Give yourself credit: Why I bought my refrigerator (on credit)

refrigeratorIn May, I made a $900 impulse buy. But as it happens, that “impulse” was well thought-through.

The back story

Our house came with an older, off-white refrigerator that froze foods on the top shelves and leaked a river at the bottom. It stuck out 6″ into a narrow walkway, and from the living room, all you could see was a wall of white refrigerator.

We live one block from the grocery store, so we bought a small (9 cubic feet) refrigerator that matched our d├ęcor and our budget, but didn’t hold much. We figured it would be OK because we could go shopping more often.

As it turns out, I don’t like to go to the store more than once a week. And the little fridge wouldn’t level completely. Periodically, one of us would open the door only to have a jar of pickles tip out and smash on the ceramic tiles.

The beginning of the decision

Earlier this year, we talked about getting a new refrigerator. But to fit in our kitchen without further compromising the already-narrow walkways, we needed a counter-depth refrigerator.

Counter-depth refrigerators often cost upward of $1,800, allegedly because their cooling elements are internalized, making the appliance shallower. We decided we might have to go for it, and planned that later this year we would think about saving up for one.

The fateful day

In May, we were at Home Depot. I suggested we walk through the appliance department to see what they had there. Lo and behold, someone had returned a counter-depth black refrigerator with French doors on top and a freezer drawer on the bottom. Because it was “scratch and dent” (it did have a hairline scratch along the back of one side), it was on clearance for $885.

I wasn’t planning on spending cash we didn’t have right then. But saving $1,000 on something we were thinking of buying this year seemed like an awfully good deal. I came home, measured our kitchen, researched the product, and looked up a delivery service that could pick up the fridge the next day (the store wouldn’t deliver since it wasn’t at their warehouse).

The breakdown

Charging the purchase (it came to around $950 with tax) set us back on paying off our lone credit card — but only by a month or so. At our 12.24 percent interest rate, that month will cost us $10. Our total savings, therefore, on what we anticipated spending is still somewhere between $800 and $1,000.

If we stay in this house, we’ll have a new refrigerator (with an estimated annual energy cost of $43, according to EnergyStar ratings). The energy use is 94 kilowatt hours per year more than our old fridge (480 vs. 386, at more than twice the capacity), but we should about break even by unplugging the mini fridge (estimated at 100 to 150 kwh per year) we used for backup.

If we move (not in the works now, but you never know), we can either take the refrigerator with us or leave it to add about $1,000 in equity and appeal to our kitchen.

Was it worth it?

Overall, I’m pleased with the deal. We sold our old refrigerator for about what we had paid for it, which covered nearly one-third the cost. I wonder if I should have used emergency funds on this purchase rather than charging it — but for $10, I don’t think so.

A caveat: This charge-it-by-the-seat-of-your-pants strategy should only be used if you know you’re able to pay off the charge quickly. If you’re making minimum payments, not able to pay on time or worried where your next $20 is coming from, don’t do it.

And the reason I knew this was a good deal was that because I knew this purchase was coming up, I’d been paying attention to prices for several weeks. That made my impulse buy not really an impulse buy — just a bit of a surprise.