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Ditch Digging At 65: Frugal or Cheap?

April 18th, 2014 at 10:44 am

The 65-year old was me. The ditch was a 100-foot long, 15-inch deep, 2-foot wide trench for a French drain to be installed along the back of my house. Twenty bucks an hour is what it would have cost me to have a handyman do the digging. So the question to ask myself (and you) is whether I was nuts to dig the trench myself. Here is what you need to know to decide.

My wife and I worked on the trench together. I swung a pickax to break up the hard-clay ground and she shoveled out the dirt. We dug out the trench in a total of 10 hours over the course of 2 Saturdays. Needless to say, after each digging session we were used up for the day, the balance of which was spent going out for a "reward late lunch" followed by DVD movie watching on the couch. We were tired, but not so much as to be muscle sore the next day.

Altogether it took us 20 man/woman hours to dig out the trench. Figuring that a younger (and fitter?) handyman would have been at least 20% faster than we were, we could have hired out the work for a total cost of $400. So we saved $20 for each hour that my wife and I individually put into digging that ditch instead of putting that time into going out to have fun somewhere.

Could we actually afford the handyman? Yes. In addition to having a home improvement fund holding over $20,000 at the time, we had a net positive household cash flow after basic living expenses of $2500 per month.* So a lack of money was not the reason for all that DIY digging.

What was the reason? Responsible frugality? Overboard "scroogerism"? Not wanting to pay for something we could do ourselves with tools at hand and no special skills required? And should I be regretting "burning up" two Saturdays to do the digging -- or be glad to have that $400 still in our pockets to do something else?

What really bothers me is the loss of the 2 Saturdays. We swung that pick and that shovel for 5 hours each day -- swung them until we were too tired to dig any more or do anything else. So both days went to nothing but the trench digging. At $100 per man/woman day, I would buy back those days in a New York minute. Those 2 days were worth more than $100 each to me. Much more.

I would feel differently if I had been able to do something substantial "for me" with part of each of those days. If we had limited our trench digging to 2 hours a day, we would have had enough time (and energy!) left to go somewhere and do something. And we would have had $80 "found money" (4 man/woman digging hours for the day at $20 per hour) with which to do that something.

So that is the deal I am making with myself from now on. The time I spend each day on obligatory tasks and non-fun projects will be limited so as to allow enough time each day for some enjoyable/fulfilling activity**. I will not "tucker myself out" on the have-to-do's. I will see to it that I have enough energy left for a want-to-do. Just like everyone else, I live life -- and use it up -- one day at a time. From now on, I am making sure that each one of those days counts for me.

# # #

*My $18K Annual Baseline Budget:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2013/12/29/my-18k-ann...

**Making Time For Fun:
http://retired-to-win.savingadvice.com/2014/04/08/making-tim...

6 Responses to “Ditch Digging At 65: Frugal or Cheap?”

  1. TashaC. Says:

    good perspective. I would also take into account the level of potential injury. You said you guys were not sore. And probably got a good work out in! But just as easily could have cut yourselves, pulled something and been laid up or at the Drs. -That's the reason I probably wouldn't have done the job. Husband cant- but if he could- he probably would have injured himself. And we would have gotten into a fight. But its a good exercise in determining spending habits.

  2. Joan.of.the.Arch Says:

    My drain spade is one of my favorite tools, but then we do not encounter the clay layer until below 24 inches, so 15 inches down is no problem. I happen to love shovel work when it is for a project I want done. I would not want to make a living that way, but to get a garden bed dug, a hill contoured, a tree planted, a fence post inserted? Yes I enjoy it. I try not to work to the point of exhaustion when doing something like swinging a pick axe because that increases the chance of of an accident, yet sometimes I've not noticed the signals that it was time to stop. But digging really is a good work out which enhances your health you do heavy work like that regularly. I'll be sad the day I need to hire someone to do my digging. It IS a good thing to me.

  3. Retired To Win Says:

    TashaC. Says:

    Good perspective. I would also take into account the level of potential injury. You said you guys were not sore. And probably got a good work out in! But just as easily could have cut yourselves, pulled something and been laid up or at the Drs. -That's the reason I probably wouldn't have done the job. Husband cant- but if he could- he probably would have injured himself. And we would have gotten into a fight. But its a good exercise in determining spending habits.


    Hi, Tasha...

    You bring up a good point I did not even consider. Getting hurt would really matter. And, believe me, every time I swung that pick ax over my head and then brought it down with all my might I was super aware of how that tool could injure me or my wife. But I went ahead (anyway?!)

    Next time, right??!!

  4. Mooshocker Says:

    I suppose I see both sides to this quandry. First, I am all about comparing what my time/health/overhead is worth compared to another's. I recall taking my shirts to the cleaner every week to be pressed, having my landscaper cut my lawn, mulch, edge, trim, etc. and our housekeeper. To me, my time/health/overhead was much greater than what the expense for service was.

    Now, fast forward to today.....I HAVE to do EVERYTHING myself in most cases. I no longer have the luxery of outsourcing my chores, needs or wants. I guess, by and large, if the exercise, time spent with the Mrs. and feeling of gratification does not outweight the time spent, risk/reward, etc., then farm it out.

    Just remember, a neighbor kid might very well be looking to make $5.00/hour pocket money and with your supervision, with an ice cold beer in tow, may be a win/win for everyone!

  5. Retired To Win Says:

    Mooshocker says:
    "...I guess, by and large, if the exercise, time spent with the Mrs. and feeling of gratification does not outweigh the time spent, risk/reward, etc., then farm it out."


    Yes, that's what I have concluded too. One day soon I'll have to write a blog post about my musings 2 years ago while shoveling snow in the middle of a snowstorm so that the pileup would not be so high once the storm ended. Oy!!

  6. Retired To Win Says:

    Joan.of.the.Arch Says:

    "... I happen to love shovel work when it is for a project I want done. I would not want to make a living that way, but to get a garden bed dug, a hill contoured, a tree planted, a fence post inserted? Yes I enjoy it..."


    Although I cannot say that about shovel work, I can say it about carpentry. When it is for a personal project, I have fun doing it. Not so much otherwise.

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