Friday, February 27, 2009

Have you become an 'insourcer'?

Last fall, after skillfully transforming my lawn into a carpet of crabgrass, I gave in to my horticultural ineptitude and hired a lawn care service. The company is off to a fine start, but I'll be canceling the service next month.

Like many Americans, my family is prepping for a tight 2009 - and hoping it remains merely tight. This means trimming the non-essentials, the tasks we can do (sort of) ourselves.

A new Washington Post poll shows that two-thirds of Americans are cutting back on their spending, many of them sharply. The shift has prompted a trend so stark, the Post says, that businesses and marketers have put a label on it - Insourcing, or doing yourself what you once paid someone to do.

Insourcing has resulted in a spike in sewing kit sales and garden seeds. Procter & Gamble has noticed more people calling with questions about how to dye their hair at home.

There's an upside to this, perhaps. We may be embarking on a self-sufficiency that improves not only our bank account, but reminds us of the value of doing, not delegating.

Or, maybe not.

"I don't think this trend will last beyond the downturn," says Jim Oakley, an associate professor of marketing and consumer behavior at UNC Charlotte.

Oakley tells The Squeeze that behaviors like insourcing - productive and self-improving as they might feel - aren't deep-rooted. When the conditions that cause behavior change, "consumers will return to natural tendencies," he says.

If all of that makes us sound ... weak, well, we are who are we are. But there's possibility for change.

"If the cause for the adjustment is deep-seated and long lasting, the tendency can become a habit," author and consumer behavior scholar Michael Solomon says. "Witness the lifelong distrust of banks (in retrospect, perhaps, well-justified) by people who spent their formative years in the Great Depression. Major events scar an entire generation and often define its values."

So, essentially, to have a real impact on how we conduct our lives, this recession needs to be truly traumatic.

We'll be pulling for the landscapers.


Tell us if you're saving money by doing something you were paying others to do.


Anonymous said...

YES! Example: A part on my VW broke which costs $80 to replace at the dealership. I looked it up online, will buy it for $30 and be done with it. Additionally-I mow my own lawn, cut out the paper (use internet), cook 95% of meals, work out in the house doing sit-ups, push-ups etc instead of having a gym membership...AND this is in anticipation of my wife and I potentially losing our jobs. We are amazed at how much we save a month!

Anonymous said...

I will never dye my hair myself. The risks outweigh the benefits. If it is dificult for a professional to get it right, just the thought of doing it myself is frightening. Manis/pedis, lawn care, car washing, and small home improvement projects have been insourced. Also, I decided to make my b'day cakes from scratch instead of ordering custom cakes. It costs 1/3 the price and tastes better than the ones from the grocer's bakery. This will be repeated next yr. Sewing on the other hand is a loss. I find it more cost effective to buy new clothes at the end of the season and store them for the following year. Just bought most of my daughter's fall wardrobe for less than $25.

Anonymous said...

I have colored my hair to save money. It never turns out like what you will get in a salon. Instead, I have found a stylist that is half what I used to pay at a high dollar salon. She is just as good and half the price!

Anonymous said...

"Oakley tells The Squeeze that behaviors like insourcing - productive and self-improving as they might feel - aren't deep-rooted."

That's baloney. As Americans, we went for generations doing our own work...maintaining and caring for our homes, doing our own lawns, raising our own food, etc., etc. Time-wise, this sort of home maintenance service industry on a large scale is fairly recent...maybe going back to the late seventies, early eighties? We didn't used to "need" Molly-Maids, Chemlawn, and other types of services, and frankly, we don't really need them now. People have just sort of come to depend on them because they're available. We've become the let's-get-someone-else-to-do-our-work-for-us generation. We've become...lazy.

Anonymous said...

Great article, we have been doing what you write all along and still love it I am 79 my wife is 76 and I wil color her hair today. The statement is correct about only lasting until a recovery comes. What no one seems to understand, doing these things allalong anyway is the freatest feeling of who you are and what you can do plus the mo0st inoportant thing of all, it is the Spirityal connection of the needle and thread that weaves its way through life and it's values.

Anonymous said...

I have been doing more sewing/mending but a rather "strange" thing has happened. Walmart in Mooresville no longer sells sewing thread. Michaels sells a few colors and their thread is more expensive. I guess that Walmart doesn't expect much "insourcing" in the sewing area.

Anonymous said...

I was recently in Walmart in Denver looking for thread as well. When I couldn't find anything beyond a few skeins of straggly yarn and a huge sticker section, I asked one of the crew what had happened. Walmart used to have a decent craft section. She said Walmart is phasing out their sewing and craft sections because "people don't do those things anymore. They just buy something new and Walmart wants them to do that, so they're getting rid of anything that encourages people to DIY." I had noticed that Walmart wasn't selling as many lawnmowers, garden equipment, grills, etc. at the super centers anymore and she confirmed it but it made me feel kind of uneasy. What about those of us who get a great deal of pleasure from DIY?

Anonymous said...

I've always cut my own lawn, not my hair however for fear of looking like Moe Howard from the Three Stooges.

Molly Bloom said...

We've always insourced as much as possible, including cleaning our own house and mowing our own lawn, because we always thought it was a waste of money to pay for those things when we were capable of doing them ourselves. Our kids help out, too, and that makes them feel helpful, responsible and productive. I draw the line at insourcing haircuts, however, unless asymmetrical hair becomes fashionable again -- I know my limitations!

Anonymous said...

I think this goes just like the beer goes.

During lean times, people switch to the cheap beers.

When times are better, they go back to the more expensive stuff.

As far as me, I grew up doing lawn work, cleaning my room, etc.

So since I became a home owner I mowed my own lawn, raked my own leaves and cleaned my own home!

I think too many people think they are just too busy to do these normal things, that frankly they could do if they wanted to.

Anonymous said...

Insourcing?? I've always cut my own lawn, and hair (wearing it bald). I've always been opposed to paying for things I can do myself. I do my own minor car and home repairs. The starter on my truck died, it would cost $200 plus labor. I rebuilt it myself, the rebuild kit from Toyota was only 12 bucks. Its about time people stopped being lazy and do things for themselves.

Anonymous said...

I have always colored my own hair. It was never in my budget to spend $80 for hair color when I could spend $8 for a bottle of Clairol and my hair looks just fine when I do it myself. I have always cleaned my own home, have basic cable, no bells or whistles on my phone/cell, etc. and drive a 10-year old car because it was never in my budget to splurge even in good times.

Alex said...

"If all of that makes us sound ... weak, well, we are who are we are. But there's possibility for change."

That an interesting view, though I think it misses an important point. Using a service isn't necessarily a a sign of weakness - it's a trade off of money for time. It provides me the opportunity to focus on subjects and projects that I find interesting and challenging. It affords me the chance to grow personally.

Not mowing a lawn does not make one weak. Watching TV instead of mowing the lawn makes one weak. That's an important distinction.

That said, you hit a point where the cost of a service is too high if you face the risk of financial instability, but I think it's dangerous to assume that the idea as a whole is bad.

To the commenter who noted that Walmart stopped selling thread because people "don't do things anymore" - I know a lot of people who knit, sew their own dresses, woodwork and do other craft projects. They don't go to Walmart because Walmart doesn't provide the level of quality one wants in materials. And as you noted - Walmart finds it far more profitable to encourage you to buy a produced piece than to sell components.

Perspective is important, please don't lump everyone into the "lazy".

chupacabra said...

I've always had a garden, but if you add up the cost of the seed, potting soil, fertilizer, and water are you really saving money? I do it because I enjoy it and the vegetables taste better than store bought ones but I am pretty sure that if I wanted to save money I would skip the garden in favor of the farmer's market.

Anonymous said...

I owned a small business for 7 years providing a product and service for the home. The past year and a half saw a 60% drop in gross sales and last month I had to close the business. The hardest part of that was having to tell my loyal team that the numbers just did not work. Maybe someday we can start back again.

Jason said...

Last night I finally unplugged my cable from my TiVo. Here's a breakdown of the savings you can achieve by knocking the incredibly overpriced cable service out of your life and using the FAR HIGHER QUALITY over the air broadcasts you can receive from our local stations in Charlotte:

Prior cost: $140+/month for the standard HD package, 2 cable cards (instead of their cable boxes) and the basic RoadRunner high speed (5/mb sec) for a total of +/- $1680/yr.

New setup: OTA broadcasts into my TiVo HD using a $10 antenna from best buy, no basic cable service but upgraded to the highest roadrunner speed available (10/mb sec)

New costs: $60/month for highspeed, $12.95/month for TiVo service: $875/yr for a difference of: $805 over the next year!

What do you miss out on? Not much. With a TiVo recording all the primetime junk shows for basic entertainment in MUCH higher quality HD (I pick up 9, all the major networks and PBS in full 100% digital signal, uncompressed!) and sites like Hulu and Netflix to provide shows that don't come out on broadcast (Monk, Burn Notice, etc..) I've got it mostly covered. NatGeo, Discovery, History and Biography are sadly missing, but after Time Warner moved to Switched Digital Video I was unable to see these in HD on my TiVo anyways!

Anonymous said...

My husband and I, though we have sufficient income to do otherwise, have always "insourced" things like yard care, house cleaning, hair coloring (if/when I do this), etc. I do get a pedicure about once a month, but that's only $30. I do not eat lunch out of the office more than once a month, and often times not at all. I bring my lunch to work and make my own coffee in our breakroom. We do not eat out a lot, but it's not off limits. Home cooked meals are generally healthier (in our home) and in our opinions, are generally better. We also work out at home as opposed to a gym, and always have. Gyms are filthy and crawling with germs; too many people are inconsiderate and do not wipe the equipment down after use. But, also, this way we can work out at our own pace and on whichever equipment we want without dealing with others' schedules, etc.

pstonge said...

Excellent point, Alex. Certainly, we use services to save time or perform tasks we're performing miserably (my lawn.) Using those don't make us ... weak. What will be interesting is how many of us go back to using them when we don't need the time or expertise.

Appreciate the good thoughts.

Anonymous said...

We are a working couple, no kids, in our early 50's...we still outsource almost everything. I don't even iron! The only things we do for ourselves on a regular basis is we clean the inside of our home ourselves, and the occasional meal.

We both enjoy our jobs - I can truly say I absolutely LOVE mine - and would rather earn money doing something I love and use some of that money to pay a professional to do the task much better than either of us could. I also love to get salon and spa services.

Anonymous said...

This is my 4th recession. I have never had cable TV, I always have done my own lawn care, pool care, car care and housekeeping. The only services I still obtain from others is a haircut every 8 wks, and try to limit to dining out to once a week. I use coupons whenever they are available and never buy ANYTHING that isn't on sale. Compared with many of my friends, we save several hundred of dollars each month.

My children have complained about our thrifty ways for years, and now that they are young adults, they are finally starting to understand the value of being careful consumers.

When you live a more simplified lifestyle, you don't feel the pinch as much during more difficult economic times.

Richard said...

OK great. The lawn care company, Hair cutter, & pest control company's can all go of business. What else can we do ourself. How about the dentist, do we really need a nice smile. Or eating out, we can cook it ourself. No need for new clothes, we can mend what we already have or shop at goodwill. See we can put the dentist, the clothing stores and our local dinners out of business too. Really, other than electricity, water and shelter, we really do not need to spend at all. Lets stop spending. Lets close more company"s, both large and small! If we all tighten our belt enough, I bet we can beat the 25% unemployment of the depression. Time to go, I'm making my own soap today.

Anonymous said...

We've cancelled our lawn service, quarterly bug service and reduced our house cleaning service. Not messing with plumbing or electrical services should we need them. Installed a ceiling light once only to have flames shoot out of it when I switched the light on 6 months later. Luckily the house didn't burn down. Also shocked myself installing the fixture to begin with. Have scheduled meetings with my new best friend Miss Clairol between spread out hair appointments. Last year's fashions are the new trend this year! My father's family used to pick a live chicken out of their backyard for dinner along with vegetables from their garden. Haven't done the chicken dinner dance - yet. Also, I suspect we could find ourselves on the chopping block with our suburban HOA with shrieking balking sounds and possibly the Observer at our front door for an in-depth report on proper poultry death procedures. I'm sure I'd make some good friends over at the PETA association though!

Anonymous said...

We feel sympathy for all who live inland and on or near the the coast where you can never starve. If all else fails go fish. We fish for a lot of our food and rely on a small garden to grow tomatos potatoes beans corn okra squash etc.

We catch crabs in the bay and gig for flounder. Most of our fish is off the surf or inlet or even pier and we can always catch enough red drum snapper sea trout or mackeral to survive for months or yrs.

If you havent already move to the nearest ocean. The way things are going starvation could be next for America and the world. Globalization has brought down the planet and relying on food distributors is now risky plus the next crisis will be inflation and food will go to the moon.

We also have a well for free water other than pumping it and coupled with free food from the ocean and garden this is real insourcing or self sufficient self contained.

Everyone for themselves. The govt may fold under debt weight.

R Ready said...

I let go my lawn service after 9 years. I have gone to once a month for my house cleaning service. I cook all the time and have put extra home items on ebay and craiglist. I live in a million dollar home and have it up for sale. I feel like it has become my prison until I can sell it.

Anonymous said...

You might want to consider hanging on to the paper. Those coupons on Sundays are well worth it.

At least go buy it from a machine (no sales tax) if you don't want to subscribe to the Fri-Sat-Sun editions.

Anonymous said...

I have grown to like my massages and hair coloring I get monthly, so I decided to try out something different. There are assage schools in this area needing clients they can learn on, as well as hair schools. Empire Hair college in Concord and Avada College in Charlotte offer facials, mani/pedi, color, style and cuts. KMart has double coupons upto and including $2. I go clothes shopping at Southpark, make a list of what I would like, and go home to google the cheapest price or find it on ebay. is a shopping search engine that is useful as well.