Zen and the Art of Yard Maintenance
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.