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August 27, 2004

When Murphy Comes Calling

So a few days ago I finally had to pony up for a repair on my beloved '95 Honda Accord.

I cannot complain a bit, though, as the car has around 122,300 miles on it, and this is the very first failed-part repair I've had to deal with. (Although one could argue that this particular part — the starter — hadn't actually failed yet.) Sure, I've had to replace the battery and tires, but I those rank as maintenance items. Batteries are going to fade and tires are going to wear, both due to normal usage. You can — and should — plan for replacing these items as part of your normal budget.

This time, though, as I said, it was the starter. It was beginning to act a little odd, binding up on the first few attempts to start the car in the mornings. When your Honda begins to require three or four key turns to get the starter to turn fully and engage the engine, then you know the gremlins are at work. I'd really rather avoid the nasty phone call from my wife which would most certainly ensue the car failing to start sometime when she and our toddler daughter are out shopping. Thus I figured it best to go ahead and replace the starter. Doctors practice preventive medicine; I practice preventive car repairs. And preventive everything else, whenever possible.

Anyhow, since I work in a dealership service department, I can usually manage car repairs like this fairly painlessly. It's a nice benefit, I guess:   Replacing this original starter with another Honda starter (as opposed to a cheaper-by-$100 aftermarket starter) and two accessory belts cost me $281, plus a can of Diet Coke. Any other customer off the street probably pays closer to $450 or more. That's a $169 difference which, in my world, is not exactly pocket change . . . and which will come in handy in about two paragraphs.

Before you read this and figure, "Well, he's got it made," consider the rest of the story. Life has a way of evening things out. I got off pretty easy with the starter repair — it was giving me advance warning of impending doom, after all, and that doesn't happen often — but I guess ol' Murphy really wanted to make this week interesting. Because as of last night, I am also pretty much on the hook to replace our DVD player. And our refrigerator.

That's right. I now also have a DVD player that can barely play any discs at all; it just sits there and spins and spins and spins, and then, after the wind dies down and all the stop lights on my side of town turn green, it'll start to play. This is simply not acceptable. All my daughter's Baby Einstein, "Blue's Clues," and "Elmo's World" episodes are on DVD, and those things come in darn handy when 8:30pm rolls around and it's time to shrug her into those cute little kid-pajamas. Decent DVD players can be had for anywhere from $50 to $100, so this isn't a big deal at all. Annoying, yes. But not financially mortal.

The refrigerator, on the other hand, is a blow of respectable size. And it's gonna leave a mark.

Our fridge is 20 years old at least. My parents gave it to us (already well-used, and without a functioning ice maker) when we bought our house in 1996. It has required at least two repair visits in the years since, the last one being almost exactly a year ago. Neither repair was expensive. But last night, after scooping a bowl of Blue Bell Natural Vanilla Bean ice cream for dessert, I noticed that something in the lower part of the fridge was cycling on and off repeatedly — maybe every five seconds. I am not a Frigidaire technician, but instinct tells me the implications of this cannot be good.

Later that night, I mention the noise to The Wife.

"It's time, Michael," she says. "We need a new refrigerator."

I suspect she is right. I have gotten by on pure good fortune, appliance-wise, for too long. I am 33 years old, have been a homeowner for 8 years now, and have never had to purchase a fridge, oven, microwave, dishwasher, clothes washer, clothes drier, or any other basic appliance. From this point, I could let this refrigerator continue chugging along, probably kept alive by little more than hope and whatever energy it derives from its rash of pithy refrigerator magnets. But do that, and one day soon I'm going to come home to find that it has shuffled off to Refrigerator Heaven, and taken all my food with it. And probably left a big mess in the kitchen floor.

So once more it is time to put my Freedom Account to its intended use. And once more I bear witness to the beauty that is the Freedom Account. Rather than plunder my emergency savings, or — gasp — be forced to rely on credit cards, I have most of the money ready for these expenses. With more than $300 in my "automotive" Freedom subaccount, and over $1000 in my "appliance & electronics" subaccount, I can handle these purchases without too much of a problem. I've been placing around $30 to $40 in both of these subaccounts, monthly, for a few years now, as well as in my other "just in case" subaccounts. (It's rather like a game, you know — having some savings ready and beating ol' Murphy to the punch.) The money, and the whole idea behind Freedom Accounts, has served me tremendously well. (The auto subaccount balance would have been more, but I use it to pay for maintenance services and car tags and items like that, also.)

New starter for 1995 Honda:   $281
New DVD player for living room:   $100
New refrigerator to avoid divorce:   $657

Having a Freedom Account fully funded and ready to cover this stuff so the only reason you slap it on a credit card is to get the 1 percent rebate for your kid's UPromise account?


Michael | August 27, 2004

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