The $7,000 Lesson I Learned the Hard Way

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Talk about a financially painful experience.

Key points

  • I skipped a year of maintenance on my air conditioning system during the pandemic.
  • The following summer, it completely died, leaving me with a very expensive bill.

As someone who has owned a home for over a decade, I am usually pretty good with home maintenance. But in 2020, I let certain items fall by the wayside.

That largely had to do with the fact that we were in the middle of a pandemic. In the summer of 2020, there were still many unknowns related to COVID and no vaccines. And so, in an effort to be cautious on the pandemic front, I skipped certain home maintenance tasks so I wouldn’t have to bring strangers into my home.

One item I missed was air conditioning maintenance. Normally my unit is inspected and serviced before the start of summer. In 2020, I didn’t do that. In 2021, I scheduled maintenance, but couldn’t get it done in time for a pre-summer appointment and figured I’d have to check the unit out towards the end of summer.

Meanwhile, that August, we had a heat wave, which often happens where I live. At the beginning of that heat wave, my air conditioner shut off without warning. And that left me $7,000 in the hole.

Don’t neglect maintenance

The problem that arose with my air conditioning is something that an additional maintenance appointment may or may not have prevented. But all I know is that when I kept those appointments in previous years, we never had any problems, so skipping that one probably wasn’t the best decision.

What really sucked about the death of our air conditioner is that we didn’t get a chance to shop around for a good deal on a replacement unit. Rather, we had to move quickly to avoid days or weeks of a stuffy house, which meant we had to go with our usual HVAC company and hope they didn’t take us for a ride.

In the end, the price we were quoted (about $7,000) was reasonable, which helped soften the blow. But shelling out that money was no fun at all.

the only thing i did right

I may have slipped into the air conditioning maintenance schedule. But one thing I did right in the context of that fiasco was build a solid emergency fund.

As a general rule, my husband and I make sure to keep a year’s worth of living expenses in our savings account. Most financial experts say you have three to six months’ worth of savings on hand, but as homeowners, we like to have that extra cushion.

Because our emergency fund was well inflated, our air conditioning problem didn’t land us in debt. And while it took a lot of effort and work to get that $7,000 back, we also had the luxury of taking our time.

Lesson learned

To be fair to myself, a lot of people didn’t invite contractors over to their house in 2020 unless it was an urgent matter. While I regret not having my AC unit serviced, I wasn’t being stingy or lazy—it was a calculated health decision.

Also, to be clear, my lack of maintenance did not necessarily cause the problem that resulted in the death of my air conditioning system. Part of the reason we had to replace it was that the cost of a repair would have been $3,000 to $4,000 and depending on the age of the unit it was not advisable to repair it.

At the same time, though, I’ve learned not to put off housekeeping, and also to keep extra money on hand for those nasty surprises. Although I’ve already managed to replenish my emergency fund after that big withdrawal last August, I’m still making an effort to inject a little more money into my savings here and there. At best, I won’t have to use it for home repairs, but when you own a home, you never know what unwelcome surprises may lie in wait.

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