The Art of Wearing Things Out, and Then Some

By Jason White on 10 September 2008 14 comments

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.

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Philip Brewer's picture

My wife and I have both had shoes and boots repaired.

My birkenstocks are are their third soles now.  The rest of the sandal is in fine shape--it would have been a shame to throw them out and buy new sandals.

My wife sent her Finn Comfort boots in to be completely refurbished, and was very pleased with the results--at less than half the price of a new pair of boots.

But shoes get worn out gradually enough that you can easily make the mistake of waiting too long.  Shoes that hurt your feet are no good.  Whether you repair them or replace them, you want to do it as soon as it's necessary.

Paying attention helps.

Guest's picture

Of course, you won't know if you made a wise decision by spending that $200 for sometime now. If in three months it breaks down again and you need to pay another $200 etc.. etc.. then your decision may not be wise. Sometimes the decision to repair or replace is difficult just because there are so many unknowns.

Guest's picture

Whether or not you need to replace the refrigerator later, if you fix it yourself (as I have with mine and many other things) you will come away from the experience with more than you thought.

By fixing many things around my house (side-by-side refigerator included), I have discovered that I have a mechanical appitude AND saved many hundreds of dollars.

Guest's picture

My depression era surviving grandmother taught me the saying a little differently: "Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without."

Just patched the holes in my husbands work jeans.

Guest's picture

You might think about buying a home warranty. For a fixed price -- we're charged $35 a month, but that's higher than normal because we have a rider for our pool -- American Home Shield provides us with insurance for all of our home's systems and major appliances.

If something acts up I visit the website and report it. Within 30 minutes I get an email with the name of the service company that will be contacting me. When the tech arrives I pay him a deductable of $55, and he goes to work. All parts and labor are covered, as are return visits if the problem isn't resovled, and if the tech is unable to fix the problem, AHS buys a replacement.

In the last year, I've used the service four times, one for the heating, once for the air conditioning, once for the stove, and once for the pool filter. So that was $220 in deductables and $420 in premiums, $640 total. If you had used the service and one of your four uses had been for the refrigerator, it would probably have been fixed the first time (AHS makes sure all its partner repair services are qualified), but if it hadn't been you would have gotten a new one and still come out $360 ahead on the year with three (perhaps major) other problems solved into the bargain.

Guest's picture

My car is 20 years old and still going strong. The repair bills are much lower than the outlay of cash to replace it.

One of my sisters once commented on the state of my dishcloths. She thought they were too old and she even purchased more for me. Years later I finally broke out the ones she bought for me.

I do believe in using things until they are dead.

Guest's picture

"Years later I finally broke out the ones she bought for me."

that is totally funny and awesome. great job!

David DeFranza's picture

I am certainly guilty of this when it comes to clothes. Most of my shirts get worn until there are more holes than fabric.

For people who like to make things last, perhaps a class or two in related skills (auto mechanics, welding, plumbing) could be a worthwhile investment. Even if the knowledge does not save you money over time, a night class in something like carpentry or small engine repair would be a fun diversion for those of us with office jobs.

Guest's picture

This is a good topic, but using the fridge is a bad example. It is well-known that refrigerators that are just a handful of years old use TONS more energy than newer models. Also, a side-by-side fridge is the worst as far as wasting electricity.

So, good topic & concept, but if your fridge is that old & keeps giving you trouble, it is probably worth it in the long run to buy a new one simply due to the energy savings.

Jason White's picture

@Claire:  Actually, the fridge is only four years-old and came with the house.  It's beyond any warranty, but hardly old enough to get rid of (in my opinion).  I'm not a big fan of side-by-sides, but since the previous owners left it I wasn't going to argue with them!  Besides, ice through the door is such a nice luxury!

Guest's picture

Just my two-cents about using American Home Shield (AHS). I live in Southern California, in the Los Angeles area. I had AHS for the first and second years that I owned my home. In the first year, the policy came in handy for an electrical problem that would have cost me $800. So, it was money well-spent. But, the second year was another story. I had an air conditioning/heating problem and they sent out a service provider that was less than reputable. They told me that a part needed to be replaced, but before it could be replaced, they needed to clean the coils of the system, to the tune of $600! When I called around to get other quotes for cleaning the coils, I was quoted from $300-$400 for the service. I called AHS and told them that their provider was trying to rip me off. They offered to pay for the part and have my provider install only $75!! That meant that I would have to pay for cleaning the coils plus the labor to install the part. The provider I chose came out, cleaned the coils, then pointed out that the part did not have to be replaced at all. Only an adjustment was necessary. When I called AHS and told them that their provider should not be used because they were not honest, they did not seem very concerned. I would never recommend AHS.

Guest's picture

We definately get our use of of things. Beyond the fact that we are still driving a 10 year old cherokee closly approaching 200,00 miles and the usual hand me downs of siblings, we try to do our best when it comes to the "life-use" of objects. I have repatched holes in kid's jeans and husband's workpants, as long as the cuffs are not frayed. I have turned old objects into new uses not originally intended. I think it is smart to reuse what you have not only on an economical level but an environmental level too. When you fixed your fridge you spared the landfill. And in my experiences, 8 out of 10 times if you fix something it will usually last long enough to have recieved the value of your fix.

Guest's picture

Ok, not yet, but the plan is to totally drive my Mitsubuishi until it dies by falling appart at the seams. When I bought it, this was my intention, and it freaked my mother out that at age 20 I wanted a car with childseat anchors and child saftey locks! Now she thinks I might actually use them some day (7 years and 150 thousand miles later)


Guest's picture

I'm till driving a 1988 Chevy Cavalier. 247,000 miles. Original engine. It used to be silver. Now it is "rust." I don't care. I don't have to worry about anything marring the finish and my insurance costs are almost nothing.