Although I try to be as self-reliant as I can, oil changes are not something I enjoy doing, and it is often now cheaper to have someone else do it. So I took my car in to get the oil changed last week. After waiting for nearly two hours, one of the sales reps came out to tell me everything looks great. But with a somber face, he noted that the “cabin air filter” needs to be changed. As though passing me a note that my parents died in a war, he quietly presented me with this statement:
This looks very official! He must know what he’s talking about! But… $57 for an air filter? That seemed pretty steep. So I googled “how to replace cabin air filter” and found a video showing me exactly how to do that in about 4 minutes. The cost of the air filter? $20. I declined on the spot and opted to do it myself—saving $37 for 4 minutes of my time. (Hourly rate translation: $555/hour.) Being self-reliant pays well.
Then a few days later, I waited with a friend in our backyard for the air conditioning service company to arrive and tell me how much money it would cost to keep my 12-year-old units alive through another scorching Phoenix summer. We did some yard work, played with the kids, sat and had coffee. And then the
financial reaper repairman came. He poked around. He tested wires. He threw out jargon that was difficult to follow. And then he presented the below bill, suggesting that I pay $1,085.63 to perform the maintenance work he was recommending. But the brightly colored STOP sign on the invoice caught my eye:Why pay more?
Being Self-Reliant Pays Extremely Well
So instead of agreeing to these repairs on the spot, I decided to “think about them,” by which I mean look up the cost of the parts—basic fact checking.
The blower relay—quoted to the right at $332.85—cost a whopping $37.99 on Amazon and took about two seconds to find. Replacing the new with the old will take about ten minutes of unscrewing the old one, swapping the wires, and screwing in the new one.
And the 50/5 Run Capacitor—quoted at $305.55—cost $17, also on Amazon. I found a video on YouTube showing me exactly how to replace that part in about 3 minutes. All it takes is removing a few 5/16″ bolts and swapping a few wires to the new part.
Given the unbelievable markup on the first two things, my friend and I decided to take a closer look at the blower wheel that was scraping after the unit turned off and supposedly needed replacing. Surprise, surprise, the blower wheel didn’t actually need to be replaced. It was just slightly off balance. A few bolt adjustments fixed that issue. (It also appears blower wheels cost between $10–$30 on Amazon—not even remotely close to $456.75.)
So what this invoice was suggesting was that I pay over 1,800% more than the cost of these parts to: (1) make an unnecessary replacement; (2) pay an insane markup; and (3) not learn basic care for a system attached to my home. Instead, I spent about 45 minutes doing this stuff myself and kept the difference between the cost of the parts and the estimate in my bank account—$1,040.16. (Hourly rate translation: $1,386.88.) Correction: being self-reliant pays extremely well.
Of course, I understand businesses have overhead. They have to pay for labor, an office, a van to send their guys out in, etc. But 95% for overhead and profit?! You’ve got to be freaking kidding me.
All this got me thinking. Do I just look like a total sucker? Are these businesses gouging prices like this on everyone? Why in the world is anyone paying such an insane amount for basic repair work that literally takes minutes to do and requires only a screwdriver and dirt cheap parts? Have we become so specialized in our little bubble worlds that we lack even the most basic knowledge of how to care for our homes and vehicles? Why isn’t any of this valuable information taught in schools? Why aren’t people doing a basic search on YouTube for this information?!
Being Self-Reliant: A Fundamental Way of Thinking and Living
Taking care of ourselves and our surroundings used to be part of the American ethic. Emerson wrote in his essay Self-Reliance:
Nature suffers nothing to remain in her kingdoms which cannot help itself. The genesis and maturation of a planet, its poise and orbit, the bended tree recovering itself from the strong wind, the vital resources of every animal and vegetable, are demonstrations of the self-sufficing, and therefore self-relying soul.
In contrast to the self-reliant were those who relied only on consistency rather than problem solving:
A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall.
And I think the hobgoblin of our present consumerist cultural state is just the foolish consistency that Emerson speaks of—we’ve grown so accustomed to other people solving our problems we’ve forgotten how to do so ourselves. This dependence extends from the mundane (weeds, laundry, cleaning), to the moderately complex (basic plumbing, air conditioning maintenance), to the extraordinarily specialized (astronomy, space travel, medical care). No matter the level, someone else is always available to solve the problem.
But who can possibly afford—financially, emotionally, intellectually—always to have someone else solve the mundane problems, and even the moderately complex ones? What could be more depressing than constantly feeling helpless? Why choose helplessness instead of abundance everywhere?
Yet this is the status quo. Sink stopped up? Call the plumber. Pool turning green? Call the pool company. Yard getting overgrown? Call the landscaping company. Children misbehaving? Call a nanny, a teacher, a therapist, a counselor. Have money to invest? Give it to an expert—even when doing nothing is literally the better course of action. Slightly bored? Have on-demand cable TV. And so on ad infinitum. When did the first question in our minds change from “How can I solve this” to “Who do I call?” Frankly, it’s embarrassing.
But more than embarrassing, this mental tick is a tremendous impediment to getting out of debt and reaching financial independence. The frugal mind must also be the curious mind. The more self-reliant we become, the less we must needlessly shell out to so-called “experts,” or as Warren Buffett calls them, “helpers.” These helpers are only helping themselves, at your (enormous) expense compounded over a lifetime.
Let’s take a look at how expensive just a few of these regularly absorbed expenses are:
Wouldn’t you rather have over $300,000 in your retirement portfolio after 45 years? Yet most people voluntarily choose this path because they refuse to do simple math, and just assume someone else should take care of the problem. They choose a sucker’s cash flow. Don’t they know money is for freedom? It’s time to stop. Rid your mind of this hobgoblin. Put your frugal foot down. Exercise your frugal mind. Solve it yourself. Why pay more? Become self-reliant today.