Like Celebrity Deaths, Unexpected Expenses Come in Groups of Three

by Katy on February 13, 2014 · 29 comments

Although most of our household expenses are set and ordered, there’s always those dreaded sudden unexpected, and frankly unwelcome expenses. Some might say they’re consistent enough to be, well . . . expected.

And like celebrity deaths, they seem to come in threes. (Pete Seeger, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Shirley Temple come to mind.)

It seems like every time I blink my eyes, there’s another big ass expense vying for my attention and checkbook.

  1. My husband is being presented with a national award, which will be given in Washington D.C. His employer is covering the cost of the airfare, lodging and meals for the two of us, which is awesome! However, the ceremony coincides with spring break, and the cost of spring break plane tickets is ridiculously expensive. We ended up having to spend more than a $1100 for airfare alone to include the two boys. Of course we did it, but it pains me. Considerably. (We are extending the four day trip into a nine day trip by adding a week in New York City with my sister and her family, so that’s something.)
  2. Portland just finished a unseasonal cold snap that brought the fun of the polar vortex to the lil’ ol’ Pacific Northwest. It was fun to look at snow instead of never ending rain for a few days, but the pipes going from our basement laundry to our kitchen sink froze and then broke. Luckily, my husband is handy, so he was able to do the job himself. (Even if he did have to use a personal day from work to make it happen.) Unluckily, the supplies alone for this rather major plumbing job came to around $300! Last fall, my husband bought four $60 tickets to a now sold-out Pixies concert, which we decided to sell for face value. He’s selling two to one of his co-workers and I’m selling the other two to an old work buddy and we’ll almost break even. Bummer.
  3. My eighteen-year-old son is finishing up his last year of high school, and currently taking two A.P. classes, as he did his junior year. Annoyingly, he didn’t turn in his testing paperwork on time last year, which means he’ll be taking four different A.P. tests. And at $90 apiece, that adds up pretty quickly. Luckily, I have money set aside for college expenses which will cover this $340 expense. (Some might not include this as “unexpected expense,” but I do as I expected him to split this into two different years.)

I should have a distinct bank account set aside for these unexpected “emergency” expenses, but they have always gotten eaten up in the past when I’ve done this. And my drastically decreased work hours have eaten away at our cushion.

How do you handle life’s little (and big) unexpected expenditures? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

Holly February 13, 2014 at 12:33 pm

Oh, Katy, I know what you mean. Since November 1) washing machine broke, cheaper to replace than repair; 2)dryer broke — major repair; 3)polar vortex broke pipe, flooded bathroom, required plumbing and MAJOR floor repair/replacement; and I’m just holding my breath to see what the power bill will be since I had to actually use heat for a substantial period of time. Needless to say the $1,000 emergency fund is more than depleted. As much as I hate to do it, I’m going to have to carry some things on a credit card for a few months.


LazyretirementgirlJackie February 16, 2014 at 10:59 am

Your homeowners insurance may help you with your broken pipe damage.


Sharon H. February 13, 2014 at 12:57 pm


I squirrel away every extra check into a savings account. Rebates, refunds, my small paycheck, all go into that. We had to deplete it over the summer for those harsh unexpected expenses so I’m in ‘painful rebuilding’ mode too.

I need to keep better track of the boys’ expenses online. They’re supposed to reimburse us for the small purchases they make through our PayPal account, but are constantly forgetting.


Katy February 13, 2014 at 3:42 pm

I do the same thing with extra and unexpected money, but it goes towards college expenses. It’s nowhere near enough to pay for even one year of college, but if $340 can pay for four college classes, then that’s not too shabby!



Trish February 13, 2014 at 4:48 pm

that is excellent!!! college is SO very overpriced these days. when I went to Purdue (back in the 1900s) it was $800/semester for tuition (I was in state). I am so glad I don’t have to face the high cost of college these days!!


Cattis February 14, 2014 at 10:44 am

Maybe your son should read Walden on Wheels before going to college 😉


Kris February 15, 2014 at 4:27 am

Uh, Katy…90 times 4 is 360…


K D February 15, 2014 at 8:49 am

Some colleges will give up to 6 hours of credit for scoring well on an AP exam. My college freshman received 6 hours for US History, 6 hours for AP English Literature, and 4 hours for AP Calculus AB.


Anet February 13, 2014 at 1:56 pm

Talk about grappling w/ decreased work hours: my husband was let go after more than 27 years working for the same company, so we know what it’s like. I work in the public sector and haven’t had a raise in eight years. Yet, we were able to get our three children through college (the last one graduated in June). How did we manage?
1-We made a conscious decision to live below our means and save money. We rarely eat out; we cook from scratch with bulk items, we don’t consume big ticket items, no cable, we drive old but serviceable cars, hang out laundry, don’t do major home improvements, etc.
2-Kids always worked (and juggled tough academic loads and some extra curricular activities). In high school: sit-down restaurants, fast food, janitor assistant, babysitting. In college: library, campus coffee cart, neighborhood café. They contributed towards their educational, clothing, and entertainment expenses and were told in no uncertain terms that they were responsible for a portion of their college fees.
3-Rented out a room to occasional visiting students. This resulted in $10,000 over about a nine-year period: not quite one year of tuition at our state university, but it helped.
Make sure your kids are aware of college costs, encourage thrift, and plan accordingly. If they have to help pay for it, they may feel more motivated to excel. Just a few ideas…


Maggie February 13, 2014 at 2:24 pm

Previously, we were stupid and put it on a credit card. Now, we’re paying our debt off and have a small emergency fund just in case. Once our debt is gone, we’ll put our car payment into a savings account every month


Diane February 13, 2014 at 3:01 pm

I feel your pain. I have no cushion and am now pretty much living on very little which is a great concern. Life conspired in such a way to leave me with not much retirement after my teaching career as well as huge educational loans for a teenager 10 years ago that I will be paying off forever. I just pray my 14 year old vehicle keeps running (I do regular maintenance and it is a Honda CRV which can go forever). Thankfully, my rent covers any appliance and plumbing breakdowns.


patti February 13, 2014 at 4:27 pm

We have been hit hard the past two months starting when our refrigerator went out the week of Christmas (new expense and loss of food expense). It was just a few months ago that I lost my freezer and all of its contents. Then in January my Dad had a medical emergency so I had to go “home” to take him to the hospital which cost me to drive there ($100 in gas), cost for me to eat out while I was there, and the loss of pay while I was with him for 10 days. Although I do not regret being able to go, it has left us with less of a cushion than we like. So …. I am not spending any money anywhere if I can help it. I am cooking stuff out of our pantry and making do. We are in the midst of a snow storm “crisis” but I didn’t even go get milk and bread. LOL I am like you, Katy, I knew I could bake my own and I am finding lots of unique food options. This NCA community is a great support group for times like this.


AnnW February 13, 2014 at 5:46 pm

Katy, reframe your first problem. You are getting a slightly reasonable vacation for the cost of two plane tickets and transportation to New York. Your older son gets to see your sister before he goes off to college and gets his own agenda. If you would make a public appearance in New York, so some of us could meet with you, you would have a deductible business expense. Can’t you add some per diem work at another place or do some private duty as a, dare I say it, doula? Life has a way of throwing all sorts of things our way, so it makes sense to Always live below our means. You and JD Roth have been real inspirations to me even though you both could be my kids. Ann


Katy February 14, 2014 at 9:15 am

I am excited to give the kids an amazing spearing break vacation, I just wish I’d had a chance to save up for it. My younger son is best friends with his cousin, so he’s super excited. He made friends with the cousin’s friends at the recent Bar Mitzvah, so he’ll be totally comfortable hanging with his NYC buddies.

I could add per diem work, but the liability in my job makes it difficult to go from one employer to another.

Thanks for the kind words.



JJ February 15, 2014 at 5:02 am

I agree with AnnW. While in NYC, perhaps you can make an appearance on one of the morning shows. I would like to see you on the Today Show again!


Megyn February 13, 2014 at 6:27 pm

Right now we have two money-pit cars. If we are able to sell our house for a profit in the spring/summer, that will allow us to buy a new car out-right and hopefully keep it for the first kid to get his license (we’d still make him pay something for it though).

This post is also reminding me why I want to rent over buying a house any time soon. The Husband and I argue about this all the time. However, growing up, I missed out on doing activities and even getting braces (much needed!) because house stuff came up. My parents tried to be frugal, but when you own a house, things easily come up. I don’t want to be in the same position they were in between choosing something for the boys and choosing something for the house. I know houses are an investment for most, but to me it’s a money pit until our boys are off to college.


kris February 13, 2014 at 7:35 pm

We’ve been renting for the last 5 years and I love it! I know there is the big rent vs own debate but this is working for us now. When my daughter graduates in 2 1/2 yrs and I only have 1 at home ( I now have 4), we’ll re-evaluate.


Trish February 14, 2014 at 2:33 pm

I agree with the idea of renting vs owning. As the late 2000s showed us, there is no guarantee that your property will increase in value. And we have paid off our mortgage but we still have $400/month in property taxes and insurance to pay. And there is all the repair work, which is a ton. and a million projects yet to finish that we will try to do on our own to save costs (not my idea of a fun way to spend time).


sheri lin February 13, 2014 at 6:46 pm

I feel your pain. Just when I think I’m ahead life throws a curve ball. I put life’s unexpected on a credit card. I get the points = cash back. I can’t save enough for the unexpected/emergencies in life.

I roll with the punches…Life is too short to fret about the unexpected.


Krystal February 13, 2014 at 9:50 pm

Emergency fund! It’s saved us on tax audits, car emergencies, medical bills. No need for credit cards–that piece of mind beyond worth it the extra discipline to build the emergency fund. We keep 5 months of living expenses. So happy to have ditched the credit cards!


Krystal February 13, 2014 at 9:55 pm

Also, for got to say, it helped us when I lost my job too! I’m very happy to have moved onto a place where I can just laugh off emergencies rather than stress. It’s been a ton of work, but so worth it.


lynda February 14, 2014 at 2:42 am

Oh,I feel your pain on those Pixies tickets; but kudos on not selling them for big bucks.


cathy February 14, 2014 at 7:54 am

For small expenses, especially those that are recurring (but not every month), I divide the total expense by 12 and try to sock it away every month. This has been most helpful with car insurance as we get better discounts when we pay in full, rather than in installments. I also try to have a little bit of a cushion in case we need something (like a birthday gift for a child’s friend). We pull from the emergency fund for those surprise expenses (major house and car repairs, etc.). We’re good about leaving those savings alone, and will try to cover extra expenses without tapping into the emergency fund. I do wish we had a more methodical way of putting money into the fund, though.


Dawn February 14, 2014 at 11:33 am

It’s a good grown-up decision–but I am bummed you will miss the Pixies.
Chin up–keep on truckin’.


Trish @ Modern Thrifter February 14, 2014 at 9:42 pm

We have an emergency fund that we keep at $1000. If we dip into it, refilling it becomes top priority. We have other savings that we use for monthly expenses that are more predictable or when we take a vacation, so the emergency fund is really only for things like unexpected car repairs, medical stuff, and those urgent and unforeseen household repairs.

We hope to someday have six months of living expenses saved up, but even just having the $1000 has saved us so many times.


Katy February 14, 2014 at 9:56 pm

We’ve been prioritizing the college fund for our eighteen year old, and our “emergency fund” has gone into a month long Japan trip that our fifteen-year-old son is taking this summer. So I complain, but it’s self induced.



Starr @ The Kiefer Cottage February 15, 2014 at 9:19 am

AP exams are worth it if your kid’s ready! I got 22 credits (and might have gotten more if I’d attended a college that recognized them all) and graduated a year early from a prestigious school. Big savings. Even if slicing off a year isn’t the goal, it’s nice to bypass the intro classes taught by resentful grad students. 😉

Anyway, we just paid a lot for some plumbing work, and we have tree maintenance coming up. At least we could plan for it and it wasn’t an emergency. Those big checks still aren’t that fun to write.


J. Pario February 15, 2014 at 11:14 am

Our January was like your February–taxes on the car, plumbing bills, etc.

It had to come out of savings.

I try to tell myself that it is better to have money to take out of savings, then to need money and have no savings. It’s tough, though. Financial independence is such a slow, slow trip that the detours feel like car crashes.

Congrats to your husband on his award!


WilliamB February 15, 2014 at 4:51 pm

For instances such as your #2, I use the “life happens” fund. That’s for costs that you can’t specifically predict but you know will happen, such as when your car breaks down – you know something like that will happen eventually (unless you don’t own a car) but you don’t know when. This is separate from the “real emergency” fund, which is for things you don’t know will ever happen: getting very ill, getting laid off, etc.

I know you almost certainly know about these two accounts, but you asked what your readers did, and this is my answer. I’d rather have the “life happens” account, even though it gets run through, than to have to figure out my response on the fly. After all, the account exists to get run through when needed.

For yoru #3, could your son contribute in some fashion, as it was his paperwork goof that led to the timing? It doesn’t have to be him paying, either; it could be some other contribution to the household.



Thel B February 15, 2014 at 11:05 pm

Love your blogs. Hubby and I keep an emergency fund in the form of a savings account. We had practically depleted it when we were trying desperately crawl along to pay off a credit card debt that had climbed over 10K. I got a full time job, and we finally knocked it down. We finally got past that debt and vowed to not charge anything that we can’t pay off in one month. We keep one credit card. That’s it. Almost can’t travel without some form of credit. People look at ya “like you’ve got two heads”. Sorry, couldn’t resist. 🙂


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