By Alaina Trivax, WCI Columnist
If you have kids, you know that toddlers are not to be trusted. What’s that? A moment of quiet? Oh, wait. Your little guy is taking a marker to the new dining room chairs. Cool.
My husband, Brandon, and I try to tag-team the toddler supervision duties, but sometimes our 2-year-old still sneaks past us. Brandon is employed in a Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation private practice while I work as a middle school teacher. With baby No. 2 on the way, we knew we needed to toddler-proof my older son’s room to prevent at least some of these “you did what?!” moments.
As I imagined corralling a toddler and an infant, I knew there would be times when I couldn’t have eyes on them both, and I wanted to be sure my son (and my chairs!) were as safe as possible. I hoped to tackle this toddler-proofing project before our new baby arrived. My husband was in the middle of a stretch of long workdays and extra weekend coverage, but I figured I could handle it myself. I’m the handier one in our house, anyway!
That’s where I went wrong. Sure, I probably could do it. But I failed to consider the time that I would have to invest in researching a solution, purchasing the supplies, and actually completing the task—all while wrangling a toddler. What is the value of my time as a wife, mother, household manager, teacher, and more, especially when at least one person in the household earns a doctor's salary?
When to Outsource Household Chores
Of course, hindsight is 20/20, and at the time, I thought this would be a straightforward task. Secure the furniture so our son can’t knock things over; contain the cords so he can’t pull stuff down. Easy peasy. Anchoring the furniture to the walls turned out to be simple enough, but securing the cords for his sound machine and baby monitor proved to be more difficult.
I bought a cord containment kit on Amazon—wrong size. Ordered another one—it couldn’t turn corners the way I needed. Picked out a new kit at Home Depot and brought in my incredibly handy mom to help–we still couldn’t get it to work. At this point, I’d spent at least $100 on supplies and wasted a good five hours of my time. I spent hours and hours trying to get different cord containment products to work but never wanted to ask Brandon to take a look. He only had a few hours of free time each evening–he needed that time to relax, right? Instead, I finally called in my friendly neighborhood handyman. It took him a half-hour to accomplish the task, and it cost $100 for time and supplies.
After writing that check, I began to wonder: why was I so willing to spend hours and hours on this task but considered it to be a waste of my husband’s time? How are we assigning value to our time? And, thinking beyond this project, at what point should I just go ahead and outsource some of these household chores?
Keeping a household running requires the completion of so many tasks like this–grocery shopping, cleaning, lawn care, home repairs, pet care, and more. As a teacher, my schedule is quite a bit lighter than my husband’s. I’m off work by mid-afternoon each day and have a few extended breaks throughout the year, along with summer vacation. On the other hand, Brandon’s days are pretty long. He typically starts with chart review around 6:30am before heading out to see patients; he aims to be home for dinner around 5:30pm and sometimes has an hour or two of notes to complete later in the evening.
Teaching is not exactly a lucrative profession, and Brandon’s salary and opportunities for additional income are much greater. Even with his long hours, if we calculate our hourly pay at our salaried positions, he earns much more than me. Beyond that, he can work an extra weekend and earn a few thousand dollars over just two days. I’ve earned additional income tutoring middle school students, but at a rate of $60 an hour, it doesn’t quite compare.
When we’ve talked about it, Brandon has suggested that our time is equally valuable—that he can take on those extra opportunities because I’m available to care for our kids. It’s a little harder for me to wrap my mind around that, especially when I’m also the one doing most of the spending. After all, someone has to keep the toilet paper and dog food stocked! These are probably my own insecurities showing up here. I earn less, sure. I also get to enjoy a teacher’s schedule—summer vacation forever!—while living a lifestyle made possible by his earnings. Is that fair? How can our time really be equally valuable?
Trading My Time for Money Spent on Convenience
These questions come up when we are calculating the value of hiring out tasks or using different convenience services. Brandon has been earning an attending salary for about two years now, but honestly, we still don’t outsource much. We use grocery convenience services—both delivery and drive-up. We send our dog to a groomer instead of brushing and bathing him ourselves. Despite my doubts about the value of my time, these are both tasks that used to be on my chore list. I used to be the one going to the grocery store or brushing the dog in the backyard. Why is it that we’ve outsourced some of my tasks when he’s clearly the higher earner?
I guess maybe he’s right—my availability to take care of our kids and household enables him to take on those opportunities for extra income. Just last month, after our new baby had arrived and while Brandon was working an extra weekend, I used Instacart to place a much-needed Costco order. The Instacart prices are higher than they are in the store, and it charges a number of service fees. But my groceries were delivered right to the front door.
The convenience of this can not be overstated. Taking a 2-year-old, a 3-week-old, and my post C-section self to the store just wasn’t an option, and my husband couldn’t get there either. Looking at the bigger picture, though, we still came out ahead–we were able to make an extra student loan payment that month and had the groceries and diapers we needed!
On the other hand, we have some landscaping projects that need to be completed soon. A local company quoted us $3,000+ for the work. Right now, though, we’re not just considering the value of our time; we’re also weighing the cost of these services against our student loans. That estimate is equal to one month’s student loan payment! So guess where you’ll find us over the next few weekends? Tag-teaming child care and lawn maintenance. But, while it’s not in the cards for us to outsource this right now, we did decide to spend a little extra to make the maintenance easier. Instead of manually dragging a hose and sprinkler around our yard and gardens, we’re going to set up a timer system.
It’s a decent compromise—we can’t outsource it to a company, but at least we can take watering off our daily to-do list.
I think the way we calculate the value of our time will continue to evolve, and, eventually, I’m sure we’ll start to transition more of these chores off of our plates. As we do, I hope we’ll outsource tasks from both of our lists. Not only is our time valuable in a monetary sense, but even more than that, the hours spent as a new family of four are priceless.
How do you calculate the value of your time? Do you outsource most of your chores, or do you simply do them yourself to save money? How difficult is that decision if you earn decidedly less than your partner? Comment below!