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In my post, “Every Blade of Grass,” I mentioned how paying off my mortgage made activities such as mowing the lawn that more pleasurable now that I knew that I, and not the bank, owned every blade of grass on my property.
There are other benefits of mowing the lawn that have a direct or indirect impact on my finances.
I officially own 7.67 acres of land and would classify my location as being “in the rural country”.
Of those 7.67 acres, I keep around 1.5 acres maintained.
I remember one of my physician colleagues who came over for a party looking incredulous when I told him that I essentially maintained the property myself.
He was surprised as most of my colleagues living in the city had a landscaping service maintain their yards (the size of which my property dwarfed).
Now when I first bought the property, the original owner, who was in his 70s, stayed on for the about 6 months paying rent (which worked out perfect for me as I could finish out my contract in Ohio before moving down south).
His only stipulation was that he would require someone to mow the lawn as he was no longer willing or able to do so.
I ended up finding a landscaping service that kept the yard mowed for $125/cutting.
This ended up being a $250/month expense.
When I finally moved into the premises, I actually kept that lawn service going for a couple of months before I decided that it seemed like I was wasting money since it was something I could do myself.
My push mower from Ohio was not going to cut it here (pun intended).
So the first thing I was faced with was buying the necessary lawn equipment to tackle on such a large scale property.
I originally went with a ride on zero turn lawn mower.
However after a few episodes of nearly tipping over on the very steep portions of my backyard (near the waterfall), I promptly exchanged it for a walk behind mower that had a lower center of gravity and which could tow me with an attached sulky.
This required a cash outlay of approximately $7500.
It was definitely a large sum back then (and still is now).
The key for me was to calculate the financial breakeven point.
I figured the mowing season was a little over 6 months a year.
Assuming that the landscape service rate stayed the same (not a given), it would cost me $1500/yr.
This made the breakeven period approximately 5 years (slightly longer if you also add fuel cost, machine service cost, parts, etc.)
Given that I bought the lawnmower in 2006 and it is still going strong in 2018, I have come out far ahead in this transaction.
Of course there are some readers that would point out that I have to account for my actual time cost (approximately 90 min each time) of mowing the lawn myself rather than outsourcing the work.
If one extrapolates my hourly rate at work (let’s just say $250/hour) to this activity, they could say that this time opportunity cost is $375.
I do think this line of thinking is wrong.
To justify that the time cost of me mowing is equivalent to $375 would mean that I would actually have to be engaged in the activity that would bring me that rate during the time I was to be mowing the lawn.
This would not be the case.
If someone was to mow my lawn for me, I would likely not be reading radiology studies at the very same time.
Most likely I would be on the couch watching TV.
Another aspect of mowing the lawn that I have applied to my finances has a bit more of a circuitous route (pun again intended).
When I mow the lawn, like most people, I would start from the periphery and work my way towards the center.
Now there were a lot of trees and other obstacles that I would have to mow around during this normal mowing pattern.
On subsequent passes I would try to mow in the most efficient way possible and follow exactly the path created by these detours.
These twists and turns were magnified with each subsequent pass until near the end it looked like I was doing some complicated dance moves on my walk behind mower.
It was definitely the most efficient way to cut the grass (I was always going over new grass) but it made the whole process more tedious.
My “aha” moment came when I decided one day not to follow the crazy twists and turns that an obstacle created, but instead on the next pass just go through in a straight line (even though I knew this was not being efficient as I was mowing over already mowed grass).
By this simple act, I made the entire process more streamlined.
I didn’t have to do crazy maneuvers in ever tightening circles.
In the big scheme of things, this inefficiency only led to maybe a few extra seconds of the mower running/more gas consumed (being able to mow at a higher speed likely even further minimized this discrepancy).
So how did I translate this concept from the physical world to the financial world?
When I was investing in my taxable account I used to use my bi-monthly payday as the trigger to buy funds.
Initially I used to do this manually.
I thought I could be more efficient by looking at the markets daily and if there was a dip in the market a few days prior to payday, I would use that day to make my purchases (I would always buy at the very latest on my actual payday no matter what the market did).
Sometimes I came out ahead (bought a few days prior to my payday at a lower cost).
Sometimes I didn’t (market dropped even further on actual payday).
But in the big overall picture this “mini market timing” really did not have a significant impact and just added extra twists and turns (me monitoring the market daily and then initiating all the transactions manually).
All that extra work may have gotten me an extra 0.10 of a share IF I was lucky.
Putting my finances on autopilot (automatic purchases based on my payday) is equivalent to me barreling straight ahead on my mower over already mowed grass.
It is mentally less fatiguing and in the long run likely to have the exact same results.
Superpower Take Home Points:
- It is sometimes helpful to think of a financial breakeven point when contemplating a large purchase or not.
- If the usable life of this purchase is longer than the breakeven point, it makes financial sense to proceed with the transaction
- Although efficiency on the whole is a good thing, taken to its extreme it can have a detrimental effect
- Factor in the extra effort required versus the potential gain from being efficient when deciding which course of action is best.
- Sometimes the easiest course, which may not be the most efficient, may be the best
If you are in search of financial help, please consider enlisting the service of any of the sponsors of this blog who I feel are part of the “good guys and gals of finance.”
Even a steadfast DIY’er can sometimes gain benefit from the occasional professional input.
NOTE: The website XRAYVSN contains affiliate links and thus receives compensation whenever a purchase through these links is made (at no further cost to you). As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Although these proceeds help keep this site going they do not have any bearing on the reviews of any products I endorse which are from my own honest experiences. Thank you- XRAYVSN
Nice story and way to tie it together to personal finance! I’m sure glad I don’t have your lawn to mow…
Like you, in addition to my 401k, I have automated a portion of my taxable investments and just have my contribution on a set day (for me it is the day I get my monthly partner draw).
Not only does automation reduce the amount of stress in managing my investments, it’s also a important component in paying yourself first – which is the only way to make sure you get paid.
Thanks Financial Verdict. I appreciate the great comment. Paying yourself first is a key for sure. You can’t spend what doesn’t hit your bank account first (well I guess you can with credit card but it is much easier to spend if sitting on money in your checking account). Thanks for stopping by this morning have a great day
I might also add in the non monetary value of the immense satisfaction in doing the work yourself. I have a 1000sqft backyard in this big city (yard is bigger the apt) and look out on it with pride that it is beautiful and well maintained. I enjoy gardening and being outside. There is no amount of money low enough for me to invite someone into my home to do this for me. It would take something very rewarding from me as well as a ton of money. Granted 1000sqft is a far cry from 1.5 acres but the principle… Read more »
Great point Kpeds. Anytime I have done something myself I always appreciate it way more. I think I would have a heart attack if I had to use a push mower on my property. Believe it or not it still is sweat inducing weaving in and out being towed behind a mower on a sulky (although maybe that might be a reflection of my physical shape than anything else. Lol)
My wife insists on mowing our lawn. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve done it in the 40 years we’ve lived in this house. I chose wisely!
You are a lucky man Steveark! You definitely chose wisely (complete opposite of me, lol)
Good point on not trying to mini time the market. It’s likely not worth the trouble to see if you could game a little extra money in earnings. Your valuation of time is spot on. It’s not fair to say that you mowing your lawn costs your hourly rate of $250 an hour. However, I can see the point that if you really didn’t enjoy mowing the lawn or if you detest it… then it would be worth it to pay someone else to do it cheaper. Btw, nice lawn. You can play a round of 18 hole golf on… Read more »
Thanks 🙂 Yeah the property actually is amazing in person (but you have to keep up on it or nature quickly takes over). Definitely a lot of water hazards (including a 50 ft waterfall) so it would definitely make for a great mini-golf course. 🙂
Nice place. I use automation too. Every two weeks, the mow and blow guy automatically comes and cuts the grass. Unfortunately, for this service, money automatically disappears from my bank account.
Thanks MD! LOL on your automation. If it prevents you from doing something you don’t like, then its worth it. I actually don’t mind it because it is a nice way to survey every bit of the property and I love how it looks when I’m done with it.
Time Opportunity cost is just a red herring. Sure you can probably do it cheaper than outsourcing it, but if you choose to do that, be honest with yourself and say it is to spend time on other activities that you enjoy. House chores are not usually replaced with paid working time (when I say you and yourself I am using that generically and not picking on XRAYVSN.
You are opposite many radiologists I know – you like going out into the light!
Appreciate those points. Very well said. I definitely agree that people often use opportunity cost incorrectly. That is why I didn’t factor that as a cost of mowing the lawn because I know I would be doing something else for no monetary gain.
I try to balance the time I spend in the dark with some outdoor light (still way in the deficit with that). Have a fresh one and thanks for the comment
I am a long time Automator (added to mutual funds in a taxable account since residency via monthly bank deduction), but I have never mowed a lawn in my life* and do not expect to do so. I frequently tell the story of our neighbor, growing up,, Mr. Stone, who was the only one in our (Jewish, upper middle class) neighborhood who mowed his lawn, and all of the kids in the ‘Hood thought it was odd. * I once mowed half a lawn, the day before our house was coming on the market, 20 years ago, and we could… Read more »
Great story on learning how to mow from your wife Vagabond. Lol Its funny when I was a kid I couldn’t wait to get big enough to to do the lawn on a riding mower. When it was a push mower I was not a fan. My current setup is pretty sweet (basically have a commercial mower than goes close to 9 mph with zero turn capability so it’s like a go kart)
Hi XRV, I do most things myself. I tend to enjoy it. More money should be used to take away the things you do not want or like to do. It is different for each person. For instance, I HATE shopping. Thus more money allows me to avoid going to a dozen shops to get a deal. I would always pay to avoid all things I dislike. I also really dislike hiring people to do simple things I can do myself. OTOH, I happily mow my lawn with a push lawn mower. But we decreased the area by 50% by… Read more »
Thanks for stopping by MB. I too am not a shopper and end up spending a little more for convenience such as buying through Amazon rather than to out. Sounds like you and I have a kindred DIY spirit in somethings. The big stuff I have no problem outsourcing tho
Love the grass cutting analogy. Growing up, we had roughly an acre of property we mowed weekly. I always sought efficiencies to mow the grass quicker before the sun would become too overbearing to mow. Initially, I used your outlining method whereby I would follow the contours of the property and work my way from the outside to the inside. I liked the mindlessness of it because I just needed to cut one width of the lawnmower closer to the center and use my previous outline as a guide. I soon discovered the straight lines were more effective and also… Read more »
I’m glad you discovered the secret of mowing as well. I’m sad to say it took me many mowing seasons before I saw the barrel straight ahead method. Yeah the weather is changing and pretty soon have to winterize the mower. Another year and another $1500 benefit from the original capital outlay. Because it’s a commercial mower and I barely put a dent in the engine hours it will likely last a decade or more longer
Great post! The health benefits of the exercise involved probably make it an even better investment. I think this was brilliant decision making.
Thanks Andrea. Yeah health and financial benefits make this a great option for me
I like the analogy. When I was growing up we had a 3-acre property and about 3/4 of the acre needed to be mowed. I was responsible for this for years and grew to enjoy the riding lawn mower. But as an adult, I pay for the lawn mowing service.
Do you listen to podcasts or audiobooks while mowing?
Thanks for the comment. I typically wear noise canceling headphones and listen to music on my ipod when I mow. Makes it a lot more enjoyable
Great piece of post. Love to read. As we lay our lawn with the new turf, we have to mow for the next month. As our turf supplier advise some tips to maintain our turf with low effort, and it works better on our yard. Thanks for sharing.
Thank you so much for the kind words. Mowing the lawn actually is actually a nice way for me to relax (I listen to music while I do it). Thanks for stopping by. Appreciate it ?