Why Bad Things Happen in Threes (or Fours)?

Why Bad Things Happen in Threes

Hello Swanigans! Welcome back and thanks for stopping by. Today I’m trying to figure out why bad things happen in threes…and sometimes fours. We’ve all heard the statement before and surely you have experienced it yourself. Isn’t it awful? Having one bad thing happen can make you feel unlucky, but three things in succession…well that can make you feel like the world is against you!

As you know from recent posts, I disregard advice from many financial experts and maintain a fairly aggressive stance toward managing my emergency fund. And by that I mean I maintain as little as possible and instead rely on Emergency Fund Alternatives. Over the last 10+ years this approach has never failed me, but that doesn’t mean my emergency fund / alternatives get utilized to an extent. While it may be the financial gods trying to stomp out my personal finance rebellion, ever since I detailed my stance on emergency funds I’ve hit a string of bad luck…

The TV!

That’s what I’m going through right now, a string of bad luck! The first thing that went wrong was when my TV started to malfunction. If you read that post, you could probably tell I was bit upset. A nice, relatively new (a 5 year old TV still seems new to me) TV giving out was certainly a surprise and a bummer!

The Windshield

Then, just a few weeks after the TV, my wife was driving home from an appointment along a road that was undergoing construction. And wouldn’t you know, a rock bounces up and smokes the windshield leaving a chip and small crack (about the size of an inch). When I first saw it I was bummed, it was our new SUV and I hated seeing something like that happen to it already. But I thought at least it didn’t crack the whole windshield and we could fill it with the glass resin rather than replace the whole thing (approximately $60 rather than a few hundred) .

So I scheduled a local glass repair company come out the next day to see if they could fill it with the resin. They took one look at and said it was going to be tough and they’ll have a hard time getting the resin to fill in all the way to the end (but it was only an inch big!!!). Also, there was a risk in trying to fill it with the resin because the pressure put on the glass may cause it to crack further. I told them to give it a try, but sure enough all of a sudden I heard a pop sound and the windshield had splintered further!

Boom…not fixable…now requiring a full replacement…costs jumped a few hundred bucks! Tough luck, eh?

So that was the second in a string of bad luck, what will be the third (fourth…)?

The Toilet

Why Bad Things Happen in Threes

I am by no means a plumber and although I love trying my hand at random DIY projects, nothing comes natural to me. But why not give it a shot, huh?

It all started a few months ago, I noticed the downstairs toilet sounded like there was a bit of a drip. There was nothing noticeable, no water accumulation or anything like that. Almost as if it is was still running, but not a full and constant run, just a slight drip. Sorry, that’s the best I can describe it…

So what did I do about it? I did what every non-plumber would do…I ignored it and hoped it would go away. Well it didn’t. The next water bill came and I noticed it was about $10-$15 higher than normal. I thought well it could be a slight, constant drip from the toilet that has accumulated to the higher bill, but we also had company over a few nights so maybe it was the extra shower use, etc…

So what did I do about it? I don’t want to sound too much like a broken record, but I ignored it and hoped it would go away. Next month…boom, the water bill almost doubled! When I saw that I went immediately to the toilet and turned the water off at the source (and sure enough the dripping noise stopped). I know what you’re thinking right now, why the H*** did I wait so long and what did I think was going to happen?! I asked myself the same thing…and so did my wife…

Why Bad Things Happen in Threes

And that was third item in the string of bad luck. But wait, it gets better…I called a plumber in Los Angeles and after describing the situation he estimated it would cost about $125 in parts and labor. Really!? Couldn’t I buy a replacement toilet for that much!?

That’s where the DIY comes in…YouTube gave me some quick guidance and Amazon sold me the parts for $10. So fortunately I was able to fix this one with just a few more bucks and some sweat equity.

And the Fourth…

I had this post mostly written when the fourth item came along. I’m sad to report Lucy’s Grandpa has taken turn for the worse and has been transitioned to hospice care in his nursing home. He’s been suffering from Parkinson’s for years, but unfortunately it has progressed recently. He has been taken off his normal medication and hospice is now comforting him. While he is quite old and the family all new time wasn’t on his side, I imagine it will be very hard for them all, especially for Lucy’s Mom and Grandma.

Lucy flew home to spend a couple days with Grandpa. And we expect to all be flying back home again soon for a service. It is sad just writing this, but I hope I won’t be bringing sad news onto the blog often. Thanks for putting up with it.

My Lessons Learned

  • I learned a couple lessons coming out of all this. First, in the wise words of Forrest Gump, “S*** happens”.

Why Bad Things Happen in Threes

  • Secondly, a lesson I shouldn’t have to learn more than once, don’t ignore problems like the toilet…they never fix themselves!
  • And lastly, it reinforces to me why it is so important to be frugal and cost conscious on anything and everything within our power. My wife and I constantly look for new ways to save money and are always price shopping. All the savings we accrue either help build our retirement accounts or go toward the surprise expenses we can’t control or anticipate. While it stings paying thousands of dollars in repairs and expenses for the three four situations above, knowing we skimp and save wherever possible helps take some of the sting out.

How’d We Pay

In the last two weeks, I detailed my approach to managing my emergency fund and my alternatives to emergency funds. My approach is not conventional, and it is actually in stark contrast to the preaching of Dave Ramsey. At the time I was writing those, I certainly wasn’t expecting so many surprise expenses popping up to put my emergency fund plans in action. Maybe Dave Ramsey and the personal finance gods were trying to tell me something?

Some of the common reasons why emergency funds are important were listed in my recent posts including home repair, car repair, medical care and job loss. One that I did not include, but thought about at the time, was emergency travel. Out of these five, I am a bit shocked that we experienced three of them in the last month or so!

All told, the expenses will easily be a couple thousand dollars. We have been able to put all these charges on our credit card and cash flow enough to pay it off in full when due. Lucy’s flight was booked with credit card reward points. When we all fly back again (likely soon, but we’ll see) we will need to buy three tickets with the credit card (no more rewards available right now). And yes, three tickets, the little guy is over two years old and he will need his own seat now.


Have you had a similar string of bad luck with your personal finances? How did you manage to cope? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Thanks for taking a look!

The Green Swan

Work Harder, Work Smarter, Retire Earlier and Find Your Beach







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  1. Hey there Green Swan. Sorry to hear Grandpa is not good. The outcome doesn’t sound promising so please pass on my best wishes.

    On the subject of ‘just ignore it and it’ll go away’. Now tell me, when did that ever work for anything that needed fixing? I ask you. But isn’t a great feeling when you grab a few tools, get some cheap parts in, whats a YouTube video or two and fix it yourself.

    I have learnt so many new home renovation skills from YouTube including plastering, wallpaper hanging, many repair and even replaced the battery in my iPhone the other day for 11-bucks.

    So hopefully, your run of bad luck is over and you go back to working on better things.

    1. Oh I know Martin! Bad idea to ignore it, I guess I was just dreading the issue. It was a relief being able to fix it myself though!

      I need to keep developing my confidence in DIY and YouTube has been a great solution. It’s easier hiring it done, but rolling up the sleeves and fixing it myself was a proud moment!

  2. That is a rough couple of weeks, but it does always seem to happen that way. And very sorry to hear about your Grandpa too. My dad turns 86 today and we know each day makes it closer to a time we’d rather not think about. Last week we had an air conditioner go out at a rental unit (it’s been much hotter than normal in our area). We ordered a new one and before my husband installed it, another tenant called with the same problem. That’s a big issue when you have appliances all around the same age too. Once one goes…they seem to all go. Another good reason to have at least a small emergency fund. And yes, travel for medical or emergencies is definitely costly and not always well planned for.

    1. That’s a bummer with the AC units, those aren’t cheap at all. My neighbors up the street have very old units that are starting to go on them… They are hoping to make it through summer before having to buy replacements.

      I bet that saved a bit by installing it yourself though. Sounds like a difficult DIY project for me!

  3. So far, nothing too crazy from a financial bad luck situation, but last year, we had the garage springs break and trap both cars in the garage on a friday afternoon and I was the solo parent for the weekend. To find someone that could get out there and fix it prior to it turning into a “weekend/overtime” charge still ran close to $400 once I replaced both of the springs.

    Then a few weeks later, the AC overflow started dripping. After youtubing some solutions and still not being able to fix it we called a plumber and they “fixed it” for about $350. However, a few days later it started up again, and this time I really fixed it by taking a hacksaw to our overflow pipes in the one section he couldn’t access. Problem solved. 🙂

    That month was capped off by a leaking condenser in our AC that got replaced to the tune of $7k, so I hear you about “the three’s.”

    As far as the windshield chip, when I got my first ever new car, a 2010 Camaro, it wasn’t 4 days before a rock put a dime sized chip in the windshield. I got it “resined” but over the whole next 3 years, I never got another chip. It was so disappointing thinking, “Can’t I have something nice for longer than 4 days without it getting wrecked, lol?”

    1. Wow those are some pretty big repairs as well! It’s a shame bad things have to come in threes!

      I swear that’s the thing with new stuff, it never stays new long no matter how hard you try. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Sorry to hear your news about Grandpa. No problem here ‘putting up’ with your bad news.
    Mr. PIE and I are not the handiest around the house but we’re getting better. However for some reason toilets are our specialty! Not long ago we had all 3 toilets in the house with drips and runs (yes, some had bee ignored for a while) and we completely replaced their innards in one day! It involved a hack saw and some swearing – but a fraction of the price for a plumber

    1. Nice handyman work! Getting the hacksaw out sounds a bit daring but I’ve found with the help of YouTube many repairs are possible. After my toilet project I definitely have more confidence in DIY.

  5. Sorry about Grandpa. Parkinson’s is a tough illness.
    Yeap, toilets are not that hard to deal with. It’s much cheaper to DIY than to hire a plumber. I’ll save that for problems with the pipes.
    I don’t know why troubles come in bunches. We replaced a few small appliances last month. They seem to all wore out at the same time. strange…

    1. Thanks Joe. He’s put up with it pretty well for quite some time now so that’s been a blessing.

      I used to be pretty afraid of touching anything plumbing, hence I put it off for so long, but now I realize it’s not too scary.

      Yeah that’s a bummer, always good to have a bit of a cushion for these times. I know our water heater is getting old too so I wonder how much time it has left (knock on wood!).

      Thanks for sharing, Joe.

  6. Yikes! Sorry to hear that Murphey has moved in… I bet Dave Ramsey sent his associates to wreck this havoc on you after your last post. 😉

    Thankfully, we’ve had a stretch of about 6 months without any major problems (insert serious knocking on wood)!

    1. Yeah Mr Ramsey is out to get me now!

      Hopefully your period of no surprises keeps up, I’m knocking on wood on your behalf as well! Thanks Preston!

  7. So sorry about your wife’s grandfather. That’s a tough situation, and yeah, emergency travel can take a real bite. I’m glad that for us, everyone lives within an hour or two.

    Hubby has had to go fix the toilet in our out of town rental 3 times in the last month. He also just had to replace windows and fix a ceiling fan in our in-town rental. While it’s all tax-deductible, it’s still a burden on cash flow and time.

    1. Yeah the regular and unexpected trips home was something we considered when we moved so far away. At times we do miss the convenience of a quick drive home.

      3 fixes to the toilet in a month! Wonder what the tenants are doing to it!

      Yeah I could see that as being a major time burden. He must be really handy or a quick learner on the fly. At least diy will save a bit of money too. Thanks for sharing, Jane.

  8. So sorry to hear about Grandpa. No matter what, it’s never easy. I wish you all the best and think it’s great Lucy was able to go visit.

    It does seem like unexpected expenses all pop up at the same time. Since I’m considering cutting my emergency fund down significantly, I am glad to hear you guys were able to float it on the credit cards and cover it. Probably what we would do too.

    1. Thanks Amanda. Lucy had a very nice visit, it was definitely a blessing for her to make it back home.

      Bad things do seem to come in waves, but I think it’s helpful to analyze how much we actually need set aside. I think for most people it’s less than the recommended. Thanks again!

  9. Sorry to hear about your grandpa and the unexpected expenses you incurred recently. While some people may say this is exactly why you need an emergency fund I think you just proved that you can easily float the cost on a credit card, while getting rewards, and just pay the bill at the end of the month.
    It also showed that knowing some DIY skills can save a lot of money! Thank god for YouTube and other methods of learning how to do some of the simpler fixes around the house.

    1. Thanks Stefan. Yes, fortunately none of them broke the bank so I’ll live to fight another day.

      And if I can DIY and save money anyone can!

  10. Do bad things happen in 3’s or do we just notice them as a grouping?
    Best of luck for a smooth transition with Grandpa. It’s never easy.
    I’ve had windshields replaced on all of my vehicles. Emergency fund for the win! Stupid rocks for the lose. 🙁

  11. I did the same thing with a leaky toilet in our old house, I put it off longer than you did and it ended up requiring a plumber and a more expensive bill!

    That was my first and only lesson in don’t mess with any water leaks in a house, the damage they do that you don’t see is tough to fix down the road.

    Sorry to hear about the illness, never an easy thing to deal with

  12. Sorry to hear about Grandpa… even when it is known, it always is hard to see the situation go bad.

    Same hear on needing to get the same lesson a few time. Procrastination is a hobby of a lot of people. Out toilet also has a small leakage problem… I might need to take care after that when back from holiday.

    In cases like this, it is good to spend less than you earn and have cash on the site to take immediate action.

    1. It’s surprising how common toilet repairs seem to be, just based on the many comments. Best of luck in getting yours repaired! Thanks for the condolences, Amber Tree.

  13. One thing I wanted to add about insurance and windshield replacements for anyone that might need it. We had to get ours replaced and it counted against our normal comprehensive deductible which was a couple hundred dollars. I checked with my insurance after the fact and they had a $50 deductible windshield replacement policy that only added a couple bucks to our insurance policy. I really wish I would have known about it before. Luckily, we have not had to get the windshield replaced again but when we do, it should be cheaper at least. It reminds me of the gap coverage insurance you can get from the dealership when buying a car but it is so much cheaper to get it from your insurance provider instead.

    1. Nice tip, thanks so much for sharing CJ! I did get in touch with my agent about that but must not have had the same windshield provision as you do because he said it would count against our normal deductible which I believe is $500. Thanks for the comment!

  14. I definitely understand where you are coming from on your emergency fund philosophy, but most of this stuff falls in the category to me of not-quite-emergency. This is all stuff we would cover in our life happens fund, which is just a pot of cash we keep for exactly this kind of stuff. Imagine if this all happened when the markets were down, or when you didn’t have rewards points… You could be forced to sell investment at a bad price when you don’t want to. So keeping a little cash around isn’t so bad. 😉 Sorry to hear about Lucy’s grandfather. Sending you guys warm wishes at this tough time. 🙁

    1. Thanks ONL. Fortunately we maintain a set of “emergency fund alternatives” even before we’d need to liquidate funds. That would be a worst case scenario, but we factor that into our consideration when we established or liquidity reserve along with corresponding opportunity costs. Never had to get that far yet, ten years strong, and knock on wood we won’t have to ever.

      We really appreciate the warm wishes, ONL, thanks for stopping by!

  15. The overnight guests weren’t named Murphy, by chance, were they? Sorry, poor Dave Ramsey joke. 🙂

    I’m really sorry to hear the news about Lucy’s grandfather. My grandma was in a similar state last month, and though the entire family braced for the worst, she has made a remarkable recovery that astonished even her team of doctors.

    My parents firmly believe that bad things happen in threes, and it seems to be true in their case. I have always thought that failing to plan is planning to fail, so I strive to be prepared for the worst. Like you, my emergency fund is pretty small currently. Ideally, I would like to build it up to around 2 months of living expenses, but that isn’t entirely necessary in our situation. My wife’s piano studio nearly brings in as much income as her day job, and with any luck, my two newer side jobs (financial consulting and real estate) should bring in more than my day job salary in a few months. All in all, we are in position to cash flow emergencies or float unexpected expenses on our credit card for a few weeks at a time.

    1. Ha that’s a good one, FS!

      That’s great to hear about your grandma! We’ll see, maybe grandpa will make a similar bounce back. Depends on how the disease progresses now that he’s off the regular meds. I’m not really sure what to expect but we are similarly all bracing for the worst.

      That’s pretty impressive the number of side incomes you guys are bringing in. While still maintaining a FIRE lifestyle with low expenses, it should give you tremendous flexibility. Great work and keep it up! Thanks for sharing, FS.

  16. First of all, I’m very sorry to hear about Lucy’s Grandpa, that’s a difficult thing to work through.

    Otherwise, good job on tackling that toilet project! With YouTube and Home Depot, there are few things a determined do-it-yourselfer cannot handle! Nothing you could do about a windshield and TV though.

    I’ve learned that a little diy and common sense goes a long way!

    1. Thanks Jon, I appreciate that.

      That was definitely a DIY success and I have more confidence for the next DIY test that may cone along, although hopefully I have some time. Thanks for stopping by Jon!

  17. Sorry to hear about Lucy’s grandpa JW. Luckily, I haven’t had a string of expenses come up quickly like that yet. Well done being able to handle all the expenses though. I did have a rock hit my windshield a couple months back and actually got a $12 DIY kit and filled the crack myself. Looks as if nothing was ever there. I gotta thank Amazon and YouTube as well!

    1. Thanks Dollar Engineer, appreciate it!

      Wow, filled the crack yourself, huh? Solid work! Lesson learned for me… More things can be potentially DIY projects than expected and that needs to be my default answer for any project going forward. Thanks for sharing!

  18. I’m not overly superstitious but it does seem like bad events come in threes. Especially at my former employer. I worked in the transportation industry and it seemed like it would be quiet for an extended period of time than three separate yet similar incidents that required lots of paperwork would occur within a span of two or three weeks.

    1. Wow that’s pretty incredible, I’d be superstitious after that! A good reminder to not get too comfortable, huh? One minute all is well, next minute it’s a complete 180 turn.

      Thanks for stopping by, Josh!

  19. Hey JW, sorry to hear about the sad family news – I’m glad you have a whole blog community you can ‘talk’ to and who can support you if there’s anything we can do :).

    Our July has also been expensive for us, for new projects and for annual bills – but we had the cash ready to go. So that worked for us too 🙂 I guess it just goes to show that both methods work fine. I’m glad for you guys that everything is easily covered.


    1. Yeah thanks Tristan, it is nice to hear everyone’s kind words and Lucy appreciates it as well.

      Glad you were well prepared for your expensive month as well. Thanks for stopping by Tristan.

  20. JW,

    3 weeks after purchasing a car, a rock chip hit my windshield. About a 0.5 inch chip. But since it was too close to the edge, they had to replace the entire thing, so I definitely know the feeling.

    The times when I need to dip into the emergency fund are when my beliefs in financial education and independence are reinforced the most. To be able to take care of the unexpected quickly without worrying where the money will come from is a great feeling. It is interesting timing these events occurred during your recent posts on the emergency fund. I’m sorry to hear the bad family news.

    1. What a bummer, John! The circumstances are just rotten luck for that to happen.

      Yeah that’s true, it’s nice having the financial stability to be able to still get by fine. Quite ironic with the recent emergency fund posts!

      Thanks John.

  21. It does seem like bad things come in batches, but so do good things! This just means you’re in for a new batch of good news (fingers crossed!).

    I had a pretty expensive few months when I moved from England to Spain. The move ended up being way more expensive that I had initially anticipated, so that was a blow to the emergency fund. Then, a few months later I was laid off from my fairly new job! SO HAPPY to have had savings – I have “past me” to thank for that!

    1. I love the optimism, I’m definitely due for some good news!

      What a bummer with the move to Spain and then the job! Hope you had some good news to follow that up as well. Thanks for sharing Ricard.

  22. JW, so sorry to hear about Lucy’s Grandpa. Makes our problems seem so much more insignificant, doesn’t it.

    I will say though, if you lived in Montana (although I’m not sure what state you live in currently? 🙂 , you’d plan for at least 1 windshield per year. 🙂 My husband travels a lot for work (Montana and Wyoming) and has to replace his windshield at least once if not twice a year. I think your emergency fund approach is perfect. Add to a credit card, pay off in full when due with cash flow and maybe even rack up rewards in the process. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks Kelsey, we appreciate that and continue to hope for the best.

      We live in Charlotte, NC and there’s a fair amount of construction going on. That’s crazy to hear you folks need to replace windshields so often there! Why’s that so common?

      Thanks for stopping by!

  23. Sorry to hear about the recent stroke of bad luck! But I’m glad you’ve been able to convert it into an opportunity to learn — and another reason to promote having an emergency fund. It’s incredible how fast life can go down the toilet if a few bad things happen and you don’t have the finances in place to take care of them. So you’re absolutely right — build up that emergency fund!

    Another great post. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks Rob! It’s always good to have a plan in place and alternatives to help get through rainy days / rainy months. Thanks for stopping by!

  24. Oh yes! Last summer we had to replace bricks on our chimney, replace our water heater, and pay for a $1,000_ AC repair within the span of a month. We have an e-fund though, so no biggie. Still, I was sick of fixing things and paying for things by month’s end.

  25. Sorry to hear about your recent string of bad situations, especially Lucy’s grandfather. The worst combo of bad things that stands out in my mind happened a few years ago. I ended up in the hospital after ignoring things for too long (complications of congestive heart failure) and in between my wife rushing back and forth to be with me, she noticed a little water on the floor near our water heater. By the next day, she woke to no hot water and a hallway flood. Turns out the water heater had been improperly installed (now out of warranty) and had rusted out. She called another company to have it replaced and between the stress of the overall situation and a lack of familiarity with what it should cost, that company really ripped her off. So badly that when I got home and called to complain, they actually refunded some of the money. The third problem was a sink repair that was relatively minor compared to the other two. The costs of that hospital visit and that water heater really stung, but we were able to handle them. And thankfully the water heater and my heart are both running smoothly now.

    1. Wow that is a rough patch, sorry to hear all that! Health is precious and I’m glad to hear you’re good to go again.

      That’s an absolute shame the water heater company initially took advantage of the situation too. What an ideal that must have all been.

      Thanks for sharing, Gary!

  26. We’ve had similar streaks where everything seems to break/wear out at once. Recently the dishwasher broke, the car needs new tires, and need to do some work on the downstairs bathroom before house guests arrive this month. Since we don’t like to call any of these “emergencies”–of course cars will need tires–we have car and home repairs written into the budget and keep a buffer in checking to cover.

  27. Sorry to hear about Lucy’s grandpa. Hope everything goes as well as it can during this time.

    These are the sorts of reasons why I probably carry a little more cash than I need to. But my cash sitting in savings helps give me peace of mind that when the threes happen to us, we won’t be in too much trouble.

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