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The High Cost of Maintenance


Every day we're fighting entropy, the tendency in the universe for things to fly into chaos. This includes financial disorganization, as well. Part of getting your finances in order is preparing for the inevitable -- maintenance costs.

Of what? Well, of everything. Every day we’re fighting entropy, the tendency in the universe for things to fly into chaos. This includes financial disorganization, as well. Take your home, which you carefully did the math on to make sure that you could afford the down payment, the monthly mortgage, and the taxes. Did you figure in the 1-2% annual cost of the house’s price in keeping up the place? Not any potential remodel or upgrade, just the cost of maintaining the status quo can easily run into 5 figures a year.

You know: landscape upkeep, housecleaning, painting, pest control, and replacement of, well, everything. Maintenance costs.

My realtor has a great euphemism for letting it all slide for years until you sell your house; “deferred maintenance.” Which term does not even begin to imply the surprise, the cost, and the pain of finding out the result of kicking the can down the road instead of dealing with things on a regular basis when the costs are dramatically less. When you sell your house you pay the price, either in cash and time and effort to resurrect the old place, or in a diminished selling price with our modern “full disclosure” requirement. Maintenance costs.

There used to be a great ad for the Fram oil filter company which graphically displayed a smoking car with the tagline “You can pay me now or you can pay me later.” Maintenance costs.

Cars, by the way, are a partial exception in that they have gotten much more reliable and low maintenance over the years. Still, service is required, oil and tires, for example, and those are about the only things that you can still do yourself, if you have a mind to. But if you look at Consumer Reports and suchlike, you might be astonished at the real-world cost of maintaining cars, high-end models particularly. Which some of us docs do prefer. What we are often in denial about includes $100-per-hour mechanics, thousands in insurance and $4-a-gallon gas. Just a reminder the next time you fantasize about that prestigious 2015 zoommobile. Maintenance costs.

Our health is another example where maintenance is critical that will quickly come to everyone’s mind, especially docs. And especially if you are in primary care where you spend a lot of time preaching the gospel of prevention. Avoidance of drugs, tobacco, and alcohol alone may save many thousands up front, while good nutrition and daily exercise don’t need to cost a dime extra. And the money you save in reduced health expenses later on alone can be huge. Amen, preaching to the choir….

Another obvious example in the health field is dental care. Flossing, brushing and dental visits over a lifetime are a considerable investment in time and money. Yet who could rationally argue that the alternative is “cheaper?” Yes, maintenance costs, but….

When it comes to your business, your medical practice, the high cost of maintenance is subsumed under “ordinary and necessary” in your 1040 and can be written off. So we blithely write the checks, sometimes rationalizing our inattentiveness and our impulsive spending and move on. Uncle Sam is footing part of the bill, right? That attitude can be very expensive. You can’t tell me otherwise, because, mea culpa, I have done it, too. Maintenance costs, but, then again, in the end, as we have seen, not as much as no maintenance.

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Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice
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