Last Friday, Greg and I were heading out of town for a short weekend trip with the kids.  We packed the car with two suitcases, a cooler full of food and drinks, and anything else that we could think of to keep a four-year-old and two-year-old happy for the four hour drive.  It was Greg’s birthday and we were super excited for our little weekend getaway.  So, we hit the road at about 3:00 p.m. and chatted excitedly as we prepared for our weekend full of fun.

(Don’t worry, folks.  We’re still on FALL FINANCIAL LOCKDOWN.  Our weekend trip was free!  I will be writing about it later this week.)

But, Greg’s 2009 Toyota Prius was sounding a little funny.  Then, all of the sudden, the dreaded check engine light turned on.  So, Greg pulled over to see if he could diagnose the problem.  Unfortunately, after lifting the hood, he remembered that he knows absolutely nothing about cars at all.  “It looks normal,” he said as I started to panic.  We were only about thirty minutes from home, and it was his birthday.  I didn’t want car trouble to ruin his special day or his weekend trip, so we decided to turn around and head for home.  Once there, we would just load all of our crap into my periwinkle minivan and be on our merry way.

But, we started having more problems.  As we made our way home, the air conditioning quit working.  Then the brake light kept coming off and on.  Then, the power steering went out.  And unfortunately, we were on a fairly busy highway without much of a shoulder to pull off on.  So, we kept going.

Getting Stranded

At a certain point, the car literally died and quit driving.  Fortunately, we were able to pull it in to a nearby cemetery as it totally gave out.  And, at this point, I had no idea what to do.  Our car was filled to the brim with things for our weekend trip and my two little kids only seemed annoyed with the entire situation.  Frustrated, I did what any adult would do in this situation.  I called my mom.

“Ummmm…  We’re stranded on the side of the road.  Can you pick us and all of our stuff up?”

My parents picked us up and I called a tow truck.  For $84, they agreed to tow our car to the nearest Toyota dealership about seven miles away.  We finally got home and unpacked and repacked the car again before heading on our way.  But, this time, we weren’t as carefree and excited as we were the first time that we left home.  This time we were stressed out about the cost of car repairs.

How Much Will This Cost?

Unfortunately, neither of us know much about cars at all.  But, we figured that something big had to be wrong, right?  After all, the air conditioning went out!  The power steering went out!  The car was beeping and flashing! 

Considering all that went wrong in the span of about ten minutes, I just assumed that it was going to be expensive.  “Let’s just assume that something big needs to be replaced and it will cost $5,000,” I said.  “Then, if it’s less, we’ll feel super relieved and happy.”

Greg and I agreed to assume it would cost $5,000.  And as we drove further from town, we also agreed to not stress about the car repairs for the rest of the weekend.  And, we didn’t.

This is why I’m glad I have an emergency fund.

There was a time when I would’ve totally freaked out if I thought we would have to pay $5,000 for a car repair.  Even as recent as five years ago, the repair could’ve wiped out a substantial part of our savings.  Fortunately, times have changed and we have a healthy emergency fund set up for this exact type of thing.  And, the truth is, $5,000 isn’t what it used to be.  At this point in my life, I’m incredibly thankful that we have an emergency fund set aside to deal with unfortunate events exactly like this one.

The Final Verdict

The Toyota dealership called Monday morning and I braced myself for the damage.  “I have good news and bad news,” said the guy from the dealership.  “The good news is that your entire problem is covered by a recent Toyota coolant pump recall.  The bad news is that you need new tires.”

We had been talking about getting new tired for months, so we made our peace with that expense right away.  And at the end of the day, I ended up paying $750 for four new tires, front and back alignment, a brake light replacement, new wiper blades, an oil change, and something else that I can’t remember.  And although I wasn’t thrilled about the entire situation, I was truly relieved that I didn’t have to hand over 5K.  Now that part of my emergency fund gets to live another day, and I feel like I just scored $4,250 in free money.  Woot!

Do you have an emergency fund?  If so, when has your emergency fund come in handy?