Soon after we got married, my husband needed a haircut. My mom had always cut my dad’s hair, so I thought that would be a good way for us to save some money, too. I cheerfully set up a stool outside, grabbed the clippers and scissors, and failed miserably. The only solution was a buzz cut. Our resulting decision to outsource haircuts cost us some money, but it may have saved our marriage.
Sometimes you just need help. For example, I'm guessing you shop at a grocery store rather than growing your own bananas or slaughtering your own pigs. But figuring out what to outsource and what to do ourselves can be complicated and even emotional. We all have preconceived notions of what we should be doing, whether that’s cooking healthy, gourmet meals every night; creating Pinterest-worthy crafts with our kids; or keeping an immaculate house. Once we realize we can’t do it all, we may feel guilty or inadequate.
I decided I needed a formal outsourcing plan when my husband started his surgical residency. Since we had no money to speak of, this plan involved lots of teamwork with other friends in my same situation: cooperative outsourcing. We outsourced childcare to each other, organizing babysitting swaps and play groups. We outsourced meal prep, synchronizing calendars and scheduling joint dinners. We painted each other’s houses, planted each other’s gardens, and took turns teaching fitness classes. Outsourcing doesn’t have to be expensive.
Of course there's no need to write up an official outsourcing plan, but it's helpful to at least recognize what you already outsource and identify other ways outsourcing might make your life more efficient. Here are some of the things I’ve outsourced over the years, or heard of other people outsourcing.
- Co-ops and swaps. The majority of my childcare outsourcing is just swapping with other moms.
- Playgroups. It’s nice to have a regularly scheduled play group so you know you’ll have a set time each week to be kid-free. Totally worth the chaos when it’s your turn to host.
- Mother’s helpers. Sometimes I just find a 10-year-old who can entertain my kids while I’m home. They're young enough to enjoy playing with your kids and old enough to be helpful. Plus, they're thrilled with $5 an hour. This was especially helpful when I was giving piano lessons to my older kids. I needed someone to keep the littles at bay.
- Babysitters. At minimum, Mom and Dad need regular date nights. But outsourcing a babysitter can range anywhere from a teenager on a weekend night to a live-in nanny.
- The TV. Let’s be real. Sometimes mom just needs an uninterrupted shower.
- Food Prep
- Restaurants. Everyone needs a night off sometimes. With my big family, I don’t love going out to eat, so I usually order in once every couple of weeks, when I just don’t have the time or inclination to cook.
- Frozen meals. Even this counts as outsourcing, since you didn’t have to make it. Give yourself permission to pop in a frozen lasagna every now and then.
- Meal exchanges. For a while, a lovely neighbor and I each took one day of the week and cooked for both families. It was so fun (and efficient), and infused my menu with fresh ideas. Miss you, Jill!
- Meal delivery services, such as Blue Apron, Plated, or Hello Fresh. I’ve never tried these, mostly because it’s not in our budget for a family of seven, but I know people who’ve loved them.
- Private chef. The pricy option, but wouldn’t this be nice.
- Grocery Shopping. Online ordering with either drive-up or delivery have changed my life! No more children begging for everything on the shelves. Now I only step inside a grocery store for odds and ends. Otherwise, I just drive up and the groceries get loaded right into my van. And pickup at Walmart is totally free!
- Cleaning swaps. Trade weeks with a friend and deep clean your houses while the kids play. It’s more fun to clean with a partner.
- House cleaners. Hiring cleaners can be a game changer, even if it’s just occasionally. This was my favorite baby shower gift. A bunch of friends pitched in to have a service come clean my house before the baby came.
- Ironing. This is another thing I outsourced early in our marriage. Hurray for dry cleaners!
- The whole shebang. You can hire someone to either come in and do all your laundry, or someone will pick it up and deliver it to you all fresh and clean. Never tried either one, but it sounds like a dream.
- Clothes. Technically, if you don’t spin your own wool and sew your own clothes, you’re outsourcing. But here are some additional options:
- Personal shoppers. My neighbor uses an online personal stylist service, which sends her custom-picked clothes, and she can choose what to keep and send back. There are several services like this, such as Trunk Club and Stitch Fix.
- Hand-me-downs. My personal favorite. My kids have benefitted greatly from friends who’ve given us their outgrown clothing. Plus, about half of my wardrobe came from a generous friend who gives me her hand-me-downs. She has great taste and I don’t have to go shopping!
- School. If you send your kids to a public or private school, rather than homeschooling, you’re outsourcing most of your kids’ education.
- Preschool co-ops. The inexpensive way to do preschool. Everyone takes a turn teaching.
- Music lessons. I taught my kids piano until it became too much of a battle. Now I’m so happy to send them to another teacher.
- Sports. My children would be hopeless klutzes if I were in charge of their physical education. Thank you to all the coaches who’ve helped them over the years!
- Tutors. I haven’t hired tutors yet, but I’m thinking about it. This would be a great job for a high schooler.
- Bedtime Stories. I actually love reading bedtime stories. But sometimes it's just not an option and you have to outsource. For our parents, this meant Teddy Ruxpin. For us, sometimes audiobooks, podcasts, and sites like Storyline Online are the only way the kids are going to get that bedtime story.
- Outdoor Chores (Teenagers are often the cheapest option, here.)
- Snow shoveling
- Window washing
- Gardening. This year I outsourced my kitchen garden by joining a local farm co-op.
- Home. You can hire decorators, painters, organizers, electricians, contractors, you name it.
- Autopay. I love living in the digital age, so I don’t have to remember to pay bills.
- Potty Training. Yes, this is a real thing, though it's expensive and I've never done it. But a girl can dream. My friend's mother actually gave her the gift of potty training all of her children. Amazing.
I’d love to know what you outsource. Leave a comment with your great ideas!