When was the last time you questioned what you truly need?
After just two weeks of spending my money in a way that reflected my values, I had already encountered a number of obstacles. I knew many of my daily habits would be challenged and changed for the better, and that these changes would give our family more freedom when making big choices down the road. In addition to being impacting my day-to-day choices, this new way of spending also raised hard questions about whether some of the comforts I enjoyed in my everyday life were actually necessary.
I was on cloud nine from wrangling up some serious savings when we took my car in for some low-cost routine maintenance and an air conditioning recharge. The whole job was estimated at just over $300 bucks. I was grateful for the cheap price tag because my air conditioning failure did not just mean that I was getting outdoor temperature air. No, the air coming through my vents had to be winding around the engine a hundred times before pushing humid, sticky, warmth into the car. My previously reliable vehicle was definitely not meant to run without AC.
Like many trips to the mechanic, a call later that afternoon carried bad news. The air conditioner was not a simple recharge. The total bill would be more than $1,800 if we wanted the repair. Our family had just footed the bill for an almost $3,000 emergency plumbing repair (one of the final events that pushed me into savings mode), and I was crushed by the thought of shouldering the weight of another $1,800 in credit card debt. The feeling of elation that I’d been riding on after calculating our recent savings was completely deflated. At least, for a moment. I sat in that sad place for a bit, acknowledging that the unexpected and expensive car trouble was a huge bummer (even if feeling that way did make me feel like a small child). And then, I counted the huge and obvious blessing: The car still ran. No immediate choice was necessary, and we definitely didn’t have to pay for this repair now.
Pushing aside my disappointment, we picked up the car. As if to rub in the bad news, the sun had broken through from behind the clouds and the day had become unseasonably warm. I dwelled a bit on how I would be arriving at off-site work meetings sticky and gross, but mostly, the initial disappointment of it all was wearing off. The more I thought about the cars of my youth, the cars of the less fortunate, and my goals, the more clearly I could see that air conditioning (no matter how sticky-hot-icky your car cabin gets) is definitely not a necessity in the Pacific Northwest. And this remained true even if it would be kind of embarrassing to have a broken air conditioner. As I started coming to terms with the situation, a surprising feeling pushed up inside my chest: Pride. It felt good to keep driving that car and save my money for things that really mattered.
Challenging my own ideas of what is truly necessary has been more meaningful than changing my daily spending habits in many ways. When we challenge our presumptions, we give ourselves the opportunity to become something better. Something more like the person we want to be. G.K. Chesterton said, "There are two ways to get enough: one is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less." I want to be the person who chooses that second way, even if that does require a little sweat now and again.
After coming to a place of understanding with the car, I’m back to celebrating all seven hundred and one dollars worth of savings wins! My not-quite-ten year old car is actually only worth about $2,000 period. Our plan is for me to drive it over the winter and then make the decision on what’s next in the Spring. After six months of mindful spending, I hope I’ll have some new insight on the best way to move forward. (UPDATE: We did find a solution to the car dilemma!)
(Super Side Note: G.K. Chesterton has two of my favorite quotes of all time. The second one is this: "But the reason we fly from the city is not in reality that it is not poetical; it is that its poetry is too fierce, too fascinating and too practical in its demands.")