DIY? 4 Times It's Cheaper to Pay a Professional

Last Updated Oct 1, 2010 3:32 PM EDT

Doing things on our own always sounds like a good idea. We'll save money, we tell ourselves, and get the satisfaction of accomplishment. But the truth is that we often end up spending more money and time.

The folks at CouponSherpa recently released a rundown of products and services they say are less expensive to buy than to do it yourself. Here are four times they say you are better off paying for a pro - unless, of course, you are one.

1. Auto Oil Change
For the inexperienced, changing your oil is not only physically difficult - especially without ramps and other equipment - but also environmentally unfriendly. (Do you know how to recycle your oil? We thought not.) "That's the biggest problem," says Kate Forgach, an editor with CouponSherpa. "Many cities and counties don't allow consumers to dispose used oil down sewers or in the trash, as we did in the past. The oil now must be brought to recycling centers or city dumps, where consumers are often charged to leave it." It's a hidden cost many of us may not understand up front. There's also the issue of time and possible frustration. "Most people also don't want to hassle with accumulating enough oil to make the trip and expense worthwhile. Unless you have multiple vehicles and are a real do-it-yourselfer, it's just easier to leave the entire mess to a quick-lube center," says Forgach.

The average price for a professional oil change runs from $25 to $45, depending on the type of oil used and additional services thrown in by the servicing company, according to CouponSherpa. DIY costs, including oil, air filter, etc., will average $20 to $30, depending on the same factors - plus the cost of getting rid of the oil.

2. Formal Printing Jobs
Another thing that sounds cheaper than it is: printing invitations, posters and other print jobs at home. What you're not considering, though, is the cost of ink. "Major manufacturers often break even or lose money on printers, but they more than make up for it with ink cartridges priced more dearly than caviar," says Forgach.

A good exercise, if you're not convinced, is to calculate the cost per page. "Consult the printer manual to determine a base rate of pages per cartridge, divide this rate by the cost of each cartridge [and] add in the cost of paper, test runs and errors," says Forgach. Don't forget time and frustration, either, she adds.

3. Selling Valuable Personal Items
If you're trying to offload collectibles, vintage clothes or antique furniture, you may be better off with help from a professional seller, who can help you better appraise the item and match your product to the right buyer - all to earn the best and fastest return. Yes, you will pay a commission - but you may be able to pocket more money this way, says Forgach: "I just went through this process with several collectible pieces of movie memorabilia left me by my father, including an original Laurel and Hardy movie script. I had no idea how to price these items, much less find the appropriate target audience."

Find a professional reseller, consignment store, antiques dealer or estate sale company in your neighborhood to help you appraise and connect you with buyers. Ask friends and family for referrals.

4. Taxes
"The IRS commissioner doesn't even do his own taxes," says Forgach. While it's not always best to hire a tax professional, sometimes, if your financials are relatively complex, it can be worth the investment. For example, if you own business, are self-employed, own several properties or actively trade stocks.

Bonus Tip: Replace or Repair?
One more place where we're often inclined to be penny-wise, pound foolish: repairs. For most small appliances, it's cheaper to replace it than to buy the replacement part or get a repair cost estimate from the manufacturer, says Forgach. Parts are hard to find and costly. And even though some major manufacturers offer repairs, it'll cost you: To replace a 50-cent gear on a coffeemaker, for instance, KitchenAid charges an average of $100 plus shipping (both ways), says Forgach. "If you've owned the appliance for several years, you have to consider whether that one repair will ensure many more years of service."

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    Farnoosh Torabi is a personal finance journalist and commentator. She is the author of the new book Psych Yourself Rich, Get the Mindset and Discipline You Need to Build Your Financial Life. Follow her at www.farnoosh.tv and on Twitter at @farnoosh.

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