How I Saved $2,500 By Ignoring My Inner 5 Year-Old

Monday night I was mowing when the lawn tractor died. This wasn’t the first time it has failed me mid-mow, but the new-to-me symptoms of this latest casualty had me thoroughly angry. The mower is only seven years old, but has had one problem after the other.

My New Toy by Jimmy Joe on Flickr

I pushed the mower back into the garage and went inside to vent. My wife agreed that maybe it was time to look for a new mower. The next day I spent my lunch hour “test driving” a Toro zero-turn model which boasted reduced cutting time, better maneuverability, and other such marketing speak.

The summer between freshman and sophomore years of college I worked for a landscaper running a crew to mow residential and commercial lawns. He had one of these mowers and I always thought it would be “cool” to own one. Red flag number one.

While I was checking out the mower, the store associate pointed out that if I opened a store credit card account I would save an additional 10% off my purchase, and get zero-percent interest for 12 months. Naturally, I thought this might be a good idea – save essentially the cost of sales tax and pay it off for free over the next year. Red flag number two!

Taming the Inner Five Year-Old

Nothing against five year-olds, after all I am the parent of one, but they are impulsive personalities. If my son breaks a toy, he just wants to buy a new one. If he loses something, just buy a new one. Adults are a little like five year-olds sometimes, myself included. My trip to the tractor store was in line with the behavior of a five year-old, well, assuming they could drive.

This is what makes being in debt such a slippery slope to slide back in. Just six months or so after paying off our debt, I was actually considering opening a new credit card to save $250 on a lawn tractor, or deplete my savings $2,500 for same. As I sat there, I went through all sorts of rationalizations.

  • My current mower is seven years-old
  • This new mower would reduce the time I spend mowing the lawn
  • This new mower would be much more fun to drive
  • It is a pain to take my current mower in for repair, or try to work on it myself
  • I don’t want to sink any more money into that old mower

Sounds a lot like the same rationalizations we make when buying a new car, doesn’t it? Fortunately, I took my own advice and decided to walk away. That night, I dragged the old mower out of the garage, removed the mower deck, and took a look underneath. This time I was lucky – just a broken traction drive belt.

With the help of Google, YouTube, and the remnants of my owners manual, I was able to replace the belt myself. While I had the deck off, I put on a new set of blades (I’ll sharpen the old ones and save them to rotate in when the new ones need sharpening), cleaned underneath well, put on a new mower deck belt, replaced the worn out deck wheels, greased the spindles, changed the air filter, changed the oil, and gave it a good cleaning.

When the tune up was complete, I have to say I sat back and admired the old mower. I almost felt a little guilty for wanting to get rid of it. When I consider that it saved me $2,500, I really felt affection for the old tractor. Good thing I ignored that inner five year-old.

This article appeared in the Carnival of Money Stories: The Sakura Spring Edition, and the Carnival of Money Stories: Financial Firsts Edition


  1. Good call. People ask me all the time why I’m driving my old van. I answer it runs and it’s paid for.

  2. What a great lesson learned! Isn’t it funny how we tend to take the easy route and throw money at a situation rather than take the time to see if something could be repaired by our own two hands? Well done!!

  3. Wow! What a good feeling you must have!! You “ran the gamut” of your emotions, looked at the alternatives & chose wisely! And you must be proud of your skills, sufficient to repair the mower & have it running like new.

    I think sometimes we need to go down “that road”; the 5 year road & then come back to really see how we have grown, it is all part of the process of exercising our agency to make good choices as well as suffer or benefit from those choices…

    Well done.

  4. Excellent work, FD. How large is your yard? My next door neighbor has a lawn tractor, but it takes him more time with it than it does me with my push mower. He spends so much time reversing and trying to get around tight angles, plus he still has spot he can’t get to and has to spend extra time weed whacking.

    Of course, if your yard is an acre or larger I could see how the tractor would save time. But I love push-mowing! Great exercise.

    • Our lot is a little less than an acre, but we got the mower with a house purchase back in 2004 (previous residents left it/included it). I’ve push mowed our yard a few times and it wasn’t my idea of fun, but it was great exercise.

  5. An DIY effort and the google (really the internet) is a powerful combination that has saved me hundreds (maybe even a thousand) dollars.

    Initially, it’s intimidating, but after you build confidence with a few fixes under your belt, you realize that anything is possible!

  6. Dear Frugal Dad, Great story it is how I talked myself out of the clothing store yesterday … I skipped home thinking how better off I was without the stuff and had a smile on my face.. Good for you..

  7. You really had me rooting for the old mower!
    Since you did your own labor, research and repair, I imagine that you have thoughts about maintaining the “old guy” so that you get the best out of it/him. Time to name it.

    A friend of mine just spent $400 on repairs to her laptop computer. She had two full diagnostics, a hard drive wipe and then the hard drive was replaced. The tech told her she still may have problems with it. I’m not going to say that laptops are disposable, but we depreciate them over a three year useful life. She bought the machine used for $250 and has had nothing but headaches with it. The money she was saving to replace it has gone into repair but it hasn’t extended its useful life.

    Your tractor has a ten year useful life, and if you maintain it, I imagine it will last as long as parts are available for it. A manly name–Boss, Hank, Bubba, something without a y.

  8. As a city apartment dweller, I had no idea that a lawn mower could cost $2,500. All I know is that if someone could afford that much, they could probably also afford to pay someone else to do it.

    Costs are relative. We have close friends who live in a house. They hire locals to mow lawn, do landscaping, do repairs, etc. They would literally lose more money doing these things (they make a very decent living and have next to no free time), and they also believe in contributing to a service economy.

    I’m sometimes concerned that everyone doing everything is literally contributing to the end of local services that are essential to a local economy. I also think of how many high school and college kids, for example, who used to get hired to do things like the lawn, etc. It helped them earn money, learn the value of work and also freed up families to spend more time together.

    Personally, I would love to be able to do more myself, but I’m not a trained electrician or plumber. And as hard as they are to find, and sometimes to pay for, they are still worth it, depending on the fix needed.

    It’s great to do what you can, but sometimes, it’s still “cheaper”/better value to have someone else do it. We don’t need to do it all, all the time.

    • I agree, and suggested something similar to Frugal Dad over Twitter. Hopefully he’ll blog his experience here. 🙂


      P.S. We recently moved into a house that doesn’t come with lawn care–so we are hiring our neighbor to do it. He said he’d use the money to help send his kids to college.

      • I don’t know…as much as I’d love to stimulate the service economy, it’s hard to break the DIY philosophy I was raised on. Besides, as JannyPi mentiond, lawn care is a competitive sport amongst the neighborhood dads! That was great!

        The one thing that does make me consider hiring someone is allergies. I usually need a day or two to recover from being around fresh cut grass, and now it’s covered in pollen, making it even worse.

  9. Why are advertiser links being inserted in my comment?

    Whoa. Just posted and for two words (electrician and plumber), there are hotlinks to ads.

    I didn’t put those in and I’m taken aback that links are being added to comments. What’s going on with your blog, Frugal Dad?

    I don’t want to see links to ads in posts I make. I go to a lot of blogs and this has never happened before.

    • @Sarah: Thanks for alerting me to this. I recently installed a new ad manager program and apparently the settings allow for ads to be automatically inserted into content (including comments). I don’t like ads in the comments either, but will add a few to the posts where relevant. I’ve updated the settings to prevent this from happening again.

  10. Add some splashes of flame paint, and it’ll be good as new!

    And didn’t you just ad that rush of “and I did it all by myself” feeling to your feel-good side 🙂 Accomplishments are a Great Thing!!! And what a good example you give to the kids!

  11. I agree – if I did make the move to buy one, it would have been a used one. I bet I could get a used one for less than $1k, easily.

  12. “lawn care is a competitive sport amongst the neighborhood dads”

    LOL. And I thought it was only barbecuing that was a competitive sport in the suburbs!

    Had a conversation with a female friend on this topic. She confided that one of the reasons they hire someone to cut their lawn is because, quite frankly, her spouse is not especially skilled in this, takes hours to do and is usually in a really bad mood afterwards (he really hates doing it). So, it isn’t just kids and others (who are paid) who do a bad job. I think this is why some folks have others doing their lawns. The “secret” reason behind the No-DIY approach to lawn care in some homes. (sorry, guys. But honestly, real men do not have to do lawns or barbecue to ensure their status as “real” guys!)

    Frugal Dad, thanks for checking on the ad links that were auto inserted. I really couldn’t believe it was something you’d do.

    • Well, I did do it, but it wasn’t intentional. Thanks for calling me on it. If you’ve read the blog any length of time, you’ll know that I don’t mind earning a little money to go towards the mortgage with the blog (after all, it is my side hustle), but I don’t want to splash commercialism everywhere while writing about frugality!

      It’s a delicate balance, and I rely on readers to help me keep things in check.

    • @Sarah,
      One of my brothers HATES yard work and has hired out for years. I think it may be because he’s really picky ( he picks fuzz and threads off of the rug). My son also hates yard work, but that’s because it’s required. I hired a neighborhood kid last year and it turned into two kids doing the lawn, one with the mower and the other with the trimmer. They did a fabulous job in just over an hour. They swept the sidewalks, etc. The only problem is that their quoted price was too high and I was desperate to have the lawn done. I can’t figure out how to pay them less, especially when they do a good job.
      My son pays me back because it’s part of his living arrangement.

  13. Haha! That is great!

    My wife and I have done the same thing repeatedly with our cars. We both drive older model autos and they are constantly breaking. The latest one was the window regulator on my drivers side door. We were “this close” to selling it and buying a new one!

    $30 and an afternoon later it was good as new! Well… almost…

  14. Good Boy! We just recently did the same thing with two computer printers and our electric dryer – fixed them ourselves with help from the WEB. Personally, I don’t think 7 years old is old for a mower. We had a mower for 30 years!!!!!!!!!!!! My husband has a part time business fixing small engines and he knew what to fix and when and even though it was a sight for sore eyes, it did the job and our lawn always looked darn near good as a golf course.

  15. I have a self-propelled mower that is going on 6 years. I am in the midst of my 3rd (and biggest) DIY repair as one of the self propelled wheels stopped working. I was seriously considering replacing it but decided to do some snooping first and found out one of the gears was missing. $50 worth of parts and I’ll have it up and running again. I also have to put a plug in for I have gone to them each time I needed parts for the mower and they have come through. Shipping is a bit expensive (flat $11) but they are fast and customer service is fantastic!

  16. My laptop (on which I do all my work) is about five years old and held together by duct tape and my own solder jobs. Frankly I kind of enjoy fixing it a little. It’s a bit of a gripe to me that no one makes products to last anymore (laptop computers are designed to break after about three years, cars after about ten, etc), and it feels the same as turning waste products into new things. I could (barely) afford a new computer, and once this one finally gives up the ghost I’ll get one, but until then, we’re sticking together.

    Planned obsolescence is a big part of this disgusting installment-plan consumption economy that drives the world today, and runs so counter to my beliefs it makes me sick. I wish that consumers wanted to buy things that lasted, not the shiniest new thing to come off the shelf. And part of me wants to run off and build tough laptops designed to last a decade, but I know there wouldn’t be a market.

  17. It’s scary how we can almost get into a trance with our rationalizations for purchasing something, kind of like we’ve been ‘programmed’ to think this way 😛

  18. Remember that women can handle that lawn mower just as well as the guys…. I’m mid 50’s and have usually mowed my own. I did splurge when I moved to this house tho – and got an electric lawn mower… the cord is a pain, but it is much easier to man-handle and I don’t have to deal with gas and spark plugs etc.

    I had decided a long time ago that when I was “of a certain age” I was going to spring for the electric mower ($169) …. after watching a little old lady down the road use one – she was in her 80’s and still mowing with it.

    My Aunt is in her 70’s and still mows her own – and for the neighbor next door who was over 100 when he passed on….

    Come on gals – it’s not just a guy thing 🙂
    It’s VERY good exercise 🙂

    At $20 per mowing by the local guy, in 8.5 mows with the electric, I have covered the cost of it – about 2 months here in the summer…. 🙂

  19. I’m happy that I’m not the only one with the mower affliction. Thanks for making a frugal choice.

    I’ve been mowing my 1.5 acres with a push mower for 3 years because I can’t justify spending that kind of money on what is essentially a toy after the old mower broke one time too many. So I mow my yard every week – each week I do half usually back and front so it’s not so obvious from the street .