Why my 10 year-old car is a badge of honor.
(Author's Note: Trying to latch the hatch with a gentle hip bump is not recommended for current and/or former roller derby players.)
America is an amazing place. It's also pretty trashy. Literally. Americans make up 5% of the world's population, but we generate 30% of the world's trash. We buy. We use. We throw away. Sometimes we go through this cycle without even pausing to appreciate the item we spent our hard earned money on.
We accept free T-shirts and marketing trinkets that we'll never use. We buy cheap toys that quickly break. We buy useless souvenirs that don't express the glorious nature of the places we've been, and then toss them after they've spent some time sitting on a shelf gathering dust. Fact: 99% of the stuff Americans buy is in the trash within 6 months.
And it's deeper than that. Religious leaders ask us to consider how our tendency to be a throwaway society is affecting our lives in deeper ways, impacting human health and even our relationships: "It is a mentality in which everything has a price, everything can be bought, everything is negotiable," Pope Francis said. "This way of thinking has room only for a select few, while it discards all those who are unproductive."
Author Mary DeTurris Poust expounds on this message, asking us to consider: "What does it mean to live a life of abundance that has nothing to do with material wealth?" I'm not in a place to pontificate on the immense question posed by Poust, but I can ask myself how my daily decisions are influenced by the throwaway culture we live in everyday. It didn't take me long to find an immediate and costly example.
What drives our obsession with cars?
We put a lot of stock in our cars. Most of us (including me!) have financially over-extended ourselves at least once for these expressions of status and personal identi--, er, uhm, I mean modes of transportation. Even though a newer car isn't high on the list of things I personally value, I accepted without question that it was a standard for anyone who made enough to make ends meet while shouldering a car payment and full-coverage insurance. In fact, I wrote about the need to replace my car in my very first blog post.
When I first learned that I needed an expensive car repair, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that I would replace my older vehicle. I was crushed by this slow down on my drive to debt freedom (yes, it that was the cheesiest metaphor you've ever read). Luckily, the repair could be postponed, giving us time to make a decision. (I'm not going to describe how difficult this kind of acceptance was in that moment, but let's just say that patience is not a skill comes naturally to me.)
With a 16 year-old in our house, a whole lotta' car talk happens in our family right now. A few months back we were talking about how much the teenager might be able to save from his summer job for a new car, and then we looked online at what was being sold in his modest price range. For roughly $2,000, there were a surprising number of relatively reliable looking cars with many miles left to go on them. This turned out to be exactly what I needed to see.
There is huge value in appreciating what we have.
After getting reacquainted with the world of used cars, I was immediately grateful for the relatively regular maintenance that my usually dependable, decade-old car had received. After reading a lot of reviews, I saw that many owners of the same model of car had gone on to drive many, many more miles after making the same repair that we needed. I came to realize that I didn't want a newer car. What I really wanted was the peace of mind that comes with reliable transportation.
This spring, I took the car into the dealer for a second quote. The quote was significantly cheaper! (Am I the only one who had the impression that car dealerships always charged more for repairs?!) After a sweet online coupon saved me an additional $100, the repair price had been nearly in half compared to the original devastating quote. (Side note: I must admit at this point that I am starting to be a big believer in coupons. Technology is making them much less time consuming!)
Repairing an older car can be a bit of a gamble. However, at the price of a few car payments, it was a gamble I felt comfortable making. It was the right financial choice for our family now, and the experience has also made me much more likely to consider an older model of car when we do have to replace a vehicle in the future.
Aligning our choices with our values.
We could have replaced my aging car and put some of our debt-free dreams on hold. We’ve worked hard to reduce a lot of our monthly expenses, and we’re lucky to have steady jobs. We’d had a car payment until just recently, and we could still pay all of our bills on time. We'd even had some bucks leftover to help pay down debt and take a couple weekend trips. A new car would be shinier. The interior would have the sweet smell of status.
However, the simple fact that we could make the monthly payment didn’t mean that a newer car was the best choice for our future. We have debt to pay, places to see, causes to support, and an ambitious new plan for paying down our student loans (exciting news on our new student goals coming soon!).
My car is fixed now. It’s even freshly washed and vacuumed thanks to getting my lower-cost services done at the dealership. The deep sense of satisfaction that I felt while driving my repaired car off the lot went much deeper than just remaining a car-payment-free household... I didn’t make a thoughtless choice based on past habits and cultural influences. I didn’t listen to the people who groaned and encouraged me to buy a new(er) car when I told them my story. I didn't toss out the old in favor of the new. Instead, I made a decision that aligned with my values and my goals. I drew a little closer to being the person I want to be.
In a throwaway culture, I want to be different. I want to care for my things, carefully consider my choices, and mend or make do when I can. I want to be the person driving the 10 year-old car.