Tuesday, July 30, 2013

In A Little Hot Water, But Not Steamed

Yesterday, after nearly 14 years of service, my water heater failed. This morning it was replaced and I’m out $1,000. The failure did not come as a surprise; the water heater was one of several major household systems at, near, or beyond the expected end of its service life. For the last couple of years, relighting the pilot had become a fairly frequent and increasingly difficult chore. Maria and I are relieved to be done with the death watch and we now can expect years of worry-free operation from a new unit under warranty.

Replacing the water heater is not a budget buster by itself, but it creates a ripple effect. Money set aside for a home emergency now has been used and must be replenished in anticipation of the next one. And there certainly will be a next one. Our 18-year-old furnace is a likely candidate and the biggest financial risk. When something like a water heater or furnace fails, there really is no choice but to fix it immediately. If the furnace goes before we can recover from today’s expense, then we will go deeper into debt.

Debt has been an enemy for a long time and this year it seems there is finally light at the end of the tunnel. Last Monday we had our home appraised as a requirement for refinancing. How’s that for timing? It would have been nice to show the appraiser a brand new water heater! Oh, well. The appraisal went well enough and under the updated mortgage terms we will pay off the house five years ahead of schedule, saving thousands of dollars in interest. We still have some credit card debt to eliminate but we have been attacking it more aggressively this year and the end is in sight. Not too long ago it was easy to spend just another $100 or even another $1,000 because new purchases didn’t appear to make a substantial difference on credit card balances that were already so high. Now we see each new expense for what it is: a setback on the road to being debt free. We’re going to be able to do some really nice things once the debt is gone.

In that same blog post from January I mentioned that I was awaiting a pay raise. It arrived in spring, and it has made a difference. Still, this is a moment when I am forced to admit I can’t do everything. My family’s well-being trumps my cycling aspirations. I will again defer a couple of equipment changes that I would like to make and there are cuts coming to my racing schedule. I’m already registered for this weekend’s Sunburst Showdown and I fully intend to do the Reforestation Ramble (Aug. 25) and the Northern Kettles Fall Epic (Sep. 14). But all other mountain bike races and the entire cyclocross season now must be reconsidered as I rebuild my emergency fund.

I’m finding a lot of satisfaction in doing the right things for my family and my home. It won’t be the end of the world if I have to cut back on my plans for a full cyclocross season. I can easily replace a few race weekends with special rides of my own—for example, the Eisengoose is still out there, never yet attempted. Keeping my eyes on the real prize, greater financial security, may hurt my cycling ambitions in the short term but will pay big returns later. I want to treat myself to a new bike in 2015 to coincide with a special vacation to celebrate my 50th birthday, and I intend to pay with cash.


  1. Arrgh! Sorry to hear about the water heater. And I know how organized you are in planning your cycling goals for each year. Your positive attitude towards reassessing the remainder of the season is admirable and quite impressive.

  2. Thanks, Glen. I am still looking at my options for cyclocross—which was always my biggest goal for 2013—but I already have identified two mountain bike races that I will eliminate. Every race I remove from my calendar is at least a $25 repair to the safety net … more if you look beyond the registration fees to things like gasoline, restaurant food and other expenses that usually accompany an out-of-town event.

  3. Yes those peripheral costs are real! I always have to include those with respect to my band participation efforts along with the monthly studio rent. I just registered for the one race I'll do this Sept. 14th. Yikes, 10 bucks extra for the one-day Cat 5 license! $49 all told. At least it's nearby enough that I could use the ride to the start as a warmup to save on gas;-).

    1. YOU are racing as a Cat 5? Yeah, riding to the start would be a nice warmup with those sand bags ...

  4. My most recent USCF license expired in 1985 (back when entry level was Cat 4). The records of my placings (one 3rd, one 5th and one 6th) no longer exist and probably wouldn't carry enough weight to launch me into the Masters Cat 4 group anyway. So I'll slug it out with all the squirrelly 25 yr-olds. My PR on that course would've netted me a 3rd place if racing against last years 5b group and I'm hoping to be 3 minutes faster by race day.