Tip #26: Gardener? Cleaning lady? DIY instead

Ramit Sethi

This is Tip #26 of of the Save $1,000 in 30 Days Challenge.

Today’s tip is to get rid of one service provider you’re currently using (a housecleaner, dog groomer, etc.) and learn to do it yourself instead. This is a small step to take that can amount to huge savings over the long run. And yes, it’s targeted at people who may be using a cleaning lady, gardener, etc. If you’re not, there are plenty of other tips for you.


This tip was submitted by Kris from Franklin Park, NJ who writes:

Stop using one service vendor, and come up with a plan to do it yourself. We fired the cleaning lady, and made it a family project to get the job done ourselves. It takes the family only 2 hours collectively. Even though the kids do very little, we got them involved and and we make it a contest with the kids to see who can vacuum faster. This same trick might work with the dry cleaner, dog groomer and probably many more.

The average American household spends $10,000 on local services like home improvement, entertainment and personal care.

To apply this tip, think about all of the things you’re paying someone else to do that you might be able to do on your own. For example, instead of paying to get your oil changed, learn some auto maintenance and do it yourself. Or:

  • Cut your own hair or do your own nails.
  • Cook your own meals.
  • Get rid of your personal trainer or gym membership altogether – run or bike instead.

By the way, as a trick to make this actually work, I’d suggest just picking one provider and cutting costs deeply, rather than cutting costs 10% across a few different providers. This can be either quitting cold-turkey, or extending the time between visits.

Total Saved: $20-$100 / month.

* * *

Last thing to do
1. Leave a comment on this post describing how much you’re saving with this tip and any unusual techniques you use to make this tip work.
2. Want to submit your own savings tip? Submit a money tip here. If I use your tip, I’ll send you something cool.

If you found this post helpful you’ll probably like my new Ultimate Guide to Personal Finance. This is an excellent place to learn more simple ways to improve your personal finance and money management.

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  1. Announcing the Save $1,000 in 30 Days Challenge | I Will Teach You To Be Rich

    […] #24: Cut your commute expenses by 40% Tip #25: Earn more money using your God-given skills Tip #26: Gardender? Cleaning lady? DIY instead Tip #27: Use barriers to prevent yourself from spending money (52 votes, average: 3.23 out of 5) […]

  2. Freddy

    “Cut your own hair”: is anyone successfully doing that? (and I’m not talking about buzzed hair)

  3. Pritesh

    Good tip, Ramit. But I would not go for cut my own hair or will let someone else (friends/family) to cut my hair. I did it when I was in grad school to save money but my friend did it so bad that I would not do that again! We specifically talked about this few days ago at work and all females said that they could definitely cut back spending on other things (cloths, transportation, food etc) but would not mind to visit a salon for a good hair style!

    Having said that, I agree with Ramit. The point of this tip is not to go in details and argue whether cut your own hair or clean up the house would work for you or not but to find out a service/product which you and your family can do it rather than paying to someone else.

    I am sure that some ppl would argue to spend that time with family and happily pay for the service (as one of my friend did!) . For them, here is an excellent link of one of Ramit’s articles (Time is NOT money–at least, not yours)-

    At the end, two good links on ‘How to change car oil’ are:

    Detailed instructions:

    Video from the Backyard Mechanics (For changing oil, How to change your oil):

  4. Beth

    There’s no way I’m cutting my own hair… and I don’t really have the facilities to work on my car.

    However, I save big time by being able to sew and cook for myself. If you don’t have sometime to teach you, taking a class in sewing or cooking is worth the investment because the skills are so versatile. (I’ve spent a fraction of the cost on home decor items like curtains and throw cushions because I can make them myself).

    I find that doing my own spa treatments at home works really well — There are a lot of good recipes and ideas on the internet that use basic and inexpensive ingredients (rather than potentially harmful chemicals).

  5. Veronica

    Recently my father has been complaining about the cost of living in this tough economy. As he is currently paying for maintenance on 4 cars, the relatively inexpensive cost of oil changes adds up when one car is at the garage every other week it seems like. I’ve suggested that someone in the family learn how to change oil but it hasn’t been listened to. I was really excited to see this tip, so maybe when I forward it to him, he’ll actually listen!

  6. Maria | Never the Same River Twice

    Alright, I will confess right away that I have a cleaning and I’m NOT getting rid of her.

    However, I do change my own oil. I have a finicky car and it costs about $75 to get an oil change at the dealership or about $50 to let the knuckleheads at the Quick Lube do it (and it makes me nervous!).

    I can do it myself in about 30 minutes and it costs me about $25 for supplies per change.

    Total savings: $150 per year.

  7. Steph

    Single mom, I make $50/hr. I pay my cleaning/handyman guy $25/hr.
    My son is special needs, and I am also finishing my masters while working full-time.

    There are times when it pays to have help. I would not be able to complete my master’s, or even have a clean home, I’d have increased stress, and my son would not have the consistency he needs. I have help about 4 hours a week.

    Sometimes DIY means give yourself headaches. (I know it doesn’t match the acronym).

  8. Laura

    Good tip! Cleaning takes us about an hour of hard work a week (we do some cleaning 15/min the other days).

    We use this tip for when we go out of town and need someone to take care of our pet. We have a friend stay over for the week and pay her $20. It saves her money because our location is closer to her job and she can use our groceries.

  9. Joe K


    I’ve been successfully cutting my own hair for 4 years now. I was a freshman in college and was away from my barber for an extended period so I decided I’d buy some clippers and cut it myself. Spent $30 on a pair of clippers and mangled my hair the first two or 3 times, but after that I got the hang of it and now I do a pretty decent job I think. I’m 23 and working full-time as an engineer at a big company and they don’t seem to mind. Now my hair is nothing special, very basic, shorter on the sides than on the top and I was only spending $15 per haircut. I only cut my hair once every 3-4 weeks so that’s only $15-$20 saved per month, but if you take 4 years worth that’s over $700 I’ve saved since I started, and if I continue for 20 years total that’s $3500 – $4000 saved.

    I’m sure cutting your own hair would not really apply to women and it’s not much of a savings (I can certainly afford that haircut now) but I think a big impact of little things like that is getting you in the right mentality for saving on other more important things. If I have a mindset of saving everywhere I can, then when it’s time to make a big purchase or I get an impulse to spend a lot of money, I’ll think twice about it and consider all my options and the consequences, rather than just blindly consuming like many Americans do.

  10. geekmba360

    I don’t fully agree on this one.

    In some cases, time is as important as money. For example, in our house, we have cleaning lady coming in once a month to clean the house. It saves my wife tons of time and energy. She stays at home with 2 young kids, and it’s very tiring to keep the house clean.

    “Outsourcing” offers a lot of benefits. I think the key is to consider both the expense and the returns part of the equation. I wouldn’t make the decision purely on the merits of saving money. In a lot of cases, your time and energy are more important than the money saved.

  11. YScuba

    I have been a do-it-yourself person for years. Sometimes I have to give myself “permission” to let someone else do it. So, I’m all for it. But if you change your car’s oil yourself, make SURE that you dispose of the oil properly. That means taking the used oil to a disposal center or to a garage where they recycle the oil. If you dump it down the sewer and you live in the middle of the country it heads right to the gulf adding to the dead zone there. If you live on the coasts it contributes to the pollution on those coasts. If you pour it on the ground, it eventually gets into the underground aquifers. Not to get too hysterical, but the oceans are in peril (I’ve seen it as a diver) and I don’t want my frugality to result in my damaging them.

  12. Ramit Sethi

    GeekMBA: I agree with you. For certain people, it just doesn’t make sense to DIY. In this case (and based on your screenname), you probably benefit from paying others to help you (e.g., an assistant, gardender, etc). But for others, time is not really money.

  13. Kaila

    I learned how to change my own oil about a year ago. It costs roughly $20 to pay someone else to do it, and it costs me roughly $8 to do it myself (I’d never heard of a $75 oil change until I read one of the comments above). When I do it myself, I use a better quality oil than the $20 oil change gives me, and it’s usually faster for me to do it myself than to wait 30-45 minutes at a cheap-o place. I’m also very pleased that I don’t have to readjust my seat and clean dirt off my steering wheel and shifter knob.

    I also used to only get my hair cut once a year. I’d pay someone to cut it for the summer and let it grow for the winter (it’s warmer that way).

    I am my own gardener and cleaning lady. Sometimes my roommate helps.

  14. Carla

    Since we dont have clutter or a lot furniture and stuff in our house I can get it clean pretty fast, especially since we only have hardwood floors and no drapes to vacuum/wash, etc. Unless we have a newborn (we don’t have kids), I don’t see outsourcing my housecleaning to anyone. The same goes for cooking, and other household chores.

    Though it’s not the end of the world, I can’t do my own spa services to save my life. Eyebrow shaping? Not if I want to look like a freak. Pedicures? Never looks good. I do trim my hair, but its all one length.

    You pick and choose what you can and cannot do.

  15. Grumpy

    Just remember that what goes around comes around. If you stop using a service provider, their income is reduced. So what do they do? They stop spending too – maybe on your business, or your spouse’s/brother’s/whatever. The last thing (hyperbole, I know) you want to is stop putting money directly into your fellow citizens’ pockets, and that’s what happens when you stop buying high-labour/low-capital services such as dogwalking, cleaning and gardening. (No, I’m not involved in any of those activities.)

  16. Writer\\\'s Coin

    I tried cutting my own hair once and it did not work out so hot. I had to rush to the Hair Cuttery under cover of dark to get it fixed. The lady there was like “What did you DO?” It was a good attempt though.

  17. Freddy

    @Joe K: thank you, I’m going to give it a try

  18. Mike

    I do cut my own hair, buzz cut.

    If you can’t cut your own hair check to see if a friend or family member can do the job. Instead of paying them, barter. See if there is something you can do for them.

    While what Grumpy said is true it reminds me of this video
    ‘The Good Consumer’

    Don’t let Grumpy and other people make you feel bad because you decide to save some of your hard earned money.

  19. styleosophy

    I hired my niece to do my housekeeping. Helps her and the economy as she is in college and looking for a job.

  20. Grumpy

    Mike – I’m not saying that saving money is bad, just that some ways of saving hurt your community more than others.

    How much of your cleaner’s business do you account for? One-tenth?

    So your decision has a big effect on her (or his) life. She has practically no capital tied up in the business (I’m told that round here, cleaners use their client’s equipment and products), so if you drop your cleaner, that’s money straight out of her pocket.

    But your haircut is maybe 1/1000 of an individual hairdresser’s work. (Ten minutes once a month is probably typical for guys.) And he or she probably has more than you’d expect invested in equipment – next time you’re in the salon or barber shop, ask how much those scissors cost, and how often they need replacing! And on top of that, the franchisor and/or owner plus the mall owner are taking their cut (sorry!).

    Anyway, when you drop your cleaner, dogwalker or gardener in tough times, then believe me, it IS personal.

    If you really need to make sacrifices, then go ahead.

    But if you’re dropping the dogwalker so you can continue to waste money on (eg) unnecessary cellphone calls, pay tv channels that you never watch or magazines you never read, then you’re begging for bad karma.

  21. Anne Howe

    In principle this is a good tip however, but it puts money as the only value you get from that service. If you make more money than you pay the cleaning lady per hour I would just work an extra hour and bank the difference.
    win win, the cleaner still has a job, you continue to invest in community and you get to do something you like better, maybe? If that does not sit well, do the cleaning at surface level, cut the cleaners hours.You could lose your cleaner, find that you really hate doing that cleaning job and then what?

  22. Nick

    I think this makes sense to a lot of people, but not all. If a cleaning lady charges $20 to clean your house, and it would have taken you say 2 hours to do the same work, but in order to make time to do that cleaning, you’d have to leave some overtime on the table, it just might not make that much sense, financially speaking.

  23. mike c

    Been cutting my own hair since 1999. These days, it’s mostly a buzz cut, since higher powers have taken it upon themselves to create a receding hairline where my bangs used to be. But in the beginning, it was just a normal short-haired guy cut. Just took some clippers, some scissors, and a good hand held mirror. And a dust pan and broom to clean up when I’m done. Initial cost, about $40. I easily made up for that in the first year.

    A few months ago, I helped my inlaws sell their lawnmower, because my MIL decided she had earned the right to never have to mow the lawn again, despite having two kids to put through college over the next few years and having a whole lotta mortgage debt piling up. Instead, she pays a landscaping company to mow the lawn… ridiculous waste of money considering the benefit they receive for the service. I told her she should have the kids mow it, since she already gives them money for doing absolutely nothing anyway. Did I mention that their lawn is also only about the size of a large post-it note? Frustrating!!!

  24. Danielle

    Good advice. I do my own nails and recently got rid of my expensive gym membership. For some people though, I feel a cleaning person is more than just an expense. It can save tons of time that people can use to spend with their family.

  25. Budgeta

    I cut my own hair. Recently I started to color my own hair because of the ongoing cost and the ongoing damage to my hair.
    I do have a leg up on most of you because I am a licensed cosmetologist. Still, they don’t teach you how to cut or color your own hair in beauty school. I just figured out how to layer it myself pretty early on and have done so most of my life. I have taught my 2 oldest daughters how to cut the back of my hair. So one of them does it for me. TOTAL COST: FREE. Don’t hesitate to teach your kids some tricks of your trade. Chances are they can do it too and you all will save money.
    Let me make this clear, MY HAIR LOOKS GREAT or I would not do it myself! I am frugal, but I don’t like to look poor or unkempt.
    My teenage daughters only allow me to cut their hair. I also taught them how to cut their own bangs . These 2 girls are very beautiful and stylish and I like to think I am too. I get compliments on my hair all the time and so do my daughters. Now I’m having them recruit their friends for haircuts. Easy because they love my daughters’ hair.
    With regard to the hair coloring part, I was a little fearful to foil it myself, but I found a great website to help me. Go to There’s a demo on how to foil “slices” of color into your hair. I followed that. I have a great bathroom with 3 mirrors and bright lights so I can see the sides and back of my hair easily. I did the front and top parts of my head and it turned out great. I was paying $125 every other month to keep it foiled. The hairdressers got lazy and always overprocessed my hair while they did someone else, so I always had breakage and split ends. I have long curly hair that I flat iron most of the time, so too much bleach and heat would fry it. Why pay $750 per year for someone to damage my hair?
    This hair color tip may not be useful for everyone, but it sure helped me!
    Cutting my hair myself saves me at least $150 per year. Cutting the whole family of 6 saves me at least $700 per year.
    Cost of hair foils at salon w/tip 6X per year: $750
    Cost of hair foils at home per year: $60
    Cost of hair foils at home per month: $5
    Total haircut and color savings per year: $1540
    Take a look at the back area of your hair ladies, pull up the layers and take a good look. It may not be a pretty sight. When I saw the stripes and uneveness in my own hair, I realized that I could do it just as well myself. And I have! Again, go to and see if being a crib colorist is in the cards for you.

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  28. Home Clean

    DIY is really the best. You can save money, yet you enjoy what you’re doing..