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:
**Making Time For Fun: