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65-Year Old Digs Ditches for $20/hr?!
Old 11-19-2013, 12:38 PM   #1
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65-Year Old Digs Ditches for $20/hr?!

65-Year Old Digs Ditches for $20/hr?!

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 wife's house*. The $20 an hour is what it would have cost to have a handyman do the digging. And the “?!” is to ask myself (and you) whether I (and my wife) were nuts to dig the trench ourselves.

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 the savings were $20 for each hour that my wife and I individually put into digging that ditch instead of into going out to have fun somewhere.

Could my wife actually afford the handyman?* Yes. In addition to having a home improvement fund currently holding over $10,000, she has a robust net positive household cash flow after basic living expenses. So a lack of money was not the reason for all that DIY digging.

What was? 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 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 -- especially since my wife and I only see each other on weekends. 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.

And that’s the deal I’m 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’m making sure that each one of those days counts for me.

How about you? Do you make sure that each one of your days counts for you?
 
Alex in Virginia

* My wife and I live in separate houses 102 miles apart, and we keep our household finances separate -- which means that the handyman cost of digging that trench would have come out of her pocket.


Other Recent Early-Retirement.Org Posts:
-- on 11/13/13: My $18K/Yr Basic Expense Budget
-- on 11/08/13: Sharing My FI/Retirement Journey
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Old 11-19-2013, 12:49 PM   #2
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I dunno. Some people go exhausting themselves at the gym, running a marathon, or racing a bike, and even pay to participate.

I would just celebrate the fact that you are healthy enough to do what you did, and think of the bulging muscles i your arms. But don't kill yourself over something like this. Perhaps next time you should rent a trencher.
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Old 11-19-2013, 12:59 PM   #3
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Perhaps next time you should rent a trencher.
+1^9
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Old 11-19-2013, 01:12 PM   #4
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Perhaps next time you should rent a trencher.
His wife's house, she pays the bills, and even the gas for him to visit. Looks to me like she did rent a trencher.
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Old 11-19-2013, 01:16 PM   #5
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I am a master procrastinator when it comes to non-fun things. Far easier - and more fun- to drive the camper somewhere with a lot of nature to hike in, a lake for canoeing, and a 60 mile bike trail. No point, at my age, in potentially creating serious or just annoying injuries doing something I don't even enjoy. I have just enough chronic, fortunately minor, pains to remind me of the potential for injury. And those are from my youth, when I was in much better condition lol. +2 on the trencher.

And you didn't do it for $20 an hour. SHE did it for $20 an hour. You did it for free.
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Old 11-19-2013, 01:33 PM   #6
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I do a lot of stuff myself, even though I can easily afford to have someone do it for me. Physical labor type jobs are my favorite. I see it as an alternative to going to the gym. I try to do it at my own pace.. but the days I'm doing stuff are the days I seem most fulfilled. One of my biggest projects was replacing my old wooden fence. Probably 20 sections. I did it almost all myself. Digging holes, hanging boards, etc.
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Old 11-19-2013, 01:35 PM   #7
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I do a lot of stuff myself, even though I can easily afford to have someone do it for me. Physical labor type jobs are my favorite. I see it as an alternative to going to the gym. I try to do it at my own pace.. but the days I'm doing stuff are the days I seem most fulfilled. One of my biggest projects was replacing my old wooden fence. Probably 20 sections. I did it almost all myself. Digging holes, hanging boards, etc.
But my gym is climate controlled, and features some occasional scenery unlikely to be found at a digging site...
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Old 11-19-2013, 02:00 PM   #8
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Only if you do another one the same way...

Good excuse to rent a machine; a mini track excavator is a lot of fun, and shows you the possibilities.
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Old 11-19-2013, 03:14 PM   #9
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I used to cut my own lawns and trim the edges which is really tough in south Texas and Louisiana summers. In July 1990 I had back surgery and my wife took over for a couple of months until she had to have abdominal surgery. We hired a yard guy for $30 a session for the rest of the season. As it turns out, that was the last time we ever mowed a yard.

I fully understand that people do yard work and digging trenches for the exercise and/or pleasure of it. I used to be a soccer referee earning a little more or less per week than I paid the yard guys, but I put in a lot more time, particularly if I included travel time to the soccer fields. But I enjoyed the refereeing.
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Old 11-19-2013, 04:53 PM   #10
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There are times that I'd insist on doing it. But I will be taking the advantage of being FI and skip the hard or uninteresting work going forward. My bones and muscles are not what they used to be. Case in point, a few months ago, I strained my back while digging a small hole to plant something. It prevented me from golfing for 2 weeks. As I age, time is the most precious thing. If I can "buy" more time for me, I won't hesitate to do it. Last month, I've hired someone for $75/month to take care of my lawn.
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Old 11-19-2013, 05:04 PM   #11
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I'd rent the trenching machine. Or fork over the $400, especially with the home improvement fund at $10k.
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Old 11-19-2013, 06:10 PM   #12
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I'm still 15 years away from 65, but for now anything I can do myself I will. Though I read too many stories of 65 plus dying from heart attacks shoveling snow, so the trench work would be hired out by me at that age.
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Old 11-19-2013, 06:12 PM   #13
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"They say hard work never kills anyone, but why takes a chance?" - Anon

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...Though I read too many stories of 65 plus dying from heart attacks shoveling snow, so the trench work would be hired out by me at that age.
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Old 11-19-2013, 10:18 PM   #14
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Until I went all HOA 6 years ago (age 60), I typically did all the "grunt" work I was qualified to do. Ditches, yard work, cleaning gutters, shoveling out the garage, etc. No more. The maintenance crew handles all the outside work, so I now do vacuuming, mopping, dishes, laundry, etc. to keep "busy" if I feel the need.

I have a family friend who recently retired from mowing lawns and other light maintenance for "old ladies". He was 92. Said he was "used up." Up until a couple of years ago, he loaded and unloaded his power mower from the trunk of his old chevy at half a dozen small yards each day. He shoveled walks in the winter and did shopping as well. A great guy who probably doesn't have much time left now. Still, he never complained and he got his social interaction that way. He never got in a hurry. He just kept at it and quit for the day if he got too tired.

I think physical labor is highly underrated, but now I feel too old to do much ditch digging (if I even had the opportunity).

Alex, I hope your wife was grateful to you for your efforts. Two week-ends, you drove 102 miles and worked (hard) for 5 hours. Hope she bought lunch at least!
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Old 11-19-2013, 11:26 PM   #15
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When I do stuff like that I reward myself with the money I saved ( or part of it). E.g., if I save myself $200 by doing something myself I will spend $100 possibly on two great bottles of wine, which I would never do otherwise. Or go out to a special restaurant with the entire $200. This way when I do the work I really enjoy the "saving"
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Old 11-20-2013, 12:19 AM   #16
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I have a family friend who recently retired from mowing lawns and other light maintenance for "old ladies". He was 92.
"If the women don't find you handsome, they should at least find you handy." - Anon.
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Old 11-20-2013, 12:50 AM   #17
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"If the women don't find you handsome, they should at least find you handy." - Anon.
I heard that on the Red Green Show...
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Old 11-20-2013, 12:57 AM   #18
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I never knew of the Red Green Show, but saw that quote on the Web.

So, are you handsome, handy, or neither? Or perhaps both? I am quite handy myself.
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Old 11-20-2013, 01:01 AM   #19
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As I age I've been practicing the handy piece. I figure the looks won't improve, the other might...

As a back-up plan, I brew beer. Maybe beer goggles will do the trick.

Always pays to have a Plan B.

The Red Green show is an acquired taste, but hilarious if you like slap stick.
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Old 11-20-2013, 06:31 AM   #20
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I dunno. Some people go exhausting themselves at the gym, running a marathon, or racing a bike, and even pay to participate.

I would just celebrate the fact that you are healthy enough to do what you did, and think of the bulging muscles i your arms. But don't kill yourself over something like this. Perhaps next time you should rent a trencher.

Hi, there, NW-Bound...

Thanks for the rent-a-trencher idea. I wish I had at least thought about it! Not all is lost, though. I'm making a strong mental footnote to always think of the equipment rental option from now on.

As far as comparing the ditch digging to leisure/hobby/self-improvement activities like working out, running and biking, that comparison won't work for me. After all, you do point out that people pay (and/or spend money on gear) to do these things. I would not pay to dig trenches. Neither would you, right?

Thanks for the reply to my OP!

Alex in Virginia
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