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Another big unexpected expense


July has turned out to be quite an expensive month for us!

First, my husband had an emergency root canal. Then my tooth chipped (I still need to go have an exam to see if it will require repair, but I think I’m going to try to wait until August since July has already been so expensive!).

Then on Friday last week I took our Explorer to have an oil change. The light had been on for almost a week (since our Utah trip) and, although the husband generally does oil changes himself, I found a coupon online for $21.99 (by comparison, we usually spend about $20 for the stuff needed for husband to do it himself, so this was a great deal).

Well, of course I can’t get off with only a $21.99 charge. That would be way too easy. Instead, the mechanic comes in to talk to me in the lobby and explains that our car is currently at 59,500 miles. He recommends a whole slew of regular maintenance items that are recommended by Ford at 60,000 miles. To the tune of nearly $900.

My heart rate goes up and I swear my hands start perspiring. That is a LOT of money.

Many years ago, my husband used to work as a salesperson in an auto shop. Even though he didn’t do the mechanical work, he knows a good bit about cars. I call him up and let him speak directly to the mechanic. After their conversation I talk to my husband. He is a big proponent of taking good care of one’s car. Although most of the services aren’t immediate needs, he thinks everything should eventually be done. This kind of routine maintenance is what helps a car to last to 200,000+ miles (which is our hope – to drive this car to the ground!!!)

One other relevant tidbit I left out – the mechanic is a freemason. So is my husband. This may not mean anything to most of you, but freemasons are a very tight-knit group. They always deal fairly with each other. They would never ever rip each other off. Because of this, we had an extra layer of peace-of-mind that the mechanic wasn’t just trying to screw us over to make a commission on the work.

So I asked the mechanic to rank-order what needed to be done and to get started on the first several items. I wanted to spread the work out over a few months and there are a few things that my husband is going to do himself so we didn’t do everything that was recommended.

I waited anxiously, nervous of what the final bill would be.

When I finally went to pay, the mechanic, himself, came to the front to discount some of the labor charges (he took off about 20% total!). Our final bill came to $509. This does not include changing spark plugs and wires (which was estimated at about $200 and will be done probably in September or October since I want to wait a bit), nor does it include the air filter (which hubs can do himself for really cheap).

Out of our monthly car savings (a sub-account in my CapitalOne360 account), I had $260. The remaining of the bill was paid out of pocket. So, the remaining $249 remaining balance ($509-$260 = $249) is going to have to come from the “other” category of our budget (side note:  I’m also including husband’s root canal in this category of our budget. Initially I’d said I was going to simply subtract it from our income – never including it in our budget at all – but Scooze pointed out how that doesn’t give us an accurate picture of our finances, which is important for projecting future expenses, etc.). Sooooo, we’re going to be really REALLY over-budget in our “other” category this month. Just a heads up.

This whole car maintenance thing also makes me worried about my husband’s work truck. You may remember me talking about how old and beat up it is. We were estimating that it would probably have to be replaced this winter (*gulp*). I’m at a loss for what to do. Start funneling more money into our car monthly savings (we’ve been saving $50/month previously)? Just stay the course and hope the truck continues to hold out?

The reason we thought we’d have to replace it in winter is that the past 2 winters it has given us problems with starting when it gets cold outside (making it unreliable in cold weather). It’s A/C has also been out for an entire year now (meaning, husband has been driving around in 110+ degree days with no A/C all summer). The estimated cost to fix the A/C is another $1,000 and husband replaced all the parts associated with the starter last year and still had problems, so no idea what that will cost. Right now no money has been going into it at all, aside from regular oil changes and gasoline (didn’t want to invest money into it when we thought we’d be replacing it soon).

Other pertinent information – Kelley Blue Book estimates its value at $3700 (not too shabby since we paid only $3,000 about four years ago). This could be “off” though, given the problems its having (no A/C in Tucson is kind of a deal-beaker for most buyers).

Why oh why is vehicle maintenance so expensive? And why oh why is everything breaking/falling apart at the same time? Is this a case of “you’ve done too well…now Murphey is coming to visit!!!!”????

Tips, suggestions, advice? What would you do?


  • Reply TPol |

    Sorry to hear that you are having car problems. I usually estimate when I will reach certain mileage and budget maintenance accordingly. When I was working on my 2014 budget, I called up my dealership to find out how much certain maintenance cost and built that into my budget. For instance, there is my 105,000 Km. maintenance coming up some time in August and I know it will cost about USD 300.

    For me, regular car maintenance is a budget item but, anything that gets broken comes out of EF

    • Reply Ashley |

      Such a good point! The routine maintenance definitely should have been something I’d thought about and budgeted for accordingly!

  • Reply Juhli |

    It is always something out of the ordinary in terms of expenses. Yet they are all “normal” expenses. That is why getting ahead of your debt and having an emergency fund is so critical. I thought you had a savings account as well as paying off your debts. Perhaps instead of trying to fund each category (dentist, car, etc.) a robust emergency fund is a better solution?

    • Reply Mary |

      Ashley, I totally understand how frustrating it is when these unexpected expenses come up however you’ll soon find out, they will always come up, lol! I am being serious…life is expensive today and that’s why I am an advocate of being gazelle intense on getting rid of debt. It is so hard trying to pay off debt when these unexpected expense (i.e. life) come up. I agree with Juhli to about having a robust emergency fund. Just stay as focused as you can on paying off your debt and try not to get too sidetracked on trying to fund the “perfect” budget. Fund a robust fund and as your debt gets paid off, you can do a review of your budget after each payoff phase, to see if you need to fund separate items. I’d be inclined to just have the robust fund until you get down to just the student loans. Hang in there, you are doing a good job.

  • Reply KK |

    If I were in your shoes I would definitely bump up the savings for a new work truck, even if it’s only up to $100, if you can fit it into your budget. I think in your trek to be debt free that paying for a car with cash (or cash+trade in) is in your best interest. Savings extra now can help you with that, especially if the truck putters out this winter!
    Also, kudos on adding that root canal bill into the “other” budget. I think it will really help you when you review the budget and see how many “unexpected” expenses there were in one month/year. That way you can plan accordingly for an “Ooopsies” category or EF.

  • Reply Den |

    Ouch! That hurts…..but don’t let it derail your progress! I think “Murphy” comes out just to test us and keep us humble in our debt pay off journey:) Sounds like your July will still be good, just not as good as hoped – as long as the debt total is going down, you’re going to be fine!

    • Reply Ashley |

      Thanks Den! I’m definitely glad that we’ve had some savings to be able to fall back on (and still have an untouched EF should things really go south). It’s good to have the perspective that these things happen from time to time to test us and keep us humble. And, really, these expenses aren’t anything crazy or out of left field. If I’d been planning appropriately these would have been built into the budget from the start! At least I’m learning!

  • Reply Megan |

    If your husband’s handy enough to change the air filter and change the oil, I bet he’d be able to do the spark plugs and wires too. It’s really pretty simple, he’d just need to buy or borrow a special socket to unscrew the spark plugs. The NPR program Car Talk has a good matrix of what maintenance items can probably be done yourself: http://www.cartalk.com/content/service-your-car-2

    • Reply Ashley |

      Whoa, this is so cool – thanks for the link! I’ll have to let hubs know and see if he can try to take it on (that would certainly save us a lot!) On an unrelated note, I remember being 16 and having my Grandpa teach me how to change my brake pads (which is all yellow). I don’t know that I could do it now (15 years later), but it makes me feel a little like a badass that at one point I could do something rated “medium” in car repair complexity ; )

      • Reply Ashley |

        Update – I just checked Auto Zone’s website and spark plugs run between $4-$7!!! I haven’t looked up the wires or the special tool we’ll need but just seeing the cost of that part is insane compared to what the shop was going to charge ($200ish, including labor). Crazy! I’m for sure gonna ask (read: politely TELL) husband to do it himself! ; )

    • Reply Kristina |

      I was going to post the same thing. I don’t consider myself a mechanic by any means, but I bought the tools and the plugs and read up on the subject and did it myself on a car I’ve long since sold.

      I believe in your hubby!

  • Reply Angie |

    Also /advance auto parts lets you borrow special tools to do your repairs for free. Additionally, always make sure you order online for pickup in store. You can always find coupons for 20-50% off then pickup at your convenience.

  • Reply Hannah |

    We just spent about $500 on some much needed repairs for our old truck. Hubby spent a lot of time sourcing parts and did a lot of the work himself or paid a friend.
    Most routine maintenance is stuff you should be able to do yourself or find a knowledgable friend who will do it for a fair rate.
    Don’t forget tire rotation! This is something else you can,do yourself with the proper tools.

    • Reply Ashley |

      We actually got the tire rotation for “free” (it was part of the oil change coupon, but I said “free” in quotes, given that everything turned out to be quite expensive). This is one thing I’m really sad about in regard to not living by home (Austin, TX). Many friends that my husband made at the mechanic shop are still mechanics. Now, with 10+ years under their belts they’re considered “master mechanics.” If we still lived nearby they would be happy to do work for us for cheap. One friend, in particular (name withheld to protect the innocent, lol) would always “trade” mechanical work in exchange for a case of beer. A $20 case of beer is MUCH cheaper than much of the work we’d get done. Not much can be done when we’re so far away, but if we ever move back (which is my hope), our car repair/maintenance expenses would surely go down due to these friendships.

So, what do you think ?