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How do you make peace with things breaking?

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A reader left a comment on my post about my washing machine breaking, with the suggestion that her questions could be a post topic.

jar of coins

In part, she wrote:

“I am struggling with coming to peace with the fact (?) that things are not going to last forever, and in recent years, they seem to last shorter lengths of time. I struggle with being grateful to have the money to replace or fix some items and then think that there are other things on which I would have rather spent the money. You seem to have a pretty good attitude about these things and you have been honest about not being perfect. But I’d love your words of wisdom to help me keep a good attitude. “

Basically, I hear two things:

  1. A frustration that things break (and that they break too quickly)
  2. A wish to spend the repair/replacement money on something else

So!

Let’s talk about those.

Frustration with things breaking/wearing out

I and probably a lot of the frugal girl community share this frustration! Frugal people don’t want to have to replace things or pay for repairs.

Having experienced this myself,  I have three ideas to share that could help relieve this frustration a little bit.

1. Set realistic expectations

My frugal heart would love to buy everything one time, and then be DONE. Imagine the savings if you didn’t have to repeatedly buy appliances or computers or phones or socks or hoodies.

Ahhhhhh.

But almost nothing truly lasts a lifetime.

Kitchen-aid dishwasher

So, if you buy things and expect them all to last a lifetime, you are setting yourself up for frustration and disappointment.

Yes, you can do your best to choose purchases that will hold up over time, but almost everything you buy will break or wear out in your time on this earth.

Expect things to break and wear out, and you will be less disappointed when they (inevitably) do.

Not only will things wear out from normal use, they also will break because of human error, particularly if you have children.

So, a sub-point would be: Expect the people you live with to actually do the breaking sometimes.

Children and adults (and you yourself!) are going to do dumb stuff that breaks things. Like when I broke my stove this summer. Ha.

Kitchen Aid Dishwasher Door

2. Pay attention when things are not breaking

Our brains usually like to notice what’s going wrong, not what’s going right, and that makes it easy to feel like life is one long series of repairs.

Or that EVERYTHING IS BREAKING ALL THE TIME.

However, this is not quite the whole truth about life.

Even in a season where there are a lot of repairs happening, there are plenty of things that are not breaking.

And this is especially true in a season where there truly are fewer things breaking.

So.

Practice noticing when things are working, and you’ll get a more truthful view of life.

For instance, I could think, “It is really so nice that my car has not ever left me stranded.”

Or, “This hot shower feels so good. I’m really glad my water heater is working.”

3. Try to buy items that last and/or are repairable

Nothing’s going to last forever, but some things do last longer than others.

When it’s time to shop for an item, whether it’s a shirt or a blender, do some research and try to buy something that is going to stand the test of time.

Most often, this is going to require you to spend more than the bare minimum. But if you pay 25% more for something that lasts 10 times as long, the extra 25% up front is a good investment.

Plus, items that last save you a lot of frustration! To me, that is worth paying more for.

whirlpool washer taken apart

My old washer is ugly but endlessly repairable. Also, do not worry; we cleaned the black gunk out of there!

A bonus of well-made items: Usually when you buy something that’s made well, it also ends up being repairable, whereas cheaper stuff is just made to throw away.

For instance, real leather boots can be repaired and renewed; faux vinyl leather has to be thrown away when it peels and wears out.

Still, it’s important to remember #1 above: nothing lasts forever, no matter how well it’s made. Even hand-made, well-crafted items from years past have worn out or needed repairs.

clothes dryer wheels

Alrighty! On to the second issue my reader mentioned:

A wish to spend repair money on other things

I am super familiar with this feeling.

When you have to spend $800 on a car repair, it’s very easy to think about how that money could have:

  • paid for a trip
  • been invested for retirement
  • covered lots of restaurant meals
  • paid for a lot of new shoes
  • covered small-ish home improvement project

All of those things would be so much more rewarding than fixing a car.

van engine squirrel nest repellent

You think, “If only the car hadn’t broken! Then I could have a working car AND a trip/shoes/restaurant meals, etc.”

This is at least partially an expectation problem. Realistically, we cannot expect to only spend our money on things that are rewarding, and as I mentioned above, we cannot expect that our possessions are never going to break.

So. You can adjust your expectations, and that’ll help.

But I have one other trick that has really helped me:

Earmark money for repairs/replacement

If you put all of your money into one big pile that you draw from for every expense, it can feel like every dollar has the potential to pay for, say, a vacation.

So then if you have to pull some of those dollars for a car repair, you will feel like you are losing a vacation.

wrecked blue sedan

But, if you divvy up your money between different accounts, for different purposes, it’s much easier to mentally handle a car repair.

jars of coins

You’re not taking vacation money away for that; the vacation money is in a separate account, untouched! You’re going to pay for the car repair from the car repair account; the money is sitting there just for that purpose.

Wait. This doesn’t actually DO anything to the money!

This is truly a mental trick, I know. Having targeted accounts for different expenses does not actually change the amount of money you have.

But deciding ahead of time that some dollars have the job of paying for vacation and some dollars have the job of paying for car repairs?

That can really help your attitude when you have to pay your mechanic.

How do you earmark money?

There are lots of ways to do this, but we have multiple online savings accounts where we automatically deposit money each month. Among those accounts is a home maintenance budget and an auto maintenance budget.

two jars of coins

Homes and cars break at unpredictable times, but the fact of their failure is utterly predictable. So, that’s why we set aside some money each month for this purpose.

Even if it’s just $50/month (or whatever you can afford), set up an automatic deposit so that when these repair bills come up, you’ve got money earmarked for them. I really think it will help you.

Readers, I’d love for you to share your advice too! How do you keep a good attitude about repair/replacement situations?

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