Them’s the breaks

Everything is breaking. Everything.

It really started toward the end of the summer, when our lawn mower and washing machine broke basically at the same time. Guess what? We can’t buy new stuff right now, especially new expensive stuff.

We managed to string it back together, one of the many “it’ll do for now” repairs that we seem to thrive on. The hope was for it to last through the summer, because somehow, next summer, we’re going to be flush with cash. Somehow. The mower died for real during my last go-round, and the neighbor let us borrow his to finish out the season. That’s going to be something we have to deal with come summer. But boooooy am I glad we made it through to the end of this summer.

The riding tractor then broke, and no amount of bobby pins and twine would get it to start. The neighbor agreed to help us get it to the dealer, and since it was under warranty, all we had to pay was $50 as a thank-you to the neighbor (it would have cost us far more to have the dealer come get it, and he also donated about 3 hours of his time to help my husband try to fix it). For about 10 seconds, my husband floated the idea of getting a truck so we could tow things ourselves. For about 10 seconds.

Last week, my check engine light NOW came on, so I went to the dealer, where I found out that the spark plugs were bad but also so were the brakes. When our brakes went bad in our other car, my husband fixed them himself, but there’s not enough time in the day over the next few weeks – he’s just started a new training program with the hopes of upgrading his job – and I would lose more money on freelancing if I were going to attempt to take a car apart for 8 hours than I would saving money from the mechanic. $850 later…

The filter in the fish tank also broke, not a super expensive fix (especially because I finally measured the hand-me-down tank we had and found out it wasn’t 40 billion gallons like it seems but is actually only 20 gallons), but. Can I say it any louder? WE CANNOT AFFORD NEW STUFF RIGHT NOW.

The washing machine then, of course, broke again. I cried some bitter tears and considered just…never washing anything again. My husband somehow got it to work. It’s fine. It’s totally fine. It’s not going to be a several-hundred-dollars expense in the next few months. Seriously, it’s not.

Sometimes in the pursuit of financial…stability? Can I just say stability instead of independence? That’s what I’m feeling right now. At any rate, it seems like such a rigged game. If you start from behind, you use scotch tape and paper clips to make quick fixes, and you’re always just one broken paper clip away from disaster. If you can afford high quality items from the get-go, you aren’t always on the brink of those items falling apart. If you can put 20% down for a house, you don’t have to then throw money into the wind for PMI. If you have an emergency fund in place, you don’t have to rely on credit cards when that emergency happens, and then pay interest for the privilege of digging yourself out of debt.

My husband and I were discussing finances last night and he said, “I don’t get it, we make decent money, are we just bad at managing money?” I mean, partly, sure. We make some choices that others wouldn’t, like letting our kids do whatever activities they want (which turn out to be expensive ones), and throwing birthday parties for them outside of the home, and going on family vacations. But we also have 6 people (3 adults, 3 kids) living in a 1300 square foot house in a low cost of living area – our mortgage is under $750 a month. We don’t outsource lawn care or house cleaning, we keep cars until they have 200K plus miles on them, we clothe our kids in hand-me-downs and I basically stopped buying clothing altogether, opting for a uniform instead. We travel hacked to Europe and our upcoming trip to Disney World is also half paid for with credit card benefits.

The real problem is that we started out so very, very far behind. Early in our marriage, my husband had to re-do his education, in a second language, because of complicated immigration stuff. When we had Sonya, he was working at Radio Shack and I was in grad school, working at Starbucks to try to make ends meet. We were on WIC with Sonya as well as with Viv, and it’s only been in the past three years that both of us have made a decent wage, and it was just about the time that our salaries rose that a tumor reared its ugly head from inside my lovely head. All that time, we’ve also been supporting his family in various ways, while trying to raise three kids.

For the last four years, his mother has been living with us full-time, completely dependent on us for all of her food, transportation, and health care needs, including airline tickets back to the motherland. Can we afford that now? Sure. But on top of the holes that we dug? Ugh, it’s harder.

The debt we have now reflects this earlier time – we have student loan debt, a mortgage, and one car loan; we also have bank loans that covered our basement being waterproofed (literal standing water in the basement every time it rained hard meant that our small house was even smaller, and the water was damaging all sorts of stuff), putting in solar panels (I feel good about this, but there was no way we could have financed it without a loan), and brain surgery (I mean, it was important). And our consumer debt, which I am ashamed of, is borne out of those other holes – our bathtub was in danger of falling through a rotting floor into the basement a la Breaking Bad when Jesse screwed up trying to dissolve a body (except without a body), and there was just no give in our budget anywhere.

In retrospect, we should have waited for some of those things. A handyman had told me five years earlier that we had about five years before the bathroom became a crisis, so how much longer could we have waited? Not much, but…still. We could have, maybe should have, waited to get solar panels or waterproof the basement. Perhaps not offered support to family.

I guess the point is – when you’re behind, it’s not as simple as “use hand-me-downs instead of buying new.” It’s expensive to be poor. And those expenses don’t end when you get a salary increase…they just result in everything breaking at the same time, every extra dollar being put toward previous debts.

6 thoughts on “Them’s the breaks”

  1. I feel it, too — it IS expensive to be poor. A few recent examples: 1.we need paper towels. Can’t afford economical large pack, so just buy one overpriced roll at the ‘Dollar Store’. 2. Vehicle insurance in Michigan is high. Can’t afford to pay yearly so on monthly budget plan, which nicely includes an additional $3/per month fee 3. Leaky gas tank in vehicle that is too far gone to justify fixing=multiple $5 fuel stops
    Really and truly I am not complaining, as overall we are SO DARN fortunate! But it seems to cost alot to be poor 😐


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