What My Air Conditioner Taught Me About Saving Money

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I was a bit lazy over the weekend and thought what better than to bring back an oldie but a goodie from my first days. People often talk about Christmas in July, well here’s a post that brings a little of July into the Christmas season.


Anyone who has followed the news this summer knows that the heat has been brutal this summer. Living in the Midwest, my family and I have endured the brunt of it. We had a stretch of 62 days in which we had no rain. Added to that we’ve consistently had highs over 100 for many days.  The heat has not helped our goal of saving money on utilities.

The combination of the heat and little precipitation has been brutal. Just ask my wife, the resident green thumb; our typical bounty of harvested veggies from the garden has taken a substantial hit, which makes everyone in the house just a little sad.

Throughout all of this though, our air conditioner has been a trooper and continued to soldier on and keep our house relatively cool. That was until a few Saturdays ago. I came home from taking our daughter out to get breakfast for the family and the house felt a bit warmer than usual.

This was peculiar because this particular Saturday morning the temperature was in the low 60’s and the sudden shift when I stepped foot in the house was immediately noticeable. As we ate, the temperature in the house continued to rise. Something just did not seem right.

What was Wrong?


Being that I have two left hands when it comes to anything related to home repair, I called my Dad. He walked me through a few steps, which did not seem to fix anything. So, I called a family friend who has extensive knowledge of air conditioners, with the hope of saving money by having him come look at it.

Of course, he was on vacation and unable to come over. He walked me through a few steps over the phone, but to no avail; the air conditioner was still dead. With our hopes of saving money on a simple fix dashed we decided it was time to call a repair tech. Thankfully, they charged no more to come over on a Saturday as opposed to a weekday, so we decided to have them to send someone out. A tech arrived within the hour and was soon working on our dead unit.

Thankfully, after about 20 minutes the tech was able to get the air conditioner working. It turned out to be a relatively simple fix as the capacitor had blown and the unit was low on freon. Including the service call charge, the total bill came to roughly $400, which was a much easier pill to swallow versus what I was fearing would be a several thousand dollar charge.

In the midst of the tech attempting to diagnose the problem, he had taken the thermostat off of the wall. When he went to put it back on though, the display did not come back up, which probably resulted from the fact that he struggled to reconnect it. He told us that the thermostat needed replaced and asked if we would like him to do it or not.

Thankfully, unknown to me at the time, my wife had stepped away to call my Dad back to ask him his opinion. Her goal was to be saving money for us, thus why she called him. Since the idea of me trying to install a new thermostat seemed daunting in the least, I decided to bite the bullet and have the tech install the new one.

Not knowing anything about costs myself, I was not really shocked when he started quoting prices of anywhere from $180-300 for a new thermostat. Sure, it would’ve driven up the cost, but it would be done right. Well, my wife returned from wherever she had been (now I know that she had called my Dad) and interjected and turned down the tech and said we could take care of it ourselves.

What? I can’t do that!  I’ll burn the house down was my first thought, and was not rationally thinking about trying to save money. The tech obliged and went about his way to clean up from his work. This left my wife and I to discuss why she had announced that we would be taking care of the thermostat ourselves.

She then told me that she had called my Dad and that he informed her that a thermostat would cost no more than $70-80 and that they were easy to replace.

There Can Be Numerous Benefits to Saving Money


Wow! I was so thankful that my wife had the sense I did not to try and save money as opposed to giving in to the tech. Thanks to her call she saved us at least $100 and we could now have the fun of installing the thermostat and teach ourselves something new.

You see, in the moment of an emotional decision, I threw my frugal mindset out the window and was not thinking about saving money. Thanks to my wife we were able to save some money and at the same time teach ourselves something new, which gives us yet another home repair trick under our belts for the future.

What is a decision you’ve made, that while seeming scary at the time, resulted in saving money?


Photo courtesy of: Sanja Gjenero

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John is the founder of Frugal Rules, a dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry whose writing has been featured in Forbes, CNBC, Yahoo Finance and more.

Passionate about helping people learn from his mistakes, John shares financial tools and tips to help you enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. One of his favorite tools is Personal Capital , which he used to plan for retirement and keep track of his finances in less than 15 minutes each month.

Another one of John's passions is helping people save $80 per month by axing their expensive cable subscriptions and replacing them with more affordable ones, like Hulu with Live TV.

Latest posts by John Schmoll (see all)


  • Budget & the Beach says:

    I would have probably done the same thing you did. I can’t think of anything off hand where I stepped away and did things myself, but really should practice more patience where I can and explore options before I bite the bullet.

    • John says:

      It was definitely a lesson in learning patience for me. I am thankful that my wife used some common sense, that I did NOT have, and do a little digging so we could make a wise decision.

  • Christopher @ This that and the MBA says:

    Not the handy type I take it. 🙂 its all good!!!! No body cares about your money like you do…great quick thinking of your wife!!

    • John says:

      Not really. 🙂 We’re learning some simpler things as time goes by so we can save money while at the same time learn a little about home repair. I agree, I am thankful my wife thought enough to think something sounded wrong.

  • Jason says:

    I’m worthless as well when it comes to repairing things around the house, however, I am proud to say that I replaced our thermostat earlier this year!! We saved a lot of money as well and it’s pretty sweet to have a programmable one.

    • John says:

      I am pretty worthless as well when it comes to that Jason. It’s amazing how simple it was to do it and it felt pretty good to do it. Thankfully I’ve been able to teach myself a few things over the last few years.

  • Miss T @ Prairie Eco-Thrifter says:

    We have tried to do DIY with things and we have been mostly successful. However with a few things it has been better to pay for the expertise. I am glad you were able to save yourselves some money this time. It might not always be possible.

    • John says:

      I would agree Miss T. There are quite a few things that we’ll just call someone for because it’s much easier and saves us a good chunk of time.

  • Catherine says:

    I’m lucky that my husband is quite handy and between him and his father/grandfather stuff usually gets done, I honestly don’t think I’ve ever needed a repairman for anything other than a car electrical issue. I hope to keep it this way too!

    • John says:

      Yea, those “handy” genes skipped me. My Dad can pretty much fix anything he attempts to. I am learning slowly but surely.

  • Mackenzie says:

    I am soooo not handy when it comes to things like that! I would have probably done the same thing you did 🙂

  • Midlife Finance says:

    Our air con and heater gave out last year and we didn’t fix it. It only get really hot here about a week out of the year. We can live with the discomfort for now. We got a small heater and it seems to be working fine.

  • DC @ Young Adult Money says:

    Definitely going against my Doctor’s referral and getting a CT scan from a different company. It saved me about $700 from the original $1k price tag. When it comes to health-related expenses, sometimes you just have to do your research.

    • John says:

      I could not agree more DC! We’ve run into that ourselves and had to pay a hefty price for it once. Definitely a lesson learned.

  • AverageJoe says:

    I replaced a couple sockets around our house recently. In the past, I would have totally given this over to an electrician…$50 house call plus a really expensive replacement part. Doing it myself? 15 minutes and less than $1 for the part.

    • John says:

      We just learned how to do that ourselves a year or so ago. I know that makes me sound like I can’t tell my left from my right hand, but it saves a nice little bit of money plus you get to learn something to boot.

  • Holly@ClubThrifty says:

    Kudos to you wife for making a rational decision. Glad to hear you saved some cash. Happy new year!

    • John says:

      Exactly! Thankfully she thinks much clearer in times like this to help balance me out. Happy New Year to you as well Holly!

  • The Happy Homeowner says:

    Emotions can absolutely wreak havoc on our finances and financial decision making…good thing you guys got through this round and were able to save some money on top of it all!

    • John says:

      I could not agree more! That’s why it’s so important to keep the two separated. The toughest time to do so for me is in instances like this as I feel like I have no clue what I am doing.

  • Jon - says:

    Making rationale financial decisions can be a challenge when emotions are involved.

    My wife and I have been especially struggling with it with a baby on the way….since when did a baby appreciate having the nicest furniture in the house. I know this is just the start…rationale decisions with all things kid related will be a struggle for awhile!

    • John says:

      I could not agree more Jon. Having little ones can really play on that as well. For us it was important to remember that while they do need quality things you can do so without breaking the bank.

  • Ornella @ Moneylicious says:

    It can be a little tricky getting someone to quote you the fair price. It’s a good thing your wife was willing to do a little research.

    • John says:

      That’s exactly it Ornella! We had some furnace work done a few weeks ago and told him what we had been quoted by this other company and he said that they were totally trying to overcharge us.

  • Dustin Small says:

    It’s amazing the amount of things you can do yourself with some help from modern technology. You can search for pretty much anything you can possibly think of on YouTube for example, and there’s somebody in a video to show you how to do it with no wait whatsoever.

    • John says:

      I would tend to agree Dustin. Just the other day my wife found a YouTube video helping her fix something minor in the kitchen. It can definitely be handy in a pinch.

  • Daisy @ Money Smart Guides says:

    Sometimes some tasks seem so daunting that its hard to imagine being able to do them ourselves. There have been a few things like this that have saved us money, like fixing computer issues instead of taking them to the tech store. Recently, we googled and issue we were having with our washer and figured it out right away. If we called in a repair company it would have cost us hundreds.

    • John says:

      I agree Daisy, especially when it’s involving something you have no clue how to do. That emotion can get in the way and you could possibly end up spending a decent sum of money when it’s actually quite simple to solve on your own.

  • Suba says:

    We are not very resourceful when it comes to home maintenance. So far we have always rented so all we have to do is pick up and phone and call. But this year we want to venture into home ownership. It should be interesting to say the least. Glad your wife went for a second opinion and you were able save money on the repairs.

    • John says:

      I always liked those days where I could just call someone and have the thing taken care of at no cost. As you’ll learn with home ownership, there’s almost always something that needs to be done…which is a good reason for a house e-fund. 🙂

  • Harry @ PF Pro says:

    Dude, I hired a guy to recondition my A/C since it wasn’t blowing air with very high pressure and the temperature difference between intake/outtake was only about 10 degrees. $250 later, the guy gave me some BS about how the airflow design in the attic was all messed up, what a waste. Live and learn..

  • Boris says:

    It is interesting to read your story here John. My son’s fun hobby for a while used to be to put things in the toilet. Things like toys, old diapers, bottle caps, etc.. This could turn out to be a loong story, but I’ll make it short. Anyways, one day he put something in the toilet and I had to call the plumber to fix it. He fixed it and charged me $200. After he fixed it I saw what tool he used. He used a “toilet auger” and it costs only about $40 at Home Depot. If I had bought the tool myself and unplugged the toilet I could have saved $160.

  • Julie says:

    Quick impulse decisions can totally break the bank. This is when I love having a partner that is my complete opposite and thinks on things forever. Between the two of us there is a happy balance between impulse purchase and never purchase 🙂

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