Do you fight with your partner over who’ll do the laundry? Mr. Frugalwoods and I used to. But fear not, our consumer culture has created a way for us to resolve just about any marital spat: pay someone to do it for you!
Don’t Fight, Hire Out!
Arguing over who’s going to clean the house? There’s an app for that. Disagreeing about when you should do the laundry? There’s an app for that. Neither of you feels like cooking dinner? There are 30 apps for that. Too tired to walk the dog? Yep, an app for that too.
Last week while in New York City, Mr. Frugalwoods and I were bombarded with ads for every type of delivery and errand service imaginable. Based on these ads, it sounds like no one actually does anything for themselves anymore. Seems bizarre to us that the touted solution to our hectic, frenzied lives is not to simplify, but rather to pay other people to solve our inconvenient problems for us.
We’ve heard from a number of friends that their housecleaner saved their marriage. I’m thinking, really? Far be it for us to say what’ll save your marriage. But a reasonable, and far more financially prudent, way to “save” your marriage is to communicate openly and establish equitable, agreed-upon divisions of labor.
Marriage Isn’t A Partnership Anymore
Modern culture doesn’t view marriage as a true working partnership anymore. These days, couples usually don’t collaborate on projects. Sure, they’re married and creating a life together, but are they working together? Making a broad generalization here, but bear with me–on the farm back in the day, a husband and wife had to work together and depend on one another’s contributions to the family.
Now it’s more in vogue to work separately, which often yields the absence of a shared life goal/financial destination. The vast chasm that’s created between a couple’s two professional careers is often filled by spending money. I think it’s easy to slip into the mindset of “why should we do this, neither of us wants to and we both work hard, so let’s just pay for it.” Plus, the ever-looming specter of maintaining appearances can lull us into thinking everyone else is paying for it, so we should too.
By hiring out every imaginable errand–from cooking to childcare to dog washing to house cleaning–people are ensuring their dependency on two incomes. For some, this is a conscious choice about trade-offs and they’re fine with the prospect of creating a lifestyle that’ll necessitate working traditional jobs for the vast majority of their lives. And for others, these are calculated expenses enabling them to better manage their childcare needs or work demands. But I think for many folks, it’s much less a conscious choice and much more a reactionary, stuff-needs-to-get-done-now surrender.
This is not to say that all outsourcing is bad–it’s certainly not. And, not everyone’s experiences are comparable. Mr. FW and I are fortunate that we’re healthy, active, young adults with the ability to do these things for ourselves. But this is not a luxury everyone enjoys, which I fully realize. We also don’t have kids yet, which certainly adds another layer of complexity to a household management system.
Why Don’t We Outsource?
Mr. FW and I are the demographic these services target–we both work full-time, we live in the city, and we make good money–so why don’t we pay for them?
These tasks were traditionally performed by the at-home partner, thus enabling the other partner to work full-time. Since we both work full-time, we avoid paying for this stuff by sharing responsibilities equally. More importantly, paying someone to do our chores so that we can work feels an awful lot like paying for the privilege of working our jobs. And, we’re not willing to pay for our jobs.
This convenience economy also illuminates the degree to which partners don’t need to rely on one another’s competencies. Spouses who don’t collaborate on life and financial goals are far less likely to be on the same financial page. And, when you don’t work together, you’re leaving your partner’s creatively and ideas on the table. You chose each other for a reason–so why not cooperate and utilize your complimentary skills.
Mr. Frugalwoods and I have, over the course of almost 7 years of marriage, honed a system of spousal collaboration that reduces our dependence on external sources of labor. Our system is imperfect, and we’re forever ironing out kinks (as other kinks form) but, it sure does save us a lot of money and make us darn effective partners.
Division of Labor = Happy Wife, Happy Husband, Happy Hound
We don’t consider one person the homemaker and the other the breadwinner–we’re equal parts of both. This mindset led us to specialize in our respective domestic fields and create a clear division of labor. For example, we don’t debate who’s going to cook dinner because it’s always Mr. FW.
We’ll sometimes deputize the other person to assist us (I
make ask Mr. FW to move the furniture when I vacuum), but otherwise, we keep to our assigned specialties. We’ve found that this fosters equality in our marriage, shared ownership over our domestic life, and gives us a chance to demonstrate affection for the other person on a regular basis.
That’s right, I said demonstrate affection. Doing rote duties for one another brings us joy. I love ensuring that Mr. FW has clean undies to start the week and he takes pride in cooking my meals. It’s much more meaningful to put effort into performing these duties for each other than to farm them out to a third party (who, incidentally, you have to pay).
For example, Mr. FW always makes food for me before he leaves on a business trip. I could scrounge meals for myself (likely an apple with peanut butter… and cookies, let’s be honest here) but he delights in caring for me in this way. I tell you what, I’ll take meals prepared for me in advance over pointless jewelry and flowers any day. I don’t need “gifts” from my husband, I need the gift of daily partnership (and meals!).
Women vs. Men In the Domestic Arena
I often hear from girlfriends that they bear the brunt of household labor–a statistic that’s borne out in research. All of these ladies work-full time, yet somehow they’re also expected to take care of everything on the home front.
Mr. FW and I decided early on (before we were even engaged) that we wouldn’t be structuring our relationship like that. Call it feminism, call it an egalitarian partnership, or just call it honest love and respect, but, we don’t play that way. Not to mention the fact that I’m a certifiably horrendous cook (I’m currently banned from making scrambled eggs until I learn “better technique”).
By having parity in our tasks, we distribute the workload evenly and don’t put undue pressure on one person to manage everything. If you’re in a partnership where the workload feels lopsided, I encourage you to address it head on with your partner. You could even use our Frugalwoods relationship conversation guideline if you’d like (yes we’re total weirdos and still follow this outline from time to time!). An unequal partnership is not a true partnership, in my opinion.
For the record, Frugal Hound approves of our division of labor because it ensures she always gets fed and walked. However, much to her houndy chagrin, after we mistakenly fed her dinner twice one night, we now have a foolproof mechanism for not feeding her twice–we just ask the other person if they’ve fed her yet. She disapproves of this advanced human communication system.
A Rocky Past
Life hasn’t always been this rosy for Mr. FW and me. We used to have epic fights over who was going to do which chores and exactly what constituted a fair distribution of our household’s menial operations. I can’t say I’m proud of yelling at my husband over who should dust the living room–and I can’t print the words I yelled–but suffice it to say, there were some dark housekeeping-related times.
Laugh if you want to (I am as I write this), but it wasn’t funny at the time and, for whatever reason, household work was our achilles heel. For some people, it’s their finances. Easier to avoid or bicker than to get at the root cause of your debt or your overspending. I personally found it very tempting to fall into what I’d call “passive aggressive cleaning” whereby I’d stomp around in a huff with my dust rags and shoot death glares at Mr. FW.
From these despairing times, I totally get why people succumb to the seductive call of Merry Maids. If you can pay your problems away for $100 a month, why the heck not? Well, because it reduces your independence (not to mention your savings account).
There was no magic cure for our arguments over domestic tasks, just honest communication and a commitment to figuring it out. We knew we weren’t going to take the easy way out of hiring someone, so we had to buckle down and make a plan. I think just about everyone has a blind spot in their relationship at some point in time, which is truly an opportunity to grow. It took maturity and patience to get our acts together and come up with a household management system, but I’m glad we did. It forced us to examine a number of weaknesses in our marriage, which we wouldn’t have uncovered had we gone the passive route of hiring out.
It’s Not Just Money Saved, It’s Skills Built
In addition to the money we save by insourcing, this mode of operations has the stellar side benefit of allowing us to constantly try new things. Saving money is of course great, but there’s a broader sense of joint satisfaction that we derive from doing these things ourselves. We’re empowered to learn new skills. If something breaks in our house, or our clothes need mending, or we’re trying to develop a new recipe, suddenly, we’re researching and learning.
Expanding the repertoire of things we know how to do is rewarding. It gives us a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment that’s pretty hard to replicate if you’re just writing a check to a contractor or tipping a delivery driver. Instead of only appreciating freshly painted kitchen cabinets right after they’re finished, or only enjoying a meal as it’s consumed–we relish the afterglow of our triumphs for days, months, years even.
Every time I look at our kitchen, my heart leaps because I love our white painted cabinets and I love the teamwork and achievement they represent. We taught ourselves how to do the work properly, we went to Home Depot together (many times), then jammed to music and drank beer while we painted and sanded long into the night (for many, many nights). It would be impossible to reminisce about that shared experience, and the fun we had, if we’d instead gone to the movies and paid a painting crew to paint our cabinets.
Since that particular project cost us all of $183.45, the money saved speaks for itself. But most importably, we learned a new trade, which we’ll likely employ in the kitchen of a future home too. Hence, the frugal weirdo mode of DIY learning builds upon itself over the course of a lifetime.
Our inherent love of dividing and conquering will hopefully serve us well on our future homestead. We’re a well-oiled collaboration machine and having land, gardens, and possibly animals to manage together appeals to us in a deep and almost instinctual way. It feels like what we were meant to do.
Paying for services cements your reliance on money and distances you from your most valuable teammate–your partner. Instead of using chores as an opportunity to grow closer, you’re using money to make the daily realities of your life less, well, real.
We don’t view our chores as a drag that should be meted out for hire, we instead view them as integral aspects of our lives. They humble us to work with our hands, get dirty, and challenge ourselves to figure things out instead of paying them away.