Zen and the Art of Yard Maintenance

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Every few weeks, the green grass/weeds of my yard beckon me to join them in an adventure.  An odyssey.

As with many journeys, the going isn’t always easy.  But I always heed the call and indulge my wanderlust, often after a bit of procrastination.

Sometimes I wait for the the heat and humidity to subside and allow the sun to pursue its gentle path below the treeline.

This past Sunday was one of those days I heard the call.  My yard (or possibly my wife) was calling me to mow the lush green foliage sprouting from the fertile earth.  Two or possibly three weeks had transpired since I last trimmed the jungle back to its man made boundaries (me being “the man”).

It was a cool mid-September evening here in North Carolina, and I knew I had to get the grass cut before the rain comes over the next few days.  Lucky for me, I found the fresh air outside an accommodating 76 degrees with little humidity.  Fall is smiling at us at last!

After a quick prime, the mower starts on the first pull (it is well tuned after all!).  And I’m off to level the lawn.  Next I turn to my trusty leaf blower.  It makes quick work of the grass trimmings spewed all over the sidewalk, street, and driveway.  I pluck a few errant weeds, and then I’m done with the yard for a few weeks.

Dusk was quickly approaching when I finished, but I had just enough light left to take a minute to admire my work and take pride in the quality of my yard maintenance.  The lawn was smooth and uniform, with well defined edges and clean surfaces framing the (mostly) green landscape.

My little helper / conscripted labor:

Some people think mowing the grass is just another chore.  If you still mow your own yard, take time to reflect on how nice it looks after you work hard on it.  If something is bugging you about it, work on it and you can enjoy the result.

And you can also enjoy the savings from mowing your own grass.  In my area, the going rate is $35 for a mow-n-blow.  A crew of one to three guys comes in, cuts the grass, edges the borders with a weed wacker, and blows off the concrete surfaces.

$35 isn’t a bad price. It takes me about two hours to perform the same work, and maybe $1 worth of materials like gas, weed wacker string, and electricity plus a little wear and tear on the mower and power tools.  I could spend $34 more on the pros versus what I spend doing the mowing myself, and not sweat a drop and have two more hours of free time, right?  That’s $17 per hour of work I can avoid.

Is It Worth It?

When working, I made around $18-20 per hour after taxes.  Maybe paying someone $17 per hour is smart if my time is worth more than $17?

To me, this isn’t a simple financial analysis.  If I hired someone to mow the grass, I would miss out on many benefits of doing the work myself:

  • 2 hours of vigorous exercise
  • quality control
  • timing (don’t want 8 a.m. mowings on a Saturday when I’m sleeping in!)
  • opportunity to see all parts of my house and yard and note areas of concern
  • pride in doing a good job with my own hands

By doing my own yard work, I don’t have to worry about the yard guys tearing up or soiling my beautiful mulched flower beds, tree surrounds, and landscaping features.

Since I have a legal and engineering background I could theoretically craft an ironclad contract that specifically covers all my concerns, and rest assured that any yard guys would follow it.  I joke of course!  What landscaping contractor would want to deal with an A-hole like me?  If anyone would take on that contract, it wouldn’t be for $35!

So I am left with the only viable option – mowing the grass myself.

 

After an evening spent mowing, I can reflect back on the quality of my work, and embrace the fatigue from two hours of good exercise.  As an added benefit, I get to keep $34 of my hard earned money in my pocket while saving on gym fees.

 

Financial Independence Tip:

If you are seeking financial independence (being able to support your lifestyle with income from passive investments like a stock portfolio), read on.

An added benefit beyond the $34 you can save and invest by mowing your own grass is the reduction in your expenses.  In North Carolina, the mowing season runs from roughly March to October.  Seven or eight months.  If you mow grass about every two weeks like me, then you end up mowing about 15 times per year.

Mowing your own grass will save you $510 per year ($34 x 15 times), and you can add $510 more to your IRA or 401k (and save even more on taxes as outlined in There is Such a Thing as a Free Lunch – 401k Matches).

Spending $510 less per year means you need $510 less income per year from your investments or other passive income to fund your expenses if you choose to retire early (or get laid off or want to take a leave of absence).

 

Moral of the Story

I apply this type of analysis to many tasks.  Concentrating on tasks that I can easily do myself has led to a major reduction in expenses and a large increase in savings and investments (that continue to grow over time).  So think about the financial and non-financial aspects of spending decisions and you can keep more cash in your pocket and gain other benefits at the same time.

10 comments

  • Our guy only charges $25. And my husband broke 2 lawn mowers in 2 years when we first moved in. He also broke a pipe cap thing that had to be replaced immediately. So… yeah. Our guy only charges $25, and we consider that to be our cheapest option. LOL

    A tip on aeration: If you get a bunch of your neighbors to go in on renting an aerator, aerating can become a cheap and easy thing to DIY! Weekend before last was Aeration Weekend on our street. Unfortunately said husband was having back pain and thus had said our guy do it for $30 instead.

    Keep the tips coming! This is a fun blog!

  • $25 for good service isn’t bad! Especially if you go through a mower per year. I’m lucky that I have kept the current $150 mower (the el cheapo model from Home Depot) running for at least 7 years. And I didn’t change the oil till this year. The only other maintenance on my mower is an annual blade sharpening (by hand with a metal file or get a friend with a grinder) and knock the crud out of the air filter. Maybe 15 minutes for the blade and 5 minutes for the air filter.

  • I’d take the lawn out first before I pay for mowing. 😉
    2 hours to mow? Your yard must be huge!

  • A little over a quarter of an acre (in NC where land is *almost* free). Lots of borders and mulch beds. 2 hours includes setting up, blowing, and clean up, plus a share of the time for ~monthly Roundup application. I use roundup (bought in bulk in concentrate form – generic brand from Home Depot) to keep the grass/weeds from growing into the mulch beds and driveway/patio/sidewalks.

    I have thought of reducing yard size to save time on mowing, but the green yard looks nice (when I cut it you can’t tell it is mostly weeds).

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  • Stop using herbicides if you can, they’re highly pollutant and harmful to the health.
    There’s an economical and effective substitute: salt water!
    1-2 salt tablespoons per water’s liter do the job and it’s also dead cheap.
    Try it where needed, it works!

  • I mow my large lawn, probably 3/4 acre with a push mower. My neighbors are all riders. I laugh at them. It takes from 1 to 2 hours depending on my mood and number of beer breaks. Our weather is variable and some years mow maybe 3 time in the summer months.

    I have a theory that people who push mow their own lawns will live an additional 1 year. For some reason I was thinking about this last night as I was mowing?

    It seems my average year of mowing is 25 mows at 1.5 hours. So that equals about 35 hours per year of solid (harder than walking) exercise. Meanwhile my neighbors are sitting on their butts driving around. Who would you guess lives longer?

    By the way, I keep my lawn mostly in weedy stuff similar to yours. lol But I am considering doing restoration this year.

    If you’re considering doing some restoration of your lawn, let me know. I have been a professional lawn person in the past and could throw you a few tips.

    This time of the year (late aug, early sep) is the absolute best time to plant grass seed. You could probably rent a slicer for 50 bucks and put 125 into seed and fertilizers this fall and by next spring you would be looking at a nice lawn. Do minimal fertilizing and herbicides over next year and repeat the over seed each fall until your lawn is the envy of your neighborhood.

    If the math is a problem consider that a nice lawn and curb appeal designed landscaping can add 5% to the perceived value of your home.

    So mathematically, if you put $3,000 into your land and landscaping over the next few years you might increase the value of your property by 5-8K?

    It isn’t an exact science, but believe me people pay more for a home with a beautiful landscape.

    As a side benefit your pride in ownership will increase dramatically. This will probably have unperceived benefits to your health and spousal/family and neighbor relationships as well. (read the broken window theory for why this works)

    Remember this truism — the guy with the nicest yard and best kept home is the most respected guy in the neighborhood. He is often the most visible as well. Since he can often be seen tending to his yard.

    • Agreed on the benefits of mowing your own lawn. Great free gym time, and I control exactly how and when it is mowed.

      I’m sure getting the grass back to nice turf would help the value. But that would come with more time commitment and more cost, and ongoing maintenance to keep it weed free. I’m fortunate that probably half the yards around me are similar to mine – generally green but not 100% grass.

      We do have a lot of decorative plantings and mulch beds surrounding flowering trees in our yard. In the spring and summer there is a ton of color. I also keep the edges pretty well “trimmed” using the roundup so I think it looks decent overall.

      As for resale value, we don’t plan to sell any time soon. We would definitely fix up the yard and drop in some extra landscaping if we were going to sell though. It could easily add $5k or more for a small investment plus some muscle power.

      • 10/4 – I hear you on the time and money aspect of yard care.

        The thing about the lawn in particular is that it could take several seasons to shape it up properly. I wish we had rehabbed our lawn a few years ago when we purchased our home. At the time we were focused on the major interior restoration.

        Now that we think we would like to sell our home about 18 months from now, we won’t have time to allow for a proper yard grow.

        The major time factor would be the over seeding if I decide to do it myself. Honestly though, there is a lawn company that will over seed for just a tad more than we would pay for the seed and slicer rental myself. So we’ll probably go with that. (around $200 for the overseed)

        The fertilizing and herbicide applications might take me 6 hours per year. Watering on the other hand might be a booger as we tend to have droughts most summers and our soil is shallow. Our water if free and plentiful with our well but would require constant hose shuttling in July and August.

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