Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Frugality, "New" and Traditional

"The New Frugality" is getting airplay. Correspondent Dan K. shares his experience in replacing an old broken washing machine.

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Correspondent Dan K. addresses the "new frugality" as he sets out to replace his fritzed washing machine:

Have you looked at the cost of a washer/dryer set lately?

It's Sunday afternoon and the washer is on the fritz. Yeah, it's been having 'issues' for a few years now. First the stupid little tab that is supposed to lock the front-loading door broke off. Who designed that piece of garbage? If you are going to put something on a door that can be hooked and broken off by clothes while loading, at least make it of Delrin or some similar high impact, less breakable plastic. But whatever, we found the door would still stay shut without it so I guess it wasn't all THAT important. After a while the little buzzer that told you the door was not locked died, so it was almost as if it had been designed that way to begin with...

Then the door started to sag. What's up with that? It doesn't weigh much, and the kids certainly haven't been hanging off it. Lord knows the kids wouldn't go NEAR the washer for fear of being put to work in the laundry room.. I mean, can't the manufacturer figure out a way for what looks like a 6-8 lb. door to stay true for 6-8 years? But whatever (again), the thing still seemed to work if you just made sure to push the door closed all the way.

Not long after the the door started to sag, the knob came off. Not one of those simple affairs, this is the kind that acts as a switch. Push in to disconnect the circuit, pull out to start the machine. That made things a bit more interesting, but we worked around it by grabbing the still attached plastic collar and using that to set the cycles. Of course the machine was always in the 'on' mode, but so long as you kept the door open when you chose your cycle, it all seemed to work out fine (sorta). At least you wouldn't hear the machine chunking and grinding to keep up with your hand-spin of the perpetually 'on' settings wheel. Some engineer must have recieved an award for the design of this partiular wheel, with the company knowing it would sell a fortune in replacements some years down the line.

But it didn;t stop there. After several years, the no-longer-locking-and-now-sagging door stopped tripping some sort of internal safety that would tell the washer the door was closed and it was time to get to work. Maybe the thing was just tired and didn't want to work so hard anymore, so like HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey it fried it's own internals. Who knows. BUT, we outsmatrted the thing by using a chunk of PVC tube to put a brace against the door when closed. It gave the door that little bit of extra closure to re-engage the switch and allow the washer to work again. Really, all you had to do was peek into the laundry room and you'd see that lovely three feet of plastic pipe wedged between the washer door and the closet door opposite to know the machine was still full of sopping wet clothes.

Oh, did I forget to mention that the machine seemed to have stopped draining? Yup, it appeared to think once it had run a wash and rinse cycle it was too tired to pump itself out anymore. For a while I would run it thru the spin cycle to get it to pump twice each load and get the clothes at least marginally wrung before they headed off to the dryer that squeaks when it spins. Howeven, I think the washer finally got my number and stopped pumping much of anything as of yesterday.

Well, after all the 'fun times' we have spent together, I am getting the hint that maybe our washer is looking into retirement before all the Social Security money is gone. It has reached the ripe old age of 8 years now, which, having worked like a dog, in dog years would make it somewhere in it's late 50's -- maybe a little young for retirement, but like it's owners certainly getting a little longer in the tooth. So when the spousal unit said "Time to get a new washer", I figured "why not?". Sure we would miss the missing knob, and the plastic pipe would also be retired. And no more sagging door, we could get a hot new model not in need fo a 'face lift' and some 'internal surgery' to keep it healthy.

Hello CraigsList!

Having haunted the aisles of Home Depot for years, ever in search of the copper plumbing fitting, the sheets of drywall, nails for the nailgun, etc. I knew laundry appliances had certainly gone through a facelift in recent years. It was hard to miss the 'designer colors' and the fact they were growing taller like my children. Yet, as sleek as they looked, they never really garnered any attention from me as our trusty ol' washer at home still worked fine -- plastic pipe and all. So why look at a new model? I wasn't going to throw my wife away for getting older, why do the same to my washer? We had 'history' together. Now it looked like our time had come to split up and there was no turning back.

So here I am, letting my fingers do the walking on the 'Net. Did you know you can get matching sets in red,white, and blue (how American -- even if they say LG on the front) as well as green, black and who knows what else. Did you know those 'designer' washer/dryer sets start around $1500 for a 'good" set? WOW. So that got me to thinking...

Does anyone really know, or for that matter care, if my clothes got washed by a $1800 set of laundry machines? Would the neighbors ask me, the man of 'plastic pipe' ingenuity to move if I brought home a new washer (no matching set -- GASP!) that didn't look like it stepped off the pages of Architectural Digest? Would I have to sneak it in at night under cover? Would my clothes tell the other clothes they ran into on the street they had been shaped up at the discount wash center off the kitchen? Or was I just being paranoid about all this?

Then I remembered -- this is the 'newfound age of frugality'! It's cool to be cheap! Saving money is 'in' again, even if it had never been 'out' in our household.

I think I'll see what kind of deal I can get off Craigslist. I am sure someone went a little 'charge-happy' in the last year or two. And the best part is that in today's economy, I can even feel proud of the 'deal' I will get on that "Like New, year old washer" being sold because someone is moving or downsizing. Now if only I could get a new back, and a few joints the same way...

Thank you, Dan. Great writing on a topic every household can relate to. After suffering for years with the recalcitrant ancient washer given to us by elderly neighbors, we broke down (yes, I am ashamed to admit, I bought something new) about five years ago and bought a basic Sears Kenmore front-loader when we received one of those "$75 off your next major purchase" mailers. In my defense, that is the only major item we've bought new in the past five years except cheap Hewlett-Packard PCs and a Samsung TV from Costco to replace ancient models which expired.

Recent items picked up for free off the curb: almost-new 3-gallon propane tank, empty but still valuable, and a large suitcase (with broken pocket zipper, otherwise OK) filled with clean bedding of various sheet sizes.

The flood of slightly used goods available for free or a few dollars is just beginning...

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