The Benefits of Living Life on ‘Hard Mode’

“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.

The Dishwasher

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.

Filing Taxes

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.

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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.

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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.
The thing about 'hard mode' is that you get better at playing the game.Click To Tweet

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.

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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.

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On the other hand, I sold my car.

I downsized my apartment.

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.

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24 Comments

  1. Hard mode is the best mode – I also always do my own taxes, try to submit everything myself, fix most things myself. Sometimes it’s better to outsource when it’s something that you know can be done cheaply and the cost benefit analysis (aka it’s something you really hate)

    When you do it often enough, hard mode will become default mode & it will get easier over time!

    1. I agree that when hard mode becomes default mode, a lot of things get easier! I think outsourcing makes sense for things like a business that you grow if you want to be an entrepreneur, but I’m still taking the ‘hard mode’ with this blog and doing everything myself. Good job doing your own taxes and fixing things yourself!

  2. The biggest benefit of hard mode is absolutely trying new things and bulding new skills. The best part is they tend to stack – your first DIY project can seem difficult and daunting – then a few years down the road you’re doing much more complicated things and consider that first task trivial. It’s great!

    I can’t say I live on full hard mode anymore – I balance out my time and money more than I used to. When I make that choice though, it’s usually because it’s something I already know how to do and know the additional hours aren’t worth it to me OR it’s something that I know if I mess up will cost infinitely more to fix down the road.

    Of course, we just sold our house and are renting – so without any home projects to do, who knows what trouble I’ll get into!

    1. Congrats on the sale of your house! I definitely agree that the skills start to stack. I think it’s important to start early so you get in the mindset of “I could do that,” instead of “Who do I hire to do that?” Once you’re there, you can make better insourcing vs. outsourcing choices.

  3. Every time something breaks around the house, I will take a look at it and see if I can fix it. Sometimes I can’t and I’ll be forced to call someone, but many times I can. Now I’m building up my talent stack, so when something breaks it is easier to fix than it used to be.

  4. Great article! I would also call it self suffecient mode! In addition to saving money I get a lot of pride in being able to do things on my own. Being competent in one thing leads to the next and next!

  5. This is perfect. Completely agree that once you start fixing little things, you gain confidence to take on bigger challenges. I understand the time value of trying to do it yourself, but unless I’m actually taking a day off work to do something, it’s still a win.

    1. Plus even with the learning curve I think people would surprise themselves at how easy some things are that they previously wouldn’t have trusted themselves to do (changing oil in their car, etc.) Confidence is key.

  6. ha! i just wrote a post about a big ol’ nasty DIY plumbing job i tackled in our house. i think you should check it out as it dovetails with what you wrote but with “dookie grease.” i have sadly been on the failure end of a DIY fix with a leaky drain. i watched all the youtube videos, found the required tools and even heated up the offending leaky sink nut with a little torch. in the end i just couldn’t get the thing apart and ended up calling a pro who had to cut the big nut apart with a special saw blade. i felt better that i tried and really didn’t do anything wrong, but that was still a couple of hours upside down under a hot kitchen sink that was pretty frustrating. some days you’re the windshield and some days you’re the bug i guess.

    have you been up to saratoga springs yet? it’s horse racing season. even if you don’t wager it’s a cool little city and the state park and congress park are magnificent. also, if you head straight north from utica you’re in the southern adirondack region, which is spectacular. cheers.

    1. I checked it out! I can completely relate about the smelly water and gross clogged pipes. Good for you taking it apart like that.
      If you try and try and then the pros can’t do it without heavy duty tools, I think that’s still a win.

      I haven’t moved in yet– I’m still in transit for the next couple of weeks. We’ll look to plan a trip up north, I’m definitely interested in checking out the Adirondacks and Saratoga Springs sounds good too. Thanks for the recs, cheers!

  7. I keep saying I need to have a better understanding of car maintenance. I always feel that I’m getting taken advantage of at the repair shops (probably because I am). When my check engine light goes on, I usually go to an auto parts store like Auto Zone and have them read the code for free. This way I can at least research the problem a little before I take it in, but I haven’t tackled doing the repairs myself yet.

    Cross your fingers that it doesn’t happen for a while, but next time I’m challenging myself to roll up my sleeves, curse a little, and get dirty.

    1. I think repair shops are huge offenders. Smart to do the research first— knowing what to expect after some online sleuthing is part of the DIY battle! You might be surprised how comprehensive some of those YouTube tutorials are for auto repair!

      I will love to hear about you tackling it!

  8. Love this!! I often had that “I make X$ an hour so it’s better to pay someone else to do this” argument with various people. Well, you don’t make x$ an hour sitting on the couch watching TV, duh!!! So get on it!!
    I am the first to admit, I don’t have “hard mode” activated on everything I do, I definitely have room to grow, but at least I am trying!!

    1. Right? I wish I was raking it in 24/7 but that’s just not the case. Maybe eventually with enough passive income 😉
      I think having the default as ‘let me try!’ is the first step for sure.

  9. I admittedly pay for the convenience of a lot of experts. That’s partially because I have chronic fatigue, so it’s less a matter of what my time is worth and more a matter of what my energy is worth — and also whether a moment of brain fog could ruin the whole endeavor and have me make things worse.

    I don’t love having to pay experts to do things like install a ceiling fan, but it’s not something I think I could realistically have done without a second person around in my arms went weak suddenly or something similar happened.

    But when the chain on the ceiling fan stopped turning the light on, I was able to YouTube *that* and fix it. (The chain had just come off the track. The hardest part of the fix was having to deal with like 8 tiny screws holding the cover on.) So I still try to do things for myself sometimes.

    That said, I no longer do my own taxes now that the tax code changed. If I’d done my own taxes this past year, I’d have missed a $3,000 deduction that TurboTax found me because of my business. I wouldn’t have thought to check whether that applied to me, I’m like 99% sure. So to me, the $70 for TurboTax is a good compromise between an accountant/H&R Block’s exorbitant fees and trying to do it myself (and potentially missing some huge deductions).

    1. Very interesting point about how much your energy is worth. Nice job on the ceiling fan chain!
      Also I feel like using a tax software at home is still much better than hiring someone and just passing off all the responsibility. With the online tools, you still have to know the numbers and keep track of your money. It’s too bad that these tax softwares upped their prices, I used to use the free version.

  10. This post is right up my alley! I love to fix things and get a good deal of satisfaction from doing so and the savings are great too. As a woman I spent many years not realizing that women can fix things just as well as men. I see people every day asking for recommendations on a “handyman”. This gives a subtle message that women and not handy and for years I believed that. Anyway that has changed! Thanks for this awesome post!

  11. My husband and I can both relate to this. I’ve fixed our dishwasher(s) more times than I care to recall, and he is always game to tackle anything involving the cars or most home repairs. The only thing that makes us both a little nervous is electricity, so we are happy to have a good electrician we can call if something seems out of our comfort level. I love the satisfaction of knowing we can fix most things without paying exorbitant fees to so-called experts. You just have to be resourceful and also have a little bit of a sense of adventure.

    1. I am also nervous around electricity– I would love to hire pros that can show you what they are doing. I know that might annoy some, but I would specifically hire for someone who would agree to show me what to do. I love that you are both handy and resourceful to take on the adventure of fixing things!

  12. Frugality, Hard Mode, and Minimalism sort of stack onto each other to create a self-sufficient, self-contained, and highly portable individual.

    Although, just an important thing to note, some things with a large inherent risk are better left to experts like surgery, dentistry, etc. THAT or go ULTRA BADASS BATMAN HARDMODE and earn degrees on everything you need. hahaha!

    Great article!

  13. Love it! I definitely live in hard mode, but moving more and more towards the middle. I just hired painters for a rental I painted dozens of times in the last 25 yrs. I paid them with the money I saved/invested by painting it myself in the past, and I still have a lot of money left.

    One thing about fixing things yourself: budget for “tools” – I have a ton of them now. I overheard my wife say to a friend, “My husband can fix almost anything. He’s got all kinds of tools.” I laughed. When we first started dating over a decade ago, I fixed a dozen things in her house on the weekends. I think that’s why she married me (another benefit you didn’t mention LOL).

    We had my wife’s older SUV inspection earlier this week (inspection required annually in our state). They recommended cleaning acid off of the battery terminals (for a fee), changing the cabin air filter (another fee), and polishing the headlight covers (at $60 per side!). I told them we’ll hold off for now.

    When we got home, I poured a Coke on the battery terminals (acid gone), changed the cabin air filter in less than 5 minutes (I bought extras a few months ago at an auto supply store when I had a coupon; $11 each), and polished the headlights with toothpaste and WD-40 (clear lenses now). It took me less than 30 minutes and we saved a few hundred (that’s what they wanted to charge for everything). I did these things before so it was a no brainer.

    It definitely pays to figure some things out and DIY. However, I only do basic electrical work even though I know a lot about electricity, in general. Having a good electrician to call is well worth it given the potential for fires. If you don’t get it right the first time, you might not have a chance to do it a second time.

    Awesome to see you post this info. I never thought about it much, but it is fun to fix things yourself once you have the right knowledge and tools. Usually faster than trying to get someone to fix it for you too.

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