Can cheap labor make you lazy?

working hard on the roof

Before I moved to Guatemala, I was looking at houses in the South of France. For the same price, I would have gotten a run down house, that I would have had to fix myself. There I was, daydreaming about my carpenter self, my mason self and my architect self. Yeah, sure. Most likely, I would have ended up watching tutorials on Youtube, making a lot of costly mistakes, and resorting to a super expensive contractor after throwing the towel. I am not the manual type and as cool as it can be to say ‘‘I did it myself’‘, I was probably going to get tired of living in debris and dust and need help at some point.

Everyone has a price

It would have hurt though, to have to pay someone to the tune of $200 a day to fix my house. Here in Guatemala, $200 gets me a smiling, hard working handyman six days a week for a month. He set his salary himself and I didn’t bargain. Every day, for 8 hours, he can be found climbing on my roof to remove some scorpion-filled palm tree leaves, carrying construction blocks, trimming high trees, and a lot of things that I am happily paying to have someone do.

In Paris, I fixed three bicycles for my mum and the local sports store was charging $20 to change a flat tire. It cost me $4 to buy a new air chamber and half an hour of my time. Last week a mechanic charged me $8 to work for an hour on the car and change a valve. I wouldn’t spend half a day checking out the manual to save $8.

We all have a price at which we would rather do things ourselves than pay for help. I have no real data but I would say that your hourly wage could be your price. If you earn more at your job while someone works on your car or fixes your house, you will likely pay for the convenience.

Have I turned lazy?

The short answer is yes, a little bit. I think I would have done twice as much as what I did during that last month, if there was no one around to help me. I would still have needed the basics, a roof that doesn’t leak, a house that is bug-free, some mosquito nets… And maybe, after a few months, I would have tackled other projects. It would have been lengthy and I am certainly paying for my time and the convenience to let others do it. Since the price of labor is so low, it really feels like money well spent.

Lazy, lazy?

There are some things that I am not ready to delegate. When I lived in Guatemala City a few years back, I had a maid. She was cooking and cleaning for me. I hated it. Of course, it is nice to have someone do your bed and tidy up your stuff, but there is always a presence in your house, you can’t do whatever you please, like having a soapy movies and ice cream marathon on the couch on a weekday while the poor maid is dusting around.

Another thing I didn’t like was her cooking. I would buy a tender piece of steak to grill for lunch and would find her cooking it at 10am, then overcooking it half an hour before lunch. No matter how many times I asked, I never got a medium rare steak. My BF has caught many maids stealing. One even had a shrine with personal objects of him and his family in her room! I like to leave my things in the open and don’t want to have to count my money every time I come back home.

Sometimes, I think it is stupid to spend my time cleaning and cooking instead of developing my land and using skills I studied five years to acquire. But rich people overdo it here, and many kids grow up mostly with their nannies. Maybe I will hire a maid once a week to have a good clean up, and wash our clothes, although I do have a lot of free time in my hands and as long as my days aren’t filled with other activities, I don’t really see the point.

Affording help gives you choices

I can choose to do what I like, for example the cooking, and hire someone to do what is too hard or too boring for me. The builders are currently bringing 5000 stones to build our new house. My back and hands are worth more than their wages.

I can spend time writing, socializing, or just doing nothing. Like any other spending, it is a conscious decision to allocate my money on something that matters to me. And, well, I am a bit lazy.

 If you could afford help for almost everything, would you go for it?

A 30 something French girl embarking on a journey towards Financial Independence. I blog about money, travel, simple and deliberate living, freedom and choices. You can find me on Twitter, Google+, or Reach Financial Independence's Facebook Page

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  1. If I could afford it, then I would definitely hire for it as well. Your roof looks great!
    Michelle recently posted..Our Vacation Plans for the Next 12 MonthsMy Profile

  2. There are things that I enjoy doing that I probably would even if I could afford to have someone else do it, like mowing the grass. But, things that I don’t particularly enjoy or that I’m not good at, I would certainly pay someone to do.
    Money Beagle recently posted..When You Don’t Get The Answer You Were Looking ForMy Profile

  3. Good post Pauline! There might be a few things I’d hire out, but only after looking at the opportunity cost. Sure, it’s nice to be able to accomplish something on your own. However, I am sure it’s saving you considerable time to have a handy man helping you with so much which will possibly help you get more done in the long run.
    John S @ Frugal Rules recently posted..First Steps to Investing in the Stock MarketMy Profile

    • Opportunity cost is so low it doesn’t make sense to do anything! But I like to help out because we go faster and I can supervise all the way, make sure things are done the way I like them.

  4. It would have to depend on how much the help cost me in comparison to what I have. I’m totally down for paying $200 for the month to do all of that work! However, I wouldn’t be willing to pay somebody $200/day.

    It’s crazy to think how inexpensive things are out there….
    Jason @ WSL recently posted..Is Debt Consolidation an Opportunity – or a Trap?My Profile

  5. Jennifer Lynn @ Broke-Ass Mommy says:

    I am very protective of my personal space! Perhaps I would hire someone sporadically, to deep clean my residence once a month, for example, but no way could I tolerate someone hovering every day. I would be a wee distrustful if I didn’t personally know the hired help as well.
    Jennifer Lynn @ Broke-Ass Mommy recently posted..Words of Caution: Things I Am Not.My Profile

  6. At this stage in my life, I probably hire things done only when I can’t do them myself. Like you, my personal space is very important to me.
    Marie at Family Money Values recently posted..Alone and Loving It!My Profile

  7. I would definitely hire if I could easily afford it. My spare time is worth more to me than saving a few dollars. Like you, there are certain things I would rather do myself for sure.
    Gillian @ Money After Graduation recently posted..How to make the most of LinkedInMy Profile

    • It all comes down to balance, I think. I wouldn’t like the workers to see me as the lazy lady who only bosses people around, but at the same time they need the work and welcome the money.

  8. If I could afford it, I think I’d hire someone to come and clean my house once a week. Just to do the gross stuff like cleaning the bathroom and scrubbing the floors. Maybe some day…
    Jordann @ My Alternate Life recently posted..Getting the Most Out of My BudgetMy Profile

    • It depends how you value your time. If you get an extra writing gig at $30 per week and the cleaner charges $30 for two hours scrubbing your house, you could afford it. If it is just so you can lay on the couch like me, then it is additional spending that has to be budgeted for.

  9. Some things I don’t mind doing, like shoveling snow or mowing the lawn. One thing I hate though is folding laundry. I would absolutely hire someone to do that. I hate to do it, but I can’t leave it unfolded. Fortunately, my wife takes care of it most of the time.
    Matthew Allen recently posted..Long Tail Pro – Giveaway and Platinum ReleaseMy Profile

    • Same here, I take care of cooking and cleaning but my BF does so much fixing stuff and supervising construction that I can’t ask him to step in for chores. When we are done with the building I may reconsider and hire help to even tasks between us.

  10. I think it has the potential to make you lazy, but not necessarily. My spouse and I keep disagreeing a LOT about hiring a housekeeper. Thing is, I do most of the work, so I basically want my spouse to step up and agree to having someone cover the other half. *sigh* …note to self, bring that up again soon.
    Those are some odd stories about your experiences, such as the shrine to the BF! One thing about the wages though is that they’re only cheap because of your outside income. It’s definitely good for you and it’s awesome that you are able to employ people and bring money into the economy from outside.
    Anne @ Unique Gifter recently posted..The Gift of FoodMy Profile

    • I would hire the housekeeper with a non cooperative spouse. In France there is a 50% tax credit on domestic help which makes it affordable and helps fight informal economy. I told my sister she should hire a cleaner as her house is so big and cleaning is a source of conflict with her husband, it is worth the relationship bliss to me.

  11. I don’t think lazy equates to not wanting to climb ladders to play with scorpions! If you started hiring people tp do your laundry, make your meals etc etc then you might be getting a little lazy but 200 bucks for that sort of work is great, I’d do it too. We hired someone to demolish a shed in our back yard…the thought of my hubby and friends having a chainsaw party with no know-how about building demo scared me so we hired someone to take it down and remove the garbage.
    Catherine recently posted..Fun and Frugal Dinner PartiesMy Profile

    • I would definitely hire out things I don’t know how to do, but would try to learn how to do them the next time. I have learned a lot so far, but low costs make it tempting to hire out again.

  12. Jason Clayton | frugal habits says:

    Interesting concept Pauline. I am not sure if I agree with you that ‘paying someone else’ to do work makes you more lazy. It is more of a time value of money thing. Is your time worth the money you could pay someone else to do it? For $200 a month – I can’t imagine doing it myself. That is just too amazingly cheap.

    I would say you are being ‘smart’ (even frugal) not lazy :)
    Jason Clayton | frugal habits recently posted..5 Family Activities I’m looking forward to this WinterMy Profile

    • It is not being lazy if I spend my time working on other projects at least some of the time. If I turn into a hammock potato, it is a path best avoided. When I start overseeing the land development with architects and builders I may hire out all the housework but so far it is tempting to still hire a maid and lounge all day.

  13. If I had the money to blow, I probably would have a maid come in once a week to dust and vacuum. I really dislike that part. But everything else, I don’t mind enough to pay someone to do it… at any price point.

    I would disagree with using your salary as a guide to guage the worth of your free time. If it means taking time off from other income opportunities, yeah. But nobody is paying me for my spare time regardless of whether I’m doing chores or watching tv.
    Edward Antrobus recently posted..Bad Behaviors at a Company Holiday PartyMy Profile

    • You make a good point, no one is paying you to lay on the couch. But you may pick up some extra shifts at work and be too tired to clean yourself. In this case, you working on something you make more at and the cleaner working on your home makes sense. Gauging the worth of your free time by your hourly rate is pretty simplistic but a good point to start from, then take into account other factors.

  14. maria@moneyprinciple says:

    I actually am all for having as much help around the house as I can afford; and then there are things that I have always disliked doing – so I have always, always paid somebody to do the ironing for me. However, there are things I like doing and these are not outsourced.

    I also believe that In places like Guatemala it would be my duty to provide employment to as many people as I could.
    maria@moneyprinciple recently posted..Christmas gifts at the workplace: a guide to Secret SantaMy Profile

    • There was an interesting development about providing work for people. We offered the handyman’s dad the opportunity to gather stones to build a stone wall. The contractor said the neighbour’s land was filled with stones and he would do this for us for 50 cents a stone (local money, about $0.06). The dad said no to us, but ended up being subcontracted by the contractor at the very same rate! I am all for providing employment, at market rate, not gringo rate. This guy had already tried to get a high price from us to provide wood sticks, we found another person ready to do it for 1/4 of the quoted price. There is a lot of resentment here about foreigners who are able to afford the lakeside properties and people think are millionaires. Most of the lakeside belonged to the council, who sold it dirt cheap to the villagers, who resold for a high profit to people like us, so they can’t really complain if we’re here providing employment but they like to.

  15. The Happy Homeowner says:

    I actually like to clean, cook and bake so I wouldn’t hire someone for those things because they help me unwind-de-stress.

    And as much as I love DIY, I would hire someone for the bigger projects–especially at that price!

  16. Wow the labor is cheap there! I would totally hire a cook, then if I had money to spare someone to clean my place once a week, and then if I had money after that a private volleyball coach/personal trainer.
    Budget & the Beach recently posted..Looking Back, Looking Forward: Part 1My Profile

  17. $200 for a whole month of labor? Am I reading that correctly, that seems really cheap.

    In general, would you recommend Guatemala as a destination for early FI? Looks like a pretty place.
    FI Fighter recently posted..Part 2: The Secret Recipe for Retiring Early (Using the Stock Market)My Profile

    • Yes it is really cheap. Full month, 5 1/2 days a week. I do recommend Guatemala for retirement or early retirement, it is an amazing country. Volcanoes, beaches, Caribbean, Pacific, surfing, hiking, colonial towns, a modern capital with all the conveniences and a cheap cost of living. I could go on for hours.

  18. Nice post Pauline. For practical reason, if the labor is cheaper we can hire someone to do the hard works, carpentry and masonry works. While we can concentrate in doing things we love, more productive or can bring more money to our account. But keep supervising and monitoring your labor workmanship to ensure the quality of their works.
    My Wealth Desire recently posted..Cheap Christmas Gifts Ideas for Married CoupleMy Profile

    • Thanks Walt. I am a bad supervisor, I assume people would do their job it I am not bugging them all day, and instead they get lazy and I think I’d better do things myself. I need to find balance.

  19. I would love to hire someone to clean every other week or so. I loathe doing it when I have a million other things I need to do or want to do. It doesn’t make sense as long as we have debt, but someday maybe I will. If that makes me lazy then bring it on.
    Kim@Eyesonthedollar recently posted..What Will the Fiscal Cliff Mean to Health Care?My Profile

  20. I freaking LOVE the idea of outsourcing work! In this scenario, I would definitely hire someone for $200/month to do all sorts of work on the house. It’s relatively cheap labor and you can do MUCH more productive things with your time. If only rates were like that in the US! Haha, anyway I am a huge fan of outsourcing work when it makes sense, and I think if I could afford it I would outsource basically everything and only do the things I absolutely want to do.

  21. Veronica @ Pelican on Money says:

    I love cooking, but sometimes it gets tiring. I’d like to have a chef cook me dinners sometimes! :) I’ve never had the guts to hire a cleaning person because I’m always safeguarding my belongings, not to mention heard some terrible stories of epople getting killed because of a maid.
    Veronica @ Pelican on Money recently posted..LinkLuv Friday Missing Persons EditionMy Profile

  22. I think you’ve made good choices in regard to hiring help. I always say stick with what you enjoy and outsource the rest :-)
    Tackling Our Debt recently posted..Friday’s Circle of Friends – December 14My Profile

  23. Another reason Guatemala was a good choice for you! I like to pretend I’m good at DIYing, but the reality is I’m not. So I’d hire out for it, too. I’m with you on the maids, though.
    femmefrugality recently posted..Linguaphile Library Love: Free On-Line Language LearningMy Profile

  24. If money were no object I would hire help for SO many things! I mean, I don’t mind cleaning and cooking from time to time but the daily grid wears me down.
    eemusings recently posted..Link love (Powered by BBQs and bug bites)My Profile

  25. I don’t think it’s making you lazy — you picked the right country, that’s all!
    Kathleen, FrugalPortland recently posted..Frugal Gift Swap is Complete!My Profile

  26. Holly Thrifty says:

    Do I need a cleaning lady? My answer is no, but I do enjoy that luxury. As a full time working professional, I’d rather spend my “free time” doing other things. I cook every night so the money I save by not going out to eat pays the cleaning lady. We’re debt free so it’s no burden on us financially.

    Most folks spend more on owning a pet–that makes more cleaning mess–than I spend on the cleaning person.


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