It may be broken, but maybe you can fix it.
That obvious truth can be easy to forget when you're staring at an expensive appliance that just conked out or you're standing at the edge of a highway watching steam pour out of your engine. If you have an expensive item that seems like it needs to be replaced or requires major repairs by a professional -- but you don't have the cash -- remember that if necessity is the mother of invention, desperation is probably the father. You may be able to keep it running a while longer if you first consider a quick fix.
To see what we mean, here are some common purchases everyone needs to replace sooner or later -- and some cheap repairs from a variety of sources.
Refrigerator. If it's completely dead, we've got nothing. But if your refrigerator isn't cooling your food as well as it should, Melea Politis, a coupon expert and founder of freebies2deals.com, has a slew of suggestions to try before you purchase a replacement, which might easily run you a grand -- or two or three.
First, she suggests closing the refrigerator door on a thin piece of paper. "If it easily pulls out, that means you need to replace the gasket -- rubber seal -- and that your fridge isn't keeping the cold in," she says. "You can find these for about $50 to $80, depending on your model. Or your best bet might be to check eBay (EBAY). Some are selling for as low as $25."
She adds that items stored on top of your refrigerator, especially heavy ones, can make it harder for heat to escape the refrigerator. That means it must work harder to stay cold, which is a problem if your appliance is on the way out.
Politics has another tip for those desperate to keep the refrigerator humming: "If your refrigerator isn't very full, make sure you fill all empty space with 'fillers.' Find empty milk jugs or containers and fill them with water. By placing them inside the fridge, next to the other items, they will all help each other stay cold. When fridges are empty, it takes more energy and work to keep the items inside cold."
Cherie Lowe, who runs the money-saving website queenoffree.net, has another suggestion: Vacuum out the coils behind the refrigerator and at the vent at the bottom. "Hair and dust get trapped in those areas of your refrigerator, making it more difficult for it to cool," Lowe says.
Water heater. "Most durable goods can be coaxed into continued service by one of six things, the first three being maintenance, maintenance and maintenance," says Tony Ruffle II, who owns a wholesale bead business in Atlanta, Mich.
The other three? In order, he says: "Scrutiny -- sound, sight and smell -- synthetic oil and J.B. Weld." The latter is an epoxy putty used to patch leaks and repair things. In the home repair world, it is arguably as beloved as duct tape.
Ruffle says his hot water heater is more than 15 years old but should have died several years ago. He rescued it with a $19 valve kit and has patched it with epoxy putty numerous times.
Cellphone. Your cellphone may cost anywhere from $200 to $800 dollars, depending on the brand and whether you signed a contract. If you get your phone wet or drop and crack it and you don't have insurance, the last you want to do is shell out money for a new one.
Judging from some of the opinions on online forums and technology sites, if you get your cellphone wet, you might want to try submerging it in uncooked rice or even kitty litter -- both will grab the moisture faster.
If your phone won't charge, some users suggest scrubbing the metal parts of the connectors in the charger with a cloth dipped in rubbing alcohol.
Car. There are so many things that can go wrong with a car that listing the methods of keeping one running would be as thick as a phone book.
But if a mechanic starts reading your car its last rites, be sure to ask if there's anything that can prolong the life of your vehicle. For instance, if your radiator has a leak, try a radiator seal.
If you have to do a major repair and you know what the problem is, you may want to check out two websites -- repairpal.com and automd.com -- that can give you an idea of what the repair should cost in your area.
Clothes. Replacing a shirt, blouse, trousers or jeans isn't exactly a disaster, and plenty of people enjoy shopping. Still, if your growing kids are racing through clothes or you've lost some weight and need a new wardrobe, buying a lot of clothing at once isn't exactly cheap. Politics has some interesting ideas, though.
"One that comes to mind is to host a clothing swap with your friends," Politis says. "They can bring any clothing that no longer fits or clothing they won't use, and you can bring yours. Have someone host it at their home and everyone can swap items they no longer need or want. It's an easy way to get a new wardrobe without spending a dime."
She adds that a swap can work for children's clothing as well. She also suggests turning jeans that no longer fit or are too short into capri pants or shorts. "Just cut and hem to the length you want," she says.
Obviously, you don't want to "fix" something to the point of putting yourself in danger. If you aren't a good mechanic, coming up with a clever way to keep your brakes operating isn't the smartest of moves. But if it's something like a coffee maker, which Lowe came close to tossing four years ago until she began descaling her coffee pot (a cleaning process that involves using vinegar), you have nothing to lose by trying to keep it going -- and plenty of money to gain.
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