Sunday, 16 March 2014

In-sourcing as a way of life...

In my formative years, firstly as an apprentice and then a junior engineer in a large engineering company in the late 1970s and early 80s, I did the usual things like regularly drinking to excess and wasting money on useless expensive toys, but in those days I wasn't earning too much and so looking back I can see my wages were heavily supplemented simply by doing things myself.

Many's the hour I would spend under the car bonnet (that is, the 'hood' to those across the pond), or stripping motorbike engines or doing DIY improvements to the first house I bought.   Also, Saturday mornings spent in the local scrapyard climbing on piles of old cars stacked four high, with tools between my teeth and also hanging out of every available pocket, just to get at that elusive water pump or starter motor I needed.  Funny how the models I was after always seemed to be at the top of the pile, but that's life... 

For younger readers, this is how second-hand car parts were to be had in the good old days, long before the breakers started stripping parts themselves and offering them off-the-shelf, at hugely inflated prices of course because they now have to factor in their own labour costs.

I think the now all-pervasive 'Health & Safety' culture must share some of the blame, although it's also fair to say that these old scrapyards were potentially dangerous places to be if you didn't have your wits about you. 

Then, sometime in my late twenties or early thirties, and like many others I know, I went soft and started to shell out serious money to others for things like repairing the car and putting up garden fences etc, all of which I'm well capable of doing myself.   The exact timing of this significant event is difficult to pinpoint, but it marked a gradual change in outlook from a personal 'in-sourcing' to an 'out-sourcing' culture.  Of course, out-sourcing was a big buzzword in the late twentieth century, with everyone from the government to big business bleating on about the benefits and potential savings to be had.

By then, I was qualified and earning decent money, and I reasoned I could work some overtime and use the extra money to pay others to do these things, a very slippery slope down the path to perdition and against which I've only applied the brakes in the last few years.  There was no significant net gain to the overall finances and yet I was working extra hours in the office rather than spending the time at home and fixing things myself. 

So, the last few years or so has marked a return to domestic in-sourcing, and there are few things more satisfying than doing a job yourself.  If you have the time and expertise, or even if you need to learn as you go along, it's the number one way to save money for almost everyone and in most cases there's no excuse for reaching for the phonebook to find a tradesman.  You might discover that the first few DIY tasks to be done don't always work out to be as cheap as you thought, because you may have to buy the tools you need to do the job, but a good set of tools is an asset for life and acquiring them on a job-by-job basis helps to spread the costs.

I generally factor in the costs of any new tools I might need for a job, and even if it's anywhere near the same price as getting someone else in to do it, then it's a no-brainer.

The biggest factor that puts most people off DIY is their own lack of confidence.   When we recently installed a new window, you could almost see the fear in the neighbours' eyes when I said I was going to cut a huge hole myself through a brick wall that supports the garage roof.   I accept, of course, that being an Engineer is a huge asset in such circumstances, because I could calculate exactly what was required and then properly plan the method to carry out the job.  However, most jobs around the house that can save you money simply don't require this level of complexity.

DIY also means you know exactly how well, or badly, the job has been done which is (usually) more of a blessing than a blight (of course you know that you re-used that stripped nut & bolt set during the repair, because it's all you had to hand at the time - it's giving you sleepless nights but you'll get around to changing it soon, right ?). 

Farming out work to tradesmen means you could be sitting on any number of bodged jobs and never even know it, and the next expensive call-out could be just around the corner.

However, the biggest satisfaction often comes simply from knowing you did the job yourself.  I sometimes stand in our kitchen looking around at the transformation from the time we bought the house, and ask my wife "Who did this ?"

The reply, as always, is "We did it all".....

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