Things We Shouldn’t Pay For

As I read the daily news, I can’t help but wonder about the causes of our current economic downturn. I know the reasons that are propounded by economists and business leaders and I understand, generally, the current credit crunch. That said, I also wonder whether our economic problems might not boil down to a bad case of “the Emperors’ New Clothes.”

By the late 1990’s my wife and I would listen to our colleagues discuss their purchases. Some of you may recall that a decade ago, it seemed that a better, faster computer with greater memory seemed to hit the market every six months. We knew many people who were buying new computers at least once per year. That amazed us because most of the people we knew were using their computers only for word processing. Indeed, our employers at the time were upgrading their computers even more frequently, even though many of the employees still did not even use their computers. We knew that practice of upgrading had to end eventually, and it did.

We have similarly all witnessed the evolution of coffee from a commodity beverage to a luxury beverage. Gone are the days of the ten cent cup of coffee that I remember from my childhood. By the late 1990s, people – most of whom did not even understand the difference between coffees – were spending crazy sums of money to buy expensive Jamaican, Hawaiian and Yemeni beans by the pound and specialty coffee drinks by the cup. Maxwell House, a dominant brand in the 1970’s (and still my current brand) became a dinosaur.

So it seemed to my wife and I, even a decade ago, that our economy was due for an eventual collapse, or at least an adjustment, because so much of our economy was based on purchases that people did not really need to make. Even now, as I look around in my community, at a time when nationally thousands of people each week are laid off from their jobs, we still see so much spending that does not make any sense. For example, forty years ago, I do not believe you would have encountered anyone spending money on the following:

Yard Maintenance: If you were born before 1970, and you lived in the suburbs, chances are good that you have done yard work in your life. I grew up mowing our lawn, manually edging it, using manual hedge trimmers, weeding and doing any of a number of yard maintenance tasks that needed to be done. My parents worked in the yard after work. We did not hire people to do it for us.

Home Security: In my youth, home security was limited to a dog. Some families also had guns. Today, everyone I know has a home security system. The systems cost a significant monthly fee – I think ours is about $100 – but still people I know with systems have been burglarized because criminals usually know how to get around triggering the systems. Nevertheless, they are still “must haves” when buying a new home.

Swimming Pool Service: A swimming pool is expensive to own and operate, but at least where I live, having one is also essential if a homeowner wants to be able to sell his or her home some day. That does not explain, however, why so many homeowners rely on swimming pool maintenance services to maintain their water quality and to keep their pools clean. Especially here in Florida, where most pools are enclosed in screened areas, there is not a lot of effort involved in maintaining a pool. Despite the relative simplicity of maintaining a pool, homeowners still pay to have “the pool guy” come to their home once a week to measure the water quality and to make sure that nothing is floating on the top of the pool (and their never is).

Lawn and Shrub Service: Just as with yard maintenance, suburban Americans do not seem to want to learn how to take care of their plants. Lawn and shrub services are only too happy to come to private homes to spray chemicals once a month. Such services rarely consider the specific needs of a particular yard. Rather, they spray whatever is recommended for the current month. If a customer is not satisfied, they might come out to spray more, but they do not bring any personalized attention to the care of the property.

Basic Automotive Maintenance: It is not difficult to change the oil in a car. It takes just a little bit of knowledge. There are any of a host of other automotive services that car-owners can and should be able to undertake for themselves. Do you really need to pay someone to change a tire or to replace a burned out tail light?

What other household services can you identify that people use but should not need? Are there any services that you use that you feel that you can and should do without?

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24 Responses to Things We Shouldn’t Pay For

  1. Jean Calderon says:

    House cleaning!
    Unless you are elderly or disabled, or have health problems, you should do this yourself.
    I actually do this for an elderly couple, but I can’t imagine paying someone to clean my own house.

  2. Sometimes what looks easy, is not. When it comes to water management in a swimming pool you are best off leaving it to the pros (just make sure that the pool guy/gal is properly trained and certified). Proper water balance (sanitizer, pH, TA, CH and cyanuric acid) will add years to the life of the pool surface and equipment. If a homeowner is knowledgeable in water balance and is aware of pool chemical safety your advice is usually fine. However, if small children are in the home who will advise you regarding entrapment hazards? How will you safely store the chemicals needed? Oh, and by the way, if you are maintaining your own lawn be certain that chemicals for the lawn do not blow into the pool. If they do, what actions should you take? Just some food for thought.

  3. Tom says:

    Nail on the head. You just described all of my unnecessary household expenses. The only one you left out is house cleaning. My wife insists that we bring in a professional house cleaner biweekly because I’m “a slob,” which is basically true, but I’m not sure that I’m a big enough slob to justify $150 a month for someone to come in and vaccuum and mop.

    And for the record, I would be glad to mow my own lawn were it not for crippling allergies. I mowed my parents’ lawn from about 1978-1994, at very reasonable rates.

  4. lizajane says:

    Snow removal!
    Sure it’s handy to have someone come plow your driveway when it snows so you don’t have to do it, but it’s not what I remember. My dad used to get up early to snowblow his way out of the driveway. It was a 500-foot driveway. The rest of us would go out with shovels and finish the cleanup since we had a snow day from school. I remember wanting to help when I was little and using a dustpan!! Now people with teeny driveways pay someone to come plow them out!

  5. Daniel says:

    Regarding ‘auto maintenance’: I agree about changing lights, wiper blades, checking fluids.

    However, changing the oil (economy service) is roughly the same cost at our local station versus doing it yourself, and you get to stay clean. I think there may be a dollar or two difference.

    Changing a tire? How many people have the ability to remove a tire from the rim, set the new one, and balance it?

    If you mean for a flat, then I agree. Paying a towing company $75 for that is pretty stupid.

  6. Maismom says:

    Car wash. I wash it myself.

  7. Jim says:

    There’s a reason people don’t drink Maxwell House anymore. They realized it tastes like dirty feet. We live near the Melitta roasting plant in NJ. They have warehouse sales twice a year and I get my coffee there.

  8. Amy says:

    Cooking…there are services now that prepare the meals for you to pick up!

  9. Ann says:

    Laundry is one that comes to mind. (Never laughed so hard as when my brother asked my mother whether or not she still washed her own sheets, etc.!)

    That being said, there are HUGE downsides to having someone do outside maintenance!

    After paying a fortune for grub and japanese beetle decimation, while doing some things myself, I found a BUNCH of grubs and had to re-treat the areas closest to my neighbor who does nothing about the destructive beasts (who also draw other beasts like moles and critters that tear up your lawn into your yard!).

    I am unable to trim most of my trees myself and watched one group do it all wrong (along with trimming shrubs) before I went back to taking care of the shrubs myself and finding someone knowledgeable about how tree limbs SHOULD be removed.

    I have a long driveway and some bad knee problems and used to pay to have someone plow my driveway. Last spring, I got fed up with them also plowing my lawn, so, when I purchased my John Deere, I also purchased the snow blower attachement — no more plowed lawn and I can now treat my 3/4 acres of lawn with what I want, when I want it!

    I’ve had various services at various times for reasons of both time and knee constraints, but am most pleased when I do it myself. If someone doesn’t know how to do something, asking questions and/or a little research can bring you up to speed fast and doing it yourself makes you much more aware of what’s going on with your stuff — invasions of diseases and bugs outside, etc.

  10. spicoli says:

    i feel that i cannot live without my toaster. It’s the perfect invention because it heats up my meal nice and fast when im in a hurry in the morning.

    Once, this lady tried to tell me that a microwave was a luxury because it speeds up the process of cooking food and it isnt the only meathod possible. To this i responded that riding in a car was a luxury and that she could just walk everywhere.

    Yes, i know i sounded like a snotty 7 year old but hey, i love my toatser.

  11. I had to learn a lot about home repair when we owned our own home. A little bit of online research and videos, and a trip to the hardware store, and I was able to repair the kitchen sink and a leaky pipe on the water heater.

    I’ll admit, though, I usually go to jiffy lube or somewhere to get my oil changed. When my husband has time, he does it. He tried to show me how to do it once, but it made me nervous being underneath the vehicle. lol I know, it’s silly.

  12. Diane says:

    There was a time when my ex-husband paid for a lawn service and also paid for a house cleaning service twice a month, rather than help with anything.

    I clean my house, my sons mow the lawn or I do it myself, I trim the bushes, do the landscaping, I don’t have a pool (partly because I don’t want to do the maintenance), no snow here, so that’s not a problem.

    We do basic home repair ourselves, including painting, minor plumbing & electrical work.

    Unless it’s something we’re not capable of doing, I think we’ll do a better job.

    I do pay for basic car maintenance, as I’m NOT a mechanic.

  13. Pingback: Sometimes It’s Worth Paying - Blog

  14. Persephone says:

    I think indefinitely using a personal trainer at the gym is a waste of money for the vast majority of us who are not wealthy. I know women at the gym who have been working out with a trainer for years. They seem to chat with their trainer as much they exercise. I think the trainer has become a crutch for them. For the record, the fittest people at the gym do not use trainers.

  15. Cindy M says:

    I really can’t identify with any of this but also can’t resist making a few comment. I shovel my own snow, clean my own house, have never worried about home security even though I live in a borderline neighborhood (I say let them have my stuff; there’s almost nothing I own I could not do without or replace easily). I used to buy gourmet coffee but found I could easily live without it; cut my own grass and grow my own flowers (and my own hair, for that matter). I was the proud owner (where I lived before) an in-ground pool I maintained myself for 11 years with few problems (but quite a few worries with the ornery neighbor kids, nonetheless). I’ve been divorced 20 years and managed/manage to do all the above pretty much on my own; have even changed the oil in my car. I will say I can certainly understand, aging as I am, why people end up wanting to live very simply, with no yard (and a very short driveway if any). Downsize, downsize, downsize. When I retire, I swear I plan to live in a cracker box, eat every meal out and be gone all day long, doing volunteer work when I’m not on the road traveling.

  16. Gail says:

    I am disabled but find that doing housework, especially the sweeping and mopping, are very beneficial to loosening the muscle tension in my neck and shoulders. Maybe someday we will need to hire someone in to help me out, but for now I take it a little bit at a time and do what I can. We rarely have company so as long as we find our house liveable, who cares. My disabilities flare up and down and I have ‘chores’ and things to do for every stage of how I feel. Even on super bad days, if needed, I can shove laundry in the washer.

    Due to allergies, we can’t do our own lawn cutting, so that is hired out. Hubby works at home so if we get snowed in, so what? Although I have had a lot of cabin fever this winter, I used the time productively. Some things we pay to have down to free up hubby to do his paid work and other things we don’t even have like a pool so those aren’t worries that we have.

  17. Patti S. says:

    Taxes. Every year since I can remember I have done my own taxes. And I have done my fiancee’s taxes. Turbotax costs minimal to electronically file state taxes and charges nothing to file federal taxes. They have an audit monitor tool and online assistance should you need it. Also, they keep past records on file so if you lose your paper copies or your electronic copies in a computer crash, you can log in and get them at any time.
    As far as oil changes, around here they cost the same as doing it yourself as we are charged an oil disposal fee. Not worth the hassle since the cost remains the same.
    One thing I think is funny that people use are interior decorators (not trying to stir up trouble here for those who do this line of work). Unless you avidly show your home and need everything in its place, what would you need an interior decorator to do?

  18. Diane says:

    Taxes – yes, I do mine with Turbotax also. I do have to pay as I need the longer form, but it’s still reasonable and guides you through the process quite well.

    I like doing things myself whenever possible, it gives me a feeling of independence.

    Dog grooming is another one! I can’t believe people pay someone to bathe and groom their dogs regularly. I bought the equipment years ago, replace as needed and do it myself. If you don’t want to do the grooming get a short haired dog!

    I also cut both my sons’ hair (ages 17 & 22) and now my boyfriend’s hair as well. I’ve saved 1000s of $ over the years on haircuts.

    After learning to groom dogs I taught myself to cut hair when my 1st son was a toddler.

  19. Gail says:

    Haircuts! I’ve saved our household much money over the years with cutting hair. Even now I cut my hubby’s hair and if I’m not up to it, he trims it himself. I however go and get my haircuts done professionally during the spring through fall. I missed my last appointment in Dec. and haven’t made another one and won’t until the snow quits. This is a luxury for me as most of my life (even as an adult) my mother cut my hair or I just let it grow as there was never enough money in the budget for me with the ex. My husband knows how getting my hair done increases my self-esteem and sense of well-being and he likes me looking nice, so this is a splurge yet needful thing.

    This is part of being frugal and that is to be able to afford the things that are important to us and for me about $100 over the course of a year for my hair to get fixed is worth it especially as the meds I take make my hair fall out and a decent hair cut is the only thing way to make my hair look decent.

  20. Diane says:

    Haircuts – I do get my hair cut at a salon, as no one here is able to cut it. I don’t consider that an extravagance as I go to a reasonably priced place. I do color my hair myself.

  21. Damon says:


    Go to, type in your favorite commercial application (like Photoshop, Windows, etc) and it will come back with the commercial apps as well as open source apps, with user ratings and a description.

    Then get crazy and throw Ubuntu (a flavor of linux) on a spare computer and see what you think. I promise, if you give it a couple weeks, you’ll be hooked.

    Just check out the add/remove feature… it actually lets you download software!!! What a novel idea.

    And in case you feel like there’s no way you could do it, my mom is running it; she’s 56, and not the most tech savvy.

    There are plenty of free online resources to help you, and you’re already here so you know how to get around. Add up what you pay for commercial software, then what you pay for someone like me to take all the adware and viruses off, and it just doesn’t make sense.

  22. Damon says:


    Almost forgot this but this one really irks me. If you buy satellite radio, you get commercial free radio.

    If you buy satellite or cable tv, you get just as many commercials as you do on free tv.

    I’m down with OPT, (yeah you know me!) That’s our flavor of Public Television / PBS, and there really are some great programs on there.

    But we really shouldn’t be spending a lot of time in front of the tv anyway. Then pay $35 to hundreds a month, just to see a bunch of mediocre entertainment interspersed with a ton of advertisements for crap we shouldn’t be buying anyway (or talking to our doctor about), that seems insane as well.

  23. Bill R. says:

    I agree with most of what you’ve said, but I have to echo the sentiments of Tom Donaldson. Maintaining a swimming pool is not as easy as it seems. Storage of chemicals, etc… makes it a bit more complex than “set it and forget it.” Regardless, there are many things that we have become accustomed to that perhaps we should rethink.


  24. jstrada says:

    Having a home security system is a home trend to keep. I think that having a home security system is a wise investment. It adds an extra layer of protection around your home and family.

    Joe Strada

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