Broken hose pipe

How to Stop Leaky Spending

Last week, Mr. T turned on the outside hose for the first time this spring. The water trickled out. After some sleuthing, we realized the pipe had burst and as soon as Mr. T turned on the hose, the water started going in the (newly insulated and beautiful) crawlspace! Upon seeing the water all over, my first reaction was “SAVE THE STUFF!” I mean, that insulation was not cheap. And the boxes sitting in the water weren’t going to save themselves! Mr. T looked at me and said: “First we have to stop the leak.” He’s so sensible. That’s why I married him. Obviously. He made an excellent point. The order matters! 

  1. Stop the Leak – Before you can do anything else, the water needs to be stopped! It’s not going to do any good bailing the water out if it’s still coming in! Your first thought may be “turn off the water!” That will stop the leak, alright, but if you haven’t figured out where it’s coming from, it will just start leaking again when you need to take a shower! Taking drastic measures to stop yourself from spending money can backfire. It doesn’t always lead to productive spending habits because it doesn’t identify the root of the problem. Once we found the burst pipe, we could safely turn off the water for a short period of time and come up with a plan to tackle the rest before turning it back on. Identify your weaknesses first. Why do you spend? When do you spend? What spending do you feel guilty about?
  2. Assess the Damage – Once the leak was identified and the water was shut off, we had to prioritize the damage and figure out what to save first. This is the equivalent of tracking your spending and knowing your real debt numbers. If you don’t know how much debt you have or how long it will realistically take to get out, you won’t be able to save anything.
  3. Clean up the Mess – We borrowed a pump from our neighbor and got to work with the kids’ sand buckets and shovels getting the water out. This took work and was messy. We got wet and gross. But the work had to be done. If you really want to see a change in your finances, you have to be willing to get dirty and clean up the mess. I recommend consolidating your billpay dates as a way to simplify. Automate as much as possible so you can see an impact in your debt repayment/savings balance without ever missing the money. And figure out what other messes need to be cleaned up.
  4. Fix the Leak – In our case, this meant ripping the spigot out of the wall–pipe and all–and putting in a whole new one. Maybe your fix is minor. Maybe it will take something as drastic. This work is tricky, but not as dirty. When you’ve cleaned up the mess, the impact of your leaky spending will be fresh in your mind. That is the best time to fix the leak!
  5. Don’t Make the Same Mistake Again – We stupidly left the hose attached to the spigot all winter. You can bet we won’t be letting that happen again. Make sure that once you’ve done all that work, you don’t let it all happen again. Leaks will inevitably spring up elsewhere, but once you’ve handled a big one, the small ones will be easier to identify and stop!

I’m glad we had all the plastic down from doing the energy rebate program. It made clean-up way easier than if it was a muddy mess down there! We really only lost a few batts of insulation and about 8 hours of our time. It could have been way worse, so we’re grateful we caught it right away and were able to solve the problem. I don’t wish a burst pipe on anyone! Especially financial ones! 🙂


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  1. Love those sensible husbands! 🙂 And ugh — sorry about your burst pipe! I assume you have the kind of outdoor spigots that don’t have to be winterized — that’s what we have here, and I’m SO grateful that it’s one less thing to think about in the fall. And as for the object lesson, YES. We’re still working on fixing all those leaks, but we’ve dealt with a lot of them! Just gotta keep going…

    • MaggieBanks

      We all have those leaks. And I know that. It was the order I never really thought about. When you want to tackle your finances, you want to do it FOR GOOD and do ALL THE THINGS! But it just isn’t sensible to do it in the wrong order. And yes, Mr. T is the most sensible of all the sensible husbands.

  2. That reminds me of when I snapped a hose under our kitchen sink 2 weeks after moving in. It broke right behind the shutoff valve, but since this was a new house, and I wasn’t intimate with the plumbing yet, I tried shutting off the other 3 valves under the sink, all the while being blasted in the face with a 1/2″ jet of water. When that failed I ran to the garage grabbed a wrench and ran out front to shut the water off. Fortunately, it was all tile floor on the main, and we corralled it with every sheet, towel, and blanket we could find while I vacuumed it all up. 🙂

    Like your metaphor, we had to find our leaks and fix them before we got on the FIRE path. Our biggest one was just errant spending, but we also identified target and costco as big money sucks. We quit costco, and cut target trips down to once a month, list only, and now go maybe every other month if at all. It really slowed that ridiculous outlfow of money that freed it up for saving. Yeah!!

    • MaggieBanks

      I’m so glad your story involved you being blasted in the face like a movie! It would have been so disappointing otherwise! 🙂 I hear people cutting out Costco and it completely blows my mind. In Alaska, if anything is at Costco it is either the same price or LESS than the grocery store for a much larger container. We look for everything there first. When Costco came up in the 80s, it drove grocery prices way way down up here. Alaska’s weird.

      • We found that our local grocer, wal-mart, and even Target (gasp!) were hitting the same price points or less as the stuff we would buy at costco. At least for us, it wasn’t worth it.

        I didn’t mention that at the beginning of that whole water blast scene I was shouting – “Call serv-pro! Call Serv-pro!!” Very cool headed… I was imagining it was going to be way worse than it turned out to be – probably influenced by the stream of water in my face, lol.

        • MaggieBanks

          Oh I’m so glad to hear you’re about as cool-headed as me. 🙂

  3. You’re always coming up with such great analogies! Sorry about the leak, but it did lead to a great post about spending. We’re still cleaning up our mess, and it’s going to take a while because of how long the water was allowed to leak. But I can definitely say that we won’t let those leaks happen again.

    • MaggieBanks

      Luckily ours was a one day ordeal. We turned on the hose, the water started blasting into the crawlspace, we realized in about five minutes, and then spent the rest of the day cleaning up all that water (5 minutes of hose water ends up being a lot!)

  4. I would have been right there with you and screamed “save the stuff!”. But fixing the leak is obviously the most important. Sometimes I forget the simple and necessary because I’m focusing on the future. Meanwhile have you seen “wife with nail in head” on Youtube? My boss asks us “Do you want me to listen or do you want me to fix it?” lol

    I love the analogy you drew between this incident and our financial lives. That slow leak may not seem like a huge problem but down the road there will be some mighty expensive consequences. It’s best to fix the leak now. Thanks for the thought provoking article!

    • MaggieBanks

      I love that video! So hilarious! And it wasn’t a slow leak. It was spurting out! But luckily we caught it quickly. (That’s why it was so obvious we should fix the leak first. But even as the water was blasting out, I was saying “Save the stuff!”)

  5. Last year our well pipe burst and leaked hundreds of gallons of water into an unfinished crawlspace… fortunately (can I even say that?) it was winter, so the air was dry (silver linings?). We pumped out the water that we could, cleaned it up, and rented some fans and a dehumidifier to dry it out. Ugh… and then we had to replace the pipe. Not pretty. 🙂

    • MaggieBanks

      Ours is an unfinished crawlspace as well, but we just made it all energy efficient this summer, so it has plastic down taped high up the walls, so it wasn’t a muddy mess. Luckily!

  6. Take a look at the bright side: A very nice story to tell, a good lessons learned and a nice analogy with personal finance.

    I do hope all is fine now and there is not too much damage!

    • MaggieBanks

      It was mostly annoying and a waste of a perfectly good day off. 🙂 Other than that, not much damage and definitely way better than it could have been!

  7. Eight hours work is a lot to devote to a blog post! Sounds like a real mess. Our slow financial leak is the amount of money we pay for screens – cable TV, Internet, and cell phones. Many thousands of dollars a year.

    • MaggieBanks

      All the time I spent bailing, I thought: “There’s a blog post in this!” And yes, our telecommunications are through the roof and we have the cheapest options and no cable!

  8. Stop the leak first. Sound advice for any situation. Plumbing can be so much fun can’t it? Sounds like it could have been much worse, glad it wasn’t, and rewarding to have the whole family pitch in to make it better.

    • MaggieBanks

      I know, right? Mr. T is so wise. And it definitely could have been way worse! We lucked out!

  9. Haha what a fun analogy. I’m glad everything turned out okay in the end, good job for using your heads. if it had been a lot worse there might have been a “This is why we have an emergency fund” post.

    At the moment our pipes are fine (a bit small for our liking) but no leaks. We’re just using most of our water to put out an IVF baby fire before we can use our water properly. Does that analogy still work?


    • MaggieBanks

      Ha ha ha. “if it had been a lot worse there might have been a ‘this is why we have an emergency fund’ post” I love it! Not sure on the IVF baby fire analogy. 🙂 You’re hilarious today!

  10. What a great analogy! I know we have plugged a few leaks pretty well. Others are taking time. It’s easy ignore some of them – but then your feet do eventually get wet!

    • MaggieBanks

      So true! It seems unlike a pipe, there are always financial leaks!

  11. J

    I love this analogy! It fits the fundamentals of personal finance so perfectly! I think this is why most of us found success in bettering our finances after tracking our expenses — our spreadsheets were too honest and showed us exactly where it was leaking. 🙂

    Also, sorry about your burst pipe, I’m glad you had it all sorted out. I’ve never had the same problem but I once flooded my cousin’s house while doing the washing because the water pipe disconnected from the washing machine while it was running. We all laugh about it now but I can still feel the terror every time we talk about it. It happened when I just got here in Australia and while I was home alone, so yeah, it was scary. Haha!

    • MaggieBanks

      OH my goodness! That sounds like a horror story! Ours was darn annoying and put us out a few batts of insulation and around $100 to replace the pipe, etc. But definitely could have been way worse!

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