Infrequent Expenses Should NOT be Emergencies

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Infrequent Expenses Should NOT be Emergencies

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I knew it was coming, I just didn't know exactly when. 

The mechanic sitting next to me broke the bad news as he went over the list of recommended services for my van after the latest oil change. He informed me that my front brake pads were wearing thin, and that it would cost about $350 to replace them. I asked him how much life was left in the pads, to which he stated five to seven thousand miles, depending upon how we drive the vehicle.

Our emergency fund had enough in it to cover the cost, but I was hesitant to do the repair immediately. We had just started building up our emergency fund recently, and spending $350 for brake pads would leave it dangerously short should we incur another unexpected expense. 

I decided to delay replacing the break pads. 

We drive our van an average of a thousand miles a month, so we had several months before the pads would be completely worn out. The mechanic also said the van would be safe to drive, even for a planned upcoming trip to Wisconsin, as long as we had the brakes serviced "soon." By delaying the replacement of the pads, we gave ourselves a few months to beef up our emergency fund first.

The thing that I want to take away from this experience, however, is that this shouldn't have been something for which the emergency fund was needed. An emergency fund is for unforeseen events that require money. I've known for months that my brakes were going to need servicing, but did nothing to ready ourselves for it.

This wasn't an emergency, it was a known future expense that we simply didn't prepare for.

What we should have done was started asking the state of our brake pads about a year ago. Having that knowledge would let us be completely aware of the state of our brake pads, and allow us to plan and save in advance of the needed service.

Saving for emergencies isn't enough. I also need be aware of infrequent but necessary expenses that take relatively large amounts of money and be proactive in preparing for them. 

Otherwise, everything becomes an emergency.

How do you handle infrequent but necessary expenses? Do you save for them separately, or do you pay for them all out of your emergency fund?

Related Links: 

Do we Really Need a Second Car?

Emergency Funds...Yes You DO NEED One!

Savings? What Savings?

Travis Pizel, Debt Management Plan customer with leading provider of debt relief, CareOne Services, Inc. Travis Pizel

Travis is a contributing writer for the My Journey out of Debt and A Straight Talk on Debt blogs. He is also a very active member of the CareOne community forums. Travis is currently enrolled in a CareOne Debt Management Plan (DMP). Travis 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 in Minnesota. You can also read more from Travis on the Enemy of Debt blog, where he is a featured blogger. Compensated Blogger for CareOne Debt Relief Services.

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  • This is definitely one of the biggest problems associated with being in the program; setting aside money for known, but somewhat infrequent expenses. My water bill is a big one for me. I know I need about $300 every quarter, but every time I get that bill I scramble to find a way to pay if off. Car repairs, small trips, buying clothes/shoes for the kids, all fall in this category. 3+ years into this program and I'm just now starting to build an emergency fund, and I don't want to use that to pay my water bill, so two things I have been trying to do instead: 1) Making a $30 online payment to the water company every payday. This doesn't cover the entire bill, but it sure makes it more manageable 2) Setting aside money envelopes for different items like "clothes," "car," etc., and just trying to put $5, $10 or $20 in the envelopes whenever possible, especially when we defer spending on a planned event. For example, if we were going to go out for dinner, but stay home instead. We still put the money we would have spent for dinner in one of the envelopes.

  • My husband and I have multiple savings accounts for specific tasks. For instance, our large emergency fund is in a higher-interest money market account. This is what we call the "untouchable" account, not connected to our checking account - it is to be used in case of unemployment or severe medical issues or something that would cause extreme financial hardship - absolutely nothing else.

    The next two savings accounts are connected to our checking to make moving money easier. We have a savings account that holds a little over $1,000 for emergencies that require quick money - like plane tickets in case we need to get to our home state for an emergency. . . something breaks unexpectedly, etc. Finally, there is a savings account for upcoming, planned expenses. If often fluctuates between $100-$500 for the planned oil changes, tire replacements, tuition, car /renter's insurance payment etc.

    I'm sure this sounds complicated, but this system works for us. What we don't see in our checking  account, we won't spend - kind of an out of sight out of mind idea. Your post makes a very important distinction between emergencies and things that you should have time to fix before it becomes an emergency. When I was still in credit card debt, everything was an emergency and that kept me in debt because I just never planned for things like new tires or breaks. haha, I kept thinking or rather screaming to myself in my head at the time, "NORMAL PEOPLE DON'T GO INTO DEBT FOR NEW TIRES!!!!!!!!"

  • Ugggg <<<Fingers in Ears>>>> I'M NOT LISTENING! I'M NOT LISTENING... OK.... so maybe I am. Sigh. Seriously. We are getting the oil done and check up on the van this weekend. We are dealing with a crisis and I know I am going to be doing driving back and forth to the LA area (About 6 or 7 hours one way depending where things end up). I am soooo afraid they are going to tell me the same thing. We were just talking about it last night. Then my miracle grow boy announces that all his jeans are now above his ankles. (At 11 he has just passed my 5 foot 6 height and is thrilled to tell everyone he is taller than both his mother and his 15 year old sister). Plus the van registration came in the mail yesterday. Now - I KNEW each and every one of these things was floating around in the near future. Not the extra driving, but I have to be clear about that gas money and probable expenses do to the actual emergency. Still, every time they hit.. it FEELS like an emergency. I will not be taking it out of the emergency fund because there is not one yet.

  • One way to help when you're first budgeting is to place a line item in your allocated savings labeled as "I forgot". Fund that account each month with a small amount...when you run into something like this, change the name to your new category. It takes several years to really account for everything in your budget.

  • I love the envelope method of budgeting, darrinmb - my wife and I use it to an extent as well.  Although we use it more on a week to week basis for weekly expenses.  I also like your idea of "chipping away" at your water bill each paycheck.  That's the sort of thing I should have done for my brakes......each paycheck put a little bit away.  Thanks for your comment, darrinmb -and good luck with the rest of your program, hope to hear from you again!

  • If it's not complicated to you, saracarr, and it works for you.....then more power to you!  I love that line - Normal people do not go into debt for brakes/tires (or whatever the emergency of the day is)!!!!   Using your credit card is essentially taking out a loan....and every time we feel the urge to buy something with a credit card, we should ask ourselves "Would I take out a loan for this?"  Sounds pretty stupid to take out a loan for a new video game or dinner at a restaurant....don't you think?

  • I'm Soooo sorry to hear you're dealing with an emergency, Kimberly!  I hope everything turns out OK.  I *Hate* living in constant crisis mode - it's all about being disciplined.  Just when we think we have our finances all in order, we come across something else we need to tweak - it's been a constant learning adventure - but I know we'll get there.  I also know what you're talking about with kids' clothes.  My son (14) has ALWAYS been difficult to buy jeans for.  He'll "approve" them in the store, and say that he tried on one pair so he doesn't have to try on the rest. Then, magically a few months later, some of them just don't fit right......even though every pair are EXACTLY THE SAME.  Drives me completely NUTS.

  • Or in my case, Brent, a "I'm choosing to ignore" fund?  LOL.  Thanks for your suggestion!

  • Boys between 11-15 need a special clothing budget all their own. My son grew 8 inches the years he was 13 and 14, and went straight from size 10-12 shoes. Then there's the food budget to support all that growing... yikes!  At 16, mine went all healthy on me, and yes that's a good thing, but somedays it would be nice to give the grocery budget a break and fill him up with burgers, pizza and pasta like his friends eat, rather than lean meats and fish. I do get some stares when I load up my cart when the pork tenderloin or salmon fillets go on sale.

  • Oh, so true, JMK. I can't believe how much my son can eat, and he's rail thin. I need to look into better ways to fill the snack drawer inexpensively.  I also need to teach the kid how to make some easy foods on his own - this is the age that I started to cook for myself.

  • When I was in debt, I did not have any such fund for vehicle maintenance.  I did the scrambling around figuring out how to come up with the funds.  A lot of times it was easier as I just lowered the extra amount I was paying towards my program.  Other times I just sat there with my head in my hands and said "why now?"  Then I would look at where I could cut back.

    Now I finally do have a section in my budget for vehicle maintenance.  That was one of the categories I did keep separate when I condensed my budget.  :-)

  • You did such an awesome job of paying extra when you were in the program, Monica - it's great that you were able to just cut back your payment to handle such things - I unfortunately don't have that opportunity.  :(  I can understand the "Why now?" conversation with myself though!   It sounds like you learned your lesson and now have a general fund for vehicle maintenance....maybe that's the way to go - just always be tucking money away for the next thing that needs to be updated - thanks so much for the great suggestion!

  • Not preparing always leads to emergencies.  Having an emergency fund is your insurance against times like this.  It happens to everyone.

  • Yes, Jerry, that is what emergency funds are for......however the point of the post is that it should have never gotten to the point of needing to use my emergency fund.  Since I knew the expense was coming I should have prepared for it as a separate expense, and not have to tap into the e-fund.  thanks for your comment!

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