April 23, 2017

Delayed Retirement Maintenance Has a Cost

For the majority of us the last effects of the 2008-09 recession are in our rear view mirror.  Unemployment rates are low and inflation seems to be under control. Interest rates on investments remain miserable, but decent returns are available with a little bit of risk.

Housing prices have rebounded in most part of the country. That allowed Betty and me to move just about two years ago to be closer to our grandkids. We have been in the new house just long enough that my thoughts to turn to what maintenance should be considered, now and in the future. Owning a house means owning the problems that come with that property. 


Delayed maintenance never got this bad
Unfortunately, over the years I have become the master of delayed maintenance. If something isn't dangerous, leaking, or unusable, I find it much too easy to wait.  We know that something will require fixing but decide it can wait a while longer.

That toilet is more difficult to flush, but it still works. The front door is showing wear and the wood is starting to crack. But, hey, there's no budget right now for a new $2,000 door. The roof should last another few years, I hope. I know the car battery is pretty old but it still works. Let's wait until fall before replacing it.

My experience with delayed maintenance is that the eventual cost is always higher than when the problem is first recognized. I have always wondered why I wait until it is time to move or until something stops working completely before I repaint, repair, or replace. The hassle is always worse than if I had simply taken care of it when I should have.

When building a satisfying retirement, delayed maintenance can describe similar behavior. One example might be our investment plan isn't really working well for us anymore. We know we should spend time reviewing our approach. But, that is a lot of work and it might force us to admit we are not in the type of financial shape we thought we were. Things will work out, they always do. We'll just wait awhile and see how it goes.

Another type of delayed maintenance might involve a business venture of yours. I have personal experience with this type of delayed maintenance. For at least 4 years before my consulting business declined to the point I decided to shut it down and retire, there were plenty of signals that things weren't going as well as they once did. The industry had changed dramatically a few years before that, resulting in a drop in demand for what I offered. The number of clients had grown regularly every year for the previous decade. Then, the growth stopped. I decided that was fine with me. I was overextended and tired.

Suddenly, the number of clients I served began to drop, one this month, two a few months later, a couple more at the end of the year. I was concerned, but still convinced things would stabilize at a comfortable level. That was not the case. The loss of business continued and accelerated.

Suddenly I was at the point where my cash flow was dangerously close to my expenses. I knew what I needed to do: increase the marketing and promotion of my business, become much more focused on the clients and their particular needs, and find a way to re-brand myself for the changes the industry was undergoing.

Unfortunately, I had delayed that business maintenance too long. When things were good I didn't spend time looking for cracks in the foundation. I didn't figure out I needed a major overhaul. When I realized things had slipped to a near-fatal level, it was too late.

Your most significant relationship can certainly suffer from delayed maintenance. Several years ago I wrote a post on Relationship Maintenance suggested steps you can take for a relational tuneup. Just like a car that misses regular oil changes, new brakes, or a new set of spark plugs, your marriage or key relationship can't be ignored for too long before trouble will surface.

Health is certainly a key area of delayed maintenance for many of us. We know a diet of fatty foods, a lack of fruits and vegetables, and a sedentary lifestyle will probably end badly for us. We know sun screen is important. We know about checkups and tests that should be conducted.  But, the future is still way out there. We can change later. We can adjust our living habits when we turn 65....or 70...or 75...or.....

Not doing what we know we should will hurt us. Our quality of life will suffer. Our ability to do what we like will be curtailed. Taken to its logical conclusion, our delayed maintenance in taking care of ourselves could end our life early.

What is the answer? Preventive maintenance. This is a proactive, deal-with- a-problem-before-it-gets-out-of-hand type maintenance. Act before something becomes critical or dangerous. Maybe there are no visible signs of a problem today, but we all know the consequences of a certain action is likely to cause problems.

Preventive maintenance is the best way to build your satisfying retirement. It may be a tough habit to develop. I think most of us are hard-wired for avoidance. But, waiting until things break or decay or become much too difficult and expensive to repair is the wrong choice.

What in your life requires some preventive maintenance? What delayed maintenance have you put off because the task is too difficult or the answers too unsettling? Share with us, if you dare!


Note: Yesterday morning I woke up to a flooded front yard. An underground sprinkler line had ruptured. There had been a small wet area near the front walk that I conveniently ignored for over a month. Delayed maintenance in action!

17 comments:

  1. Great timing on the sprinkler to reinforce the lesson. Two things came to mind for me. First is health. Even though I remain active, I have slacked off on the intensity level of my martial arts practice. I know I'm getting out of shape, and I want to find a new path into a higher level of fitness. Second is getting everything in order for when I'm gone. I've done the big stuff, like estate planning and so forth, but many things are left to do. I did get as far as a checklist--now I just have to actually start checking things off!

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    1. Yes, the timing was God's way to telling me who is in charge.

      By "when I'm gone" I hope you mean many decades from now and not the more permanent exit anytime soon.

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    2. Ha! Well, we usually don't know the timing of our final exit, but no, not expecting it anytime soon. That's the point, though, isn't it? If I've done all my pre-exit maintenance, so to speak--including the practical, emotional, and spiritual--then I can live whatever time I have, whether days or decades, in freedom and joy.

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  2. I'll admit I'm lazy and like to procrasitinate, but fixing the little things asap saves work and money in the long run, because they don't turn into bigger problems.

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    1. Sometimes problems just skip the little stage and smack you in the face. Those are part of life. But, the small stuff should be nipped in the bud. As the sprinkler episode indicates, easier said than done.

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  3. You've mentioned your prior business before and it always strikes me as being a very strong thing to do. Talking about that type of thing is really hard for many people, and has to come from a position of strength. Kudos.

    If I have a maintenance issue, it would be myself. It always seems like tomorrow will be easier, or more reasonable, or more natural. Ugh. It can seem like I am so busy with 'business' maintenance or 'building maintenance' that 'personal' maintenance is the lowest thing on the list. :P

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    1. The business failure turned out to be an amazing blessing, but didn't seem so at the time. I just didn't think I was financially (or emotionally) ready. I worked out just fine. Thanks.

      Personal maintenance does seem to be much easier to put off. I guess it is our way of dealing with mortality, by ignoring the ticking clock.

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  4. Unfortunately, maintenance is boring. But you are so right. Or, as my mother used to say ... a stitch in time saves nine.

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    1. Well, there's an expression I haven't thought of for years, but, mom is right.

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  5. There are always things in my home that I defer and end up fixing to sell the house. Trying not to do that this time, as we can enjoy the updates/upgrades while we live here and don't plan on moving. And then there are the things that can't be delayed. My DH ended up replacing the sump pump on Easter while I cooked brunch for 10. Luckily, we had the food in place and he knows how to do basic mechanical tasks. And we were REALLY lucky that he went to the basement to get more chairs for the guests and noticed it was about to overflow. Our finished basement would have flooded.

    My immediate lesson is the garden, which is greening up nicely. But so are the weeds. I know if I tackle them now it will be easier, so I guess I will get out there while it's sunny and not too hot.
    --Hope

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    1. We have a tile roof, like 90% of the homes in Phoenix. To replace it is a $15,000 job. In theory we have another 5 years left on the roof overhead now. I hope so!

      I was lucky to spot the sprinkler leak after 2-3 hours. You were even more so, with the sump pump!

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  6. I learned the value of preventative maintenance many years ago. At the time I was working at a base metal mining company that would NEVER skip or postpone preventative maintenance, and preventative maintenance for them meant shutting down some big expensive equipment that could take days to get operational again. Base metal mining (copper, zinc, etc.) is a commodity business, your metal is no better than anyone else's, and the way to make money is to be the low cost producer. If it had been cheaper to just run the operation until something broke they would have done that but they were sticklers for preventative maintenance, it was less expensive that way plus planned maintenance is much easier to manage than the crisis when something suddenly breaks.

    The lesson I learned way back when I was starting my career has stuck with me through out my life. I always follow the maintenance schedule on my car and keep things around the house in good working order - fix a small problem before it becomes a big one. And it is true, it is cheaper and easier that way. Realistically this is true of your personal life as well and this column is a good reminder for me to be sure pay some attention to that side as well. Thanks!

    - David

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    1. Our oldest car is about to pass 14 years and still provides dependable transportation. Regular oil changes and other stuff does make a difference.

      I commend your former employer. To not put short-term gains ahead of long-terms profitability is a wise decision...one that is not all that common in the business world.

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  7. House delayed maintenance is my nemesis. Part of the problem is that I live in an area where it can be difficult to find people to do the work. Sometimes I'm not sure what needs to be done. This is the one area where I miss having a life partner to talk these things over with and to share the burdens and responsibilities. Intellectually, I know that avoiding things that are making me anxious always makes the anxiety worse, not better, but I still do it! -Jean

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    1. Finding someone trustworthy to complete repairs is a problem for all of us, but those in more rural settings, like you, Jean, have the toughest chore. I have tried various on-line services, like Angie's List, but have had mixed experiences. Once I find someone good, that person or company goes into our emergency folder.

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  8. We have just finished renovating the main bathroom in our house. The room was dated and shabby when we bought the house five years ago, and we have renovated it so that we can put the house on the market. Now why didn't we do that sooner? It looks great, and we won't get to enjoy it. I guess we need to learn the preventative maintenance lesson!

    Jude

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    1. I have done that so many times...lived with something that was just OK, then fix/repair/remodel just to sell, and wonder why I didn't do it sooner so the family could enjoy it.

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