A little over a month ago, I experienced one of those moments in life where everything was as it should be. You know those moments—when work, love, friendships, etc., are all operating smoothly, in a brief but perfect alignment that allows you the rare luxury of total peace. In that moment, I was able to breathe, smile and remember that life is happening, and life is good.
And then the car troubles came.
These car troubles were entirely self-induced. My boyfriend and I both had cars that were completely paid off and ran well. What more could you ask for?
Then one morning, he told me he’d found a ’69 BMW for a really good price. He’s always wanted to buy an old BMW and fix it up. Cars are merely a mode of transportation to me, but I can still appreciate the passions of others. So I humored him, and he explained: “I could trade my car in and buy this car. It needs some work, but it runs, and I could put some money into it every month or so.”
My boyfriend is a low-key guy; I’m not. He’s content at home with a good movie; I’m always working on some pet project. As a passionate person, I try to encourage him to engage his passions, too. So when he asked for my advice, I told him he should get the car. It would be good for him to have a hobby.
I was hesitant, sure. People usually try to avoid car problems, not embrace them. But maybe he could have some fun fixing it up, and in the meantime, at least the car was capable of starting up and getting him to work.
Long story short, it ended up being more of a problem than it was worth. He’d bitten off more than he could chew, and after driving the car a few times, I thought it was unsafe. Bottom line—he felt like he made a mistake, and he wanted to get rid of it. I felt like I’d made a mistake by encouraging him to do something financially irresponsible. Frustrated, we both just wanted it gone as soon as possible. So we unloaded it—for a $100 hit. He was then vehicle-less. In a rush to fill the void of his not having a car, we hastily used the money to look for a replacement, and, after a week or so, we found one.
It broke down as soon as we drove it home. We’d been had.
I won’t regale you with any more depressing details. But at that point, after reaching our limit of car hassle headache, we stopped. We asked ourselves, why does this keep happening to us? Ultimately, the answer was unpleasant: our judgment was really, really clouded. Obvious, I know. But it’s kind of hard to tell your judgment is clouded when, well, your judgment is clouded.
Distracted and frustrated by our first mistake, we kept making more mistakes in a vain effort to erase it.
When It Rains, It Pours
In an Ask the Readers ask story, J.D. brought up the point that one purchase often leads to another. Similarly, one crappy way of thinking often leads to another, which leads to another and another until you’re in “the zone” and you don’t even realize it. That, I think, is a non-religious execution of karma.
For example, I’m not sure why we thought it was a good idea to test stability and adopt a project that we knew would be full of problems. We paid for those problems! Then, upon realizing the mistake, we became frustrated. So frustrated, in fact, that we continued making poor, frustration-fueled decisions. In that way, the energy we were releasing into our environment was coming back on us.
Conversely, I feel like when you develop a peaceful mind-set, you’re more apt to make better decisions for yourself, and then peace will come to you. That’s precisely why the broken-down car is parked on the street right now while we cool down for a bit before deciding what to do with it.
Obsession and Compulsion: Personal Finance Poison
I hate when people say they have minor OCD, but I think I may have minor OCD. Like many people, I get something stuck in my head and I feel like I can’t stop thinking about it unless I give in to it.
But any kind of obsessive-compulsive behavior is frugality poison. And when people like myself say we have “minor OCD,” I think what most of us really mean is that we sometimes have trouble controlling our urges.
In the case of the car, I didn’t want to live with our BMW blunder. That became my impossible urge—to erase it. We could’ve easily become a single-car household while we figured out what to do with the jalopy, but we were obsessed with pretending it never happened. We were so in “the zone” that we didn’t even realize we were acting compulsively.
In the end, it backfired. Again: obsessive-compulsive behavior is frugality poison. Even an obsession with saving money can backfire.
Taking Stability for Granted
I’ve learned to fully embrace those aforementioned peaceful moments in life, as they’re so fleeting. A week later, you’ll have a work issue, your best friend will be mad at you, or your car will break down. Soon enough, a headache comes to rain on your parade.
While I’m all for pursuing a hobby, interest or passion, I suppose I’ve learned the importance of asking whether that hobby is going to be more trouble than it’s worth. Sometimes you’re pursuing something you love, and sometimes, you’re just messing with a good thing—stability.
That being said…
Take Chances, Make Mistakes, and Get Messy! (And then clean it up)
As a kid, I used to watch this cartoon called The Magic School Bus. In the opening credits, Ms. Frizzle, a fun, free-spirited teacher, advised the children:
“Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!”
At first, I thought she sounded like a flaky hippie who didn’t have her sh*t together. My mother would hate this woman, I thought. But Ms. Frizzle’s “Carpe Diem” attitude really spoke to a part of me. I’ve always felt that life is about the journey, and as Eleanor Roosevelt said, you should do one thing that scares you each day. Not everyone lives by that aphorism, but I do, and it’s served me well.
Except with that damn BMW.
In that whole “make mistakes, get messy” spiel, Ms. Frizzle should really have added, “and when you do make mistakes, take something from them and use them to your advantage; otherwise, this entire maxim is meaningless.”
I might be a free-spirit, but I’m still a perfectionist.
Here’s what I’m getting at. The night that the car broke down, we thought about putting it up on Craigslist “as-is” just to have someone pick it up, give us a couple hundred bucks, and then we’d just deal with the financial blow. We were willing to take a hit just to pretend like this whole mistake never happened.
Luckily, that was the same night we asked ourselves why this kept happening. We realized we weren’t the victims of our misfortune, but the perpetrators. We had to stop.
I’m usually quite frugal. But sometimes, I lose sight, just like anyone else. The beauty of messing up, however, is that—without sounding like a PBS special—mistakes are lessons in disguise. You learn from them and you move on. You grow as a human being. Then you smile, knowing that you have experienced; you have conquered.
But it’s hard to get to the lesson when you reject your mistake in the first place. Guilt, frustration, remorse—those are all important feelings that need to be processed and accepted, rather than feared and ignored.
From my experience, if you don’t take the time to accept and process the negative, it can cost you. In our case, not only would we have lost hundreds of dollars, we would have lost what has been an important lesson in both finances and our relationship.
What’s the car solution now? I’m not sure; we’re working on it. But whatever decision we make, it won’t be hasty.
P.S. Yes, this piece has been read and approved by said boyfriend. He’s pretty great.
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