You're worried that the washing machine may be on its last spin cycle. It makes a horrible screeching sound and needs a lot of coaxing to make it all the way through a full cycle. It's not like it's still under warranty — you've had it for a long time, and it wasn't new when you got it.
You get an estimate for repair and discover it will cost $319 to get it back into tip-top shape.
Should you give this old, inefficient machine the heave-ho in favor of a new model that will use less electricity and water?
A new name-brand front-loader is on sale for $899 plus tax and delivery. Should you throw away $319 now for a temporary fix, or bite the bullet and buy the new one?
Here are some basic guidelines and suggestions to help you decide, based on costs for replacement and repairs, and the advantages of new models.
If you cannot pay cash for the new replacement. You should get it repaired to buy yourself time to save up for the replacement. Even if the repairs will only keep this appliance going for a year or two, you are far better off repairing and then saving for a new machine than charging a new one and paying double-digit interest for the next three to five years.
If you have some cash but not enough. Consider replacing your clunker with a late-model lightly used quality machine. Check sites like Craigslist. Spread the word to friends and neighbors. People are always relocating or, for some other reason, in a position where they need to sell perfectly lovely, near-new appliances.
If the appliance is eight years or older. Once an appliance becomes elderly, it usually makes sense to buy a new one. However, if you have a high-end older appliance, you may want to repair it, provided it is not prone to needing repairs.
If repairs are really expensive. If the repair bill is more than half the price of a new product, you are probably better advised to buy a new one. But, again, the deciding factor will be whether or not you will have to go into debt to buy a new one.
If the appliance is under warranty. Even if repairs will be only partially covered by a warranty or service contract, repairing is the way you should go. If it's under warranty, call a factory-authorized repair shop. If not, an independent contractor is likely to offer better service at a lower cost.
The costs for diagnosing problems and making repairs on home appliances have gone up considerably in the last few years, which has made replacements with new models more common.
A word to the wise. Home appliances have built-in obsolescence. By design, life expectancy has gone down slowly over the years. Refrigerators used to last for 30 years or longer. They were specifically designed to do that! These days, you'll be lucky to get 15 years, and that's with excellent maintenance and timely repairs.
Anticipate the cost of repairs and eventual replacement of major home appliances, so you are not caught off guard. Create a special account designated for future appliance replacement. Setting aside a small amount of money every month will give you cash options to make wise decisions when the time comes.
Mary invites questions, comments and tips at [email protected], or c/o Everyday Cheapskate, 12340 Seal Beach Blvd., Suite B-416, Seal Beach, CA 90740. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of www.DebtProofLiving.com, a personal finance member website and the author of "Debt-Proof Living," released in 2014. To find out more about Mary and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.