The Millionaire Next Door

Stop Acting Rich: Do-It-Yourself

In my last blog, Stop Acting Rich: Good Advice from a Frugal Engineer, I mentioned that even some decamillionaires (9%) mow their own lawns.  Most do so because they enjoy doing it.  Plus it is good exercise.  But there can be certain drawbacks associated with mowing grass.  Such visual do-it-yourself activities and behaviors are often frowned upon in certain types of neighborhoods.  Robert found this out just after he and his family moved into their 1.2 million dollar home (the couple paid cash for it).  The neighborhood was filled with other pricey homes.  And what happens when new neighbors move into a so-called affluent neighborhood?  There is heightened concern among the established neighbors about whether or not the newcomers will conform to “neighborhood norms.”

Robert and his family moved into their home on a Saturday.  On Sunday afternoon he mowed his front yard.  The next day his wife found a note in their mailbox that read as follows: “In this neighborhod, homeowners do not mow their own lawns.”

In a related case study, Roger, a very wealthy entrepreneur, and his family finished moving into their 2.5 million dollar home on a Saturday afternoon.  He had recently “cashed in some of his chips” and  paid cash for the new home.  The market value of the home was “just average” for this affluent neighborhood.  At the time, Roger had yet to contract with a lawn maintenance company.  After donning his Marine fatigues, he took out his old lawn mower, filled the tank with gasoline, and, after many pulls, started the machine.  About half way through mowing the front yard, his next door neighbor walked up and motioned for him to turn off the mower.  The neighbor’s intent was not to do a “welcome new neighbor” act.  Instead he asked:  When you finish would you stop over and give me an estimate for our lawn and shrubs?  Our guy just retired.  The new homeowner replied:  I’d be delighted . . . always looking for new customers.

It was not difficult for the neighbor to mistake Roger for a lawn maintenance professional.  People who live in tony neighborhoods are not expected to mow.  Plus Roger’s Ford 250 superduty pickup truck was probably noticed by his next door neighbor as well.  What his neighbor did not see was Roger’s balance sheet, somehwere in the mid eight figure range!

Neither Robert nor Roger were upset (insulted) by their respective neighbors’ reactions. Both gentlemen are of the balance sheet affluent (BA) variety.  And most BAs believe correctly that they have more wealth accumulated than the majority of their neighbors.

People often ask me if they should mow, paint, plumb, do carpentry and related do-it yourself activities in and around their homes.  It tell them:  Do it if you enjoy it or if you can’t easily afford to pay professionals to do it for you.

9 thoughts on “Stop Acting Rich: Do-It-Yourself”

  1. Well with Roger, if he’s mowing the lawn dressed in Marine fatigues, and had a truck I too would think he’s a landscaper. It has nothing to do with if you think he’s rich or not. Landscaper business owners can be rich too you know. I think you are drawing the wrong conclusion from that example. If you enjoy the activity, great do it yourself. But don’t kid yourself you are doing it to save money or more importantly save time.

  2. DIY when you can & when you enjoy it is definitely the way to go. The note they received was very nasty indeed! I tend to the garden areas of my yard because I enjoy doing so. However, we do hire a lawn maintenance company to mow the grass because neither my husband nor I enjoy it and we’d rather spend time doing family activities. Since we do save 33% of our gross income, I feel that we can give ourselves a break in this area.

  3. We do a lot of DIY in our home. Our defining factor on deciding whether to hire someone or do it ourselves is layered:
    1. Do we enjoy the activity?
    2. Do we have time to do it regularly (if necessary) and well?
    3. Is there another benefit to having someone else do it?

    My husband enjoys mowing the lawn, so he does that chore. We hired a fencing company to build a fence around our yard because the difference in price between what we would spend in money was more than compensated for when the company build an attractive fence in 2.5 days – while it would have taken us two or three weekends worth of work. Timeliness was an issue there.

  4. These stories remind me of something I’ve noticed firsthand: Almost as a rule, the *truly* self-made wealthy are some of the most down-to-earth and friendly people you’ll ever meet. The “rich snob” stereotype comes from people *pretending* to be rich!

    The same is true in companies also: Generally, CEOs and owners of companies are the LEAST likely to view employees as peons. I believe this is something Dr. Stanley’s acquaintance Dr. David Schwartz has written about as well — people at the top are approachable, it’s people *acting* like they are big shots who usually are not.

    I used to work as a television reporter and occasionally covered lavish fund-raising dinners and events. A lot of these parties drew “snob” types who came to “be seen” with their luxury cars and luxury suits. BUT — individuals I knew were true multi-millionaires were rarely there. They’d go to fund raisers, and they donated large sums — but if it was an ostentatious “look at me” party, they weren’t there. The Ford F-150 and Dodge Durango trucks they drove wouldn’t fit in.

  5. Wow those stories are incredible. The “high-status” income statement crowd never ceases to amaze me with their ideas on how people should live. Apparently, now there is something wrong with mowing your own lawn.

    These stories remind me of the story you told at the end of chapter 8 in “The Millionaire Next Door”.

    This is the story where the Balance Sheet Affluent Mr. W came in conflict with the snobby “Status-Conscious” Income Statement Crowd in the luxury condominium complex because they had a problem with his dog. It appears that putting the two groups together does cause conflict. They don’t mix.

    I noticed that the Income Statement crowd flocks to certain neighborhoods, particularly ones with lengthy restrictive Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs) agreements, flashy Co-ops, new McMansion developments, and almost anything with the word “Luxury” to describe the community.

    Do you think Robert and Roger might be better off moving to away to a place with neighbors that share their values? For example, Robert and Roger might be happier living with Balance Sheet Affluence neighbors instead of the “high-status” glamorous (but secretly broke) crowd.

    It seems unfortunate but the lawn mowing incidents may just be the tip of the iceberg. After all you said they just moved to those neighborhoods. Is more conflict to come in the future?

  6. While moving into an “executive comunity” I encountered a new neighbor who stated that “washing your car in the driveawy would be OK if I were discrete”. The Chevy was immediately put up on blocks and the wheels taken off for display.
    As an example, our next family adventure was to build a waterfront property on a lot we purchased after much searching. The entire family pitched in and we built the house from the ground up by ourselves. Even after the steep fall in housing we’re many $ ahead.
    After several decades of plodding along with little or no debt it’s hard to believe we are actually financially independent. To look at our family nobody would know.

  7. Sam of Pittsburgh South Hills

    I have worked 25 years to reach the M status…I would not know any other way but DIY for the most part….

    Time to move onto the 2nd M….

    One key that I hate to state on getting there but it is true: Stay Single….Marry if you must, but stay single…

  8. Aw, Sam! Single vs Married with financial success as a goal does depend on who you pick for your spouse. If you pick someone who’s a true partner, someone devoted to being half of a team instead of being a leech, you’re good to go. If you pick someone based on their looks or something, then yeah, you’re better off single.

  9. Many people in northern Dallas will pay someone $1,000 a yr to mow their yard, then pay $1,000 to clean their house. Well then they need some exercise, so they pay $500 for a gym membership plus gas going to the gym equals $1,000 a yr. So $3,000 total for exercise, compared to mowing your own yard and several others and making $3,000. That’s a $6,000 swing difference times 30 yrs equals $180,000. Also, the tax code punishes the sales person’s work hard play hard mentality. They pay tax on money made and pay sales tax on money spent, so 50% or more to the govt. Amish people who make less and spend less pay maybe 20% in taxes. Also, paying someone $5,000 to paint your house means you must make $8,000 before taxes, so how many hours do you have to work to make $8k?

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