What We Did When a $20 Repair Turned Into a $5K Nightmare

Discover how special funds help this couple budget.

Way back in 2009, my husband and I were newlyweds. We were still trying to figure out this whole “managing money together” thing. It was not easy, and by the end of that year, we had learned a valuable lesson — to the tune of $5,000.

My husband was in his first year of owning his own business and using his truck as a workhorse. His truck was almost paid for and ran like a champion. Then, one day out of the blue, it stopped running properly.

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My husband is a total handyman and will try and try to diagnose and fix a problem himself before paying someone else to do it for him. Therefore, my husband and his best friend sacrificed precious working hours to try to fix his truck. Unfortunately, they couldn’t figure out what the problem was.

He had no choice but to bring the truck into the shop to determine why it was running so badly. The shop told him it was the radiator. So, my husband and his best friend replaced the radiator.

But that still didn’t solve the problem. So, back to the shop, the truck went. Another visit, another diagnosis; this time, they said it was the water pump. Once again, my husband replaced what they told him was wrong.

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$5,000 Later and Still Not Fixed

This continued until I finally looked at my husband and said, “We have paid $5,000 chasing a fire, which is the current value of your truck. If you spend one more dime on fixing your truck and it does not fix it, we will have to sell it and get another truck. We cannot keep spending money like this because we do not have it.”

That was all my husband needed to hear for him to completely take apart the cooling system of his truck. In doing so, he discovered that debris was stuck in one of the hoses that led to the radiator. Once the debris was removed and the hose was replaced, the truck ran perfectly (and still does). Had we known that was the actual problem, that fix would have cost us about $20.

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The truth behind this crazy event was that we really did not have the $5,000 to pay for my husband’s truck. That money was a struggle for us to come up with in such a short time span and some of it had to be put on credit cards, which only made matters worse. We were forced to take measures that would ensure we were never in this type of situation again. We established and began our “budget fund” system in which we started setting up specific “funds” for certain things.

The “Auto Fund”

This fund system started with our auto fund. After paying over $5,000 trying to fix a problem that should have only cost us around $20, we knew we needed to do something different to avoid running into this same problem again. So, we set up a separate savings account in which we draft a set amount of money for each week. That account sits untouched until one of our paid-for cars needs regular maintenance, like oil changes, new tires, etc., or a major repair.

The great thing about this account is that when things like a major repair happen (as is the current case with my car’s entire braking system), we don’t have to take money from our emergency fund or use a credit card to pay for the repair because the cash is already available to us in the auto fund.

Making Budgeting Easier

The other advantage to this account is that it makes budgeting for things like regular car maintenance so much easier. We keep a line item in our budget that says “auto fund” and drafts a set amount each week to that account automatically. Since we drive paid-for cars, we set aside $75 a week to that account.

Then, when one of our cars needs an oil change, we just use the money to pay for it from the auto fund. This keeps us from having to go in and readjust the budget every time one of our cars needs work on it. This is also the account where we pay for our annual registration fees and emission testing for our cars.

Again, it’s great not to have to stress over how we’re going to pay for maintenance or repairs for our cars because the money is already set aside and available to cover us when these things arrive. For us, this has been a key player in building a budget that works for us.

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