Recently we started to pay for lawn service for our yard. After reading other posts in the personal finance field I decided a piece on why might be beneficial or at least interesting. Why did we decide to pay for this convenience all of a sudden?
We Tend to Favor DIY
So some background to start. We are 5 and a half years into ownership of our second house. We owned our first house for a total of 5 years as well. Over that ten year period before now I have mowed our own lawn almost exclusively.
The one exception before today was about 6 weeks of time when our old house was up for sale. That house had a half-acre of land and took about 45 minutes a week to mow. The lawn took longer to mow then most its size due to privacy fences and other obstacles. Quite frankly at the time, the choice was to take care of moving, the family, and house repairs or spend that same over allocated 45 minutes mowing the lawn myself. I simply couldn’t do it all myself with a 1-year old at home. So we paid someone 40 dollars to do our lawn every 2 weeks.
Opportunity Cost and Convenience
So in our previous example, it came down to opportunity cost. The reality was at some point with other major priorities coming up the cost of paying someone to mow your lawn is less than not doing something else. In this particular case seeing my kids, keeping my job, and beautifying my house to get an extra few thousand from the sale exceeded the 120 dollars I spent to mow our lawn from 6 weeks.
Lawn Care At Our Current Home
Anyway, about 6 months after the sale of our first home we bought our second. We currently live on a full acre. The property is actually a bit of an easier cut, with the exception of a large hill in our back yard. The other unique aspect of our current property is it contains quite a bit of shade from some large trees. As such sometimes we can get away with 3 or even 4 weeks between mows at this house. The exception is when the leaves fall, where raking can take forever. Anyway, I digress. Enough setting the stage with the home background.
History: Free Riding Mowers
Obviously, all times are from riding mowers as a push mower for an acre would likely take you all day. So back to when we bought our first home we were given a low model Craftsman riding mower. Given is the opportune word here. An in-law bought the mower and it didn’t work. My father-in-law enacted the warranty for a replacement and the big box store never came back for the broken one. A year later we had the carburetor cleaned and adjusted, the mower started working again and never had another issue.
The End of Life Lawn Mower
Anyway, when we moved to the second house the owners left us a basic John Deere tractor. This was in roughly the same shape as our Craftsman though a few years older. So rather than relocate the Craftsman we sold it and used the John Deere. Fast forward to this year and the John Deere is starting to have issues. A mouse took up refuge in the engine bay, the transmission is slipping slightly, and it backfires on startup from time to time. The mower is reaching the end of its life.
Cost of Paying Someone To Mow Our Lawn
Which brings us to my decision today. To start, the cost to mow our lawn with the new service is just 50 dollars. As noted sometimes I can go 2-3 weeks between mows. The grass cutting season here is about 18-20 weeks long. So, at that rate, the lawn needs to be mowed 9-10 times all year for a total of 500 dollars a year to have our lawn mowed.
On the opposite side of the decision, the first thing to realize is me mowing my lawn is not free.
Cost Of Maintaining a Lawn Mower
Let’s start with the cost of gas and maintenance. I probably use about 20 dollars in gas a year. Also, it costs me about 50 dollars in maintenance parts each year. The maintenance numbers assume I do my own maintenance adding another 2-3 hours to my time commitments. So without even considering the cost of a mower or my time, paying for the first mow and a half of my yard is covered by gas and maintenance.
Cost of a Purchased Lawn Mower
Then we have the cost of the lawn mower. The cost to replace our riding mower (on the cheap side) with a new one is 1200-1300 dollars. Even a used one is probably 500-600 dollars. That is a large sunk cost. A new more would take me about 3 years of paying to mow the lawn to break even. Even a used one would take 2 years. Again assuming my time is free. As you can see not having a free mower is starting to erase the savings of mowing my lawn quickly.
Cost of Time Spent Mowing the Lawn
That really leaves my time. At an hour a mow that totals about 10 hours of my time for the summer. Add in my 2 hours I referenced earlier for maintenance to bring us to 12 hours. Not a huge number mind you, but my time is not free. After all, we are foster parents, have 2 biological children, I have a full-time job, and oh yeah, I need to sleep sometime.
So If I lowball my time at worth 20 dollars an hour that is still $240 a year of cost. Note this is a way low number compared to things like my salary.
New Break Even for DIY is 6 Years
Added to our mowing cost a new lawn mower break even is now somewhere around year 6 assuming the mower has no major break downs. Even the used option is hovering around 3 years to pay off, again assuming no major break downs.
Basically, I’ve decided it’s not worth it to purchase a mower for some hypothetical 6-year breakeven point. Especially once you consider riding lawn mowers typically only have 3-year warranties. One major break down and you’d probably be looking at a decade or more to break even. The risk doesn’t balance with the possible payout.
Even after breakeven, the net difference between paying someone to mow my lawn and doing it myself would only be about $200 a year. Again this assumes my time is only worth a minuscule 20 dollars an hour.
What Is My Time Worth?
I suspect my time is worth significantly more though it is hard to put a number on it. My regular job pay is not going to increase by giving another hour to it. So my hourly pay rate is not directly attributable to the calculation. But at the same time, I could probably do something like Uber for $15-$20 an hour with my free time. Note you do not see me scrambling to do that as a great use of my time. So clearly I value the alternative of how I spend my days today at greater than that amount.
Risk Versus Reward of Do It Yourself
Besides the risk of lower mower break down, there is a clear risk that I am undervaluing my time at $20. I suspect this is a bigger risk. No one says on their death bed I wish I’d spent less time with my family to mow the lawn. These 2 risks have allowed me along with the costs to justify the switch to paying someone to mow our lawn.
Usage of the Remaining Lawn Mower Life
Now I would be remiss if I didn’t mention, our existing lawn mower is not dead, it’s just showing signs of not having much more time. The reality is I might be able to eke out one more season of usage. However, we have to go back to the opportunity cost discussion.
The other thing I use the riding mower for is mulching my leaves at the end of the season. The lawn mower can do this in about 2-3 runs of an hour apiece. It would cost me $300 dollars a season to pay someone to mulch our leaves. So obviously mulching the leaves gives us the best bang for our buck with the mower. So I’m saving that remaining mower life to mulch those leaves for hopefully 2 seasons rather than one.
Do you mow your own lawn?