The Art of Wearing Things Out, and Then Some
I've grown up hearing the phrase, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." It never occurred to me that this saying could apply to a frugal lifestyle. How often do you really wear something out before replacing it? I mean, really wear it out--to the point where it is barely recognizable. There are pros and cons to fully using up the useful life (and then some) of our household possessions, and deciding when to replace something can pose a significant threat to your financial picture.
Frugality Supports Quality
I've said before that one of the differences between being frugal and being cheap is that frugal people value quality over a rock-bottom price. We frugal types will pay a little more for something that lasts a little longer, or costs less to operate over time. Large household purchases, such as cars and appliances, often times begin to cost more to operate the longer we use them. But that doesn't necessarily mean it is time to run out and buy a new one.
The Broken Refrigerator
Our side-by-side refrigerator has been giving us trouble off and on for the last few months. It would go through periods where the refrigerated compartment became hot, and we had to empty it, call a repair technician and wait. Twice technicians came to our house days later and by that time the fridge had started cooling again. Because I don't profess to be an expert in appliance repair, I accepted their diagnosis that nothing was really wrong and we settled up for the service call and reloaded our food. The third time this happened we were ready to toss the thing out by the curb!
We came home one afternoon from a day trip to a hot fridge. We were forced to toss much of the fridge's contents, such as lunch meat and other perishables. My wife and I were both weary of dealing with the busted appliance. We looked online at replacement models and had sticker shock when we saw most similar refrigerators now retailed for well over $1,000. A quick search of CraigsList and a credit union publication's classifieds yielded no results for used models.
I asked around for a reputable appliance repair shop and decided not to go through the store where the refrigerator was purchased, even though the telephone service reps recommended them (it was out of warranty, and they had their chances, so at this point their recommendation carried little weight). For $200 a technician found the problem, replaced the part, manually defrosted and cleaned the refrigerator and has it operating like new. Obviously, I'm glad we found them, and I'm glad I didn't rush out and buy a new refrigerator, even though that was our first impulse.
Drive It Until the Wheels Fall Off, and Then Fix the Wheels
I've taken this same approach to our vehicles, our furniture, and several other household items. Ten years ago I would have run out and replaced something the first time it hinted at giving us trouble. Now, I am much less eager to run out and spend money, so I typically try to repair or maintain something long enough to get by. There is a risk that repair/maintenance costs will ultimately cost more than replacing the item, so keep up with how much you are spending on upkeep to make sure you aren't sinking too much money into something unncessarily.