Goldilocks and Replacements: Preventive vs. Corrective


The other day I got home from work and noticed a small puddle in my garage. It had been raining all day, so my first reaction was to look for water coming in from the outside. There were no obvious signs of it coming from under the garage doors or leaking in from the ceiling. I noticed there was as small trail from the puddle that lead right to the baseboard at the base of the closet where our water heater is housed. Super. Actually, I consider myself pretty lucky that it was only a small trickle into the garage and not throughout the house. Things could’ve been a lot worse.

I’ll spare you from all the minutiae I’ve learned about water heaters in the past couple of days. However this experience has caused me to reflect on the debate of preventive vs. corrective maintenance and figuring out what is “juuuuuust right” for you and your budget.

When we bought our house a few years ago the inspector noted that our water heater and A/C units were a little long in the tooth. He recommended having them replaced before too long (preventive). The problem is these are expensive!! Being so costly makes us naturally want to eek out every last bit of value and letting them die before cutting that next, big check (corrective).

Not everyone has a house and has to worry about water heaters and A/C units, but there are certainly other items almost all of us have where have to make these preventive/corrective decisions that can greatly affect our budgets. Are you going to use something until it breaks? Or are you going to pay a little more and replace it early?


  • Oil/Fluids – If you wait until it is too late on these, you are likely in for some big repair bills. Then again, if you change oil more often than is required, you are theoretically throwing Jacksons to the wind. Don’t just follow whatever the the quick change dude put on that window sticker the last time you were there. Check your owners manual and follow the manufacturer’s recommendations. Your car’s other fluids don’t get changed nearly as often, but their levels should be checked regularly.
  • Tires – This is one I struggle with because tires are not cheap! Generally speaking the minimum, legal tread depth you can drive passenger cars with is 2/32 of an inch. However, as tread depth decreases the distance required to stop a car in wet conditions increases. Legally you can ride them all the way down to 2/32, but from a safety perspective do you want to? Again, if you replace them before the limit you are paying out more but are potentially protecting your car (the largest asset for many), not to mention yourself and others from potential bodily harm.
  • Buying New/Newer – People often cycle through cars as soon as their warranty runs out because they don’t want to pay for repairs or don’t have the time to deal with them–quintessentially preventive. Please, understand the cost that goes with this buying behavior (depreciation for one). If you are ok with it and your budget can handle it, then good on ya!


  • Yes, we should all be eating more fruits and veggies, exercising more, and cutting out all those butterfingers from our diets. But did you know most health insurance plans allow you an annual checkup with your doctor for free?! Some will even pay you to go (usually in the form of a gift card or credit). Don’t wait; it is free, and it is your body. You can’t just go out and buy a new one like my water heater.


  • How often are you cycling through phones and other electronics? Are you getting as much value out of them as you could/should?

Here are some (broad) things to consider when deciding whether to replace something before it is absolutely necessary:

Replace Early (Preventive) Wait ‘till it dies! (Corrective)
You can schedule a replacement when it is most convenient to you. Timing Not on your side; it needs to get fixed/replaced ASAP!
You’ve got time to do your own research and can wait for promotions. Researching/Deals You have to take what is available right then and there.
You’re going to pay a little (sometimes a lot) more for convenience. Maximizing Value You’re eking out every last penny!
You get to experience the latest and greatest. Perhaps paying more upfront for lower operating costs/energy savings. Technological Advancements Sticking with tried and true. “If it ain’t broke…”
Take advantage of latest innovations. Safety As long as it is still legal, you’re good.
You are keeping up with the Joneses, or maybe you are the Joneses?! Appearances Maybe a little threadbare, but that is what gives you character, right?!
Likely few to none. Additional, Costly Side-Effects? Water heater floods your house. Your car broke and it is hard to get to work. You don’t go to the doctor until that ingrown toenail requires full on surgery. Ew!
Not very. Eco-Friendly Mother Nature thanks you.

I’ve deliberately not given specific advice on when you should pay up and replace early or let it ride because it is different for everyone. We tend to let things ride in our household, but I’m not sure that will always be the case. Part of that is due to my (over?)confidence in my DIY skills, and a lot of it has to do with us accepting the financial risks that go with it.

When our downstairs A/C unit failed, my wife was VERY pregnant, and it was summer in Texas. Getting a replacement installed took multiple days; you can imagine our house was a little grumpy (understandably so!) during those days. Though our water heater leaked only a little into our garage, it could have been much, much worse if it had gone into other parts of our house and done some real damage.

In the end you need to be like Goldilocks and find what is just right for you and your budget: too soon and you’re wasting money; too late and it might cost you more in the end. It won’t be the same for every item.

Too often people ignore these things and only deal with them when they break. In the end I hope that people realize that deciding to ignore is a decision itself with potentially big financial implications. Instead, I hope others will take the time to understand the pros and cons and make an educated decision. That still might be to go till something breaks, but hopefully you will be a little more financially prepared when it does. What do you replace early? What do you let ride?

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  • Reply Brooke December 19, 2016 at 3:00 pm

    Water heater – it depends where it’s located. In our old house it was in the garage (inconvenient if it goes out, but not likely to cause much damage). In our current house it’s in an upstairs closet – a lot more potential for damage if it starts leaking.

    Furnace – is it gas or electric? Gas means a cracked furnace could cause carbon monoxide poisoning – I’d be inclined to replace earlier. Electric – wait till it dies. But, all of that depends on how hot/cold it can get in your area, and if you have places to go if it dies on the hottest or coldest day of the year.

  • Reply Centsai December 28, 2016 at 10:42 am

    This was a great article, and when it comes to choosing preventive vs corrective measures, there is no right answer! It all depends on the situation and what you decide as an individual. Both options have pros and cons and I love how you made a reference to the Goldilocks! It may have just been if the porridge was too hot or too cold, or how hard or soft the bed was for Goldilocks, but for us, it may end up costing us a lot of money! So moral of this long message, is to research and figure out what works best for you.

    Wishing you a happy new year from the Centsai team!

  • Reply Stephen January 6, 2017 at 9:28 pm

    Great chart comparing preventative and corrective maintenance. Puts things into a different perspective and stays simple. Well done!

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