The Next Step: Services

upgrading-personal-servicesWhat are the best ways to upgrade personal services such as massages, food delivery, personal training, and more? More importantly, where is the middle ground between DIYing it and, for example, hiring a personal chef? How can you outsource and save time in some areas of your life so that you can focus on spending your time (and money) on the things you enjoy the most?

We’ve already talked about a bunch of stuff in our Next Step series: how to step up your workwear, upgrade your handbags, graduate from IKEA furniture, and buy better shoes — but something else that I thought might be interesting to talk about is services. I came up with a few ideas for areas such as massage, food, exercise, hair/beauty, and home decor/organization — what other services do you think are upgradeable? What other “middle ground” approaches do you know of?

Note: These generally go in order of money required for each level (i.e., Level 1 can be done with little to no money), but obviously other factors come into play here such as time, energy, and desire. Of course, if you’re really into a certain category, you may want to do ALL the levels, all the time (money permitting); you may also want to pursue it further as a hobby or even a future career. Where possible I’ve tried to include thoughts for that as well.

These were my ideas for each category:


spa-subscription Level 1: Foam rollers (here’s a good article on how to use them from the Art of Manliness).

Level 2: Go for massages occasionally (or as you find Groupons).

Level 3: Sign up for a recurring service like Massage Envy — it “commits” you to a monthly massage (and the cost for it), but depending on other options in your area it may be a much more affordable massage.

Level 4: Hire a personal masseuse to come to your home, book a spa day at a swank spa and go to a few different appointments, take a vacation with a spa as your main destination spot (e.g., Mii Amo spa in Sedona, AZ).

Hobby: Look for a couples’ massage class that you can take with your spouse or partner.


recipe-subscriptionLevel 1: Cook at home, eat fast food, do a mix thereof (e.g., bring deli meat with you to work, then buy a bagel for 50¢ at the counter and sweet talk the counter guy into giving you lettuce and tomato with it.) If you really want to be budget friendly, buy in bulk and cook for your freezer.

Level 2: Seek out gourmet food trucks, order Seamless/GrubHub, learn to cook with slightly fancier ingredients/equipment. If you’re cooking for a family on the regular, sign up for a meal-planning service like Weelicious or The Fresh 20.

Level 3: Go to gourmet restaurants, take a cooking class, or use some of the new services that send you ingredients for a recipe like Plated, HelloFresh, or Blue Apron.  Another option: use some of the newer food delivery services designed for gourmet dining (e.g., Freshology, Caviar, or WunWun).

Level 4: Hire a personal chef, take an eating tour of your favorite region for food.

Hobby: Investigate cooking schools.


lifting-for-womenLevel 1: Run (try the Couch to 5K program if you haven’t started yet; it’s great); buy/stream exercise videos. If you want to start lifting, try the New Rules of Lifting for Women.

Level 2: Join a gym, consider Crossfit, or buy an exercise series like P90x or Insanity. If you’re looking for the next level for lifting, try an online program like Girls Gone Strong ($99-$179). Try one-off classes at fancier gyms for $25 a pop, or join something like ClassPass that lets you sample many fancier classes at a variety of gyms. Train for a race like a 5K, 10K, or marathon (level 4 effort but pretty budget friendly).

Level 3: Buy exercise classes independently of your regular gym (such as barre, Pilates, or spinning classes). Buy some sessions with a personal trainer.

Level 4: Do all of the above. Set up a home gym with your favorite pieces of equipment (e.g., treadmill, elliptical). Look into an exercise-related vacation, such as a biking tour of Italy, or a bootcamp spa.

Hobby: Look into getting your certification for teaching your favorite class — not only will you get paid to work out instead of spending money, you may decide to pursue it further as a career.


Level 1: DIY, baby — with drugstore products. If you’re really on a budget, look for a teaching salon that offers student haircuts (I did this until law school!). Another budget-friendly option: stretch your money by alternating a haircut at a really pricey salon with a trim at a less-expensive salon (where they can hopefully just follow what the better hairstylist did). On the beauty side: Learn some new tricks from YouTube.

Level 2: Go all-in with regular visits to the best salon you can afford. Upgrade your beauty supplies (makeup, hair, accessories like T3 blowdryers and more). Get an occasional deep conditioning treatment, blowout, or updo for a special event. On the makeup side: get your makeup done professionally by booking a “free” makeover appointment at a place like Sephora or M.A.C., where they do your makeup for “free” if you buy $50 worth of product.

Level 3: Get a haircolor or cut (e.g., pixie, blunt bob) that requires frequent maintenance. Get regular blowouts (as in, weekly, à la Kate Middleton — see my tips for how to make a blowout last for days). Look into laser hair removal for unwanted body hair. Consider looking into a service like GlamSquad, where you can get an occasional blowout or professional makeup application at your home.

Level 4: Have a team of professionals to come to your house to do your hair and makeup. Get daily haircuts, à la Anna Wintour.

Hobby: If you enjoy doing your own hair and makeup, consider blogging or vlogging about it to share your finished creations. (Depending on how committed you are to it, you may start to receive free products!)

Home Design/Organization/Cleaning

Level 1: DIY it, get books out of the library, and use Pinterest and home decor blogs as a resource. A great source for (unframed) art: 20×200, where you can get a ton of limited edition prints for as low as $25ish. In terms of keeping a clean house clean, look into a system such as The Fly Lady or [email protected]#$ Your Habitat.

Level 2: Embark on a project such as Apartment Therapy’s 2015 Cure (or their book, The Eight-Step Home Cure). Buy nice furniture, or home organizing products from Ikea, Container Store, Bed Bath & Beyond, and more. On the cleanliness side of things, hire a cleaning professional on a quarterly basis at least. Look into cleaning appliances such as Roomba to help automate things.

Level 3: Use a service such as HomePolish, which allows you to consult and work with an interior designer for a flat hourly fee. Schedule a cleaning service on a more regular basis (such as once every two weeks).

Level 4: Hire an interior designer or professional organizer. Work with a company like California Closets to make the most of your space. On the cleaning side of things: get a housekeeper.

Hobby: Offer to decorate your friends’ homes. Buy multiple homes (either for vacation or just, you know, buying a new home when your old one gets too small) to decorate and organize.

Ladies, what personal services do you use most often? How have you “upgraded” those services through the years (as money or time allowed)?



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  1. YouSaucyMinx :

    Fresh Direct has been a godsend since I almost never have time (or willpower) to go grocery shopping.

    5dinners1hour has also been awesome. It’s a small fee (about $10 a month) and gives you recipe lists and plans to cook all of your dinners for the week in one hour on Sundays. Then throughout the week, you just throw your prepared meal in to cook for a few minutes, and done! It’s been so helpful in getting me to eat at home instead of constantly eating out and wrecking my budget.

    They have recipes for gluten free eaters and diabetics as well.

    • Sydney Bristow :

      I love Fresh Direct. We get the majority of our meals from them and fill in with the grocery store for things like baking supplies. It’s totally worth it for us.

      This isn’t on the above list, but I’ve stepped up a level for laundry. I drop it off, let the laundramat do it, then pick it up. It’s a couple dollars more than doing it myself but definitely worth it rather than wasting time sitting at the laundromat myself.

  2. Here are my buckets:

    Massage: Level 2. I rarely get them, as I don’t think they provide much benefit for me.

    Food: Level 3. I’m definitely a foodie, so I enjoy eating at good restaurants (not necessarily gourmet, just good) and cooking with quality/gourmet ingredients. My repertoire includes everything from a basic roast chicken to duck or lamb. I have a fully stocked pantry, so services like Plated don’t really appeal to me. I would love if I could just get the fresh ingredients and use my own spices.

    Exercise: Level 2. I just signed up for ClassPass this month and I love it! I’ve always preferred taking classes to using machines and this is far more cost efficient to joining any one gym for the variety and quality of classes that I can take.

    Hair/Beauty: Level 1/2. I’m mostly DIY with my naturally curly hair, getting a trim every 6 weeks or so. I use a variety of drugstore and higher end products for both hair and beauty. I’ll occasionally get a Sephora makeover for events and have regular dermatologist appointments.

    Cleaning: Level 3. Bi-monthly house cleaning has changed my life!

  3. Best “services” decision ever: have a good auto mechanic and use them for everything from oil changes to body work. Mine has free loaner vehicles and is a little more expensive than Jiffy Lube.

    Now that my car is older, they tell me what will need to be done before my next oil change and what will need to be done at my next oil change. If it has to be done before my next oil change, I have them do it before I pick up my car. That way I don’t worry about it for the next 6 months.

    They have gotten me through so many car troubles and dealt with insurance when my car was hit by a student driver. If it’s an unexpected repair, they get me in right away. They know my car, what parts are needed, and my driving habits. Seriously, it is so worth spending an extra $20 for regular service.

    • Bewitched :

      Plus 1 for this! My local mechanic fixed my son’s older Subaru when we had taken it 3x to the place we bought it without any resolution of the problem. It turns out that waiting for original place to fix it cause another problem (with the catalytic converter-an expensive repair), but local mechanic was able to tell me that Subaru was fixing CC’s even after warranty expired at 100K miles, so we got that repair done for free! As K-padi says, they also try to give you a heads up about what will need to be done down the pike so that you can plan to set the $$ aside.
      In fact, I think having a reliable and reputable mechanic, plumber, appliance repair company etc is worth it’s weight in gold-much more important than regular massages!

    • Sorry, I didn’t realize we have a “bucket” theme going. So, for car maintenance:

      Bucket zero: DIY. Go to auto zone or Napa for parts and do repairs yourself. Wash car in driveway.

      Bucket one: go to Jiffy Lube for regular maintenance, dealership for other repairs (if not under warranty). Use automatic exterior car washes or go to a DIY place with pressurized hoses and vacuums.

      Bucket two: have a regular non-dealership mechanic (unless under warranty or if you have a dealer service center that is better than most); go to car washes that do interior and exterior cleanings.

      Bucket three: weekly car service that washes your car, fills the tank, performs any needed maintenance, etc.

      By my own definition, I am bucket two.

  4. SoCalAtty :

    Don’t knock the IKEA! There are certain things that you just have a hard time finding elsewhere. Example: we have a big dining room with a long blank wall. I need pantry space. I looked everywhere, and there just aren’t good freestanding pantry solutions. Enter IKEA’s closet solutions – tall, and deep enough for big appliances. Problem solved!

    I think storage cabinet solutions is really where their products shine.

    I like Plated and Blue Apron as well – I thin Plated slightly more since you get to choose your meals, and I’m a little bit of a picky eater.

    • Anonymous :

      +1 for IKEA kitchens. My husband is an architect and often puts them (and IKEA bathrooms) in very expensive homes if they are starting to run over budget. They look great, are super functional, and you just can’t buy anything at comparable quality for the price. (We have an IKEA kitchen, too!)

      • brokentoe :

        Just finished a major home remodeling project that involved relocating my kitchen to another part of the house. I jokingly refer to it as my “high-low” kitchen: IKEA cabinets, carrera marble countertops, backsplash and enormous island (it’s almost 5×9 ft), high-end appliances. No one can believe cabs are from IKEA but they saved me a ton of money – like $7K vs. custom @ north of $15K. Love my IKEA kitchen!

      • We did IKEA wardrobes in all the bedrooms in the house, and then had the custom cabinet maker make the doors. The insides look good, and the doors make them look fancy.

  5. I think Kat has a higher bar for what constitutes a hobby than I do.

  6. Massage: Level 0 (not a priority; it would be nice if I had an unlimited budget)

    Food: Level 2, I guess? Sometimes fast food, takeout and nice restaurants 1-2 times/month, but we mostly cook at home with high quality ingredients (we don’t use services like Blue Apron, though).

    Exercise: Level 1, recently downgraded from Level 3 (barre classes) mainly due to cost.

    Hair/Beauty: Now firmly Level 2…a lot of upgrades in the last year or two, with fantastic results.

    Home: Level 1, but once we buy a place, looking to go into Level 2. ESPECIALLY looking forward to hiring cleaning help! I don’t know how much “nice” furniture we really would want to buy new. I would much prefer (budget-wise, and aesthetically), to get older, good quality, non-matched furniture from estate sales and from family. And, I’m with SoCalAtty, that some IKEA pieces are fantastically functional.

  7. I’m a big fan of outsourcing. Its how I make my busy work/family life work.

    My part-time after school nanny also cleans the house, so she gets the kids after school and cleans one room a day and keeps the kitchen neat, does laundry, etc. I hired a home organizer to help me clean out/organize my closets and garage. That was awesome and very helpful and I can find things now — I think I might do it once a year to help keep me on track. I also use a personal shopper who helps me make up outfits and tells me which of my old clothes to dump. I use the help with the kids because I can’t get out of work soon enough to pick them up at school. I use the cleaning/organizing/shopping help because I’m not very good at those things, and I don’t enjoy doing them.

    I go to a personal trainer about once a week, and work out all the other days on my own. I get massages maybe 5 times a year and have a foam roller and yoga class for the rest.

    One of the nice things about being older and having a higher income is being able to get help for these things. I’m a big fan.

    I like to cook so I don’t outsource that although I do negotiate with hubby so I don’t end up doing all of it, and we rely heavily on Trader Joes cut up veggies, washed greens, some of their pre made foods, and other short cuts, especially on week nights.

    • Sounds like me. I keep thinking about leaving my job, but then I would have to get rid of these services! My nanny does not clean, but she picks up, and the cleaners come once a week. I have a woman that prepares frozen meals for us – I pick up once a month (just 6 meals), and use them to supplement on nights I don’t cook.

    • What area are you in? I’m NYC and would love a rec for an organizer and shopper!

      A cooking service I have not seen mentioned yet is Cook Smarts. It’s a website where for $5 a month you get 4 recipes and a customizable shopping each week. The shopping list varies based on your diet preferences. A lot of the recipes are delicious and I am more inclined to cook if the guess work is removed.

  8. I think it’s harder to do buckets for services. We use Blue Apron 2-3 times a month but that’s mostly because Mr. AIMS likes cooking them and I like not having to make dinner. For us, they also tend to be cheaper or equivalent to just going to the supermarket because when I am not in charge of dinner, he just picks a recipe that appeals to him online and then ends up spending a ton of money to buy a ton of stuff we only need a spoonful of to make this one dish.

    Speaking of cleaning services, has anyone hired a service just to come in once or twice to do a really deep clean of all those hard to reach/easy to neglect areas? My impression of a lot of services is that they are more surface cleaning than actual scrubbing, but I’d like to hire someone to come in and really deep-clean my kitchen, bathroom, windows, etc. Any recommendations in NYC would be appreciated.

    • Anonymous :

      I’ve used Handy for this.

      • This sounds easy enough but I don’t see an option for “deep cleaning” of all the nooks and crannies on there. I’m basically, looking to have someone do the things that really require elbow grease and not just wipe down the surfaces. Were you happy with the thoroughness of their cleaning?

        • Anonymous :

          I was. I just selected more time than my apt would otherwise need. I’ve been pleased with their customer service too- they should be able to arrange this.

    • I’ve used TaskRabbit for this with good results in NYC. It’s nice because you can hand them a specific list of tasks you want them to accomplish.

    • Meg Murry :

      We’ve used a local Service Master franchise (not in NYC) for deep cleaning of rental apartments between tenants. They specialize in carpet shampooing, tile and grout scrubbing/deep cleaning/repair and cleaning up after major disasters like smoke or flood damage. That type of service might be better for your deep cleaning tasks than a maid type service.

    • I’ve used home joy for this with good results. I recently had them do a deep clean of an apartment that I was vacating (think oven, floors, fridge interior, etc). DH and I admittedly neglected the deep cleaning front while living there but still got our entire security deposit back thanks to Home joy! Now I have them come to my apartment every 3 weeks or so.

  9. I like this idea for clothes, but I don’t know, I don’t really get the bucket thing for services. Like a home gym isn’t a “step up” from joining a gym, it’s doing the same thing but at home. And wouldn’t a hobby be doing the thing, not getting a job teaching it?

  10. Diana Barry :

    I just moved up to monthly massages – I feel like I need them even more often than that!

    Firmly in bucket 0 for exercise right now.

    Also level 1 for beauty (but I do a lot of DIY).

    House – about level 2-3. Same for food – we get a lot of takeout.

    Also, I got Marie Kondo’s organizing book and really like it, although it is a bit woo-woo for me in places. Have already thrown out a bunch of stuff!!!!

  11. Anonymous :

    Yeah, these “buckets” are mixing “I love doing this activity and spend a lot of time/money on it” with “I outsource this activity” and I think those are kind of opposite.
    Exercise: I don’t spend money on it (our apartment complex has a free gym and pool). At various points I’ve tried group exercise classes like Pure Barre but they’ve never stuck. A couple months ago I was running (slowly) several times a week but I’ve lapsed.
    Food: We rarely cook, because of the hours I work. We use prepared food delivery services a few times a week, and also get regular take-out. We love food and love to try new restaurants, and go out frequently on weekends, including to $$$$ places.
    Cleaning: We have a biweekly cleaning service and my husband does our laundry & takes out the trash, so I don’t do much household stuff.
    Beauty: Pretty minimal. I get my hair cut every couple months at a cheap place at the mall. I get pedicures probably every other month or so (I live in CA, so I wear sandals year-round), and manicures much less frequently.
    Massage: Never. I had a professional one once and it was nice, but not worth the $$ for me.

  12. Senior Attorney :

    Yeah, I’m having a hard time seeing how these “buckets” make a lot of sense. But I’ll play anyway!

    Massage: 0

    Food: I’m all over the place here. Cook at home, for sure, not super fancy but not super basic. Eat at fancy restaurants, check. Have taken cooking classes and also food tours. Call it a weighted average 3+
    And Kat, you left out all the wine-and-alcohol-related aspects of this category! LOL

    Exercise: Again, 3 maybe plus a tiny bit. I have my (small, private) gym plus my trainer and my tap classes, and the occasional exercise-related outing.

    Hair/Beauty: 2+ I get salon color every three weeks without fail, fairly frequent cuts, use salon brand products. I used to do professional waxing but in my reduced financial circumstances I do my own depilation. Similarly, the weekly mani/pedi’s are now more like quarterly or maybe a bit more often.

    Home: 4 This is my huge thing at the moment. Doing a big remodel on an older house with contractor, landscaper, designer, the works. Custom closets in the master bedroom. Cleaning crew and yard maintenance crew every other week. (And yeah — don’t go hatin’ on IKEA!)

    • Senior Attorney, I’m curious – What do you use for at-home hair removal? What areas?

      • Senior Attorney :

        Since I have no filter, I am totally going to answer this! LOL

        I joined and use their fanciest razor, with, like, 4 blades. Use it for legs, underarms, bikini line, and, uh, related areas. They have a really good shaving cream they call “shave butter,” which I really like. And recently when I ran out I tried Neutrogena men’s shaving cream, which I also liked quite a lot. And I use Bikini Zone cream for after-shave bump prevention.

        • SoCalAtty :

          Ok, been thinking about the Dollar Shave Club thing, I may go for it now!

        • Thank you for sharing! Unfortunately, I am of a certain ethnicity where shaving is not an option; I was hoping you had a cool gadget or something!

          • Cap hill style had a post last year about the Emjoi Divine Hair Remover which she was testing at the time. There were also some good comments about waxing and other removers from readers.

  13. Sydney Bristow :

    Kat/Tech Team: I’m on iOS using Safari and I’ve encountered an ad that automatically redirects me to the App Store for a game called Dragon City Mobile. I haven’t seen the ad, just am automatically redirected.

  14. N.C. anon :

    In my personal experience, I do not recommend Massage Envy.

    First, the introductory rate they advertise is dependent upon you signing up reoccurring monthly appointments with them, which they automatically charge to your credit card each month. You can get the massage without signing up, but you’ll pay ~$80, same as or more than many better, locally owned businesses in my area.

    Second, I have heard other locations are better, but the masseuses I’ve seen at Massage Envy tend to have little experience and just aren’t very good. I assume this is a first job for many masseuses who are newly certified and lack a client base.

    For the relative quality and price, I’d rather go to a local spa than Massage Envy and keep the money in my community.

    • Agreed with others that the buckets don’t really work here. Massage Envy, for example, is not a step up – it’s generally not where you’d go if you’re looking for better massage. The step up is going to be more like from “occasional massage” to “standing appointment with a specific person.”

      • I think this is what makes this inherently difficult to do in buckets. Because the buckets for massage could be: 1) ten minute massage at nail salon; 2) inexpensive massage at random neighborhood “cheap” place; 3) nicer massage place with same person; and 4) nice massage in your apartment/fancy spa massage. And/or they could just as easily be: 1) massage never to once in a blue moon; 2) 1-2 times a year; 3) 4 times a year; to 4) monthly to bi-monthly. And probably a million other ways too…

    • I could say the same about Massage Luxe. In fact, I finally cancelled my subscription today. I started working for the federal government in the Midwest with the intent to transfer to the HQ region where family and old friends live. The website for Massage Luxe has said “Coming Soon!” regarding 65 Maryland locations for over 2 years now, but currently there are zero. I chose Massage Luxe with the intent of getting an affordable massage on a regular basis that could work in both locations. Nope!

      This is to say nothing about the varied quality of massages.

    • Anonymous :

      Agree! The massage therapists complain about how little they make at ME and how hard the hours are. I’m sure it’s true-it’s not my kind of place. I’d rather support a great therapist who owns her own place or head to a nice spa.

  15. Miss Behaved :

    Massage: 0
    Food: 1
    Exercise: 2 (I belong to a couple of different gyms and go everyday)
    Hair: I have my hair cut and colored about 4 times a year
    Cleaning: 3

    I don’t wear makeup, but I do get birchbox, although I’m thinking of cancelling. I get pedicures every 6 weeks or so in the summer. I’m not into Home Design. I haven’t had a massage in over a year.

  16. As many have said, I don’t think buckets work for this. Food for example. I always cook from scratch because I enjoy it, I’m an awesome cook and it’s much healthier than going out ect. Outsourcing or enlisting expert help is more a matter of ones own skills, likes and dislikes.

  17. Massage:0- DIY with a roller post workout, professional spa level massage 1-2x a year.
    Food: 3? I love to cook and spend a decent amount on good equipment/food/wine. We also eat out a couple of times at week.
    Exercise: 2 -training for half marathon and entry fees to shorter local races- these can add up.
    Hair/Beauty: 2- regular cut and color appts at salon, some salon products, nice makeup, DIY pedicures
    Cleaning- 3- housecleaning service every 2 weeks

  18. Anonymous :

    “Hobby: Offer to decorate your friends’ homes. Buy multiple homes (either for vacation or just, you know, buying a new home when your old one gets too small) to decorate and organize.”

    I just have to LOL at designating “buying multiple homes . . . to decorate and organize” as a “hobby.”

    • Yeah, I guess I’m never getting to that bucket :)

      I’ll stay over here, cross-stitching as my hobby…a permanent bucket loser :)

  19. I love this thread but it is hard to think in terms of buckets.

    I’m curious about the home stuff. I’d love to hear from someone who is in one of the higher buckets – what does it really cost to hire a decorator and how do you work with them? I have always thought of this as something that only really rich people do but I read lots of decorator blogs and it seems they are hired by normal, higher-than-average income, but still normal, people.

    I enjoy thinking about decorating my house and picking out furniture, so I would have a hard time paying someone to do that for me (partly it’s a control freak thing). On the other hand, I can totally appreciate that they’d do a better job than what I’ve come up with so far.

    In terms of my own buckets, for Hair/Beauty and Massage, I’m in Level 1 – because these are not priorities for me. So, actually, it’s not about money, but I really don’t care to spend time in a salon getting my hair or stuff done. I do look forward to my annual pedicure as a ritual to kick off summer.

    I love to eat and I wish I had more time to think about cooking. We’re sometimes in Level 1 and sometimes higher-not many good restaurants in town so when we travel we eat at nice places. I’ve thought about hiring someone to cook for us but haven’t gotten around to doing it.

    Hands down the best thing about having money is my twice a month housekeeping service. I wish I could talk my husband into having them come weekly (though that does seem extravagant).

    • Decorators are all over the place. They can be very affordable, or very high end.

      There are even online versions, where you send them pictures of your home and fill out a form to establish your tastes, and they’ll send you mockups of color schemes, furniture layouts for the room, window treatment ideas, etc. But then you go out and buy the stuff yourself, so you can go to thrift shops for that behind the sofa table she recommended or sew your own custom drapes.

  20. I was so excited when I saw there were suggestions on a “mid level” home design option. Sadly, the one suggested isn’t available in my area.

    Does anyone have suggestions for other home design options that aren’t diy and aren’t someone who does an entire room/house from top to bottom? Basically, I have some really great, high quality pieces that I love, but have no idea how to go about selecting colors and patterns for paint, area rugs, or window treatments. I just need someone to help me develop a color scheme and design plan without trying to start completely from scratch or costing $$$$$. Thanks!

    • Certain stores (like West Elm) offer these kinds of services gratis, but of course you have to shop there for most of the products.
      You could also look up interior decorating schools in your area. I bet there are lots of students who would work with you for a smaller fee in order to be able to built their portfolios.
      If you list your city here, someone may have other specific recommendations.

    • Senior Attorney :

      My designer worked with the pieces I have and was very sensitive to my budget. I think all but the very most high-end designers will expect to work with existing pieces, and also obviously will work within your stated budget.

      I found my designer on You might also want to try Angie’s List.

    • anon prof :

      I’d ask people whose houses you love if they had help, or if they’d be willing to help you. Or, look at some design blogs (Cote de Texas has a big sidebar of them, as do many of the blogs) and then hire someone whose blog you love. A lot of those bloggers will do a plan for a room or two based on photos and measurements. My neighborhood listserve also regularly has a question about designers, and people list who their designer is, so that might be a good way to get some names if your neighborhood has a listserve. Or, as suggested above, try a local store. Ethan Allen will do this.

    • If you are looking for paint colors and window treatments, I’ve found great people at paint stores to help with that. A lot of paint stores also sell window treatments, the sales rep came to my house with samples, helped me pick out styles/colors and installation was included in the price. She also helped with alerting me to the current specials vs. the ones coming next month so I could get the best deal. The services for the window treatments were free with the purchase.

      Paint stores also have or can recommend someone to come to the house, look at your furniture/style and help with colors. I paid a nominal fee for an hour or two of time to help pick out some colors. She walked my SO and me through picking out colors that appealed to us, making sure that we had colors that complemented each other, and encouraged us to expand our palette. We did the painting on our own.

    • We’re getting our house painted next week (Yay! My first home design “splurge”) and the painter recommended a designer to help us choose paint colours. She charged $170 for an hour, and gave me some really helpful suggestions for furniture, rugs etc. Once we’re in the market for these things, I think it would be worth another session with her to make sure we’re on the right track. Maybe you could find an independent designer in your area who offers consultations on an hourly basis?

  21. Must be Tuesday :

    Kat & editorial team, I agree with other commenters that it’s hard to designate buckets for some of these, and that the buckets listed here are a mix of upgrades vs. outsourcing, which aren’t really the same thing. I also think this post covers such a broad range of topics that it’s hard to really say much on any of them. However, all the topics listed are interesting (to me, anyway) and would make great in-depth posts focusing on just one topic, possibly by guest posters who are knowledgeable in the subject area like personal trainers, beauty bloggers, decorators, etc., especially if they work in conjunction with your editorial team to make sure the post is aimed at the audience your blog has.

  22. We used to be big fans of My Fit Foods (mostly in the Texas area as it was created by a Houstonian) for food – a lot like Blue Apron and the other sites you mentioned though there is ZERO cooking involved. They’re basically lean cuisines made for people that wanted fresh, healthy food that didn’t have massive amounts of preservatives. We dropped them when they removed the ability to prepay for food and get a discount on top of our corporate membership discount… effectively raising our prices 10% (and we were paying 1500 a month to feed two of us already). Just couldn’t merit the time saved vs price.

    I can’t sing the praises of a roomba/neato enough. We have three cats and never having to worry about messy floors is a godsend. We just have to swiffer our non carpet surfaces once in a while and thats it for floors. (Other than emptying the machine and remembering to pick things off the floor)

  23. Anonymous Associate :

    Like other commenters, I am having trouble understanding how these buckets make any sense really. Apologies if this is critical, but my genuine takes…

    Massage: I hate massages, so i am ignoring this category.

    Food: These buckets made me wince. The fact that “cooking at home” and “fast food” are in the same level is weird. I am picturing my grass-fed, rosemary cinnamon lamb chops over nameko mushrooms next to a McDonald’s burger. Yikes. And buying in bulk isn’t necessarily a bad thing or something to do to just save money, as it increases convenience. If someone already knows how to cook, meal-planning services and services like plated are both undesirable and a waste of money. And if you are really into cooking, you just aren’t OK with someone else picking out certain items for you like produce and meats. Not all green peppers are created equal, nor is all steak or lamb (even from the same stores). There is no substitute for going to a grocery store/market and picking out your own ingredients.

    Exercise: Made me wince a bit too. Exercise is really personal. For example, some people enjoy running for the sake of running (i.e., marathoners), and dislike organized classes. More generally, these buckets don’t seem to be geared towards women already into fitness, but rather those trying to get into it.

    Beauty: Doesn’t really make sense in buckets. I got a pixie cut to save time and effort. Not sure how that could possibly be in the bucket above getting my makeup done professionally…

    Cleaning: This one makes sense. At level 3.

    • I’m going to push back on the cooking thing, just a little bit. I live in an area where groceries are expensive. I get home from work around 6, I have two small children. I like to cook, and we often use our farm box and supplement with lean protein for dinner. But I have my usual repertoire, and I have limited time. If I spend an hour and a half cooking, thats time I’m not spending with my 2 year old. That’s not counting the meal planning, ingredient acquisition (I live in a small town, so many of the ingredients for Asian or other cuisines require a 45 minute drive to the city) and clean up. Getting something handed to me helps. It keeps me out of the freezer or off the take out menu. I like to cook, but I don’t have the energy to do it daily. So I use the service. Perhaps I’m being defensive but I often see these criticisms of the services (if you like to cook, why on earth would you do this). Because I’m looking for a middle ground, and because I have many priorities.

      • I think she’s talking about services like Blue Apron, which is so not the same thing as a CSA box. I completely agree with every word in relation to Blue Apron type services – as someone who actually cooks it’s completely off putting for all those reasons. But I love my weekly CSA farmers market delivery of local veggies – totally different thing there, you need to know how to cook and it’s extra ingredients that help you be creative in the kitchen.

  24. Daily haircuts?!? Good grief.

  25. I’m going to stick up for regularly scheduled massages… And will add a point to level 4 “regularly scheduled appointments with a licensed massage therapist.” They’re like physical therapy for me. I try to go every 2 or 3 weeks to a licensed massage therapist near me and it does more for my mental health and well being than another barre class or evening out. Plus, she is also a licensed acupuncturist, which is covered by my insurance, up to 26 visits a year. So, she also sticks a few needles in, submits my insurance claim and I pay the copay. Before that, my HSA picked it up because my GP agreed that acupuncture isn’t a bad idea.

    • I agree with this. My back and shoulders get so tense from sitting at my desk for hours on end (and it gets even worse when I have a big deadline or I’m stressed). Massages are the only thing that helps alleviate the tension by really working out the knots. I don’t really find them relaxing but rather necessary for my back and shoulders not to be in constant pain.

  26. Wow, it’s interesting reading the responses- I feel quite childish in comparison (granted, my long time boyfriend and I both have comfortable incomes and no kids).

    Massage: 4- Once a year, I book a spa day for myself. It started the year after grad school, when I was spending Valentine’s alone so I decided to treat myself.

    Food: 4- I don’t cook often, but I will spend up to $200/person/meal. I also did a food tour of Istanbul (not to mention eating my way around Sicily and Hong Kong). Yep, food obsession here.

    Exercise: 3- I have a personal trainer. My body never looked so good. Sadly, we will be parting ways, so I will go down to Level 2.

    Beauty: 2- After college, I stepped up my haircuts from once every few years to twice per year. I’ve seen the same person since I was 12, but I can pay for more frequent sessions. Also, I don’t color my hair or do mani/pedis unless there’s a special occasion.

    Home: 2- I have no interest in home decor and it took me 3 years to buy a couch. I suppose this is why I have the budget to spend a ludicrous amount of money on food and travel.

    In summary, I’ve got a different set of priorities than most people, and I spend accordingly. That said, I hit most of my present levels within 18 months of finishing school and starting my career. I’m curious how this will change over the years.

  27. We outsource a ton in my family (double income, 2 small kids, both full time high paying jobs). Our nanny organizes, picks up, does light cooking. Our housekeeper comes every 10 days (we upped this when our nanny got pregnant so that she didn’t feel too burdened; plus the “maternity leave nanny” is not a good housekeeper so it’ll help in that regard to.

    We just started Blue Apron; we leave in an area with expensive groceries, we are often on call on the weekend (so cooking for the week can be tricky) and live in a resort area so the grocery story is crazy crowded at prime shopping time. I’m hopeful that it’ll transfer to less Trader Joes/thai takeout.

    I bought myself a new treadmill when we moved in to our new house; it means that I can run early in the morning before everyone is awake, especially in the cold/dark. I would go to the barre studio in town but their class schedule doesn’t work for me.

    All of our financial stuff is taken care of by a financial planner and accountant — the taxes for the nanny, our estimated Taxes, etc.

    I get my hair cut and colored 4 times a year. I travel about 45 minutes to get to a place that does the color I like. I do regular pedicures (every 10 days? total indulgence) at a place that is relatively inexpensive, but I pay extra for hot stone massage and do it more often than I should . And they’re nice to me.

    We are quick to pay money for service — my husband could take the dryer apart to fix it (for that matter, I could) but we have our appliance repairman come out and do it.

    When I get home from work, I want to chat with my husband and play with the kids. I have the intense luxury of being able to set my life up so that most of the time, it works for me.

  28. This is me:

    Massage – Level 1-2. Spa stuff is nice and all, but finding a really skilled therapist is key.

    Food – Level 3+. I’m obsessed with food, and love fine dining. BlueApron has totally transformed my (already decent) cooking abilities, though. Their recipes are very well-constructed.

    Exercise – Level 1-3. I run and take classes, but a weekly personal training session has changed my life. Results are an order of magnitude beyond just taking classes (even 4x/week). I suspect lifting on my own could achieve much the same thing, if only I didn’t spend as much time planning my workout as working out. The trainer is so very worth it.

    Hair/Beauty – Level 2. I’m rather low-maintenance, but do need the professional help and/or remedial girl lessons. Aveda salons (and schools) work well for me. I also found a makeup artist with a 30-year career in television… her makeup is just spectacularly well-done, without trying to push the trendy envelope. I’m a professional, not a model: I own three lipstick colors that work for me, and that’s plenty. But good advice and products are priceless. I go for a free 3-hour lesson with $200 makeup purchase annually, and periodically drop in for refills and pointers.

    Home – Level 1-4. Varies widely. Wish home ownership/maintenance took less time/effort. I’m in a construction/real estate related field, so I try to DIY as a first resort. Rarely happens, though. Just started biweekly maid service, such a luxury. Don’t believe in professional organizers… needs doing, but doesn’t make sense to delegate. Generally do my own landscaping, but not snow removal.

  29. A food option I didn’t see was a CSA membership, which I’d equate with about level 2. Not the cheapest option, but it is affordable and provides locally grown, often organic (or all but certified), produce on a weekly or biweekly basis.

    Pros: Super fresh and many items will keep much longer than store bought produce that has shipped from afar. Taste is unrivaled, unless you grow your own produce. You will learn the deliciousness of garlic scapes, and other such items you may have not even known existed. Develop your cooking talents & expand your palate.

    Cons: More prep work to wash, dry and store. Most require pickups at a specific location and time frame. You pretty much have to be a decent and adventurous cook to use what is provided well. Some CSAs can inundate you with particularly robust crops for the season that you can’t ever hope to use. (pro tip – a lot of things can be successfully frozen, either raw or cooked).