Does it all have to break at once?

I wrote awhile back about working to get our medical bills paid off– for healthy people, we racked up a ridiculous stack of them last year.  We also recently got excited about getting out from under our house payment– there’s plenty else we could do with a thousand bucks a month.

Unfortunately it seems that lately life has been scheming against us.  A month or so ago we got a nice big crack in our windshield, which has spread all the way across– we’ve really gotta get that thing fixed soon.  We also have a broken lawn mower.  Who knows how much it will take to get it going again.

Just before we left on vacation, our dryer broke.  We thought it was just a broken switch and weren’t hugely concerned.  But once back from the trip, the mechanic came out and pronounced multiple parts of it shot, to the tune of $200.  As hard as we work our dryers, might as well spend $300 and get a new one.  Fortunately we had some Home Depot gift cards, which we’d been saving to buy house paint with.  Ah well.  Maybe we’ll paint the house a gallon at a time this summer.

On the way home from our trip, came the most exciting break-down by far.  Only an hour into our drive home, in the pouring rain, something under the dash of the car started to make an odd clicking.  We drove on, hoping all would be okay.  Except then smoke started coming out from the steering column, sending that burning-wires smell all over the van.  We were on a two-lane highway, but fortunately on a straight stretch with good wide shoulders.  John pulled over and we all piled out, grabbing as much valuable stuff as we could in the process.  So there we were standing on the side of the road in the pouring Oregon rain, with 8 kids, 3 laptops and a bunch of camera gear.  And smoke still billowed even after John turned off the car.

In fact, the headlights were stuck ‘on’ even after he turned them off– some circuit must have burned the switch.  Not til he detached the battery did the smoke stop and the lights turn off.  We called a tow truck, all the while wondering how we would get ten people transported someplace while the van got fixed.  And where would we go?

I remembered we’d just passed McMinnville, where the air museum was that we’d visited a couple days earlier.  Next the the museum were a couple hotels.  If needed, we could rent a couple rooms and stay the night there.

As it turned out, there was an awesome mobile mechanic who came to where we’d broken down, and got the van safe to drive a short distance.  He was a great, personable guy who kept up a running commentary of what he was doing including giving the kids a lesson on how to hot wire a vehicle– watch out for those Ostyn kids now!

Once he got the car OK to drive, we opted to drive back to the air museum.  We’d bought a year’s family membership two days earlier, simply because it was cheaper than a multiple day passes.  So while the mechanic worked on the van in the parking lot there, we were able to use our membership one more time and check out more of the displays that we’d missed the other day.   $400 and 5 hours later the van was fixed.  We had burgers and fries in our bellies compliments of the museum restaurant. And off we went again, this time making it all the way home without a breakdown.

It is a bummer that the vacation ended up costing $400 more than we’d budgeted.  But the really great thing is that for the first time ever, we’d already paid cash for the entire rest of the vacation, including all the gas we used.

We’ve always been reasonably careful with money, but vacations and travel are where we splurge.  It’s not uncommon to come home from a trip with $1000 still needing to be paid off.  It was an great feeling to know that even with the car repair as an unexpected expense to draw down our emergency fund, we’re still way better off than normal.

And this time, we have a plan and a goal, which we will keep working on despite these setbacks.  But wow, it’d be nice if nothing else broke for a few months…


  1. Oh I know how you feel, Mary. I currently have a broken oven (not worth fixing), the tumble drier door fell off, the toilet seat broke, the hot tap in the bathroom basin refuses to work ….. and so it goes. I too am sending up many requests for the breaking of things to STOP NOW. Oh, and the car needed £400 spent on it to pass the annual compulsory MOT test here (UK). But it is Spring, and the sun will shine one day soon, and the garden will grow,the washing will dry outside and I can BBQ instead of worry re the oven! We will not mention the fact that the central heating is on its last legs right now……

  2. Hi there.

    You and your husband always seem to be so on top of things, so pardon my asking, but: do you have comprehensive auto insurance? I just got a crack in my windshield last Saturday evening. I called my insurance company Sunday after my meeting, and by Monday afternoon I had a new windshield. No deductible due from me.

    Anyway, I hope things settle down soon.

    Take care,


    • Since our cars are paid for, we just have liability with a fairly high deductible. I need to check if there is a glass deductible…

  3. It is crazy how these things seem to go – I had no trouble at all with my van, until the week after we paid it off.

  4. I kmow just how you feel! My husband and I have been saying that it’s like death by a thousand cuts right now. I just left my job to take care of our new daughter full-time, and all these expenses keep coming up. An unexpected very large tax burden, a broken toilet, broken windshield, $200 doctor bill because my old office didn’t turn in my daughter’s paperwork on time to get her included on my health insurance, etc. I know God will provide, but it is so stressful right now!

  5. I laughed at this: “We drove on, hoping all would be okay.” That about sums up my approach to vehicular mysteries, too : )
    The appliances conspire. I know they do. I hear them whispering at night under cover of the dishwasher’s humming.
    Hope you’ve reached the end of their mischievous plans!

  6. I know what you mean…. it seems as if the minute we get our emergency fund funded, we have to use it. I am always reminded of the verse, “Man plans his way, but God directs his steps.” I may have plenty of other things in mind for our money, but He owns it all and certainly keeps us humble in this way.

  7. Oh how I wish I did not know how this works. It seems to be one thing after the other. Last Dec. just 3 days before Christmas we had a big water line leak. It was broken up almost under the house. Cost to fix it? That was $1600.00. The company was kind and offered to let us make 3 payments of it. So in March I made the finaly payment of $400.00 to them. Then on the 1st of April (I know April fool) our air conditioner went out. It is 19 years old and due to go, but we really did want to get through another year before we had to replace it because we need a new roof too. But it was not to be. We just spent $4000.00 to replace the unit. The same company is letting us do it ’12 months same as cash’ so no interest and I did not have to empty the emergency fund. We drive cars that are paid off. Our home is paid for. We are so blessed. I know that, but it sure hurts sometimes to spend money for something you did not want.
    We live in Texas and it is hot here already. Going to be 90 today. I do not use our dryer. I wish I could give it to you. I hang dry our clothes.

  8. That always happens to us too. We were looking at paying off a loan this year, but suddenly we have some unexpected bills. My son broke his thumb and my husband finally had to have some shoulder surgery he had been putting off for a while. Last year our washing machine, dishwasher and oven broke all in one month.

  9. YES! Medical bills have eaten us alive this year. And we have a lawnmower that needs repaired. (Supposed to get the call about that soon!)

    And we keep on chugging along. ALMOST debt free. Then we can tackle finding a house!

  10. Oh, that is so frustrating! Some years for us it has been medical bills, other years car bills ($10K in 1 year between our 2 cars!). It stinks for sure. I hope nothing else breaks.

  11. Yes, in answer to your question title. I remember thinking that when we had been married 10 years we needed to get married again because everything that had been wedding presents was going or gone and we needed to resupply the house. I remember thinking at that time that it felt like we should be further along financially than we were and more able to pay for all those things this time around that everyone helped us get started with, but that just wasn’t reality when we were one income with lots of kids. I do know though that those were the years that we truly saw God’s hand and we give him glory for supplying all our needs. Thanks for your very positive outlook on what was obviously a trial. You are a blessing in my life and I am grateful for your writing your life.

  12. Have you ever shopped for Home Depot cards on Plastic Jungle or Cardpool? You can get them for close to 10% off. You can also by a 10% off Lowes coupons for pretty cheap on ebay and use it at HD. Really! I was skeptical at first, but they have accepted them a bunch. So that’s a good way to get close to 20% off anything you need at HD. Maybe that will help with the paint job.

    Car breakdowns always make for the most memorable trips. It will be a “remember when” forever!

  13. Jennifer says:

    Mary, check your auto policy,our windshield was covered 100% by our car insurance. we have a fairly high deductible 1000 so you never know

  14. Kimberly says:

    Hi Mary,

    I’m a long time reader, rarely comment, but had to let you know… your post encouraged me! Weird, I know.

    But we have been dealing with this too. Currently we have 1 car not working (since December, we reuse to charge the repair) and are spending 2.5 hours daily driving everyone in one car to their respective schools and workplaces. the dishwasher died in November– same thing as car, no extra to replace. Garage door broken, the 12 y.o. house seems to be coming apart at the seams, and we are getting our tax return audited because we adopted oldest DD in 2011 and are taking the tax credit. Until we get that refund, we have some extra debt, a tight budget and it all seems so hard and overwhelming at times. Especially waiting for the next emergency to hit.

    Your post, and the comments, reminded me Who is in control of all this… He who owns the cattle on a thousand hills– and the hills, too!– will take care of our every need. Even when the wants get overwhelming and we forget the truth, the Lord doesn’t!!


  15. Thank you so much for sharing these moments. Sometimes the resistance/rejections from kids, constantly thwarted financial hopes, and deteriorating house feel so discouraging! I know that my real job is to just keep giving kids what they need, as best as I can, despite the rest. But it’s always nice to know that others are facing the same struggles!

  16. Oh yeah. In my experience, it always happens like this 🙂