My Journey out of Debt

Featured customers currently enrolled in a CareOne Debt Relief Plan, share journey to become debt-free; hear how they juggle family, finances, and more.

Stressball, the Definition

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Stressball:  That feeling in the pit of your stomach when you know, or perceive, that something is wrong.

vThe weekend of December 17th my family and I traveled to central Iowa for the wedding of one of my wife's brothers. The full brunt of a forecasted blizzard hit during the wedding ceremony and we got stranded at the reception hall. We slept on the reception hall floor that night, as the wind howled and drove the snow sideways outside.

The next morning, after things had calmed a bit and the snow plows had gone through, we packed our things in the van and headed back to a nearby town where the rest of our stuff was waiting in the hotel room we were unable to use the previous night. 

The road report said that driving conditions were difficult, so we drove extremely slowly and carefully. At some point during the 30-minute drive, I heard a "ding." I looked down to see the small icon of an engine illuminated on the dashboard. The dreaded check engine light was on, and a stressball was born.

We made the 150 mile trip home, having a family member that was coincidentally driving in the same direction follow us just as a safeguard in case the van broke down. The next day I took the van to a local auto parts store that reads check engine light codes at no cost. The code indicated a cooling fan malfunction. The stressball grew.

In the morning, I called our local dealership and talked to the service department about the meaning of the code. They explained to me that the potential causes of the issue ranged from a need to simply reprogram a computer chip for $90, to installing a new wiring harness, costing about $3000. It felt like my stressball had literally exploded.

The next weekend was Christmas and we were supposed to leave town to visit relatives. I talked to my neighbor who is very knowledgeable about engines. He explained to me that the cooling fan is generally not used in the winter because it was cold, and I shouldn't worry about it since the daily high temperatures at the time were in the single digits.

For the next six weeks we drove the van with the check engine light on, watching the temperature gauge very closely. Every time I climbed into the driver's seat and turned the key, there was the familiar "ding" and the light in the shape of a tiny engine glowed yellow on the dashboard. 

It was like someone laughing at me, taunting me, every single time I had to drive somewhere. Ding, glow. 

Every time I turned the key, even though I knew better, I hoped against all hope that the light would somehow magically stay off. Ding, glow. 

The stressball churned in my stomach. 

Sometimes, I would flip the bird at the dashboard just to relieve some tension. Ding, glow. ENOUGH already!

Finally, I decided we needed to find out once and for all what was wrong with our van. I took the van back to the auto parts store to have the code re-checked just to make sure the issue hadn't changed. The code was the same, only this time the person who assisted me was a little more knowledgeable. The code specifically said "open circuit," or "cooling fan malfunction." 

In our model and year of van, the only serviceable part mentioned was the cooling fan relay. So, I got a price quote of the part - about $60. I headed home and dove head first into internet search mode. I wanted to find out where this part was located, and if I could replace it myself. 

The information I found indicated the part was in a rather hard place to access, but replacing it on my own certainly seemed doable. I headed out to the garage to try to locate the part. After about fifteen minutes of lying on the dirty garage floor with a small flashlight clamped between my teeth, I was unable to find it. I switched off the flashlight and headed back inside to see what else I could find. 

From my additional searching, I found one automobile forum discussing that particular check engine light code that included the same instructions for finding and replacing the part, but then also had information from another person stating they had the same problem, but replacing the relay didn't fix it. After further investigation, they discovered that the cooling fan fuse was simply blown. I rushed out to the garage, opened up the fuse box and looked at the fuse map. I located the correct fuse and pulled it out. Blown, it was BLOWN!

By this time, the stores were closed for the night. Bright and early the next morning, I drove one more time to the auto parts store, blown fuse in hand. I explained to the employee what I had discovered. 

He was almost certain that the blown fuse was indeed the cause of my "Ding, glow." 

I bought a new fuse and put it in the van right there in the parking lot. The employee hooked up the device that reads the codes, and although they are technically not supposed to do so, at my urging, he attempted to clear the code. Prior to inserting the new fuse, the code would fail to clear. But this time, SUCCESS! 

I thanked the worker, climbed into my van and turned the key.  No ding, no glow.My Journey Out of Debt 

I sat there for a few minutes staring at the dashboard expecting that little picture of an engine to suddenly begin to glow. It didn't. I started laughing out loud. My wife and I had been staring at that light, borderline obsessing about it for seven full weeks. With the purchase of a 40 amp fuse for $3.29, I drop kicked that stressball across the parking lot of the auto parts store.

One of the personal finance bloggers I follow on Twitter, @themoneyrabbit, recently realized that entirely too much energy is spent worrying about things beyond our control. "The Worry Diet" was born in which worrying has been sworn off.

Obviously this is a very hard thing to do, but the concept is sound. It didn't hit me just how going on a "worry diet" could affect my life until this particular situation played out.  My wife and I stressed about a potential problem with our mini-van for seven weeks. If I had instead funneled that energy immediately into trying to find a solution, we could have saved ourselves a lot of stress.

On the other hand, maybe we would have found out that something was very wrong with our van. But what would we have gained by waiting seven weeks to get that information? We could have instead applied that energy into finding a way to get it fixed instead of fostering a stressball in our gut for close to two months. 

No more stressballs for me; go find someone else to torture. I'm going on a Worry Diet.

 Related Posts:

 What if You're Just Stuck

The Stress of Debt

Wherever There is Debt There is Stress

Travis PizelTravis Pizel 

Travis is a contributing writer for the My Journey out of Debt blog and is a very active member of the CareOne community forums. Travis is currently enrolled in a CareOne Debt Management Plan (DMP). Travis very candidly shares his personal journey to pay off his debt and the tips he's learned along the way. As a father and husband he provides a unique perspective on balancing debt, finances, and family.

Follow Travis on Twitter @DebtChronicles 

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  • Travis once again you said it! I did that stressball thing for so long with our house until finally I said enough is enough and started to attack the problems not the problems attacking me. Sometimes it stinks cause it costs money and I don't have the knowledge or skill to fix it but most times I can fix it for a fraction of the cost and that feels great! Food tastes better too without that large stressball in my belly. Thanks for the article.

  • Thanks for the awesome comment, ScottMo68!    As my family and I progress through our Journey Out of Debt, I find myself becoming more "adventurous" in my Do It Yourself projects.  I would have never even thought about searching the internet to try to replace a car part on my own 2 years ago....but I figure, why not try?    Why not try to fix a vacuum cleaner (previous blog post)?  Sometimes developing the courage to just try pays huge dividends!

    Oh, and you are SOOOOOO right.  Food tastes way better when I'm not stressin' about something.  Which is HUGE for me...'cause I LOVE food!

  • So good, Travis, and so true!!! I had to chuckle for a couple of really funny (at least for me) reasons.  One being that had I heard about your issue, stress ball and all, I seriously would have asked if you had checked for a blown fuse, really, I kid you not, woman with zero mechanic skills would have asked about the fuse...for the precise reason you will probably always check that now first: we had a similar repair, in fact one after the other for a little spate of time, it seemed that everytime we turned around our own personal 'ding, glow' moment was occuring.  Time and again (maybe just the grace of God here) but it was a blown fuse.  Years later, if something is acting the least bit funny and telling us about it on the dash, my brain shoots straight to 'Blown fuse?'  What is even funnier is I've mentioned this to unknown quantities of friends over the years during their own stressed moments and many times they discovered a similar culprit.  Its now a joke between Jeff and I.  Now as to that stressball!  What an accurate description! When we've gone through so many of these changes, extended family things going on etc. it seems like the stress ball just gets bigger.  We've been trying to decompress immediately and calm back down before making decisions.  In the past though we often waited just as long as you did and stayed unnecessarily stressed when a little dig in and investigate would have exposed our fears as groundless and released the stressball early on. Still learning...So, in the south, where several of my extended family reside, their answer to many things is 'Duct tape' mine will still be 'Blown Fuse?' for years to come! :)

  • Hi Gena, thank you so much for stopping by!  I think you're right..."Check the Fuse" will most likely now be my default diagnosis for car problems as well.  ;)  Not mentioned in the post, but I am also completely mechanically ignorant - so the very fact that I eventually grabbed this issue by the horns and solved it on my own (for a tad over $3) is a life victory that I will savor for quite some time.  Thus far in 2011 I've diagnosed and fixed both our vacuum, and our van.  Granted neither was a real huge issue in the end, but still, it has me feeling pretty confident about my DIY skills.  I'm just waiting for something else to break so I can dig in and try to fix it.  No, wait a minute....nothing else should break.  Do you hear that all of the possessions in my home?  Carry on as usual, and do NOT break...!   :)

  • If I call a business to inquire about a product or service, and get an answer I don't like, I'll hang up, call right back and ask the same question. Y ou'd be surprised how many times you get a different answer.

  • I started making a mental note of services in my everyday life that I currently pay for, but that I could learn to do myself.

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