What is the value of our time, anyway?

By Alaina Trivax, WCI columnist

If you have children, you know not to trust toddlers. What is that? A moment of calm? Oh wait. Your little guy grabs a marker for the new dining room chairs. Cool.

My husband, Brandon, and I try to team up with toddler watching duties, but sometimes our 2-year-old still sneaks past us. Brandon works in a private physical medicine and rehabilitation practice while I work as a college teacher. With baby #2 on the way, we knew we had to make my oldest son’s room toddler-proof to avoid at least some of those “what did you do?” ” moments.

As I imagined putting a toddler and a baby together, I knew there would be times when I couldn’t see them both, and I wanted to be sure my son (and my chairs!) were safe too. as possible. I was hoping to tackle this toddler protection project before our new baby arrives. My husband was in the midst of a series of long days at work and extra weekend coverage, but I figured I could handle it on my own. I’m the handiest in the house, anyway!

This is where I was wrong. Of course I probably could do it. But I didn’t factor in the time I would have to invest in finding a solution, buying the supplies, and getting the task done, all while arguing with a toddler. What is the value of my time as a wife, mother, household manager, teacher, etc., especially when at least one person in the household earns a doctor’s salary?

When to outsource household chores

Of course hindsight is 20/20, and at the time I thought that would be a simple task. Secure furniture so our son can’t knock things over; contain the cords so he can’t pull things down. Very easy. Anchoring the furniture to the walls proved easy enough, but attaching the cords to his sound machine and baby monitor proved more difficult.

I bought a cord containment kit from Amazon – wrong size. I ordered another – it couldn’t turn corners like I needed. I picked up a new kit from Home Depot and had my incredibly handy mom come over to help us out – we still couldn’t get it to work. By this point I had spent at least $100 on supplies and wasted a good five hours of my time. I spent hours and hours trying to get different cord containment products to work, but never wanted to ask Brandon to take a look. He only had a few hours of free time each evening – he needed that time to relax, didn’t he? Instead, I finally called my friendly neighborhood handyman. It took him half an hour to complete the task, and it cost him $100 for time and supplies.

After writing that check, I began to wonder: why was I so willing to spend hours and hours on this task, but considered it a waste of my husband’s time? How do we value our time? And, beyond this project, when should I go ahead and outsource some of these household chores?

Running a household requires doing so many tasks like this – grocery shopping, cleaning, lawn care, house repairs, pet care, etc. As a teacher, my schedule is a bit lighter than my husband’s. I’m off work mid-afternoon every day and have a few extended breaks throughout the year, including summer vacation. On the other hand, Brandon’s days are quite long. He usually starts by reviewing records around 6:30 a.m. before visiting patients. he aims to be home for dinner around 5:30 p.m. and sometimes has an hour or two of notes to finish later in the evening.

Teaching isn’t exactly a lucrative profession, and Brandon’s salary and additional earning opportunities are far greater. Even with his long hours, if we calculate our hourly wages at our salaried positions, he earns a lot more than me. Beyond that, he can work an extra weekend and earn a few thousand dollars in just two days. I’ve earned extra income tutoring college kids, but at a rate of $60 an hour, that’s not quite comparable.

When we talked about it, Brandon suggested that our time was just as valuable, that he could take advantage of these extra opportunities because I’m available to take care of our children. It’s a little harder for me to understand that, especially when I’m also the biggest spender. After all, someone has to keep toilet paper and dog food in stock! It’s probably my own insecurities showing up here. I earn less, that’s for sure. I can also enjoy a teacher’s schedule – summer vacation forever! – while living a lifestyle made possible by his income. Is it right? How can our time really be so valuable?

Trade my time for money spent on convenience

These questions arise when we calculate the value of renting tasks or using different convenience services. Brandon has been earning a starting salary for about two years now, but honestly, we still don’t outsource much. We use local grocery services, both delivery and drive-in. We send our dog to a groomer instead of brushing and bathing him ourselves. Despite my doubts about the value of my time, these were two tasks that were on my to-do list. Before, it was me who went to the grocery store or brushed the dog in the garden. Why did we outsource some of my tasks when he is clearly the one who earns the most?

I guess he might be right – my availability to care for our children and our household allows him to pursue these opportunities for additional income. Last month, after our new baby arrived and while Brandon worked an extra weekend, I used Instacart to place a much-needed Costco order. Instacart prices are higher than they are in the store, and it charges a number of service fees. But my groceries were delivered right to the front door.

The convenience of this cannot be overstated. Taking a 2 year old, a 3 week old, and my post-caesarean self to the store just wasn’t an option, and my husband couldn’t get there either. Looking at the big picture, however, we still got a head start – we were able to make an extra student loan payment that month and got the groceries and diapers we needed!

On the other hand, we have landscaping projects that need to be completed soon. A local company offered us over $3,000 for the work. Right now, however, we’re not just considering the value of our time; we also weigh the cost of these services against our student loans. This estimate is equivalent to paying one month’s student loan! So guess where you will find us the next weekends? Team up with babysitting and lawn maintenance. But, even though it’s not in our maps to outsource this at the moment, we decided to spend a little more to make maintenance easier. Instead of manually dragging a hose and sprinkler around our yard and gardens, we’re going to set up a timer system.

It’s a decent compromise – we can’t outsource it to a company, but at least we can water our daily to-do list.

I think the way we calculate the value of our time will continue to evolve, and eventually I’m sure we’ll start to eliminate more of these tasks from our plates. As we do, I hope we will outsource the tasks of our two lists. Not only is our time valuable monetarily, but more so, the hours spent as a new family of four are invaluable.

How do you calculate the value of your time? Do you outsource most of your tasks or just do them yourself to save money? How difficult is this decision if you earn significantly less than your partner? Comments below!

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