Wednesday, February 18, 2009

When to Hire a Professional

Several authors of blogs that I read have written articles along the lines of "Frugality vs. Being Cheap." The conclusion that they seem to come to is something like this: Being cheap is choosing the cheapest alternative no matter what. Being frugal means looking at long term value and occasionally spending more, but knowing you are getting more for your money. I agree. In my opinion being frugal means being wise with your money, and occasionally that means spending it. Along this same line, I believe that there are times to do it yourself - and there are also times to call in a pro. Here are some examples from my own life where I've felt the need to spend the money and pay for help -

My Divorce

There are lots of books out there on Do It Yourself Divorce. It can be done and it some cases people may not have any other choice, but hiring a lawyer was one of the best moves I could have made. The fact is, I don't know divorce law - do you? I needed someone on my side who could help me figure out the rules and regulations. My divorce was amicable, but still, having a lawyer on my side not only gave me peace of mind but also made things so much simpler. The day I went into court those of us with lawyers stood out from those who didn't. For one thing, we were more prepared. My lawyer took me aside and coached me on what to say and explained how the process would go - I noticed other lawyers doing the same with their clients. Another thing was that the ones with lawyers had a minimum of paperwork. We entered the court room empty handed, while everyone else entered with 1" - 2" high stacks of paper. One couple I saw had failed to get a form filled out correctly and had to leave the court. When the woman complained that she didn't know how to fill out the form, the court employee said, "If you are going to file on your own, it is your job to find out how to complete the proper forms." Harsh, but true. I paid for it to be someone else's job, and though hiring a lawyer took a big chunk out of my emergency funds, it was well worth the money.

My Taxes

There was a time not that long ago that I did all my own taxes. That was back before I was married and when I only had one W2 and maybe a 1099 or two. I think most people can do their taxes themselves, especially with all the online programs now like TurboTax, but now that things are complicated I'm glad to use an accountant. This year I am dealing with things I have never tackled before as far as taxes go - rental income and write offs, a midyear divorce and a few other odds and ends. Though it will cost me more money, I am going to feel a whole lot better about it in the long run.

Just yesterday I called a professional for a different reason...

Home Improvement

Normally I am a big fan of DIY when it comes to home improvement projects, however, there are occasions when it pays to call a pro. For example, I noticed recently that there was a lot of water on the floor near my furnace, so I did what everyone does nowadays when they have a problem - I diagnosed it on "Dr. Google." (From health problems to home improvement, what did we ever do without Google?) Anyway, according to the sites I found online the problem probably wasn't serious - it was either a plugged line or a bad pump. The plugged line I could fix myself, and possibly the pump too, but I have a service contract on my furnace so I figured I should use it.

The repairman fixed the water problem in about 5 minutes. Sure enough, Google was on the right track - the hose had simply vibrated off a bit and was leaking. I watched him fix it and if it happens again I could easily take care of it. What I couldn't have done (and why I was glad I called him) was listen to the furnace and realize that it wasn't running properly. While the furnace was working, it wasn't working very efficiently. It is kind of a long story and not related to this post, but basically it is an old furnace and one of the parts wasn't working properly. The repairman was able to get a new part and fix it and he tells me that now it should be running far more efficiently (read: less expensively). Hooray!


When my ex and I were going through marital problems we started going to couples therapy which eventually moved into individual therapy. My ex didn't choose to stick with it, but for me, therapy was one of the best things I could have ever done for myself. It wasn't cheap, but it helped me get through all the heartache and eventually heal. I'm a pretty introspective gal, but going to an actual therapist helped me in ways that reading self help books never could. My friends and family were (and continue to be) incredibly supportive, but therapy was different - it pushed me and forced me to face my fears the way that friends and family couldn't. Could I have gotten through that part of my life without it? Probably, but not as easily or with as much confidence.

As I look at these items I see a common thread - I pay for professionals not to make it easier on myself, but when expertise is needed and the outcome is important. I pay for them to help me for my own peace of mind, when I need to know that it is done right. I don't need an accountant to help me handle the day to day bills or manage my budget, but I will use them once a year if my tax situation seems to warrant it. I know that there are probably cheaper options, but that doesn't always mean they are the best option. The right choice for me is going to be the one I can trust and that lets me sleep well and night.

Photo by: jpmatth


Kristy @ Master Your Card said...

This is a great post Dawn! I'm always going back and forth when it comes to hiring professionals and DIY. One thing I hire professionals on is moving. Since I'm in the nomadic lifestyle still, I find that spending the money for movers makes my life much easier. Sure, I could probably save about $100 by renting a U-Haul and enticing friends to help me, but then it turns into this all day affair. It drags out and I have to get breakfast, lunch, and dinner...not to mention beer. By the time all is said and done, I spend the same for all of that myself as I pay for the movers. The extra $100 is a tip(if they do a good job). And the job is done in 2 hours. That's all the motivation I need.

But I agree that there are certainly some instances where it's more appropriate to hire a professional.

Miss M said...

Such an important post, sometimes spending money is the only way to go. My parents divorced last year, my mom had a lawyer, my dad didn't. He signed away a lot of things without professional counsel, perhaps out of guilt. The problem is, in a few years he'll be over the guilt but he'll be writing those checks till the day he dies.

Dawn said...

Kristy - I have hired movers too. The when I moved out into my apartment, I hired a truck and had friends help. They advertise truck rentals at $19.99, but when you add in gas, taxes, insurance, mileage and all that - it came out closer to $100. When I moved back into the house I paid $200 for movers. Not that my friends wouldn't have (and did) help out, but it saved me a lot of wear and tear on my back and was worth it.

Miss M - Exactly. I felt that my divorce was handled pretty fairly, but in that kind of emotional situation it would be very easy for one party to take advantage of another. My ex didn't have a lawyer, but I think he knew I wasn't out to "get" anything from him but what was fair. Because I had the lawyer though, I was able to put in a couple of conditions (like that my ex couldn't "abandon" the house until my apartment lease was up) that were very important to me. Without those things, it could have been a real nightmare process.

Lise said...

This is something that's been on my mind recently, too, Dawn. Specifically, due to the ice storm that went through our area and left us without power for 11 days, we have a number of downed or damaged trees on our property. My husband wants to buy a chainsaw and take them down himself, but I just don't feel comfortable with him doing that.

Either way, we're probably going to have to wait until spring to take action...

Dawn said...

Lise - I hear you! Chainsaws make me a bit nervous as well. There is certainly that peace of mind aspect to having a Pro do it! Maybe once you price it out in the spring that will help you decide.