current lifestyle. I work in town and live out of town so it costs me much less time to pick up takeout on the way home than someone who has to load kids in the car and make a special trip. But it doesn’t cost less money. This is where I sometimes resort to a hybrid solution–stop and buy a rotisserie chicken and pair it with salad and a side dish from home. We don’t do this often but sometmes a week just gets out of control and a $6 take out chicken is much less of a hit to the budget than two entrees and it saves my sanity. Once I get home, though, I never go back to town for takeout as that would be too much of a waste of time and money.

    • says

      I’m with you on that one, Jen. My husband (still getting used to saying that, and it’s been 8 months) is a fan of going out to eat. I did a price comparison of two actual meals we ate: one at a restaurant and one at home. The restaurant meal was a pleasant meal but not a particularly expensive place. The home meal was salmon, rice, and two veggies plus a glass of wine — not a particularly cheap meal, which is why it made a good comparison. The home meal was about one third the cost of the restaurant meal. Hubby is now onboard to think of eating out as a treat or for a special occasion rather than a regular thing.

      When time is super-tight or we are just exhausted, we also do hybrid solutions. Rotisserie chicken, frozen meatballs from Trader Joes, or the occasional Costco frozen lasagna are all less expensive than “from scratch” cooking and still a lot less time/money than takeout.

  15. Ada says

    Wow! So many of you cut your husbands’ hair! My husband cuts his own because I’m too scared that I’ll mess it up and he’ll look weird. He’d love for me to cut it for him.
    So, how did you all learn how to cut hair? Is it not as hard as it seems? He’s got straight, short hair without a very complicated style.

    • Kristen says

      I started when Joshua was a toddler, using an electric clipper. I figured it would be better to make mistakes on a toddler than a teenager, so it was a good time to learn!

    • MelissaZ says

      We bought a kit that had the clippers & different length blade guards & it came with a booklet & dvd that showed you how to do it.

      I cut my husbands the first few times, but now he cuts it himself. I think it’s easier that way ;)

    • says

      I’m in the minority and don’t cut my husband’s hair! I’d definitely do it if he let me, but he has a “man’s” barber that he likes to go to. The hair cuts are expensive ($35 before tip) but he only goes every couple months (he’s balding, so it’s not like he needs it often…) and he loves it. They shave his neck, give him a hot towel…it’s a whole thing for him.
      Can’t wait to cut my kid’s hair though!

  16. Jennifer says

    I do “maintenance” for my husband’s hair (trimming up the sides and neck) and I cut my son’s hair myself. My husband’s hairline is kind of funky, so we feel better getting someone else to do the regular cut. So far as my son, I’ve been cutting his hair since his first haircut, and it has gotten increasingly easier as he gets older and is able to sit without squirming for longer periods.

    To Ada, invest in a pair of haircutting scissors (you’ll thank me, I promise) and watch a few youtube videos. I’ve used clippers for my son when he got a nasty case of cradle cap and I had to cut his hair short, but the noise makes him nervous so I prefer to use scissors exclusively. It still takes awhile and I have to be patient, but every haircut goes better (and looks better) than the last. Hopefully as he gets older, the time savings will improve!

    • Kristen says

      I do maintenance for my own hair…I can go for a while without a real haircut, but my long-ish bangs need to be trimmed pretty regularly. Being able to do that myself means I only need haircuts about twice a year.

    • lindsey says

      I am sooooooo lucky—my husband has hair that falls into ringlets naturally and when I cut it and make a mistake, it is virtually impossible to tell. (Except for the time I cut his ear and he ended up with a giant scab that elicited comments for two weeks from co-workers and even strangers!) He finally learned how to cut my hair, too, so that really saved us money. Once a year, each of us goes to a professional and then for the next 12 months we just sort of maintain it. Cutting each other’s hair has saved us an enormous amount of money.

  17. WB says

    There can be an emotional cost or benefit to some services as well. My son *hated* having his hair cut and every time I did it we ended up quite unhappy with each other. Sure it saved money but it was damaging to our relationship. No amount of time/money saved is worth that. He didn’t like going to the barber but he did much better with it than at home. Great Clips has a mobile app to check the wait time and reserve a spot in line, plus there are usually coupons or specials.

    • Kristen says

      Hee. This is why I don’t cut Mr. FG’s hair. I take forever to do his, and I don’t do as good a job as the professional, and since he has to go to work every day, we decided that as long as we can afford it, out-sourcing his haircut is totally worth it.

  18. says

    I recently splurged on a whole-house cleaning from a cleaning service. It was a nearly half price LivingSocial deal as a way to get me back on track after having a baby, and was absolutely worth the time AND money. But in talking with some of my friends, I have realized that having your house cleaned on a regular basis is way too time consuming to be worh it. Cleaning services don’t declutter; they just clean around it, so to get your money’s worth, you have to clear away the clutter. And with two small children, we had to leave the house for several hours or they would never get anything done. That in itself is a more substantial commitment than cleaning toilets at naptime.

  19. SandyH says

    I can’t tell you how many times I have made the decision to get takeout for dinner, totally committed to the plan, then at dinnertime, when faced with the trip to go get it, cooked something instead. Now, it’s just my husband and me, and I doubt when the kids were little that this would’ve been a very popular choice! In those days even a hamburger out was a real treat!!

  20. says

    We splurged on a house cleaning last summer when we moved. After all our stuff was loaded onto the truck, I had maids come through and do the final apartment cleaning before the landlord looked it over. They did an awesome job and after moving all our stuff out of one place and into another on the second hottest day of the entire summer (over 100 degrees, people), the $300 I spent on maids was SO WORTH IT!! It looked way better than we could have ever done and we were so tired after moving, it certainly saved us some sore muscles!

  21. WilliamB says

    And sometimes hiring the service is the way to go:

    The car battery had been giving us some trouble for the past week. Today roommate needed a jump and this weekend would be an inconvenient time for an unreliable car. At 7.00pm, roommate called AAA to ask about battery replacement. The guy arrived by 7.45, replaced the battery, tested lights/high beams/radio/AC, took away the old battery, and was done by 8.05. The battery comes with a 3 year replacement warranty.

    The cost for a battery, delivered and installed within an hour of calling? THREE DOLLARS LESS than the same battery at AutoZone.

    • Jenn H says

      This is good info to know. I knew I could call for a battery jump but never thought about a replacement!

  22. says

    Talking pizza, I make it for dinner every Saturday. Time taken is 10 mins prep and kneading. Then it rises for an hour (but I’m not required during that time, of course). Spread toms on, add cheese – 5 mins – then pop in oven – probably 1o mins max?
    I can get a piping hot one to the table in less than half an hour (hands on time and watching the oven), I’ve yet to experience one being delivered that quick!
    Oh and one home-made 10″ margarita (8 slices) cost approx. 75p – delivered 10 …
    Case closed!!!! ;-)

  23. EngineerMom says

    On oil changes – a lifetime supply of free oil changes came with purchasing our car, so for us it’s only a time issue. It’s usually a full hour out of my day, but I usually can plan ahead enough to bring my calendar and get my menu planning for the week done, and maybe plan out some more financial-related stuff (like birthday presents, ideas for anniversaries, etc.). My son likes to explore all the cars in the showroom at the dealership, so keeping him entertained isn’t a problem, and my daughter is still at the age where she’s content with a good supply of scrap paper to shred.

    I definitely agree about the takeout time thing in general. However, we occasionally do it also because it reduces the time spent doing dishes in the evening. So for our date nights, I can do all the dishes for the day ahead of time, then just have a few plates and silverware from dinner to load.

    I think looking at the time factor for both options (DIY and hiring out) can be an important step in determining if something is worth DIY. We ended up deciding to hire out our kitchen remodel. Yes, it would be incredibly rewarding to do the work ourselves. But we don’t already have the tools or most of the expertise, plus all those little “tricks” that can mean the difference between a 10-minute project and one that takes most of the day. With our contractor, it took less than 4 days to rip out all the old metal cabinets, add some outlets, replace a single ceiling fixture with four recessed cans, and fix the plumbing. That amount of work would have taken us at least two weeks, and that’s if we had access to regular free babysitting (which we don’t) and my dad’s tools (which we don’t – he’s four hours away), and nothing went wrong (old house – ha!).

    When our kids are older, I’d be more willing to undertake a similar adventure. Right now, it’s worth the money to not be without a kitchen for months on end!

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