Broken Doesn’t Mean Broken

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Having been in the business of frugal for quite a while now, I think I take a few things for granted. There are habits that I’ve built over the years that I don’t think twice about. Some are good, some are definitely bad (monetarily speaking).

The bad ones I continue to work on month after month (food budget, miscellaneous expenses). The good ones seem to go on cruise control, but they are really they key to building a frugal lifestyle. One of those habits is looking at the world a little differently than most.

Where others see broken, I see value.

I just paid $14 for this $2000 fridge!

That Time With The Fridge

I’ve told everyone about The Buy Nothing Project, and if you’re not connected to a group yet, I HIGHLY SUGGEST you get on it! We recently found a REALLY NICE refrigerator on our local Buy Nothing group being given away ($2,000 MSRP). Intrigued, Michelle clicked thru to see what was wrong with it. The lady mentioned that the fridge wouldn’t get cold enough and has ruined her food several times in the past few months, and they were just done with it. Half-joking, Michelle tagged me in the post and said “Hey Jake, you think you could fix it?”

I jumped on, saw it was a sweet Samsung French-door stainless fridge and said “heck yeah!” There were about 50 others wanting the fridge as well, but apparently my name was drawn and I had a fridge to pick up (uh oh!). After a lengthy, somewhat tumultuous pick up, we had an awesome, broken fridge in our garage.

Broken Doesn’t Mean Broken

Over the years, I have developed a knack for fixing things, mostly out of necessity. When we first got married, we lived on $14 an hour, and we didn’t have the luxury of throwing something away. I quickly learned how to work on cars (thank you to my BIL and youtube.com) because both our cars had over 200,000 miles. Once we bought a house, I quickly learned how to replace a water heater (see the second post on my site EVER), fix and replace a dishwasher, fix a dryer, and continue keeping our (now 300,000+ mile) car running.

Because I just started doing these things, repairs and installations got easier. Life got less stressful (knowing how to fix things takes the worry out of something breaking). And I started looking at the world a bit differently. I started seeing “broken” things as opportunities to save a TON of money, and gain a LOT of value.

When Michelle and I would shop for things, we would start looking for furniture, appliances, and cars with issues. We knew the stress of that thing being broken would force the price WAY below its current value, and if we were up to the task of fixing it, we’d jump in a get a great deal. We understood something that most sellers didn’t,

We understood that Broken Doesn’t Mean Broken.

The Fridge Was Still Broken

We were excited to finally own a really nice appliance, but it was still BROKEN. So what did I do? What I always do, of course. I looked up YouTube videos on how to fix it. 🙂

There were a lot of different videos about refrigerators not cooling off, but one matched our symptoms (freezer works, but fridge not cooling). They mentioned the defrost system for the fridge may not be working if there was ice buildup on the back wall (and there was). The ice was blocking the cold air coming in for the freezer to cool down the fridge. So I had to fix either the thermostat (thing telling the fridge when to turn on defrost) or the defrost coil itself (the thing that melts the ice). I found a manual online that told me how to test the defrost coil, so I did and was able to see if melting the ice, so I knew it was working. So I figured it was the thermostat and bought one for $14.

I installed a new thermostat and turned on the fridge for a couple of weeks. No issues. I checked around the coil, no ice. BOOM!

I now have a running $2,000 refrigerator for $14.

Not bad for $14 😉

When Someone Says Broken, You Should Think Value!

I’m not saying all of this to somehow show that I’m awesome, but to show that starting to build a habit of seeing broken things as fixable, you can save a LOT of money. I’m talking thousands and thousands per year! I recommend starting small.

Maybe you want to buy all new furniture because the little felt thing on the bottom of your dining chair fell off… I would say you should step away from the Pottery Barn, head to home Depot and grab yourself a 4-pack of felt glides for $2. BOOM! Just saved you $5000!

Or maybe your dryer takes too long, and you keep staring at the red washer/dryer combo. Those colors would look great in your laundry room, not to mention all those cool buttons and….


How about you just clean out the dryer vent and heck, just follow these instructions on cleaning out the dryer itself. DONE! Just saved another $2,000!

Isn’t this fun?

Now time to find something that’s broken and GET IT!

Find something that just “doesn’t work”, and someone if either selling for almost nothing, or giving it away. Make sure it’s something you were going to get anyways, and do a little research one common issue and repairs for it. Then find one you think you can fix, and GO FOR IT!

Value = More Money In Your Pocket

The bottom line of this exercise is to build habits that will allow you to fix and keep “broken” things much longer, getting more value out of them. And this value means keeping more money in your pocket which will allow you to hit your goals quicker! AND THAT’S A WIN-WIN!

In the near future, I’ll be diving more into how our refrigerator sparked an idea of updating our kitchen slightly, which turned into a full-blown remodel of EVERYTHING in the kitchen!

And we are doing it for under $4,000. STAY TUNED!

Jacob Wade

Jacob Wade

Jacob Wade has been a nationally-recognized personal finance expert for the past decade. He has written professionally for The Balance, The Spruce, LendingTree, Investing Answers, and other widely-followed sites. 
He’s also been a featured expert on CBS News, MSN Money, Forbes, Nasdaq, Yahoo! Finance, Go Banking Rates, and AOL Finance.

In 2018, Jacob quit his job and his family decided to sell everything (including their home) to take off on an adventure. They traveled the country in an RV for nearly 3 years, visiting over 38 states, 20+ national parks and eventually settling in the sunshine state!

44 thoughts on “Broken Doesn’t Mean Broken”

  1. This is inspiring and you are a great example of how we can save so much money and support recycling at the same time. My family is like yours: we keep things until they are truly dead, after many repairs and replaced parts. Our oven, dishwasher and microwave are all from the 70’s and they still work. Our biggest struggle was with a freezer that we bought new. It took 5 time-consuming and very inconvenient visits from a repair guy before we demanded a replacement. Hopefully the one we have now will last a couple of decades.

  2. hey Jacob

    Great article! I did the same thing with my old MacBook. When the battery died, I went on eBay and found a battery replacement kit for $35. Next I looked on YouTube for how to install it and followed the instructions. Definitely cheaper than spending $1200+ for a new one!!!

    • Heck yes, John! Way to be. Seriously, it’s a HUGE savings just figuring out how to fix things then just assuming they are dead. I remember a guy once told me “when the battery on my car key fab dies, I just lease a new car.” OMG!!

  3. Awesome post! That is definitely a once in a lifetime kind of deal with the refrigerator. Most of the time my boyfriend is the one who gets things fixed and I’m the creative one. It works out because at the end of the day we can usually come up with a solution to just about anything!

    • You know, there seems to be a lot of “once in a lifetime” stuff that pops up on our Buy nothing group. Just picked up a $1000 dishwasher that had “issues” too, and will be fixing it in the coming weeks. Most likely $100 or less! Some serious savings happening here!

  4. My mom is great at reupholstering furniture, and has a really good eye for finding pieces on the side of the road that can be fixed up. All three couches in my house we got this way!
    But there was so much of what you’re describing going on here in New Orleans post-Katrina. People were getting so much insurance money that they were throwing out all of their old appliances, refrigerators, washers, dryers, you name it. Even when there was little to no damage to them whatsoever. My mom, our friends and I set out to pick up the good stuff (as I’m sure a lot of other people did, too). It was a fixer upper’s paradise.

  5. Great post! These days it’s too easy and too common to just replace something. I find it fun and rewarding to come up with a cheaper solution. Plus repairing what we already have is a lot better for the environment.

  6. Wow! I have learned to fix things over the years, but I would never be brave enough to take on a broken fridge. I may have to rethink that. What did the world do before youtube?

    • I think people would learn from manuals or their parents or something, Who knows? Youtube pretty much shows me everything, so I am much more confident in fixing most anything 🙂

  7. Yes. Yes. and YES! I love my husband, and his finest quality has always been his ability to keep working on something until he figures it out. We have enough vehicles, deep freezers, and chairs at the table for our growing family of 8, because he’s a fast-learner and isn’t afraid to try things until it works. 2 Fancy degrees later, and he’s the most valuable member of our family because of the money he SAVES us each year in car repairs, maintenance, appliance repairs, and first aid instead of being gone all week at a sales job where he couldn’t help with those things. With today’s ecommerce sites and YouTube videos, there is NO reason not to try a few things before calling in help. The only time we pay is when we are pressed for time or it really is a safety issue. People always think we have more money than we do because of the things we own (that were all on someone else’s curb just months prior.) LOL Thanks for writing this article!! More people need to think like this, and they could raise their standard of living SIGNIFICANTLY by just taking a few DIY risks and trying to fix things before tossing.

    • Sounds like you’ve got an awesome DIY-er at home. Honestly, it’s not too hard, just takes some “git R’ Dun” attitude and the willingness to try something new. The internet is a great resource for most any project, and people could save THOUSANDS a year doing this 🙂

  8. Great post. It’s sad that it has become the normal in our society today to just “throw” it away if it’s broken or because it is no longer new. I look at it as a chance to learn something new and to test my skills when I am challenged to fix something.

  9. I really like your advice that broken doesn’t mean broken. If you take the time to learn how your appliance runs, you will be able to save yourself a lot more money in repair than actual replacement. I think that’s funny, however, that you would actually look for broken appliances. These are definitely cheaper, and if you know how to fix it, you might as well save yourself the money. Great article, thanks for sharing!

  10. I am of the same mind. I try to find the best option for me even if it means going in and trying to fix the problem myself. It is great the the internet is a thing now because we can essentially fix our own things now.

  11. It is definitely a good idea to try to fix things before you try to replace them. By doing that you can really save a lot of money. Sometimes all you need to fix something is a new or extra part. This can really help your appliances last a lot longer than expected.

  12. I feel like repairing something I’m unfamiliar with can be really daunting. Thanks for sharing your experience with your refrigerator because it makes me realize that, by just trying it out and doing a little research, I can save a ton of money! I have a few things that I need to try and repair at home, and I’m going to start on one today! Thanks!

  13. I loved your story about the broken fridge. My husband and I buy used everything! Our vehicles, computers, furniture, and appliances were all purchased second-hand. We have found that, more often than not, it is much cheaper to repair a broken item than it is to purchase a new one. This was a majorly inspiring article. Thanks for sharing!

  14. I agree with you that we tend to live in a wasteful society. If something is broken, the easiest thing to do can be just to throw it out and get a new one. You make a good point about trying to understand how an appliance works. That way if you know what’s wrong with it you can help the repair man identify what needs to be fixed.

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  16. Jake, you inspire me with your successful fridge repair! I aspire to be able to diagnose and fix appliances some day. Doing so would allow me to save some real money and pay off my student loans!

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  18. My husband just scored a really nice oven off of our local classifieds site, and all we have to do is replace a $40 part! I am so excited. Our old oven was kind of a piece of junk. And all it took for a nice oven was to invest in a $40 part. I am so glad he took this suggestion!

      • There’s only one thing I replace with a new purchase and that’s a bed mattress. I kept my last one too long and ended up with a bad back. Most other things I try to fix

          • LOL I just noticed your post on Memory foam mattress. I should have read it before I just made my bed purchase. But I am still happy with the bed I bought because I got a decent sale price and do immediately notice a positive difference when I sleep. I didn’t even know about memory foam mattresses.

          • Hey man, as long as you’re now getting good sleep, that is HUGE. Even paying a bit more isn’t significant thinking about the long term health benefits you’ll get for years to come 🙂

          • It’s good to know there are others that try and fix things before they throw them out. I just repaired a bread maker. Turns out all that was wrong was the belt was trying to run of the big gear that’s turns the kneading paddle. A slight adjustment to that and it works like new

          • I find it crazy what people will throw out. I once talked to a guy who leased a Mercedes, and he said he starts shopping for a new car as soon as the battery in his key fab dies…. CRAZY!

          • You by chance didn’t study Economics in school? Your ideas are very similar to mine. Maybe a common theme with Economic majors or something.

          • Hah, no, I studied Audio Engineering, lol! Not even close! But I love the idea of making efficient use of your money, because it take so much time and effort to earn, why let it disappear without some amount of effort to save?

  19. Thanks for your tips about appliance repairs. My brother actually found someone that was throwing away a big screen TV. He asked if he could have it and took it to an appliance repair shop. It just needed a new motherboard so he got a big screen TV for $80. Sometimes we can be a little too quick to throw things out in our society. Check to see if something can be fixed first.

  20. Wow, that’s a really great story! I’ve heard about a lot of people, especially recently, throwing things away rather haphazardly. When most of the time, all it really needs is to be repaired. I love finding things people are giving away for free because they’re “broken,” then repairing them, or having them repaired, for 10% of their MSRP. It’s a really great way to save hundreds, and even thousands. Thanks so much for sharing!

  21. I agree that a broken appliance should not always be doomed to the junk yard. Growing up, my dad was somewhat resourceful. As a result, us kids learned that keeping a broken appliance or even purchasing one has its benefits. Looking back, I wish I would have made more of an effort to get them fixed as opposed to just letting them sit there sometimes not getting used for months or longer.

  22. I really like the mentality that you’re trying to teach that just become something breaks doesn’t mean that it can’t be repaired. You talk about how it can be tempting to buy a whole new dining room set because the felt pieces fell off the chairs, but this would be silly because you can just buy new felt pieces and repair the damage. The same definitely goes for your appliances like the dishwasher, refrigerator, computer or even TV. I’ll definitely be better about adapting this new mentality and hiring a repairman rather than replacing the items. Thanks for sharing!

  23. We live in such a consumer mentality society. Use it, abuse it, and toss it. Your right about how appliance repairs can help you stay within your budget. For instance, if your freezer isn’t keeping things cold enough, check the gasket seals. If you repair or replace these, your freezer will work good as new. Thanks for the tips on how to save money in your home.

  24. I’m so surprised about you getting that fridge for free and repairing it for so cheap! I am the type to be like that woman and just get rid of things that don’t work. You can bet I’ll start rethinking that mindset after reading your experience!


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