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In the last 30 years, there has been a tremendous “Wealthening” of America. Perhaps the greatest evidence of that is the huge growth in the service sector. Today, we pay other people to do many things that we used to just do ourselves just 3 decades ago.

If you want to start living cheap, it is time to reverse the trend and start doing these things for yourself!


1) Lawn Mowing: 30 years ago, only old ladies and the very rich hired somebody to mow their lawns. Either you did it or your kid did it. And if you were childless you hired the neighbor’s kid. These days, it seems everyone hires a “professional” to do their lawn. Paying someone $25+ a week to mow the lawn can cost you an extra $650 a year. You can buy an air-conditioned programmable lawn mower for that kind of money. It’s all about scheduling the time, it doesn’t take that much effort and it helps keep you fit. It’s a medical fact that yardwork reduces stress and burns calories.


2) House Cleaning: 30 years ago, a maid was considered something that only the elite could afford. Of course, the average size of a house has doubled and requires more work to clean up and keep tidy. You can save two to three thousand a year by just doing it yourself. Invest some money in some high quality cleaning equipment to make the work easier. Get organized. If you’re tidy all week - you’ll have less to clean up on the weekend. A fallback position is to cut back to every other week.

3) Home Security: 30 years ago, home security meant a 12 gauge shotgun or two guys named Smith & Wesson. Today, after decades of plummeting crime, we pay $30 a month or more for the privilege of putting a little Octagon outside our door and hoping that would be criminals can’t figure out an alarm system that an 8th grader could foil. Get a dog.

4) Cooking: According to ZAGAT, the average family eats out 3.2 times per week. 30 years ago, it was something families would only do on very special occasions or while on vacation. Those meals cost an average of about $2,800. Do yourself a favor, invest $1,000 and get someone in your family to take a few gourmet cooking classes. It’ll pay for itself in six months. If your kitchen serves better food than 95% of the restaurants in your area, you won’t eat out as much. Savings $1,400+ a year.

5) Laundry: Maybe the Blue Suits at IBM were getting their shirts pressed 30 years ago, but most everyone else was firing up the iron and pressing away at home. Today, many professionals spend $20 to $100 a week for their dry cleaning bills. Do it yourself. It makes sense to send a suit to the cleaners - but you should be able to do a shirt or two. Buy a good $80 iron, some starch, and a nice ironing board and iron away while the game is on. Savings $1,000 + a year.

6) Automotive Maintenance: Most of us have to admit that we don’t handle the upkeep on the cars. There was a time not to long ago that the oil changes, brakes, and fixing up the old jalopy was done in our driveways. A few of us keep up with the old tradition but for most people, jacking up the car and sliding underneath is a permanent part of the past. Thankfully, our cars need a heck of a lot less maintenance than they used to. Savings: $500 or more if you are handy.


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Linda Spreeman  - Things we used to do ourselves.... |2011-08-27 18:11:23
While true that all of the above were things "we" used to do ourselves, more and more we find that households have dual earners working full time which translates to less time for cleaning, cooking, and everything else. Way back when, Mom stayed home and there was no such thing as "day care" either. We evolved as a result of changing times. ~Linda Spreeman~
Valerie aka Dolly Domestic  - Its about TIME |2010-11-16 15:35:48
I have to disagree with your thinking about #4. It's not about the quality of the food, it's about the time it takes to shop and cook The fact is most women work outside the home, as opposed to 30 years ago, when most were homemakers and cooking the meals was part of their job. And those working women don't want to come home and try to put a meal on the table between getting home from work and heading off to the kids' ball game or practice. It's not about knowing how to cook for most of them.
Nate  - Don't forget... |2010-10-29 17:05:59
Don't forget about home repairs. People used to fix things themselves, now they hire someone to come in and get the job done! Also don't forget meals. People used to make food at home on a regular basis, now it's mostly store bought food.
Eve |2010-07-27 09:25:48
Another lousy thing about dry-cleaning: most conventional cleaners use solvents with perchloroethylene (PERC), which the EPA has classified as a hazardous air contaminant and toxic in drinking water. It's not thought to be terribly beneficial when worn next to the skin and/or inhaled, either.
Simon  - But before that we paid for them... |2010-05-21 13:48:04
Laundry, house cleaning, yard work, and cooking before the 1930s were often outsourced in the United States by the middle and upper classes (and even the lower classes at times), either to third parties or to housekeepers and cooks who came to your house a few times a week.

The reason why we started doing these ourselves is because (a) wives didn't usually work out of the house and (b) they had increasing access to machines and prepared foods. Once women started working out of the house again in large numbers, we've returned to the system that was in place before the 1930s.

No one can do automotive maintenance any more, however, because you need a master's degree in computer science to understand modern automobile engines; when cars were made from simpler technology, obviously anyone could maintain them with minimal training.
calvin  - Car maintainance misunderstood |2010-05-21 17:05:50
I am a car salesman and I hear this comment all of the time. "Oh these new-fangled cars with their fancy computers and doo-dads! How could I ever repair my own car!" Cars have had computers with diagnostic software since the 70s, and they have nothing to do with changing your oil, spark plugs, or brakes. Brakes are easier now than in the past and those save you the MOST! For an average car to get 4 new sets of pads and to have the rotors turned you will pay a cheap place like Midas 800-1200 dollars. Buy the parts online, even buy new rotors if there isn't a shop that will turn them for you and you will pay 300-500 even for an expensive import. The trouble is that (maybe sounding a little chauvinistic here) men are for the most part inept and lazy nowadays. They can pull apart a computer just fine, but oil and tools scare their wimpy wrists. Anyone can change their own brakes in 4 hours with practice. Dot it 5 times in your life and you will save thousands and be faster at it.
Carl |2010-06-11 12:27:36
What vehicle costs 800-1200 for brake pads and resurfacing rotors?
Jim |2010-06-11 06:10:55
Umm, yes people do perform their own automotive work today, without degrees. Because you are baffled and intimidated by your car does not mean the rest of us are.
frugal nomad  - The rest of us are 90% |2010-06-12 04:22:49
With all due respect, the rest of us are the other 90%. Half of us can't change a tire without a manual. Even in the the good old days when you had the engine block, a radiator, a battery and three hoses to connect them all, many of us were baffled. Now we're only intimidated.
Zyada  - Some other things have changed as well... |2010-05-17 22:17:50
Thirty years ago, I was a freshman in college. I say this just so you will know where my perspective is coming from.

The feminist revolution was still in its infancy - NOW was only 14 years old, Ms. magazine was less than ten years old, and the term "Stay at home mom" didn't exist. So many families were still one income, two parents, and the wife would take care of 2, 4, and 5. What percentage of families today have two adults and one income compared to 1980?

Another point on the shirt ironing and laundering - 1980 was the final heyday of the polyester/no-iron clothing trend. Modern fashion is for more natural fabrics which require more maintenance.

1980 was also before rise of the yuppie mentality which encouraged the "anything to get ahead at your job" mindset leading to many salaried people working 60-80 and more hours a week. What percentage of workers in 1980 were salaried vs hourly, and how does that compare to today? And what is the real number of hours being worked by salaried people today compared to 1980? Are people being lazy because they don't mow their lawns anymore, or is it because they prefer the status of a 60+ hour workweek job to one that pays less but provides more free time?

I can't say much about the car maintenance because I'm just not that interested in cars. OTOH, I believe that modern cars are much more complex than they used to be; while oil changes may not be all that tricky, diagnosing car problems seems to take a computer hookup nowadays. Personally, I'd prefer that y'all wouldn't encourage home oil changers... because there are going to be some people changing their oil and polluting the landscape with the old oil instead of disposing of it properly
SKX2000  - ... |2010-05-14 21:29:47
Save for haircuts, I still do all of the things you list myself, as do most of the people I know. Do you only associate with ridiculously rich idle people?
Omiewon  - If that were the case..... |2010-05-16 10:20:39
Then there wouldn't be 11,000 Starbucks in America plus tens of thousands of other coffee shops. There wouldn't be 34,000 dry cleaners or 504,000 restaurants.

It's a complete myth that only "ridiculously rich" people use these services. They have become decidedly middle class and that is one of the problems.

If it were only the rich, you would see 10% of these numbers.
Chris |2010-05-14 07:26:09
"30 years ago, a maid was considered something that only the elite could afford"

And 50 years before that, before the advent of useful home appliances, a huge number of middle class households had a cook/cleaning lady. Which past do we go with?
frugal nomad  - Well it all depends on the demographics |2010-05-14 14:56:39
I think if you back fifty years - you'll find that a lot of maid service was provided by African-American women who had no other job alternatives. Look at the movies back then. Even an African-American actress was most likely to land a part playing the maid.

The demographics have changed - a lot of maids today are anglos or recent immigrants and they have rates that are above minimum wage - they can be double or triple. Your maid can be middle class. Cleaning is a small business. How many people do you know that can afford a full time maid and provide her with food and lodging in addition to salary. It's only the rich and even they can only afford that luxury when they hire undocumented workers.

You hire a maid today - you're likely to pay 15 to 25 an hour for an afternoon. If you're able bodied - you can do that job yourself.

From what I've seen - most people clean up before the cleaning arrives so they don't leave a bad impression. And they spend an hour having coffee with her to try to pick up a little Spanish or Russian. I think many people get cleaning services because they like to be pampered.
Valerie aka Dolly Domestic |2010-11-16 15:41:42
I disagree with your estimates. The $15-$25 per hour is for part time work, usually contracted through an agency. For a live-in, one certainly wouldn't pay that salary... unless you're in NYC, California, or DC.
Tresten |2010-05-20 18:43:38
I believe that those cook/cleaning ladies usually lived within that household and did not get paid very much.
frugal nomad  - They might have just gotten a little pocket money |2010-05-21 01:57:17
I think you're right about that. It was definitely subsistance labor. more like being a serf than an employee.
Trevor |2010-04-01 08:39:15
I recently did an oil change at home and it cost me the same amount if not more than any of the local shops.
Omiewon  - Agree |2010-04-01 08:49:43
I think that the oil change has become so competitive that it probably doesn't make sense to do it yourself. Places near me go as low as $13 for an oil change as a loss leader. Trick is not to take their $10 air filter or higher grade oils. $13 can become $50 pretty fast.
Trade  - Sort of |2010-05-14 19:26:29
The discount oil change shops typically use extremely low quality filters and their price includes fewer quarts of oil than a lot of engines require. The 1 or 2 quarts required for the fill boost the price significantly.

DIY lets you use a functional filter and quality oil.

It also takes less time, once you learn to do it, than you'll spend at a shop, all in.
bill  - captain |2010-08-01 18:33:43
Plus, by doing your own simple maintenance like oil changes, brake pads, rotors, changing fluids etc., you'll spot things that are about to go wrong that could be catastrophic such as leaking fluids or worn belts and hoses etc. Preventive maintenance is by far more economical than repairs after a failure.
Christine Simiriglia  - Lazy and Frugal |2010-02-16 15:45:29
When it comes to laundry, I have to admit that I don't pay for it to be done and I don't iron. I now buy only clothes that can be washed and thrown in the dryer. If it needs ironing, I don't buy it. If it needs dry cleaning, I don't buy it. My time and my money are too precious. For tips on going your own laundry, read this: ndry-mountain-into-a-mole-hill.html

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