When Doing The Right Thing is Cost Prohibitive

by Katy on April 29, 2015 · 47 comments

The following is a reprint of a previously published post. Enjoy!
As The Non-Consumer Advocate, I wholly believe in buying used instead of new; puttering around instead of shopping and fixing instead of replacing. And when my $15 Craigslist microwave went kaput last month, (it was making Mordor-like sparks and flashes) I was totally fine with melting butter on the stovetop and reheating leftovers in the oven. It was not a big deal and I enjoyed the addition of the extra kitchen counter space.

But then my Japanese host son asked if I could please buy a microwave oven. I can’t think of anything else he’s asked for, so I told him I would buy one. So I started to peruse the Craigslist ads and unsuccessfully even replied to a few $30 listings. My husband priced one at Costco that was around $90.

Then I called an appliance repair business to investigate getting our old microwave fixed. I was quoted $109 for labor, plus parts.

$109 plus parts when a brand new microwave oven is $90?! I am all about walking my talk of non-consumerism, but I simply cannot prioritize my ethics over financial responsibility. I’ve only been getting about half the number of RN shifts the last month or so, and money is tighter around here than a glass slipper on a step-sister’s foot. Sure, we have enough money to pay for all the basics, but I don’t want to have to dip into savings until it’s an official emergency. And honey, not having a microwave is hardly an emergency.

This started me thinking about some ways in which we spend more than we have to. We pay extra for clean energy electricity, we sponsor a Zambian girl through Child Fund International and we have opened up our home to a Japanese teaching assistant without any compensation.

want to provide a living wage to the appliance repair person and I want to fix instead of replace, but I just can’t make myself do it. I will continue to spend out in a few key areas, but I have to pick and choose the ways in which I can afford to do so.

What would you do in my situation? Would you pay to repair the microwave, buy a new one or keep an eye out for a used one? Would you risk a possibly dangerous home repair? Do you walk your talk? 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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{ 47 comments… read them below or add one }

Gina (aka crafttealady) April 29, 2015 at 9:20 am

I think I’d try salvation army. I bought my microwave at Fred Meyer, on some mega sale, for $30…but that was quite a find.


Melissa April 29, 2015 at 9:27 am

I would make do and hold out for a used one. The other option, of course, is to allow the person that requested it to pay for it themselves if they can not wait for a used one to materialize. I also pick and choose what to pay for and it is not without research and sometimes exhausting all other avenues first. In my case, I do not consider a microwave to be a necessity, but a luxury item. I would rather have thick and thirsty bath sheets as opposed to a microwave, but that’s me and everyone that is frugal and money conscious person has their own list of splurge items, even if it is that wonderful blue and yellow box of macaroni & cheese.


Jill April 29, 2015 at 9:43 am

+1 to bath sheets and +1 to macaroni and cheese 🙂


Sharon H. April 29, 2015 at 9:31 am

Microwave ovens are like mushrooms after the rain at our local thrift stores. Are yours so very different?


Sharon H. April 29, 2015 at 9:34 am

Oops, I see this is an old post. 🙂


Sharon H. April 29, 2015 at 9:33 am

And yes, I prioritize what I can do, and rarely give in to guilt. I’m always on the lookout for ways I can give to charities and in general be a do-gooder. But I gave up saving the world for Lent.


Michelle April 29, 2015 at 10:15 am

After our experience having our clothes washer repaired (over a hundred dollars and it came home, did one load and promptly died because the disreputable repair shop didn’t tell me when they did the original estimate that the transmission was also going out), I’m hesitant to have things repaired unless I know exactly what is wrong and that the fix will solve the problem.

Our microwave went out about a year ago. Stopped lighting up or making sounds, but the food got hot. I don’t know what it was doing, but it made me feel unsafe. We still haven’t replaced it, at the time because it wasn’t feasible and then because we got used to living without one.

I’m about to go into my third summer with no air conditioning in the car. Our 1920s era house has never had a dishwasher or garbage disposal….and we’ve been living without those for almost ten years. I’d like a garbage disposal just so that I can stop agonizing about picking little bits of stuff out of the drain, but it’s not something we have to have.

These days, it’s really easy not to see any option but having what everyone else says we need to have in our houses.


Alice April 30, 2015 at 8:23 pm

Your experience with your washer is exactly why I’m leery of things beyond simple repairs! I’ve appreciated Angie’s List and other online reviews as a way to weed out the total charlatans, but if I don’t have a good idea of where the fix will put things afterwards, I’m a lot more hesitant.

And since I live in Florida, I’m in awe of being able to go without A/C in your car. I did it when I lived up north, and I know that was the only option here for decades, but I’m thoroughly spoiled on that front at this point.


Lynn D. April 29, 2015 at 10:42 am

So as this is an old post, what did you do?


Katy April 30, 2015 at 7:28 am

My husband came home with a microwave from Costco. Sigh . . .


Linda May 1, 2015 at 8:12 am

Is it the same microwave you later repaired yourselves? I seem to remember something about food splatters clogging a vent (or something like that).


Seattle Nancy April 29, 2015 at 10:43 am

I would keep my eyes open for a used one. I am an active member of my local Buy Nothing Facebook group and it is really large and really generous. I see microwaves up for grabs all the time. I’d put out an ISO there first. I wouldn’t pay to get it fixed. We have an over the stove built in one that zapped and sparked and died around 8 years ago and it’s still there, unused. We had a microwave from out previous house (not a built in) so we just got it out of the garage and are using that one. It takes up too much of my counter space but we can’t bring out selves to pay to fix the built in one or replace it when we have a perfectly good counter top model.


Marilyn April 29, 2015 at 1:38 pm

I think you would probably feel best about it if you could find a nearly free used micro. However, if that is not possible in a reasonable time, you could look at some of the smaller new models which sell for as little as $49.


Jill April 29, 2015 at 2:47 pm

I’ve been thinking about this recently because my refrigerator is probably on its way out. It’s not a very nice refrigerator; I actually got it used, from a friend, about 15 years ago.

For me, being a non-consumer is about saving money, saving the earth (by reducing landfill waste and waste from new manufacture) and also about having a proper relationship toward material things. The last bit is the trickiest bit for the refrigerator. It would be better if I had it repaired in some ways, because I believe we ought not to be cavalier about how many resources we use. However, I also think we ought to surround ourselves with as much beauty as possible, which would happen if I bought a nicer, newer (but still used) refrigerator. And, of course, I need to decide how much I could budget for either.

I don’t know yet what I will do. I’m leaning toward nicer used fridge, but I may have to decide to fix the older one. It’s always a bit difficult to find the balance between frugality, beauty, and having the right relationship with the earth and its resources. I think the answers are different for everyone, and that’s okay.


Alice April 30, 2015 at 8:15 pm

One other thing to consider is how energy efficient the older model can be once repaired – that’s been a tipping point for me on a number of household items, since the federal standards have made newer models a lot less power-hungry. Good luck with whatever you decide!


Kelly in MA May 1, 2015 at 6:48 am

Alice, love your name, my daughter is an Alice too!

Good call on the energy savings. Sometimes between the cost of repair and what the difference in energy use is it can make much more sense to buy a newer ‘new to you’ model.


Jill May 1, 2015 at 10:12 am

Yes, very good point. Especially since most of our energy still comes from non-renewable, polluting resources. Makes the newer model used fridge sound really appealing!


Tammy April 29, 2015 at 2:55 pm

I would wait and buy a used one. Put the word out that you need one and maybe a friend or neighbor has an extra one you can have. I bought a like new one at a garage sale for $10.00. Check Habitat for Humanity. My MIL got hers there and she loves it.


Sheila April 29, 2015 at 2:59 pm

I would think that you should be able to locate a used microwave, by checking into when the college’s are set to be done with their semesters. I would think you could find one on campus or soon arriving into the thrift stores. Some colleges have groups that pick up the “castoffs” and sell their finds later on for fundraisers? Hope this helps!


nicoleandmaggie April 29, 2015 at 3:20 pm

We had that exact same problem with microwaves. It sucks so much. Sheila is right though– end of the school year is a fantastic time to pick up a perfectly good microwave that’s been tossed out by an undergrad at the local dorms.


Laura Lloyd-Rieneck April 29, 2015 at 3:48 pm

I would personally do without. It’s not a necessity and a lot of people i know have never owned one. If your host son wants one, ask him why and if it’s that important to him suggest he make the purchase himself.


Katy April 29, 2015 at 3:59 pm

Alas, this post was written in 2010, so it’s moot at this point.


Shari April 29, 2015 at 4:10 pm

Sorry, but if $90 provides you with a microwave that will most likely be more energy efficient AND have a warranty, it seems a no-brainer to me.


Barbara April 29, 2015 at 5:03 pm

I’ve never had a microwave so I can’t comment on
that. However, when it comes to appliances I
always try to repair unless it’s cost prohibitive
(like it was with our last washing machine) but if
I have to buy one I’m hesitant to buy used unless
I know it’s safe to use and will last for a while
(probably because we had a bad experience with
a used fridge we bought from a friend that almost
burnt the house down!).


Sadye April 29, 2015 at 6:21 pm

I encountered a similar issue with my cellphone: I could either pay $80 for a new battery for a phone that had worked just fine until the (expletive deleted) software got upgraded, or I could buy a new phone for $1. Frustrating, but duh I picked the $1. At least I can hang on to the old phone as a backup plan until I’m eligible for a contract renewal again, and then donate the old phone to domestic abuse victims/soldiers.


AnnW April 29, 2015 at 7:36 pm

Buy a new one. I read that the amount of energy used in a microwave is far less than that used in a stove. Way less.
So your purchase would be much more energy efficient. And will last for a far amount of time. Look on Craigslist or Freecycle for a free one. Some people are renovating their kitchens and their’s doesn’t fit, or they are consolidating households.


SambainSac April 29, 2015 at 8:47 pm

hummmm that’s easy…..I would go to amazon, and purchase a new one for 49$ with free shipping. That way you know it is safe to use….you can identify a school or charity that will earn amazon bucks and that will help offset any guilt you have for purchasing new. At 50 bucks, its darn near used price for new.
samba in sac


Diana April 29, 2015 at 9:41 pm

What exactly does your Japanese host son want to do with the microwave? Perhaps this is a teachable moment…a moment the two of you could bond over where you show him how to heat up food in a skillet/the oven or how to boil water? We laugh at doing such easy tasks but this is a basic living skill that so many people today just don’t have!


Linda in Mass April 30, 2015 at 3:55 am

I try to fix whenever possible but sometimes it is just not worth it. I have double ovens which we bought about 25 years ago. I have had them fixed because the repair usually costs $100-$200. New ovens would cost around $2000. My clothes dry broke this winter. I have a feeling that it is only a simple part repair and may have it fixed even though it is 25 years old. A new one at a scratch and dent place is $299. I don’t use my dryer that much because I hang out my clothes but this winter in MA would have been good to have a working dryer with 5 feet of snow out by my line.


Kelly in MA May 1, 2015 at 6:55 am

Linda in Mass,
Some of the tech high schools and continuing ed schools have departments where they teach appliance repair. Try calling around and see if any of the ones in your area have such a program. Try Keefe Tech in Framingham and Tri-County in Franklin. They are supervised and all work is double checked by a licensed professional and generally all you pay for is parts.

I used to bring my car to Keefe when I was in high school and college. I always got excellent service (a bit slower then a regular shop but everything they did had to be reviewed for their education and my safety. I never had any issues and if I needed help with my car I wouldn’t resist going back now. They might be able to repair that dryer of yours really easily. Then the next time we get 5 feet of snow in a couple of weeks you can still have warm dry clothes!


Roberta April 30, 2015 at 5:56 am

I had this problem recently with my micro…it mysteriously stopped, so I was spared acquiring a new one. My plan was to shop estate sales. I worry that people send old mirowaves to the thrift store because the micro has started to misbehave in some way, but I am unwilling to purchase one new. Estate sales usually have appliances, and they are selling for other reasons.

As for your exchange student, I would definitely respect his request, as he does not routinely ask for things to accommodate himself. He is a guest, and doesn’t have to justify his requests. It’s up to you if you want to comply, and I would.

I know this is an old post, and I too would like to know what you decided.


Karen. April 30, 2015 at 7:36 am

I’ve fixed my microwave a couple times and am not opposed to trying again. Probably about the time you originally posted this, our microwave went out (with a six-week-old baby in the house!) with smoke and melted parts, so that one didn’t get fixed. Bought a new one (online) with top reviews, and it is without a doubt better than the old one. Right now, however, it needs a new door switch, but the problem isn’t bad enough (yet) that I’ve looked into getting one.


Dori April 30, 2015 at 9:01 am

If you are a member of your local Freecycle network, as well as posting “Offers” for items YOU don’t want anymore, you can also send out “Wanted” e-mails for items you would like to the group and see if anyone has one they would like to pass along. You never know who might have one lying around and would love to give it away to someone who could use it!


JD April 30, 2015 at 12:08 pm

I have the same dilemma right now — our dishwasher which was only 3 years old had the pump go out on it, and the pump comes in a pump/motor combination that costs around $200, and the repairman’s labor, he told me, would be $250 more. I can get a new, cheaper model dishwasher for less than that, but my broken one is a really nice one (or was supposed to be), quiet, energy efficient (ha, really efficient now that it isn’t running), so do I fix it? I looked at online tutorials, and it can be done, but it means tearing the washer down almost to the frame, which is why the labor cost is so high. I’ve been burned a few times by used appliances, and am leery of them now, so I hesitate to buy used. It’s been almost a year, and we’re still washing dishes by hand, which I detest. It’s one of my most hated chores.


Seattle Nancy May 1, 2015 at 8:19 am

My husband fixed our dryer himself – got the parts and had to pretty much disassemble the whole thing. He used lots of youtube videos and tutorials and got it done. Parts were under $100. It took about 6 hours of work and a lot of choice swear words, but he got it fixed. He also fixed our oven and clothes washing machine with parts that were under $20 and some online instructions. We have saved quite a bundle on repair or replacement because of his mad skillz.


JD May 1, 2015 at 8:41 am

The parts online for this repair are a minimum $175.00 not counting the shipping. Even if we do it ourselves, and it would be a big job, we would have $200 into this thing, and we already did 2 minor repairs on it before this happened, fixing it ourselves;the parts for both of those repairs had a total of $64.00 for very minor parts (plastic rack sliding wheels). We are wondering if it’s worth repairing this, even doing it ourselves. We’ve been very disappointed in this dishwasher, which is one reason why we’ve not made an effort to repair it yet. I didn’t buy an extended warranty, and it started having the small issues as soon as the manufacturer’s warranty ran out. Both the store and the manufacturer have refused my repeated requests to at least give me a break on labor or parts as it was so new when it started this. I will not buy from them again, and told them so, but I’m still trying to decide what to do with this one. If we fix the pump, we likely will get several more years out of it — but then again, we might not, considering its history.


Diane C April 30, 2015 at 1:25 pm

I know this has resolved itself, but I’m raising my hand for putting the word out. Freecycle and the newer nextdoor.com are awesome resources for items like this. I’m thinking of microwaves and fridges that are purchased for dorm rooms that become superfluous in fairly short order.


jesse.anne.o April 30, 2015 at 1:31 pm

Since the difference was $19 I probably would have just done the repair. In my mind, keeping something out of the landfill is probably worth $20? But that’s if it was something feasible to fix and the likelihood is that the microwave would have been functional for some time after repair.


Arlyn April 30, 2015 at 5:24 pm

When our microwave stopped working, I did a WANT post on Freecycle. I got free microwave from a Freecycler neighbour. 🙂


Dave April 30, 2015 at 6:31 pm

That is a very surreal place to be in when it costs more to repair something like that than it does to buy a new one.


Kelly in MA May 1, 2015 at 6:59 am

Unfortunatly it is a reflection of the society we live in. Recently my fridge went out and I asked my landlord to look into fixing it instead of replacing it. They ended up replacing ours with the spare they had in their basement and will be getting my old one repaired (small part, can be fixed by the landlord) they were so thankful that I didn’t insist on a new fridge that they gave me $100 off rent this month!!!!


Isabelle May 1, 2015 at 5:15 am

Well… I am all for used also, when I can, but I reallyt really care about who is getting paid (or not) to fix my stuff, so I would check for a used one first, and if no luck then I would buy new. No sense, for me, to pay the same – or more – if I am keeping the same old piece.


Isabelle May 1, 2015 at 5:21 am

the sentence was “”I really don’t care about who is getting paid””, oops. And I just realized this is an old post, double-oops!


Marrianna Dougherty May 1, 2015 at 12:12 pm

At one time, I didn’t replace my microwave and warmed up leftovers on the stove, in the oven, or in the toaster oven. It worked great.


Michele May 1, 2015 at 12:46 pm

I can SO relate to this! I DO try to walk my talk (in all of my niches)…..but you are right…sometimes it positions one interest against another. For instance, I am frugal…but also an advocate of ethical and ‘whole foods’ eating…the frugal person, with the goal of saving money, might buy bologna and white bread (idk…is white bread cheap? not really when you consider baking your own…but that’s a comment for another post, lol)……………..while the ‘whole foods/ethical’ person would pay more for higher nutrition/quality/ethics food. I almost ALWAYS pay more for higher quality food and honestly, it’s hard on the budget at times and I can feel people judging, “Oh I thought she was doing EVERYTHING she can to save money…..and just look at the Stilton in her cart!….Hmpffff! Frugal, indeed!” 😉 I think the key is to live consciously and make purposeful decisions. We can’t always hit the mark for all of our interests all of the time….but so long as we are striving for the best decisions….and really thinking it through and weighing it all out for our personal version of the ‘best case scenario’….we’re doing alright.


Vickie May 2, 2015 at 6:55 pm

I’d check the pawn shops and buy used, if I could find a good one. I’ve had a used one for about 15 years now and I have no idea how old it was when it was given to us.
I’ve considered doing w/o one, but they are so handy – especially when you have kids and grandkids.


Simple Is The New Green May 4, 2015 at 9:07 am

I try to look at everything with the 80/20 rule (some are more like 90/10). The idea is that we try to be the best we can 80% of the time and then allow ourselves forgiveness for 20% of the time. We are humans and we live in a modern imperfect world. If everyone was a conscious consumer just 80% of the time, the world would be a better place!


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