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Savings Challenge

Repair or Replace?

Rules of thumb can guide your decision to pitch it or patch it

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En español | My Grandpa Clyde was one of the great handymen of all time.  He could repair just about anything. 

See also: Uses for plastic bottles.

Before Clyde bought something, the first thing he'd ask was whether he could get parts and supplies to repair it himself when it broke.  If the answer was "no," he wouldn't buy it.  If the answer was, "You don't need to worry about it, Mr. Yeager. This will never break," Gramps would thank the salesman politely and walk away, rather than accuse him of being a bald-faced liar. 

Unfortunately, times have changed since Grandpa Clyde's day.  We now live in a world where it costs more to repair most items than to replace them.  Sometimes, it still pays to repair rather than replace..

Consider the following tips:

The 50 Percent Rule:  Financial pundits often talk about the "50 percent rule" when deciding whether or not it's more cost effective to repair an item rather than replace it.  The conventional wisdom was that if a repair was estimated to cost 50 percent or less than the amount you paid for the item, it was usually better to have it repaired.  This is still a good guide to keep in mind, although many consumer products (e.g. electronics, furniture, appliances, even clothing) have continually dropped in price (in inflation adjusted dollars) in recent generations.  So now, to be more accurate, the 50 percent rule should be based on replacement value, not original purchase price. For major items like automobiles, calculate the estimated current market value or resale value.  Regardless, it's simply one rule of thumb among many other considerations.

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— Photo by: Tim Bradley/Getty Images

Appreciating Appreciation:  Before you decide to replace something instead of have it repaired, carefully consider whether the item you're thinking about trashing might appreciate in value over time.  In the case of a well-made piece of furniture that is likely to become an antique, the choice to repair it is probably obvious.  But it may not always be so apparent.  I wanted so badly to pitch those clunky old stereo speakers my dad passed along to me when I was a teen,and buy some trendy new (cheap) ones at Kmart.  But Dad wouldn't let me. Now those JBL speakers are classics and worth nearly as much as my 401(k) (sadly, in that sense). 

Next: Tips on how to handle appliances. >>

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