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How Outsourcing Can Improve Your Life

Grocery shopping. Cooking dinner. Washing (and folding, ugh) the laundry. Mowing the lawn. Some call them chores, others adulting, but the simple truth is that they are necessities for most people. When you are trying to balance growing your business (or career), family, and friends, they often create conflicts that lead to stress and dissatisfaction. 

Friends of ours who both own businesses know the secret to interrupting the vicious cycle of working or doing chores until they go to bed.

They simply replicate what they do at work – they hire competent people to do the things they can't or don't like to do at a pay rate that's less than what they make.

In other words, they know what their highest and best use is, and they outsource the rest.

Don't own a business? That’s alright. For many high-income, dual-career households outsourcing some tasks makes a lot of sense. With two partners working outside of the house many things have changed but some haven’t.

In most households the female partner still handles the bulk of the household tasks from organizing social events, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, shuttling kids, etc. When we do outsource tasks, often traditionally male tasks get outsourced first (i.e. yard work). Which frankly, does not help women relieve the “mental load.”

The first step is to identify the tasks you *may* want to outsource. While it may be easy to identify a few tasks quickly, what you may not realize is that there are many tasks you may not be top of mind that end up being the most appealing and practical to outsource.

Let’s break them into three categories: Time Savers, Stress Savers and Money Makers (though some of these ideas will apply to multiple groups):

Time Savers

These are the tasks you don’t mind doing, but simply suck up a bunch of time. Big, healthy yard? It’s mowing the grass. Other ideas include:

healthy meal delivery (cooked and ready to eat)

gift shopping

pre-chopped meal starters

holiday decorating (and removal)

tax prep 

lawncare

tree and shrub care

bookkeeping (for business owners)

content creation (for business owners)

Stress Savers

These are tasks that really grind your gears. If you hate it, or dwell on it, or persistently procrastinate doing it then that task qualifies. I don’t think there’s any one task that will consistently fit on this list for various people, though bookkeeping comes to mind for many business owners. At home, it may be cleaning the house.

handling your finances

getting kids to after school activities

laundry service

house cleaning

home organizing/decluttering

anything you really dislike doing

Money Makers

This seems like the least likely, though probably the most appealing, to most people. What tasks am I doing now that could actually save me money by outsourcing? Well, maybe not household tasks, unless you’re somehow setting fire to your rugs while vacuuming. More likely, however, are less frequent tasks like:

handyman services 

travel agents 

financial planning (you knew that one was coming!)

professional tax prep (especially for business owners and people who own rental real estate)

 and even grocery shopping. 

Grocery shopping?!? How does that qualify? 

Well ,think about it – if you systemize your lists then you won’t be tempted by that gorgeous navel orange display, or be berated into buying sour patch kids ice cream by your kids. We have another friend who tells us her grocery bill dropped from around $115 to $80 per week as a result of outsourcing grocery shopping – and that includes the service fee.

A Great Start to Outsourcing

Ok, so now we have a decent list. Maybe a great list, but reality hurts - you’re not a Kardashian and you can’t outsource it all. So how do you pick and choose? Or even decide if any meet your very personal threshold of being worthy of outsourcing? That’s a question only you can answer, but like all good financial planners, I am here to provide advice and tools to make the best decision.

First, the advice – get a good sense of what is realistic in your financial life. Understand your spending plan (budget). Know your 1 year goals and 30 year goals, and how small changes can impact those goals. Are you on track? By getting a really good handle on where you are in relation to where you want to be, you can know which tasks you can outsource and those you really can't.

Not to mention which ones might align with those goals and may increase your likelihood of accomplishing those goals.

Is this a shameless plug for hiring a financial planner? Yes, yes it is. But I drink the kool aid before I recommend it, and I know the transformative power of confidence in your future. Now, back to the outsourcing.

How to Prioritize Your Potential Outsourced Tasks

Once you have a handle on where you are and what’s feasible, prioritize those tasks. For some of you, this will be easy – you’ll have a great sense of is really weighing on you. Whether that’s saving you money, time or stress. 

If that’s you, skip down to the “Making the Case” section of this article.

For the rest of you who might be struggling with where to start, I have a couple of exercises that may help you distinguish between dirty socks and vacation planning. 

Outsourcing Prioritization Exercise 1: Dear Diary

The task here is simple. Start a 3-day diary. No, not your secret crush or why your mom is ruining your life, a task diary. Thomas Jefferson did this with his vegetables, you can do it with your tasks. Simply write down each task you do over the next 3 days. The format is simple (3-point scale for the last 3 categories):

  1. Task
  2. Time Spent 
  3. Money Spent 
  4. Stress level

I’d tell you to also write down your free time, but let’s be realistic, if you had enough free time to record there’s no way you make it to this point in the article. 

So, what do you do with this wealth of stuff you already knew but had never written down? Channel your inner Sheldon and analyze it! Because you used a 3-point scale on each of the time/money/stress categories, you will be able to count up the points for each task pretty easily, and you can rank order from there. If you’re feeling really strongly that you need to fix one of the three categories more than the other (for example, if you have a mouthguard for when you sleep because you’re so stressed about taxes) then double points in that category.

Are you more the instant gratification sort of person? No worries, I have another exercise that won’t last the weekend. Don’t like math? Sorry, you’re on a finance blog friend.

Outsourcing Prioritization Exercise 2: Show Me the Money!

This exercise requires a little more thought upfront but will be quicker to come to an answer. Put a price on your time. What’s that? It’s complicated and no one pays me for my free time? Wrong. Your time is valuable – when was the last time you went to bed because you ran out of things to do or you were bored? Yeah, me neither.

So, let’s talk about that number. Self-employed? You probably already know your hourly rate. (What do you bill clients?) If not, think about how much you want to make in a year, consider how many hours you can reasonably work, and divide the number. For example, if you want to make $150,000/year and you want to work 35 hours a week for 48 weeks a year you need to make (150,000 divided (35X48)) = $89.28/hour

If you are not self-employed, your employer has really helped you put a floor on what that number is. You could go through the hassle of pulling out last year’s W-2, dividing that by the number of hours you worked, taxes, etc, etc., or you could use a relatively accurate proxy: Take your annual salary, divide by 2 and remove 3 zeros. 

Got your number? Great. Next, take that very robust list of tasks from the beginning of this post and multiply your hourly rate by the hours you spend per month on that task. Then rank order the most valuable tasks. 

This exercise doesn’t take into account two important things: first, the stress aspect. 

If for some reason you despise pressing that one non-iron shirt you have, then that should matter and isn’t captured in this exercise. 

Second, the relative cost of your replacement. If, for instance, you have always changed the oil in your BMW and are ready to shed that responsibility, then knowing that it costs $285 for a task you’ve gotten down to 30 minutes is valuable information.

The point here is not to get a definitive list, but rather get a better sense of what is most affecting your life and how you can improve your life. The next step in the process is making the leap. So here we go, it’s time to clear whatever hurdle has been holding you back!

Making the Case

Typically, we’re our own biggest adversary in outsourcing menial tasks, but sometimes you need to convince a partner. If, somehow, this post has not convinced you and/or your partner that outsourcing is a worthy consideration, I’m still here to help.

Whether you’re talking into the mirror or over a plate of spaghetti, understanding what’s preventing you from making the leap into outsourcing is the first step towards overcoming them. 

How Our Money Scripts Can Make It HARDER to Outsource

For most of my clients, the barrier to outsourcing has been more visceral than material. In the Financial Planning world we talk about “Money scripts”. These are basically predispositions we’ve developed that influence how we relate to money. There are quite a few, we all have them, and they are often subconscious. But there are two I want to call out here that you may recognize in yourself or your partner when it comes to outsourcing. 

  • Moneyscript 1 – Avoidance. “I/we don’t deserve this”. This is a tough one, because it’s often rooted in a person’s upbringing. You can address by acknowledging not just that the money you spend belongs to you, it is a tool used to service your value structure.

Remember, we do our best work when we’re not overtaxed – Carl Richards, a prominent financial blogger, put it well: “Time off is a prerequisite for good work (Not a reward for it)”. You are a better version of yourself, especially at work, when you spend time on yourself

What I mean by this is that if you can use your money to better serve what matters most for you then this is a slam dunk argument. For instance, if you can spend a few of your hard-earned dollars to save you 3 hours a week that you’ll repurpose to spending time with your _____ (insert one/multiple of: spouse, family, book, gym, Netflix account).

  • Moneyscript 2 – Vigilance. “We need to save that $$ for X”. This is a fair complaint, and goes back to knowing where you stand in relation to your goals. But often vigilance goes beyond reasonable accounting of a person or family’s finances and comes down to a conservatism that’s not based on a person’s current finances. There are three arguments here: 
  1. My/our financial plan says this is a good move – we are in good financial position and it is a good use of our money
  2. Based on what I earn per hour this is a good move because  your time is literally better spent elsewhere. While not always actively earning money in spare time, your time (and mental health) have worth.

Ok, that is a lot of psychology packed into 300 words, and doesn’t do the subject justice but when it comes to understanding Money scripts the first step is awareness. Money scripts can subtly prevent you from living a freer, less stressed life, and identifying them in yourself and/or your partner is the first step to overcoming them. 

Don’t feel like you have any hang-ups preventing you from outsourcing? As my father-in-law likes to say, inertia is a powerful force. Translation: it’s hard to start something new. If this is the case for you and/or your spouse, then perhaps making the case in this way makes the most sense. Remember, you can always try outsourcing something for a few months and then stop if you find it isn’t making your life measurably better.

We’ve found that occasional grocery pick-up and monthly house cleaning have been a huge help in our household. Already an outsourcing pro? What’s your favorite task at home or at work to outsource? Leave your ideas on the comments below!

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4 Comments

    • LaurenZHaynes

      It is quite long, this is actually a shortened version but your point is well taken! Perhaps a brief summary article would be helpful for readers.

  • sandra Z kowalski

    Lauren
    I love your creativity and logical, yet entertaining presentation of this material. All your points are very well taken. When I was a working gal, I definitely outsourced the house cleaning which I always hated. Now as a retiree we outsource other things because we don’t have the energy to do them and also would prefer to spend out time doing things that are more gratifying and fun. I think your categorization and 3 point scale are very practical ways for folks to evaluate what is really worth outsourcing. CVZ makes a good suggestion about breaking this into segments.

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