There's pressure to keep a well-groomed front yard in order to "not hurt the property values" of the neighborhood. If we lived on some acreage, you can bet we wouldn't spend a dime on the front yard!
99% of the houses in our neighborhood have lawns and so it's just a kind of momentum (or lack of inertia) and expectation surrounding "house in the suburbs = front lawn." Plus, we have kids and they love to play on the lawn. Add in the fact that our very good next-door neighbors' lawn actually runs together with ours (literally no separation between the two) and their kids and ours have twice the space for playing. We don't really want to end all of that, but I'm tired of wasting so much water and having to mow so much.
So as a compromise, we're yanking out 2/3rds of the lawn and replacing it with some flagstone and an herb spiral and some other neat stuff. We'll leave the lawn down by the sidewalk so lawn still runs together with the neighbor's and the rest of the neighborhood doesn't get too shocked... :) PLUS, because we will still have some nice lawn, it will hopefully be easier to get moving on the plan to replace some/most/all of the back yard with a garden. And we're replacing our existing irrigation with something that will save even more water.
Of course, we originally entertained thoughts of doing all the work ourselves. The process went like this:
7 years ago: "We'll dig out the lawn and drainage trenches by hand, and do all the rest of the work ourselves!"
5 years ago: "We'll rent a sod cutter, and maybe a trencher, but do the rest ourselves."
3 years ago: "We'll hire out the drainage work but definitely do the rest ourselves."
Today: We're hiring out everything except for the herb spiral.
Yes, apparently that's our line in the sand: we'll build our own herb spiral using the ugly cement blocks that used to make up some of the "features" in our ugly front yard. They were here when we moved in, and whatever we don't use we'll give away on Freecycle.
The people we hired are experts. They'll know how to make the drainage work (rather than our just guessing) so the house foundation will be safe. They'll use the right tools and do a good job.
I won't kill my back hauling tons of rock, sand, flagstone, dirt, and sod around.
It's a win-win!
Of course, there is the issue of the contractor. We have a terrible track record of picking contractors. But we really like this one, and it's been several years since our last experience/debacle, so we're going to try it again.
The issue we've had is that when we look for a contractor, it's usually the owner/etc. that comes out to the house to take a look. They're usually good at that part of the job. They make lots of promises about how good their team is, how they're clean and respectful, and what a great job they'll do. But then the project manager/foreman comes out and immediately starts looking for ways to cut costs. "My notes don't say anything about that closet!" they argue, even if their boss told us it would be included. Etc. That, and we've had a contractor send out his "B" team, rather than his best guys.
Anyway, we're back on the merry-go-round again, willing to give it another shot.