A reader asked me if I could break down my ideas into a handful of principles. After some careful thought, I came up with a list of fourteen basic “rules” that summarize my money and life philosophy. I’ll be presenting these as a weekly series.
Whenever I'm in a financially destitute area, I start seeing many of the same things.
I see homes that are creaky, often with paint falling off. I see front yards and back yards full of items left out in the rain to fall apart. I see cars in poor shape, a mixture of rust and lots of hard miles on them. I see overgrown and patchy lawns. I see air conditioning units that sound like they're about ready to explode, covered in dust and cobwebs.
In short, I see a lot of items that people own that simply have no care given to them at all. Unsurprisingly, these items will have to be replaced sooner than they would with even a little bit of TLC - or else they're items that were bought completely frivolously, were barely used, and will never be replaced.
The True Cost of Poor Maintenance
A poorly-maintained air conditioner? It sucks down more energy than one that's well maintained - adding to your energy bill - and it fails quicker - adding to your repair and replacement bills.
A house with paint falling off? It needs repainted and treated or else you open yourself up to additional weathering from the environment, reducing the lifespan and resale value of the house itself.
Items left out in the yard? The sun bleaches them, the rain wears away at them, and they live a very short life. You'll be buying a new basketball before you know it.
I'm not picking on people who make these lifestyle choices. Instead, I'm drawing a connection between their financial state and the way they treat their stuff. With every item that sits out there and dilapidates, some of their financial resources are simply blowing away. Taken together, those resources provide the opportunity to have the things you dream of.
Take the air conditioner, as just an obvious example. An average air conditioner has a lifespan of fifteen years. If you maintain it well, you can likely stretch that a few more years - let's say eighteen years. If you do nothing with it, the lifespan will be shorter - say, twelve years.
An average central air unit uses 161 kilowatt hours during an average summer month. A well maintained conditioner, with clear vents, might shave 5% off of that, while an unmaintained unit might add 5% more to that.
Replacing such a unit will cost about $4,000.
So, what's the total cost over a thirty year period? If you maintain your unit well, you will have replaced it once and be two-thirds of the way towards replacing a second unit - a total unit cost of $6,667. Over thirty summers, you will have used 13,765 kilowatt-hours of energy - at a price of ten cents per kilowatt hour, that's $1,376.50. Your total cost? $8,043.50.
What about a poorly-maintained unit? You will have replaced your unit twice and be halfway towards a third replacement - a unit cost of $10,000. Over thirty summers, you will have used 15,215 kilowatt-hours of energy - at a price of ten cents per kilowatt hour, that's $1,512.50. Your total cost $11,512.50.
Spending a few minutes each spring and a few minutes each fall making sure the air conditioning unit is clean and in proper working order saves a family $3,469 over a period of thirty years.
Start carrying that across other expenditures. Your house - the wood, roof, and foundation. Your equipment. Your clothing and shoes. Your vehicles. All of these things have significant savings that come around when you put even a small amount of care into maintenance. Over a decade, you can easily save tens of thousands of dollars by properly maintaining your belongings.
All earned by spending a minute or two here or there taking care of your stuff.
Save Money By Taking Care of Your Things
It's pretty easy to do, actually. You can get started by using a home and auto maintenance checklist and running through it on a regular basis. Most of the home maintenance tasks you do are pretty simple ones - they're just somewhat numerous and are easy to forget at times.
What you'll find when you do this is that things run just a bit better. Your air conditioner doesn't kick on quite as often. Your dryer runs efficiently. Your appliances rarely seem to have problems. Your refrigerator doesn't run constantly.
All of those little things add up to a bit of energy savings now - and a lot of savings later, when you're not replacing these expensive items.
You can carry this through to more items in your home as well. Take your shoes, for example. Making sure they're clean, treating expensive shoes well, and storing them in places where they won't continually take bumps is a good step towards extending their life. Or your lawnmower - taking the time to occasionally sharpen the blades and check the oil reduces the wear and tear on the engine greatly, saving you money on gas and also on replacing your mower. Or your roof - keep those gutters clean and your roof will take less wear and tear.
It doesn't take much time to do these things, either. Compare the two minutes here or there spent doing maintenance to the time you'd have to invest buying a new unit early - research, shopping around, and so on - and the time begins to balance out, too.
You can easily expand this philosophy beyond the material. Take care of your relationships. Take care of your work contacts. Take care of your career. Take care of your body.
There are other positive effects, as well. Take the environment, for example. The fewer items you replace, the fewer things that wind up in landfills. The less energy you use, the fewer fossil fuels you burn.
There's also the positive psychological benefits of taking care of your things. In many ways, it's akin to taking care of yourself psychologically. You're doing positive things with your time which fills you with positive feelings all around. You're improving your things that you value, which by extension improves you.
Adding together all of these benefits, I find it to be essential to take the time to maintain the things you have.