This article is from J.D. Roth, who founded Get Rich Slowly in 2006. After a year off, J.D. is once again writing here at GRS. His non-financial writing can still be found at More Than Money.
When I bought my condo in February, one of the things that impressed me about the place was the built-in shiny silver kitchen appliances. They were all so fancy and fun! My parents always had cheap appliances. When Kris and I were married, we too had cheap-ish stuff. (The dishwasher at our last house was almost 30 years old when we inherited it! Kris finally had to replace it last spring.) I soon learned that shiny silver kitchen appliances may be fancy but they're not always fun.
The trouble with fancy
“What's the deal with the microwave?” Kim asked soon after I moved in. “I can't just punch in a time and go?” “No,” I said. “You have to press cook time, rotate the little dial to select the timer, press the dial, rotate it again to set the timer, press it again, rotate it down to start, and then press it again.” “Wha–?” she said. “Exactly,” I said.
Why anyone would design a microwave in this inane fashion is beyond me. The most common function now takes about 10 times as long as it ought to. Sure, we can select all sorts of fancy setting if we want to. But we never want to.
Meanwhile, the fancy fridge had its own issues. The plug at the back of the ice-maker bin had fallen out and gone missing before we moved in. Whenever we had the ice-maker make ice, the cubes would cascade down the back of the freezer. (I fixed that, obviously, but it was still dumb. Why was there even a plug in the bin?) Worse, we couldn't use magnets on the doors.
But most frustrating was the dishwasher. Instead of an easy mechanical dial and push buttons, the controls were computerized. You selected a cycle (and various options) from a control pad. I'd never seen such a thing before. I liked the idea of it, but the reality was different. It was stuck in pot-scrubbing mode. I scoured the instruction manual and the Internet to see if this was normal behavior, but I couldn't find any answers. So, for eight months, we washed our dishes on this single cycle.
Last Sunday, even that option disappeared. The control panel became unresponsive, constantly flashing “rinse only.” Kind of a bummer since Kim had just spent the weekend making bone broth, which had dirtied nearly every pot in the house. A little research online revealed that I wasn't going to be able to solve this myself. I called in an expert.
Yesterday, a service tech from Sears stopped by the condo to diagnose the problem. “Huh,” he said after a few minutes of fiddling with the dishwasher. “Interesting.”
“I don't like to hear that,” I said. “I used to repair computers. I know that ‘interesting' is code for ‘I have no idea what's going on' or ‘You need a new machine.'”
“You might need a new machine,” said the service guy.
He spent another 20 minutes playing with the dishwasher and punching info into his diagnostic computer. Eventually, he came to me with the news. “Here's the deal,” he said. “That control panel is gone. You need a new one. That'll set you back $460 for the part. Plus there's labor. Plus there's the $80 for my visit today.”
“Ouch,” I said. “Right,” he said. “And it looks like there are other things that could fail soon.” (He named the parts, but I didn't file those in my memory.)
“So, we're looking at $600 or $700 total to repair this?” I asked. “How much does a new dishwasher cost?” “They start at $600 or $700,” he said. “Plus, if you choose to go that route, I can give you a coupon for $100 off if you buy it from Sears.”
This sounded a little like a slimy sales gimmick, but the guy seemed in earnest. I sighed, thanked him for his time, and took the $100 coupon.
Now I'm faced with two unpleasant tasks. First, I'm back to washing dishes by hand. This isn't really that big of a deal. I washed dishes by hand for all of 2012, both at my apartment and at Kim's house. The dishwasher is a luxury. Still, it's a luxury I like, which brings up unpleasant task number two. I have to shop for a new dishwasher.
I've come to realize that I don't enjoy shopping for furniture or appliances. I see the process as a necessary evil. I put it off as long as possible. Why? Because it's overwhelming. There are so many products available and so many places to buy them. Because I'm by nature a Maximizer, it's too easy for me to get locked in “analysis paralysis.”
Note: Here's a quick review of the difference between Maximizers and Satisficers (terms I picked up from Barry Schwartz's fascinating “The Paradox of Choice”). Maximizers want the best; they need to know that every decision they make is the best possible decision. Satisficers settle for “good enough”; they find something that meets their needs and don't worry about the possibility that there might be something better. As you might guess, Satisficers tend to be happier and more productive than Maximizers, living with less regret. For Maximizers like me, increased choice just means increased suffering. When we have only two or three options, it's easy to choose the best one. When there are 20 or 30, it's almost impossible.
After the service tech left last night, I pulled out the July 2013 issue of Consumer Reports to read up on dishwashers. It wasn't helpful. The article rated 87 dishwashers — 87! — with 10 recommended models and one “best buy.” How do I choose? Should I buy another KitchenAid to match the rest of the appliances we have? But I don't even like the other appliances, so maybe I should opt for another brand? Should I only go with the models that Sears stocks so I can use the $100 coupon? Or should I browse at Costco? And how much time am I really willing to devote to this process? Ultimately, this is what I decided to do:
- Set a budget. The dishwashers listed in Consumer Reports range from $260 to $1,800 (although most of the cheap dishwashers get poor test scores). Since it would cost $600 or $700 to repair our current dishwasher, that's my spending target. (I'll admit I'm willing to spend a little more than that, but not much — certainly not over $1,000.)
- Select a store. I don't have time to install the new dishwasher myself. I'm in the middle of writing a book and prepping for this year's Financial Blogger Conference. Plus, I don't want the hassle of disposing of the old dishwasher. Because of this, I need to buy from a place that will deliver and install the dishwasher. I'm not a Sears loyalist by any means, but because I have a coupon and because there's a Sears close to me, I'm going to start there.
- Limit my search to certain brands. I realize good appliances can be had from any provider. For my purposes, though, I'm going to limit myself to three brands: KitchenAid (to match the rest of the kitchen appliances we own), Samsung (because I like my Samsung washer and dryer), and Bosch (which gets great ratings from CR while having the best reliability).
- Set a time limit. I know myself. I could turn this into a two-day quest for the Best Dishwasher Ever. I'm not going to do that. The next time I run errands, I'll add this to the list. I'll spend a couple of hours looking at the various models and choose the one that best matches my needs after the end of that time.
“You seem like a frugal guy,” the service tech told me as he was leaving yesterday. “I can tell you don't like to spend money.”
“That's true,” I said.
“Here's what I'd do,” he told me. “Don't go to the main Sears store at the mall. There's an outlet center down the road. Go there. They'll have last year's models, but that doesn't matter. They're still fine machines. That's your best bet for finding a bargain.”
So, that's my plan. I'll start at the outlet store (where my coupon is no good — although I'll ask if I can use it). If I can't find anything there, I'll head to the main Sears store. And then to Costco. But that's it.
I realize this is a lot of hand-wringing over a broken dishwasher. We each have our weak spots though, right? For me, it's shopping for furniture and appliances. I hate it. It's overwhelming. And it hurts to see how expensive everything is.
I'm fortunate to have enough money in savings to cover this expense; a decade ago, this would have been a disaster that set me back deeper in debt! Of course, I'm open to suggestions.
How do you shop for major appliances? How do you keep from becoming overwhelmed? How do you find good deals?
I'm open to any tips and tricks you might have to make this less painful and less expensive.