Stop Depending On Others to Fix Everything

I was listening to the radio the other day and the DJ was talking about how he had to call someone to come fix his garage door opener. No matter how much he pushed the button, it wouldn’t open. There was no sign of life from the thing; even the overhead light didn’t work. So he called an electrician to come out and look at it. The electrician was there for three minutes. He took a look at the outlet that the garage door opener was plugged into. It was a GFCI outlet. (If you’re not familiar with these outlets, they are the ones with the test and reset buttons and they’re commonly used in wet areas, like bathrooms, kitchens, and outdoors because they can detect a problem and break the circuit faster and more accurately than a fuse or circuit breaker.) The outlet had tripped during a storm a few nights earlier. The electrician pushed the reset button, charged the DJ $100 for the call and his time and left. The DJ felt like a fool.

This story summarizes the problems a lot of people have these days. We have become a world where we don’t know how to do even simple things for ourselves anymore. Many of us can’t cook a simple meal, change our own car’s oil, build a simple bookcase, sew alterations, clean our house, replace a flat tire, repair a broken toy, paint a room, mow our own lawns, or handle routine maintenance of our own homes. It’s not always a matter of “don’t want to,” but rather, “don’t know how.” We’ve become dependent on one of two things to handle our problems: Either we pay someone else to do it or we simply go buy a new item to replace a broken one. Either way is expensive.

In days gone by most people, male and female, had a basic knowledge of how to do many things. They had to in order to survive because they couldn’t just call someone to come out and deal with their problem. And replacement items were generally prohibitively expensive. Today there are few people who know how to do a little of everything. Most people focus on honing one skill set; the one they rely on to make money. A person may be a master welder at work but when it comes to maintaining his computer, he’s clueless. The extraordinary chef probably can’t figure out how to change a flat tire. Very few people today are handy enough to handle most of the routine repairs and maintenance that life requires.

The obvious problem with our dependence on others (aside from the question of what you do in an emergency when there is no one available to help you) is that this dependence eats away at your finances. If you have to pay someone every time you need something done, you’d better be using the one or two skills that you do have to make a boatload of money. Otherwise, you are quickly going to be broke. The DJ had to pay $100 for an electrician to push a button. A neighbor of mine recently called a plumber to remove a clog that could have been dealt with by some Draino or a snake. Another neighbor suffered serious water damage to his house because his dishwasher went haywire and he didn’t know where the emergency water shutoff valve was in the house. By the time the plumber got there, the house was flooded. A friend hired me to install some software because she simply didn’t know how to do it. And on goes the list of our inabilities.

This isn’t to say that you have to be great at everything, or that you have to attempt things that are dangerous. If you’re not comfortable rewiring your house or climbing on your roof to do repairs, by all means call someone. If it’s an emergency and you just don’t have time to figure it out for yourself, call in some help. There are times when you need professional assistance and it’s worth the expense. But when you’re calling someone for every little thing, it’s time to get over your lack of ability and start learning to do things for yourself. So when you want to increase your skill set, what do you do?

Get a book out of the library: You can find books on electrical work, cooking, gardening, cleaning, home repair, woodworking, and just about any other subject you could need to know about. Check some out that interest you and read up on basic techniques.

Attend a class: Most community colleges and trade schools offer classes to the general public in areas like auto maintenance, computers, first aid, cooking, basic electrical work, gardening and more. The classes are usually very affordable and you’ll earn your enrollment fee back the first time you do something for yourself.

Go online: There are lots of sites that can help you solve your problems. Some come with tutorial videos to show you what to do. is one of my favorites, but a quick Google search for your problem will likely turn up tons of results.

Ask for free help: At Lowes, Home Depot, and local hardware stores you can usually find an employee who has the skills you’re trying to learn. Pick their brains for information. You may have friends or coworkers who know what you need to know. Ask around.

Try it: Whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish, just give it a try (as long as it’s safe and you’re reasonably able bodied to do the task). If you screw it up, then you can call someone. But chances are you’ll be able to figure it out. You learn more by doing than by sitting passively by and watching someone else work. Get your hands dirty and go for it. If it doesn’t work out, you’re probably no worse off than you were before.

Branch out and up: Once you get the basics of something down, try some advanced things. If you’ve mastered changing your oil, try replacing your brakes next. If you’ve mastered one dish for supper, try another, more complex dish next time. Keep building on what you’ve learned to gain more skills. The more you push yourself to try new things, the bigger your skill set becomes.

Don’t quit: If it doesn’t come out quite right the first time, figure out why and try again. There’s a reason it didn’t work, you just have to find it. And when you do, you’ll know for the next time.

Once you begin mastering new skills, you’ll begin to see the benefits. Not only will you save a lot of money, you’ll gain more confidence in your ability to handle varied tasks. You’ll become a person that others look to for help and advice. You’ll increase the skills that you can use to make a living. If your main job peters out, maybe you can take your woodworking skills and build some furniture to sell, for example. You’ll also be keeping your brain active and helping to stave off degenerative mental disease. Who knows? You might even find your great calling, quit the day job you hate, and begin a new vocation as a baker. At the very least you’ll become a person who isn’t handicapped by lack of knowledge.

This entry was posted in Education, Frugal, Housing, Personal Finance, Saving Money. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Stop Depending On Others to Fix Everything

  1. Paula says:

    Great blog! I grew up in a lower middle class family. My father was considered to be a “jack-of-all trades” because he could fix cars, do electrical and plumbing. He would never think to call someone to fix something until he tried to fix it first. This was mainly because we didn’t have much money to spend on repairs, but also because he loved to tinker with stuff and find out how things worked. In fact, family, friends, and neighbors would stop over or call if they had something that needed fixing because they knew my dad could probably fix it for them.

    I, myself, have tried fixing small things like leaky faucettes and toilets and have a basic knowledge of how to troubleshoot car problems. Every time I am able to fix something myself, I gain a little more confidence. Luckily, if something is really difficult, my dad is just a phone call away for advice!

  2. Jackie says:

    Lots of good points. Personally, I’ve heard that changing break pads and whatnot is pretty easy, but I would still go see a mechanic. I would hate for my inexperience to cause a brake failure on the highway. But other stuff, definitely. Every time I learn how to do something new, no matter how small, I get a lovely sense of accomplishment.

    Over Mother’s Day weekend, we were clearing downed limbs from my grandparents’ house and my dad showed me how to use the chainsaw. :)

  3. Paula says:

    Just wanted to add that about a year or two ago, our relatively new washing machine overflowed and wouldn’t spin. We didn’t know how to open it up and look at it, so we called the service department where we bought it. Guess what? It was a simple clog from the detergent that we used and it cost over $100 for them to simply clean a small tube that had a buildup of lint in it (that the service guy said we could have used a pipe cleaner or something to get at!). Geez!

  4. ThiNg says:

    Let me throw in a dissenting opinion.

    I disagree. I believe in the saying “Jack-of-All-Trades: Master of None”. I did the learn everything I could thing for the longest time, and I suffered far worse financially then having to pay for some repairs. I lost a lot of money in salary because I didn’t specialize. I should’ve put less emphasis on my general studies (I work in Software Development, but have a degree in Sociology!) and more time and effort into learning everything I could about my career.

    I understand that the article isnt saying that you can’t find a happy balance, but I just wanted to note, as a person who can do car repairs, computer repairs, and home DIY, I am now devoting ALL of my spare time to learning for my job. Any extra things that need doing, I hire someone.

    My gardener doesn’t need a PHD to mow my lawn. But apparently, I do need one to make top money in my field!

  5. Gail says:

    Even as a kid I wanted to learn how to run an economical household: cooking cleaning, sewing, etc. I married a guy who always studies up on whatever needs done and it makes life so much simpler to be able to do things ourselves.

    I can understand trying to be top in your field to earn the most money, but having the knowledge on how to sew a simple seam or button is also a huge savings.

    I went to college over 30 years ago and I couldn’t believe then how few girls knew how to cook and I can only imagine that it is worse now. It sure looks it when you see grocery carts full of frozen meals.

  6. Matthew says:

    While it is always helpful to know more than just what comprises your field, it is also important to know your limits. If you fix a leaky bathroom faucet but don’t catch a leak and your house is overcome with mold (which happened to a friend of mine) then I think that it would be considerably cheaper to have hired a plumber. Extreme example, of course, but a pro can be cheaper and more efficient than “pretty good”.

  7. Gail says:

    I’m sure the writer of this post would agree that at times it is valid to hire a job out, but if you own your own home or even rent, there are certain things you should be aware of such as curcuit breakers and how to reset them, how to plunge a toilet, how to wash a baby diaper (I think that is one of the reasons for the huge demand for paper diapers is no one want to clean up after baby) and other things that are easy to do, just takes basic knowledge. I’m sure even the guy here that is spending all his time improving job skills still changes his own rolls of toilet paper. Things that people routinely did for themselves 30-50 years ago now seem to take a trained specialist to do and that is SAD. If the DJ had been aware of how to reset his circuit breaker, he would have saved more time than calling in a professional–just the time to make a call, or calls to get someone, explaining the problem on the phone and then in person, and then berating themselves afterwords–he would have svaed plenty of time.

    We can’t continue to use worst case scenarios as reasons to not try to do something for ourselves. Generally the worst case scenario isn’t going to happen.

  8. Jay Gatsby says:

    Here’s another reason people call someone else for repairs. LACK OF TIME. It’s a great feeling to fix something yourself, and you save money to boot. However, if you could have spent your time doing something else that would have brought in more money during the same amount of time, then you’re poorer for the effort of fixing it yourself. Likewise, if your entire schedule is thrown completely out of whack because you just have to fix something yourself, the resultant cascade effect on your entire day or week is more painful than parting with $100 for someone else to deal with the problem.

    On the other hand, if you’re retired or you have time on the weekend to fix something (and learn how to fix it before you make the attempt), then go ahead and fix it yourself. But if you don’t have time, you shouldn’t take it personally if you call in an outside expert to help.

  9. sean says:


    Great post! I unfortunately think that these days are long gone and unless there is a huge shift in our culture they won’t come back.

    For myself I find unable to keep up with the ever increasing complexity of the systems we create. I stood a better chance of working on my car (and did a lot of my own work) 20 years ago…today there are over 3 dozen computers controlling the thing.

    My grandfather used a push mower…bet you I could fix that if needed, but the mowers today are as complicated as an automobile.

    In addition, we have a service society! No longer do we actually make anything we just come up with ideas and tell others to do it…why should it be any different in our personal lives.

    For the past year my family and I have been traveling through South America and I have fallen in love with Singer sewing machines. I don’t sew…never have and never will, but these classic 1800’s machines were well engineered, functional, and aesthetically beautiful!! We have seen hundreds of these working machines on our travels…still fully functional.

    I can’t help but question how long the “new fangled”, computerized models will be around…my guess is that they will be in a land fill WAY before 150 years are up.

  10. george brown says:

    I thought about starting a rant, but the above statements are true. As we Americans become less dependent upon ourselves, we become more dependent on others. The problem with this comes to sustainability. If we rely on others to help and then one day they are gone, what next? If you neighbor has done the same thing, what next? Who can we turn to to help at that point? That is when we realize that it is on our own head and its time to step up.

    After writing this I understood the simple fact that I need to step up and concentrate on my spelling and grammer as without the spellcheck I tend to make errors because I can always count on the computer to help me out. So there we are in the same boat.

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