“You live life on hard mode,” my coworker teased. We were out on our morning walk before heading into the office and as usual, I had just regaled him with a tale of one of my misadventures.
Over the next year, it became a running joke.
I described the mess in the kitchen as I dismantled my dishwasher instead of calling my landlord to fix it— hard mode.
I told him about a mishap with taxes that sent me delving into tax codes, printing out records, and sending letters to the IRS— hard mode.
I recounted the saga of car maintenance— hard mode.
Why didn’t you just hire someone? he asked. We laughed at the difference in our lives, me living life on ‘hard mode,’ and he paying for every convenience possible.
The Benefits of Hard Mode
The thing about ‘hard mode’ is that you get better at playing the game. Every time you DIY, roll up your sleeves, and figure out something that you may be tempted to outsource, you gain more skills to use in the future.
When murky brown water gathered at the base of my dishwasher, I was tempted to call our landlord.
As maintenance-newbies, we tell ourselves it will be much quicker if an expert attends to our issue, rather than wading through instructional YouTube videos. Besides, we might even make it worse, and I certainly didn’t want my kitchen flooding with dirty, smelly water.
However, the landlord would have had to find a plumber, schedule a time that would work for both of us, and in the meantime, the smell was less than pleasant. Overall, the expert would take even more time to fix the issue.
Besides, fixing a dishwasher is a rather basic skill for a future homeowner.
I fired up YouTube, scooped out the dirty water, and dismantled everything. In an hour, after ungooping the tube from our garbage disposal, the washer was up and running.
Takeaway: Doing it yourself saves time.
Just out of school—life feels overwhelming. You know you should try to understand money but you’re just trying to get by as a young adult. Tax codes read like your textbook from that class you took junior year: Seminar in Classical Antiquity.
You don’t want to mess them up, so you ask your parents to do them, or get them to pass along your documents to their tax preparer. Besides, Jerry has been in the family for years, and a couple hundred dollars is nothing compared to the thousands he could save you on your tax bill.
However, the reality is that you have to file your taxes every year. If you don’t do them yourself, you become dependent on Jerry, and those hundreds of dollars quickly add up. If you had spent the first year learning how to do it, you could save yourself thousands of dollars, paying dividends throughout the years.
After that first year, you learn what deductions you can take, you figure out what capital gains are and why they matter. Now, year after year, you have the skills to do-it-yourself, gaining the confidence and knowledge to reflect on how you handled your money.
Takeaway: Doing it yourself improves competency.
The Car Maintenance Saga
Last year my check engine light flickered on. Growing up, my parents would take it into a shop and get a quote for how much it would cost to fix the issue. Often times, the mechanics would find other issues, and the total cost would balloon.
However, I’m determined to play ‘hard mode.’ I borrow a code reader (affliate link) from a relative (you can buy them for less than $20 on Amazon) and Google the issue, which tells me it’s an issue with the EGR valve that probably just needs to be cleaned.
I call around to different shops to get quotes.
“It’s a flat $100 to do diagnostics, and then we figure it out from there,” says one mechanic.
“I know it’s a code p0402.”
“Well we have to run our own tests, otherwise it’s a liability.”
“Okay, hypothetically, if it were a problem with my EGR valve, what would be the price to simply clean it? And how much if it needs to be replaced?”
He won’t quote me exact prices, but he provides a jumble of numbers for parts and labor, tallying up to nearly $300, and that’s just to diagnose the issue and clean the part. Other shops assume the part will need to be replaced and quote me $800 and up.
After searching online, I found a forum that showed how to take each step to fix the issue, from cleaning the intake to replacing the part. It even had photos, arrows, and product recommendations. When I had questions, they would be answered on the forum within a day. The fix ultimately cost $15, and even if I had replaced the part, doing it myself would have cost just $280.
Yes, the time I took is something to keep in mind. However, the savings down the road (pun intended) makes the work completely worth it.
Takeaway: Doing it yourself saves money.
Hard Mode vs. Easy Mode — What Are The Costs?
I often hear the argument that the convenience of outsourcing work is actually a great deal when you consider what your time is worth. This idea is missing some variables of the equation.
Consider the following example: Sandra, a UX designer, makes around $45/hr. When her check engine light blinks on, she reads online forums (1 hour), watches several YouTube videos (1 hour), goes to buy all the tools and/or parts (2 hour), and then spends 4 hours attempting to clean her EGR valve (including multiple rewinds of YouTube videos and lots of squinting at her owner’s manual). The total comes to $360.
So she should just bring her car in to get fixed right? She could have spent that time working, after all!
However, Sandra was already home from work in the afternoon. She doesn’t work every hour of the day, so her time is not always worth $45/hr. If she hadn’t spent a day or two tackling that check engine light, there’s a good chance she would have caught a few episodes of Stranger Things, made dinner, and then went to bed.
While those things make for a great afternoon, now Sandra knows the steps for the next time a check engine light comes on. She picks up skills, gains confidence, learns more lingo, figures out the right tools for the job, and can do it much faster next time. She hasn’t just saved herself $300 (and likely much more than $300), she is poised to save herself even more down the line– a mechanic in the making!
‘Hard Mode’ is Easier With Less
The more things you have, the more maintenance you need to do. The coworker who teased me about ‘hard mode’ has a large house in the suburbs, 4 kids, 2 dogs, a large backyard, 2 cars, a motorcycle, and he works insane hours to continue funding his lifestyle.
On the other hand, I sold my car.
I don’t have trees to spray, lawns to mow, or roofs to mend. However, if I did, you can be sure that I would be out there in the sun, figuring out what to do next, even if it’s not convenient.
The more I can save, the more I feel comfortable leaving my desk after a productive 8-hour day. I wave goodbye to my coworker, who will no doubt put in more hours, earn more money, and spend it on:
- a plumber when the dishwasher breaks down
- a CPA when it’s time to file taxes, and
- a mechanic when his check engine light illuminates.
Hard Mode: My Way To Play
My coworker and I took different paths in our own choose-your-own-adventure games. One path is not necessarily better, but on the path to financial independence, it pays to reconsider the costs of convenience.
And when he jokes that I play life on hard mode, I laugh and agree.
That’s my favorite way to play.