The Cost of Fixing What Needs Fixing

Repairs aren’t free—but buying new stuff isn’t either.

Photo credit: col_adamson, CC BY 2.0.

Several years ago, when I was newly married and we were barely scraping by, my dog chewed up a treasured pair of sandals that had been my constant companion in college. Many memories had been made in those shoes, so I looked into getting them repaired. The shoe company, Chaco, was happy to repair them for $40 plus shipping—and at the time $40 might as well have been $400, because I didn’t have it.

I carefully placed my sandals in my closet to await some sunnier time in the future. After several months of sad reminders from my broken sandals whenever I opened the closet door, I got rid of them. If KonMari had been a thing back then I might have whispered, with genuine emotion: “Thank you for your service and I’m sorry I can’t fix you, but you no longer spark joy. Instead, you remind me that I don’t have enough money, and so I must send you on your way.”

Not having “enough” means different things to different people, but for me it meant a slow and steady decline into tired and worn shabbiness. Stuff would break or rip or tear and I couldn’t afford to fix it properly. I would get it somewhat functioning and limp it along as best as I could while carrying the mental burden of knowing it could break down at any point. Not having enough also meant feeling like I could never repair or replace worn things fast enough, which meant that even when I was able to fix one problem, I was still surrounded by belongings in various stages of disrepair.

Over the years life has improved and I’m ready to shed the shabbiness that has followed me around much of my adult life. This year, I’ve resolved to use my resources to get the broken things in my life repaired. I’ve come to realize that the cost of fixing things tends to be quite small—but the time it takes to get them fixed comes with its own cost.

Cuckoo clock

I’d always adored my grandmother’s cuckoo clock, and one Christmas my husband surprised me with my very own antique cuckoo clock purchased off a clock repair guy on Craigslist. The clock kept time pretty well until we moved homes; after a second move, the clock no longer ticked and I missed it terribly. I took it to the local clock repair guy who said he would take a look and, if he ended up needing to send it off to his cuckoo guy, it would start at $150 minimum. I gritted my teeth and left it with him. A week later he called me back with good news. He had opened the back, unbound a couple things, and brought it back to life. He also got it to keep time again, which felt like an unexpected bonus.

Cost: He wouldn’t accept payment for the cuckoo clock, so I brought him a watch and paid him $12 to replace the battery.
Time: One week.

Antique lamp

I inherited a fragile boudoir lamp from my great-grandmother. With great care it has survived many moves. After the latest move, however, the lamp wouldn’t turn on. I checked the lamp with a new bulb to make sure I wasn’t the dork who brought in a lamp with a burned-out bulb to a lamp repair shop… but, as the repair man gleefully told me, that new bulb I tried was also burned out.

Cost: $2.17 for new bulb and a little bit of pride.
Time: Three weeks. (Technically five minutes, but it took them three weeks to get around to it at the repair shop.)


Eight years ago I bought myself a pair of Ariat square toe cowboy boots for my birthday. They were loud and proud and I loved the confidence I got from stomping around in them. After a couple years of wear they became extremely uncomfortable. I finally brought them into a cobbler and explained my problems, and they politely recommended I replace the insoles. I wish I had done this years ago.

Cost: $24.95 and free shipping. (Finding my new go-to cobbler? Priceless.)
Time: One day to visit the cobbler, one day to buy the insoles.

Car battery

My Honda and I have been together for nine of her thirteen years. We have a very good relationship, and I’ve come to know and accept her quirks. For one, she eats batteries far quicker then she should. For a while I kept her going by making sure to never have the battery on for longer than 8 minutes, and going out late on sub-zero nights to turn her on and warm her up for 10 minutes. However, this December while I was getting an oil change I realized I could finally afford the obvious, far superior solution: buying a new battery.

Cost: $89.99 for battery and installation. It also came with a warranty. See you next year, suckers!
Time: 1.5 hours.

Itchy dog

I don’t know what it is about this latest move that affected so much of our stuff—including my dog. As soon as we set our boxes down, my dog began suffering allergies and yeast infections. I tried Benadryl, weekly baths, changing her diet, coconut oil and probiotics, apple cider vinegar rinses, gluten free dog food, and one unhelpful vet. My dog is still an itchy, scabby, smelly, mess.

Cost: So far I’ve spent $150 and have not fixed the problem. I need to visit a new allergy-specific vet and will probably spend a few hundred bucks more.
Time: As long as it takes? I really hope this can be fixed.


My go-to outdoor jacket has taken a beating over the ten years I’ve owned it, and some hems are starting to come undone. The company stands proudly behind their products and is happy to fix the jacket for me for a “nominal” fee.

Anticipated Cost: Maybe $10? Hopefully less then $30? What does “nominal” mean to you? Also, I have to ship it to Canada.
Time: They say twelve weeks. I think I’ll wait until it’s warmer outside before sending it in.

Leaky house

I received a jaw-dropping bill from the gas utility company for the month of December. It was six times higher than the reasonable bill from November. I had anticipated higher utility costs when we moved into a sub-optimally maintained hundred-year-old house in October, but after living here for a bit and seeing just how un-sealed things are, I see that there is tons of room for improvement.

Cost: So far I’ve spent $60 on weather stripping, caulk, outlet insulation, door seals, and plastic window insulation kits. I expect another $500 of DIY energy efficiency before I reach the end of my ability and need to call in the professionals to seal the attic and add insulation.
Time: 40 hours of caulking, weatherizing, and building interior storm windows.

Feral Cats

Our new neighborhood has an abundant population of obese feral cats—and my house has become the primary location of a bloody turf war between various cat factions after the resident king cat (a tattered, lanky black male with a bad eye) was caught, neutered, and returned. His experience has mellowed him out a bit, leaving a testosterone power void that two orange tabby brothers, a shiny black cat and a spotted black and white cat are all fighting to fill. Their noise is keeping me up at night. They need to be fixed.

Cost: If I trap the cats on the first or last Monday night of the month I can bring them into a local vet for a “spay or neuter plus vaccine” appointment on Tuesday morning for $25 per cat. I’ve met many “cat trappers” in the neighborhood who are willing to let me borrow their traps and advice for free, and listening to their cat trapping war stories has been high-quality entertainment.
Time: Somehow I don’t think it will be super easy to trap the cats in this tight time schedule. But so far I’ve fixed a cuckoo clock, a lamp, a pair of boots, and a car—not to mention the time and effort I’ve put into my home and my poor dog—so I know that I can do it. Someday.

Meg Renninger is an entrepreneur in Texas.

This story is part of The Billfold’s “Resolve” series.

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