Real Money Talk: When the A/C Goes Out

A few weeks ago, at the start of a two week heat wave in Iowa, we started having problems with the air conditioning system in our minivan. And by problems, I mean it was dying a slow death. Snookie's Malt Shop


I basically only drive the minivan when we're headed places together as a family. Otherwise, Kelsey is the primary driver and hauls herself and Rooney to and from work/daycare. Kelsey jokes that I have supersonic senses, because I tend to have a weird heightened observation when something seems out of place. For example, I walked in the house after church this past Sunday and could instantly smell that Kelsey's straightener had been left on.

Other times the situation is a bit more obvious, I just know that it's not a good thing. Like when the rear brakes were going out on the minivan. I got in the van, put it in reverse (with my foot slightly on the brake), stopped, looked at Kelsey and said "How long has that noise been going on?" Kelsey replies, "Oh, yeah... I meant to tell you, it's been doing that for awhile." Yeah... at that point all you could hear was metal on metal! Yikes.

So when I hopped in the van this time, the air system was making a funny noise, and we had a similar conversation as above. Ugh! Car problems are annoying, but having a DIY spirit as I do (and a Dad who used to be a mechanic), I called him up to see what my options were. "I don't know how to fix A/C systems, son." Dang it! He is human after all...

Into the shop the van went for an assessment of the damage. $900 was the damage and the kicker was that one of the parts was on back order, and it would be  a couple weeks before the part was in. Gulp... It was pushing 90 every day and with Iowa's humidity, it was going to be a rough few weeks for the Williams family. And by rough, I mean a total first world problem where we had to drive around town with the windows down.

Even still it was a bit warm, but there was some silver lining in the scenario.

Sometimes it's good to go without even for just a little while. It gave us some great perspective. We were out of our comfort zone as a family and while we were driving one of those A/C-less days, hot, on the verge of sweating, I told Kelsey how blessed we would feel once the A/C was fixed. Not to mention, what better time to cool down than by trying out the infamous Snookie's Malt Shop for the first time and knock out a summer bucket list item at the same time?

Snookie's Malt Shop

Anyway, that's the story of the A/C, but paying for it was another thing. A few things came to mind when we knew we had to scramble to find $900 for a car repair.

  1. Pull from the emergency fund.
  2. Pull from other various categories that are important, but not urgent (like Christmas).
  3. Don't eat for the next month and a half.

We ended up figuring out a way to pay for the van without any of those ways. We bent a budgeting rule just a little to make this situation work out. We pulled money from next month to pay for the repairs this month. Our budgeting software (YNAB) makes that super easy... almost too easy, but in this situation it wasn't worth the stress over a week of time (last week of June) when we would have the money anyway.

Let me put a disclaimer here that the only reason we were able to do this is because we live by YNAB Rule 4 - live on last month's income. So, we were living on May's income and paychecks from June were being applied to July's budget. (Read the post for more details)

Another factor came into play in that I'll get three paychecks in July. If you get paid every other week, you actually get 26 paychecks a year. That means if you typically budget with two paychecks a month, when you get the extra paycheck it can be applied directly to your current financial goal (unless your minivan needs a $900 repair)

The part wasn't supposed to be in until around July 4 and we assumed we wouldn't have the A/C fixed until after the fourth of July weekend, anyway. However, the part came in early and we needed the money early. So, we planned on just paying for it, and using the money from the extra paycheck when it came the next week.

A few things to note:

  • We have a high interest earning checking account, so we always have plenty of cash in there. If you have a majority of your cash in savings, you'll need to do a transfer for this sort of thing.
  • I really don't like doing this sort of thing. In YNAB it shows up as a red category. I don't like red. It makes me nauseous. These things need to be the exception not the rule when it comes to budgeting.
  • Budgeting is great when everything is going smooth. It's when things like this come up that I'm grateful that we know where all of our money is allocated. It helps us make better decisions in the heat of the moment. The alternative (the old us) would have just put it on a credit card and hoped for the best later.

It's taken us five years to get to this point where financially a $900 car repair is a minor inconvenience and not a major catastrophe to our budget. We're always learning and working to do better. But, there's been a lot of sacrifice and discipline along the way.

The cost of paying for the A/C was a hurdle in our progress. But, we know there will be many hurdles in life, and we just need to do our best to prepare to jump over them quickly and move on.

How do you handle financial hurdles? Do you have a plan?