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It’s the same every time a big winter storm approaches: the grocery shelves are stripped of food, the liquor store empties out of everything but crème de menthe, and the local hardware store sells out of snow shovels, salt and snow blowers.

While the average person can make a pretty good argument justifying the purchase of a $20 snow shovel and a good bottle of bourbon, the same might not hold true for a big-ticket item like a snow blower.

So, before you go out and drop a couple hundred to a few thousand dollars on a snow blower, you might want to crunch some numbers to see if it’s really the most cost-effective option. Here are a few things to consider.

1. How Often Are You Really Going to Use It?

If you live in a region that gets several feet of snow each year and you have a good-sized driveway and/or sidewalk/patio area, a snow blower that can handle six-inches or more of snow might be worth the investment, and your back will thank you later! If you live in an area where you’re going to use it only a few times a year, though, you might want to consider other options (see below).

2. Can You Hire Someone to Remove Snow for Less?

Angie’s List, which provides reviews and data on local service providers across the U.S., reported that members who had annual snow removal contracts in 2013 said they paid an average of $378, with a general range of $341 to $415.

3. Keep in Mind Maintenance & Service Costs

Snow blowers are like any other major piece of equipment and need to be serviced regularly. Check with dealers in your area about service and maintenance packages they might provide, and consider these expenses, along with fuel costs, when determining what makes the most economic sense.

4. Can You Tap Some Free Labor?

Have a restless teenager at home complaining of being stuck in the house during a big snowstorm? This is exactly why snow shovels were invented. A few hours of exercise for him or her means a few hours of teen-free solitude for you. Or you can do it together for some productive bonding. Plus, there’s that free labor bit. And you can share some hot cocoa and cookies after (with a splash of that bourbon for you, of course).

If, when you’ve looked at all the numbers, it makes sense to make the big purchase, be sure to buy a good quality snowblower, and not the last one available at the hardware store the day before the big blizzard. Instead, it’s a good idea to take your time, do your research and choose a trusted brand with good reviews and a decent warranty.

And, if you plan on putting the purchase on a credit card, make sure you credit score can handle it. You can see how your credit card balances may be affecting your credit score by viewing your free credit report summary, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com. If it doesn’t add up, just think of all that money you’ve saved for the steep home heating bill you know you’re going to get after the big storm.

More Winter Savings Reads:

Image: Elenathewise

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