Today’s reader question has to do with both money and time. The reader, who works full-time and has two young daughters, explains the situation like this: “The woman who used to clean our house has moved on to a new job and now we are without. We are also in the process of paying off our debt, which was scheduled to be paid off in 18 months. I was thinking that perhaps I could use the $200/month we used for the housekeeper and put that towards the debt to accelerate the payoff.
“On the other hand having a housekeeper saved me about 4-8 hours a week of cleaning. I’ve calculated my time to be worth about $50 an hour. I really like having a clean house, somehow it gives me piece of mind. I’m leaning towards having some sort of cleaning done weekly still but I’d love to hear your point of view.”
In a lot of personal finance literature, this would be a straightforward answer. Debt is bad! A cleaning service is a luxury! Ergo, nix it and put the money toward accelerating the debt payoff!
I don’t think that’s the only answer, though. For starters, the question need not be framed as cleaning service vs. debt. It looks that way because the cleaning lady left, so our reader — who is likely doing her taxes and thinking about her family’s big financial picture — would have to make a conscious decision to hire someone new. So she’s looking at this as a new expenditure in the context of her overall finances. But here are some other ways to look at this.
First, there’s nothing inherently wrong with keeping the cleaning service and paying off the debt as scheduled. I’m not a big fan of debt, but 18 months isn’t bad, and if there is a plan to pay it down in that amount of time (which it sounds like there is) it’s pretty manageable.
This is especially true when you consider that her financial picture could look different in 18 months for reasons beyond retiring her debt. Her youngest daughter will be in or close to school age then, which means lower childcare bills. That’s not a 100% certainty, as they hadn’t ruled out having a third kid, but that is an entirely different calculation, and a much bigger one than the cleaning service!
The reader and her husband had both started new jobs relatively recently (they moved a little over a year ago). Most people don’t get raises and promotions immediately, but in the next 18 months, that might be more of a possibility. If keeping the cleaning service would help her feel more focused at work, and more likely to score said raises/promotions, then it’s a reasonable investment.
Of course, there may be ways to keep the cleaning service and pay off the debt early, too. Maybe it would be possible to find $200/month somewhere else. If not $200, then maybe $100. Personal finance literature is full of ideas for ways to find extra cash here and there. It could be a combination of buying cheaper groceries, changing the thermostat slightly, carpooling, doing an in-home date night instead of going to a restaurant and paying a babysitter, visiting the library for entertainment, etc. This reader has a good, professional job, and I’m guessing that there’s a bit of wiggle room somewhere. If you want to cut something, it’s better to cut something you don’t care about than something you do.
She can also look at the income side of the equation. If her job doesn’t forbid it, maybe there’s a way she can find a freelance gig that would net her $200/month in significantly less time than the cleaning service saves her. Maybe it would net her $2000/month and she could retire the debt even quicker! That’s not low-hanging fruit in the way that brown-bagging lunch would be, but it’s worth a look. After all, there’s always a limit to how much you can cut, whereas (at least in theory) there’s no limit to what you can earn.
Finally, she can look at cutting the cleaning service, but it might help to view this not as an all-or-nothing thing. She could have the service come every other week. She could have it come weekly, but for fewer hours, and focus on the highest-traffic areas. She could consciously delay hiring someone new for a few months, and make a choice to live with more mess until that point. She could identify what cleaning task makes the most difference in her house, and do that (and have other family members help with it too) but not worry so much about frequent dusting or vacuuming.
What would you suggest?