Everyday Cheapskate Mary Hunt

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 webpage at www.creators.com.

It was a Sunday night, and the house felt cold. The Doloski family’s furnace was clearly not working. Within minutes of arriving, the service technician diagnosed the problem: They needed a new igniter. At least the problem was one they could not have resolved themselves.

Then the technician opened the side panel of the furnace. Filthy. Neglected. He said the igniter failed because the furnace filter hadn’t been cleaned. What would have taken five minutes to vacuum or replace cost hundreds in fees, parts and labor. They know the furnace filter needs to be changed regularly, and, usually, they do. But this year, they simply forgot.

When it comes to forgetting about routine maintenance issues, the Doloskis are not alone. Take automobiles, for example. According to the Auto Care Factbook 2020 and IMR Inc., a survey of over 100,000 American households (driving more than 170,000 vehicles) reported that they know repairs or maintenance need to be performed on their car but have chosen to delay the work.

If you own a home, a car or simply a human body, the words “routine maintenance” should be part of your vocabulary. Safety and good health are, of course, the most important reasons to keep what we’ve got in good working order. But the financial benefits are significant, too.

AUTOMOBILES

A regularly scheduled $25.95 oil change — or slightly higher for all-synthetic oil — could save hundreds or even thousands of dollars in engine work. Find the recommended timetable for oil changes, and the inspection and maintenance of other systems, in the owners manual. Read it, figure out what you’re supposed to do, and follow those directions religiously.

Have your tires rotated and balanced regularly to extend their useful life and to comply with terms of the warranty. If you’re responsible enough to drive a vehicle, you can also be responsible enough to maintain it properly. Predictive maintenance planning is cheap insurance.

FURNACE AND AIR CONDITIONER

Replace furnace filters regularly. Most manufacturers suggest cleaning or replacing filters at least every other month. It’s cheap insurance. Bonus: Clean heating, ventilation and air conditioning filters will eliminate the ugly dark shadows around the edge of carpeting, known as filtration soil.

ELECTRONICS

Everyone has the potential to lose data at some point in their lives. Your computer’s hard drive could fail tomorrow, ransomware could hold your files hostage, or a software bug could delete your important files. Failure to regularly back up your computer means you could lose those files and photos forever.

While it may seem like a waste of money, a can of compressed air can safely blow dust and dirt out of your keyboard and away from all the nooks and crannies in your printer and central processing unit. A VaccuFlex attachment for your vacuum cleaner will do a great job on all of those tiny crevices as well. Learn more about required maintenance in the instruction manual or from the computer manufacturer’s technical support department or website.

HOUSEHOLD APPLIANCES

Don’t ignore seemingly minor issues, as they may signal a larger problem. One reader recently reported that two weeks before her washing machine warranty expiration date, she called to complain about a minor squeak during spin cycles.

The technician replaced the motor, which was covered under the warranty. Had she waited until the squeak gave way to full motor failure (as it likely would have done the day after the warranty expired, of course), the cost of replacing that part could have sent her shopping for a new machine.

SELF

According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, a leading cause of death in the U.S. of people from the ages of 18 to 70 is malignant neoplasms — in short, cancerous tumors. Routine maintenance for women should include monthly self-examination for any suspicious breast lumps. Get an annual physical that includes a breast exam and mammograms as recommended.

Unlike many other forms of cancer, colorectal cancer in both men and women typically grows for years before spreading. If caught early, it can be cured.

The American Cancer Society says men starting at age 50 should talk to their doctors about the benefits, risks and limitations of prostate cancer screening.

The cost of these exams and procedures should be seen as preventive maintenance, if not life insurance.

Time and money spent on preventive maintenance is always a good investment.

Mary invites questions, comments and tips at EverydayCheapskate.com, “Ask Mary a Question.” This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of Debt-Proof Living, a personal finance member website and the author of the book “Debt-Proof Living,” Revell 2014. To find out more about Mary visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www. creators.com.