Is a Broken Dishwasher an Emergency?

by Kelly · 34 comments

in Money & Spending

dishwasherOur dishwasher broke Sunday night in a cloud of smoke and a puddle of water on the kitchen floor. It had been on its way out for a while, but we had been coaxing it along, trying to encourage it to live another day and wash another dish. Sunday was its last hurrah, however, and now we are faced with a dilemma: Can we tap into our emergency fund to replace a broken dishwasher?

We have €400 in our emergency fund, built up since January, and dishwashers cost a minimum of about €350. Here are the arguments for both sides of the dilemma.

Yes, we can use our emergency funds to replace our broken dishwasher.

My husband and I are both very busy, with tightly packed schedules. We have three young children, and our evenings and weekends are already filled with trying to accomplish the minutiae of daily life, running a house and being a family. Who has time to do dishes on top of everything else?

Not to mention that our small water heater can’t cope with the demands of baths, showers and washing dishes- someone or something is always left out (literally) in the cold. A dishwasher heats its own water. It can also be programmed to run during the off peak hours, when electricity costs less, thus saving money.

And a final argument in favor of replacing a dishwasher with our emergency fund is that this is what emergency funds are for: emergencies.

No, we cannot use our emergency funds to replace our broken dishwasher.

The biggest argument that I can think of for not using our emergency fund to replace the dishwasher is that we’re spoiled westerners who can’t learn to live without their modern appliances. After all, how many people live without dishwashers, or even running water? We can’t go back to washing dishes by hand, but instead have to empty our hard built emergency fund for what is essentially a luxury item? It would be different if we had saved up money specifically to replace our dishwasher, but we haven’t.

Not only is this not really an emergency, but emptying our emergency fund leaves us vulnerable were a real emergency to happen! One of my New Year’s Resolutions might have been to build an emergency fund, but another was to not acquire any new debt in 2009. And although this resolution has already been broken, it doesn’t mean that I should blithely charge away, accumulating new debt at heavy interest rates.

What would you do in my shoes? What choice do you think I made? What do you use your emergency funds for? And stay tuned for next Wednesday’s post, when I share what decision we finally ended up making.


1 Beth February 18, 2009

We lived without a dishwasher for a year, and to be honest I never really minded not having one–you get used to the washing routine quickly. However, this also only worked when both of us were home, and there was one to wash up and the other to take care of the kid(s). Otherwise the dishes had to wait for a convenient moment.

The real issue here seems to be the hot water, that you don’t really have enough to do it all. To me, that necessitates a dishwasher, because otherwise you’re going to have to make serious changes to your water use practices–a whole other issue. (Sorry honey, no shower today! But I love your manly scent!)

What about if you started a special dishwasher savings fund now and see how in goes? If you already have 400€ in your regular savings fund since January, it doesn’t seem like it would take you too long to save up enough, and if things get unbearable in the meantime there is always the other money that can be used for this “emergency”!

2 Nicki at Domestic Cents February 18, 2009

I’d wash dishes by hand for a month and add a little more cushion to the fund, then go buy one 🙂 Good luck!

Nicki at Domestic Cents´s last blog post..Home-Making

3 mom, again February 18, 2009

I was gonna say pretty much what Beth says in her last paragraph. Handwash while saving up at least half the cost, and also while researching other options like finding a sale, or finding used, refurbished, scratch-n-dent, even freecycle.

We recently spent a year in a house with no DW. Even though I’d spent most of my adult life, my kid life too, without one, the last 7 years I’d gotten so used to it! It’s hard to go back to handwashing, esp. if it means complicated water scheduling rules. We had two adults & an infant, so not quite as many dishes, but I did have to go back to sterilizing bottles, something not needed if you use the drying cycle on the DW.

Also, don’t assume the dishwashing method you learned at your mother’s elbow is the best. It might be worthwhile to look somewhere like for more efficient ways of doing the job.

4 Nancy February 18, 2009

If I were in your shoes, I think I’d be handwashing and trying to increase the amount in my ’emergency’ fund. Our dishwasher is on its last leg so we are saving funds for a new one. We have plenty of money in our emergency fund that we could go buy a new one except that we also know we have dr. bills to pay for a minor surgery that husband had in January. I’d rather use our emergency funds for the dr. bills than a dishwasher. It’s all about making choices.

Nancy´s last blog post..Menu Plan Monday

5 Carolyn February 18, 2009

I’d say it’s really not an emergency. I had a dishwasher for the first 26 years of my life until we moved from the US to China 2 years ago. Needless to say, we don’t have a dishwasher here. It took some getting used to (especially once bottles for our daughter entered the picture), but it’s not so bad. Now if the fridge died, that would definitely call for tapping into the emergency fund. I’d probably really kick myself if I spent most of our emergency fund on what is really a luxury item if a true emergency present itself that we couldn’t fund….Here’s a blog post from one of my favorite sites about how to conserve water while washing by hand (scroll down about half way):

6 Ann February 18, 2009

I’d examine the money-in/money-out balance. By that I mean: is the time you’re spending washing the dishes by hand hampering your ability to earn money? For example, will you have to spend half an hour less doing something that would pay money (writing a blog, for instance) in order to wash the dishes by hand? If so — there is a *cost* to doing the dishes by hand.

Otherwise, I’d re-frame my thinking and see if the dish washing chores could be a time for the two adults to have a little time together. Or the adults trade off nights washing while the other has, say, bedtime story time with the kids. Or see if the kids are old enough to help with the task, which teaches them life skills, makes them a bigger part of the family, and possibly earns them allowance/extra allowance (which is a whole ‘nother money discussion).

7 Christi February 18, 2009

In the US, I would look into buying a used dishwasher. Our fridge is clearly precioulsy-loved, but it works fine and you can save a ton of money that way.

That said, I lived without a dishwasher for years and was fine. Maybe you can get around the hot water shortage by using a washing technique my grandparents used. They would fill a basin with warm soapy water to soak and wash the dishes in and then rinse them off all at once. This uses a lot less water than running the water while you wash each individual dish.

Good luck!

8 N. February 18, 2009

How about finding a good repairman who is capable to repair it? I bet that can be done, but if it cannot. then try to go without one and save money for it; do not use your fund..

9 Sarah H. February 18, 2009

My husband and I were recently discussing the possibility that our old dishwasher will stop working sometime soon. We decided to start saving for a new one now, but will also have the attitude that when our current one breaks, we do not need to rush out and replace it immediately. Since a dishwasher is not a necessity, we would be able to shop around and wait for a really great deal to come along.

Sarah H.´s last blog post..Grocery Shopping – Optimizing Your List

10 Francine February 18, 2009

It’s funny, the subject of dishwashers came up during Sunday lunch when we were talking about which appliances are a good idea to have. According to my husband a dishwasher uses less water and electricity than washing by hand (that is if it is rated A for water and electricity use). Of course that depends on how you wash dishes by hand, but consider that you’re using water, as well as electricity and gas to run the water heater (I’m assuming you have the typical kind of French water heater). So that is another consideration for deciding.

Francine´s last blog post..Take only photos

11 Tara February 18, 2009

We just bought a dish washer after living without one for over a decade. I actually really enjoy washing dishes but bur reason for buying one is that we were wasting too much water and heat washing the dishes by hand. We got a nice energy efficient model that was half off because it was a floor model and there was a scratch on the front (that my husband swiftly removed with nail polish remover) and I think it will ultimately save us money in the long run due to the cost of utilities. Washing by hand is more energy efficient (and frugal) than using an older machine but the new energy efficient models are vastly better than washing by hand.

Tara´s last blog post..Home

12 Craig February 18, 2009

I would put that as more of an emergency. Sure you can hand wash for some time, but you also will be using more time. The reason you establish an emergency fund is for breaks in major appliances.

13 Gabriel February 18, 2009

I think a lot of people have good advice. I especially like Ann’s idea to do the math and make sure that doing them by hand is actually a financially advantageous choice rather than assuming it is.

My first thought was to try hand-washing until you’ve saved up half the price of a dishwasher and take half from your emergency fund. In the meantime, look for floor models or used ones. Ugh, not a decision I would want to have to make right now.

Gabriel´s last blog post..Hypotheticals

14 Damien February 18, 2009

Who said you had to shell out 400 euros for a brand new dishwasher?
Try to find one in the classifieds, I’m sure you’ll find some used ones at half that price.

Damien´s last blog post..Perl blogs

15 Lucie @ Unconventional Origins February 18, 2009

Bummer Kelly!

I would not get a new one (ours broke a while ago as a matter of fact) but where I live hot water isn’t as much of a concern. I think in the end that’s too much money to take out because I would just hate to hear about a more serious emergency coming up!

If you do have to do by hand, wash with warm rinse all at once and pile to the side, then rinse off with cool. It helps save water and conserve water heat!

I am sure whatever you do will be the right choice for you family, though. Darn broken appliances!

16 chaotic kitten February 18, 2009

I think it’s not an emergency. I think dishwashers are a lot more prevalent in the US than they are here in the UK – most people don’t have one. It needn’t use much hot water up.
Just my thoughts!

chaotic kitten´s last blog post..Shopping

17 Leanne February 18, 2009

I know exactly how you feel. Our dishwasher died a while ago and my first instinct was to dip into our savings and rush out to get a new one so I didn’t have to *shock, horror* wash the dishes by hand.

My husband stopped my impulsive purchase by convincing me that a dishwasher isn’t a necessity, it’s a luxury. In the end, it was nearly 12 months before we bought a new one (one that we had specifically saved for).

Somedays I found washing the dishes by hand relaxing – a bit of time to myself to ponder my day. Other times it drove me crazy. But it never took more than 30 minutes in total out of my day (we also have 3 small kids). Stacking & unstacking the dishwasher a couple of times a day takes at least 15 minutes.

If you are running out of hot water, leaving the dishes for 15 or 20 minutes while it reheats isn’t going to do any harm. Alternatively, you could just boil the kettle to fill the sink…

Leanne´s last blog post..Holiday Hangover

18 Lisa February 19, 2009

So sorry Kelly! What about an instant-on water heater at the tap to wash dishes? Uses little energy. I’d forget the dishwasher. Use it to store stuff. The boys are old enough to take it over. I was about 8 when ours broke and my mom never did replace it. Nursing moms don’t need to sterilize bottles! Build up a fund and if you still want to buy one, fine. When I was a poor single mom all of my appliances were refurbished, they worked great at a tiny price. Just ugly colors. Bon chance!

Lisa´s last blog post..A New Day In America

19 Karen R February 19, 2009

No, I don’t think the dishwasher is an emergency. That being said, I would really miss mine if we were without it.

20 Kristy @ Master Your Card February 19, 2009

Personally, I don’t feel replacing a dishwasher constitutes using emergency funds, particularly when it leaves you vulnerable to other “real” emergencies. As you said in your argument against this, a dishwasher is a luxury item.

So, in your case, I would use washing the dishes as some alone time with your husband. Wait until you’ve put the kids to bed, or watching a movie, or reading a book (whatever you get your kids to do), then one of you wash while the other dries. Talk about your day, your goals, your plans, what challenges you’re facing, etc. If you’re doing this after baths and before yours and your husband’s shower, then the hot water shouldn’t be an issue. It can be done, you just have to plan for it.

Kristy @ Master Your Card´s last blog post..Watch Out For Economic Stimulus Scams!

21 Jane February 19, 2009

I believe a broken diswasher should not come out of the emergency fund. I agree with you with the funds being low after buying a new one what happens when a real emergency arises. Can you have it repaired? Buy a used one? Maybe you will like doing dishes. I gives time to think, reflect, about the day.

22 Amy February 19, 2009

I agree that a dishwasher is a luxury item. As convenient as they are, you can’t justify replacing it by dipping into your emergency fund. I say wash your dishes by hand and start saving up for a replacement.

As a woman who has been dishwasher free for the majority of her adult life, I have two bits of advice. First, make sure you rinse your dishes if they won’t be washed immediately. Second, stock up on some good hand lotion or a nice pair of rubber gloves. You’re going to need it!

23 rose February 19, 2009

I have a dishwasher and stopped using it several months ago. Dishwashers are touted as water savers but they use electricity too. I figured out it cost about $1 to $1.50 in electricity each time I used the thing, depending on the cycle. Throw in the items I had to rewash and it became apparent I would be ahead if I washed by hand. My electric bill dropped significantly. I now believe people use fuzzy math to justify buying one. It is a luxury item and there’s no shame in having one, so why rationalize it? Either have one or don’t, there’s no need for excuses. For us, with only 3 people in the house, washing dishes by hand isn’t a big deal. My sister does hers by hand as well. Says it’s a soothing ritual after the family meal. And really, you need to hold on to that emergency fund, at least until it gets big enough that buying another dishwasher won’t decimate it.

24 Leigh February 19, 2009

While being frugal means trying not to spend money, your time is also a cost to be factored in. If doing dishes takes away from family time, it’s worth the money to have even that 30 minutes back in my mind. Since I live in the US, I would go to my local home building supply store an take advantage of the 12 to 18 months no interest plans they have. I would then use that no interest time to save up the amount (or more) of the new dishwasher. (I don’t know if this can be done in the EU.) Buying this way means being VERY careful to not go over the promotion time. My husband and I either pay off a little each month or save the money and pay in full after 11 months (always a month early just in case). We only do this for “emergencies” like your dishwasher or for something to improve our lives. If you are not good at planning ahead and remembering you are still going to have to pay up, I don’t recommend this. We have friends who forgot about theirs and paid HUNDREDS in interest.

25 Kika February 19, 2009

Yes, we can survive without a dishwasher BUT it certainly helps our home run more smoothly. As a family of five we only run one full load/day versus hand washing perhaps three times/day without one? Still, I like the discipline of waiting for a time – even if just to scout out the best purchase option – before buying. This is a great exercise to help curb our “must buy now” attititude. It reminds me of when my (not-fancy) stereo broke the last time. Of course we can survive without music in the home but what a difference it makes to our overall happiness and state of well-being! Appliances do inevitably break down so this ought to be accounted for when laying out a budget.

26 Saver Queen February 19, 2009

Technically, this is not an emergency, just a big pain in the ass inconvenience, and something that is obviously important to you and your household. Emergencies are when someone becomes unemployed, and you need to cover your basic needs. Really, you should have a third pile of savings – for planned spending and stuff that just, well, happens. Since you knew it was on it’s way out you probably should have started saving for a new one in advance. Even if it was a total surprise however, it’s a good idea to have an additional savings account for major purchases, especially if you own a home or a car. You can use the EF fund anyway, or just save up for it (and maybe your strong desire for a new one will give you the incentive to do whatever you can to earn or save the extra money fast). But in the future, why not start saving for the next major purchase that will inevitably arise?

Saver Queen´s last blog post..How to get great scholarships

27 Becky February 20, 2009

I’ve never had a dishwasher since I got married (5+ years). While I’d love one, we can make do without. It seems to me that if you’re all gone all day, there may not be that many dishes anyway, but even if there are, it doesn’t have to take that long to wash. As for the hot water, if your hot water heater truly cannot handle an extra sink of hot water, heat it on the stove.

28 Scott @ The Passive Dad February 20, 2009

You could wash dishes by hand or you could look on craigslist or in a local paper for a good used dishwasher. Many people remodel homes and will giveaway or sell a perfectly good dishwasher. When my DW and I moved out of the city we had a portable dishwasher and sold it to a friend for $50. It was almost brand new and cost $350 retail. I’d go used and save the rest in our emergency fund.

Scott @ The Passive Dad´s last blog post..When Passive Income Ideas Turn Out To Be Active Income In Disguise

29 Dana @ Letters to Elijah February 20, 2009

I don’t own a dishwasher, so sorry, it’s NOT an emergency.

Dana @ Letters to Elijah´s last blog post..Creepy or Cool? you pick

30 Scott February 20, 2009

Have you looked into having your dishwasher repaired? That’s what we did.

Are DW needed a new motor which is about 1/3 the cost of new. I think it depends on how old your DW is.

Now, Is it an Emergency? I think that’s a personal decision. Some people can be without tv, some can not. Some need internet, some don’t.

Need vs. Want.

We washed dishes by hand for a while, but decided the time it was taking outweighed the cost. What is the value of your time and how much of your time is spent washing dishes?

However, Will you die without a dishwasher? probably not. not a true emergency like the furnace going out in the middle of a winter ice storm. Or the plumbing pipes bursting costing all sorts of damage.

Scott´s last blog post..Pick and Commit Time to Exercise, 10 minutes a day. Ground Hog Day 2009 Fitness Resolutions.

31 Jerry February 20, 2009

We’ve been living in Europe for several months now and I would not say that a broken dishwasher constitutes and emergency. We just moved to a new apartment that doesn’t have a dishwasher and we manage. It’s not easy especially if you have a big family, but you’re right, we’re very spoiled in the West. Adjusting and adapting can lead to good things, usually. Too bad they’re isn’t any dishwasher insurance 🙂 Best wishes!

32 Renee February 20, 2009

Our dishwasher broke down about 1 1/2 ago and I have no regrets about not replacing it. The best part is my 2 teenage daughters now know how to wash dishes properly, they don’t just rinse and put away in a dishwasher and press a button. Also, I have seen my water and electric bill reduced significantly. Also, the savings of not having to purchase dishwashing soap! We only use a drop or two of liquid soap for our dishes.

Renee´s last blog rich are you?

33 Jennifer @ Money Saver 101 February 22, 2009

Personally, I wouldn’t use the emergency fund for a dishwasher. I would save up specifically for the dishwasher for a little while and hold on to the emergency fund money. What if the furnace kicks out? What if a pipe bursts? What if you have an unexpected repair to make on your car? That’s how I look at it. Those things probably won’t happen, but you’ll be glad you have that money if something like that DOES happen.

You mentioned family time – sometimes doing chores together can be the best family time you can come up with. Doing the dishes with my husband is actually quite intimate. We have time to talk to each other. I sometimes do dishes with my 3 year old. He really likes to help.

Jennifer @ Money Saver 101´s last blog post..Discount & Free Prescriptions at

34 MommyK June 3, 2009

We had this exactly thing happen to us a few years ago. We didn’t find it wise to purchase a new one because we didn’t know what other more tragic “emergencies” might come up. So, we waited 18 months before we purchased a new one. Our emergency fund kept filling and depleting over and over and we felt it was never the best option. We finally got over $1000 in our emergency fund and decided to start shopping. We found a great deal for a $550 machine on sale for $400! We got a high-end machine that we couldn’t have purchased 18 months prior. I believe that was God’s way of rewarding our good decisions.

I would say, unless it is a TRUE emergency – a must-have car breaks down or a medical issue, etc. – that I would never deplete my emergency fund over it.

Currently my husband’s car does not have the air conditioning working. But, we have specific plans to save up for a new vehicle next year and until we go over our budget plans with additional income somewhere, we are not likely to fix it. He’ll live. =)

We also had our motors in our power windows break in our van this winter. We kept them up and taped the buttons so we wouldn’t use them. Now that Spring has come and the sun is hot, I do not do well in the car while pregnant. We decided instead of spending $777 on both the driver and passenger windows, we spent $400 on just the driver window so I was not car sick every time I drove.

It’s all about being smart with what you have.

MommyK\\\´s last blog post..Home-Study Completed

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