The recent past has been a good (and annoyingly frequent) reminder that I shouldn’t rest too heavily on my bank balance laurels. Lest the universe take it as a challenge. Which it has.
In other words, we need to remember that very few people are ever completely financially safe, no matter what numbers are on the bank statements.
To be clear, I don’t think we should all live in a state of constant financial anxiety, like I once did.
Savings do help us weather a lot of storms, and we should stop and appreciate that.
It doesn’t hurt to remember that there’s a reason we need to have saving accounts. Because the universe has far too much fun toying with us — including our finances.
An expensive time
My savings took numerous hits between late April 2022 and the end of July 2023.
The most notable of these was the June sewer line replacement. But the financial blows started much earlier than that.
Admittedly, some of these were optional expenses — made partially because I had a good financial cushion — but most weren’t. And they all added up quickly.
As of early April, I had a combined $33,884 in my saving and emergency fund accounts: $16,576 and $17,308, respectively.(Have I mentioned how much easier it is to save since the divorce?) But then it began…
The house’s lights have always briefly flickered once in a while. Usually, it was when the HVAC would turn on for more cool air.
But in March/April, the flickering became more of a blinking out. It was a short beat, but still a beat. And it got more and more frequent, until it was happening multiple times a day.
The electricians who came by — while varying greatly in price — all agreed that a new panel was needed, plus some of the lines needed to be moved to the second fuse box, on the side of the guest house.
Apparently, previous homeowners’ amateur DIY meant that they’d put the panel at more or less max capacity — and hadn’t even disconnected wires when they stopped using some of the corresponding work. There were at least three wires that went nowhere.
Thankfully, I found a guy with quite a bit of experience and a good Yelp rating who charged me about half what the other electricians quoted me.
Even so, it was about $3,000 for the new panel and complete rewiring.
The next month, the tile job of my ever-stalled-out master bathroom remodel had already been planned. And since I still had healthy saving/emergency fund balances, I went ahead with the work.
That was another $3,500.
Life was peaceful for a whole six or so weeks. Then the guest house roof sprung a leak.
Since the guest house roof was such a small area, the repair only cost $422. Not great overall, but by home repair standards, that’s darn cheap!
In early September — aka about six or seven weeks before Phoenix temperatures drop into even the low 90s — my car’s A/C system died.
It’s a 2012 car, so I couldn’t really begrudge the motor and fan for finally giving out. But the $1,650 repair bill still stung.
During my winter HVAC inspection, the technician told me that I should consider replacing my unit.
At 11 years old, the unit could die at any point, but it also might have last several years. There wasn’t really a way to know, though the technician (who turned out to be the owner of the company) said he was seeing some signs of wear. Still, he admitted there was no telling for sure.
The reason he was suggesting it now was that, starting in January 2023, units were required to have a higher minimum SEER rating. Meaning that HVAC companies legally couldn’t sell a chunk of their inventories after December 31st.
So units were deeply discounted in an attempt to at least recoup some money.
I’ve asked HVAC companies in the past and was told that a replacement unit would probably be $12,000 to $15,000.
So when he said he could get me a new unit installed for $8,200, it made sense to get peace of mind (and some savings) by replacing it.
I had some money in an HVAC replacement sinking fund, but $4,700 still had to come out of savings.
And that was also the month that I decided to get a proper dining set — something I’d been wanting for more than four years.
At $866, it was a pretty good price for a six-person set (my game nights often have at least 10 attendees). But with tax, assembly,* and fabric protector, it came to $1,050.
(As an Amazon affiliate, I’m compensated for purchases through my links.)
I don’t regret the expense — I’m utterly in love with the dining set — but admittedly, it wasn’t the best timing.
* A number of the reviews said the chairs were very difficult to put together and a few had splintered at least one leg a bit. So I decided to let some professionals do it. If they damage the item during assembly, Amazon will replace the item or discount it.
I’d been warmer than usual while sitting at the table, and the tiles near the back door had been warm since January.
At first, I thought Josie had just been lying there, or that the outside was warming the tile. (Which makes no sense because it wasn’t that warm out.)
So in early February, I did a search and found that I probably had a foundation leak.
The repair was much cheaper than I’d expected. Online it said the median cost would be about $4,000, but the job (including hiring a locator service) ended up being “only” $2,400.
So it was a combined “Phew/ouch!”
Because my home insurance premium had gone up this year by about $200 — and that’s after switching companies — my house escrow account was a little short of the property tax payment due
So I made up the difference with $220 from savings.
The at-least-18-years-old guest house fridge was finally dying. I managed to find a relatively affordable one and I bought discounted gift cards to help lower the cost.
But it was still $713 out of savings.
My double osmosis system’s stream of water had been diminishing for two or three months.
Once it got to the point that it was taking probably a full minute to fill my 24 oz water bottle, I gave in and called a plumber.
I thought it was just filters needing to be replaced, which would take a fraction of the hour I’d be charged $148 for, I added a long-promised garbage disposal for the guest house to make the call mostly deductible.
However, it wasn’t the filters. The compression bladder — which is what squeezes the water out — was nearly dead and needed replacing.
I had him buy a new one and replace it, along with the filters. Those were well past the usual lifespan, so I figured I might as well get it all done in one call.
The work didn’t take long, but in the end the total was still $475. Eesh.
June 23rd — the final blow
And of course, capping this all off was when, a few days later, I was told I’d have to replace my sewer line to the tune of $21,000.
While it ended up being slightly cheaper than expected — which is an entirely different post — it still cost $20,000 and insurance will only cover $2,000 for that side of things.
All in all
I’ll do the totals in just a moment, but as a note:
- I’m breaking up the mid-June plumber bill in two parts: The amount counted as necessary is $225 to deal with my water tank; the $250 for the garbage disposal being an optional expenses.
- I’m not counting the $3,500 that was already in the HVAC account, only the $4,700 that came out of savings.
Taking all that into account — and out of my saving accounts (sigh) — I spent $36,130 in 14 months over and above normal living costs.
Of that $31,330 went to necessary expenses. The other $4,800 were optional, but they still came out of the same account.
So what effect did it have? I’m glad you asked:
Beginning amount, 4/1/22: $33,884 ($16,576 savings/$17,308 EF)
End amount 8/6/23: $10,185 ($6,840 savings/$3,345 EF)
Deposits/credits from 4/22 to 8/23: $12,526 ($9,525 from paychecks, $1,001 in interest, $2,000 from insurance)
As a note: The $2,000 from insurance was just for the ingress/egress expense by the plumbers. Farmer’s also paid for my hotel and for the cost of repairs to drywall, tile and shower stall.
I’m keenly aware that $10,185 is still a damn good financial cushion for future life vagaries — and that it’s better than a lot of people have, even just counting those with any savings at all.
I also have some other saving accounts I could tap if worse came to worst. So I understand that I’m lucky to still be able to feel relatively financially safe.
And of course, those two things are the whole point of having savings:
- To not have to scramble to cover life expenses (expected or otherwise)
- To still feel financially protected while you wait for the next big bill to crop up
As much as it hurt to picture saying goodbye to my pretty, pretty topped-up emergency fund, the fact that I had the funds provided a lot of peace of mind. I didn’t have to scramble to get a loan or otherwise panic about where to find the the funds.
Which means that the ridiculously large bill didn’t send me into the fetal position, probably non-functional from depression for a few days. Instead I was just frustrated and groused a fair amount.
So yes, I’m still in a good financial position, thank [deity].
Even so, I thought this was a good way to remind everyone (including myself) that savings are great but… don’t get smug.
Anyone had a year — or years — like this?