Shaking the new car itch: A tale of priorities

When I went to the street to get the mail on Saturday, the latest issue of The New Yorker was in the box. Walking up the sidewalk to the house, I idly began to remove the subscription cards. I stopped, though, when I came to a full-page cardstock advertisement. I read the front of the ad. I read the back.

At the kitchen table, I carefully removed the ad from the magazine, carried it upstairs, and sat down at my computer. I typed in the listed URL, and for the next two hours, I was at the mercy of the advertiser. What was this ad for? The 2007 MINI Cooper.

I’ve mentioned before that I hate my current vehicle — a 2000 Ford Focus. I bought it in a hurry after my 1992 Geo Storm was totaled by a wayward tractor-trailer rig. I’ve loathed the Focus since day one.

Three years ago, as I began my debt-reduction crusade, Kris and I made a pact. As soon as I had paid off all my debt, I could buy any car that I wanted. I never dreamed that day would come so soon, but it has. I’ll be debt-free by Christmas (except for the mortgage), which means I’ll have some tough choices to make.

During our recent trip to London, I fell in love with the MINI. It seemed to be everywhere, and I was enamored with its compact style. I began to believe I had to own one. But I’m not in the same place I was three years ago. I have a different perspective on money. Do I really want to eliminate my debt only to immediately purchase a new car? That doesn’t sound smart.

On the other hand, I drive a lot, and the Focus is like an anchor around my neck. Also, I do feel that it’s appropriate to reward myself for achieving a goal. Kris and I had a long chat yesterday. We both think I’ve licked the debt monster and have shown I can work to pay things down. I have the go-ahead to buy the car.

Of course, in order for this to happen, I actually have to be willing to spend the money. I could probably pay off a new car in just a couple years, but I’m not sure that’s something I’m willing to do. This frugal living stuff has become a habit. And although I hate my car, it seems foolish to get rid of it after only seven years.

Last night I sat down to work out the numbers. It’s clear that buying a car would impede my larger goals.

One of my goals is to drive less, for example. I want to reach a point where it doesn’t matter what sort of car I have. I want to work from home, writing. I want to walk to the grocery store. I want to ride my bike to reach more distant destinations (like the comic book shop). How does buying a car help me achieve these goals? It doesn’t.

Not buying a car lets me reach these goals more quickly. By not buying a MINI Cooper, I’m roughly $25,000 closer to paying off my mortgage. By not buying a MINI Cooper, I have more to set aside for retirement. If my dream life is to stay at home and make my living as a writer, then I need to do things that will make this a reality. Buying a MINI Cooper is counter to my objectives.

Someday I really will buy a car that I want. That day has not yet arrived, however. Maybe I’ll do it when the Focus dies. Maybe I’ll do it when I turn 45. Or 50. Maybe a wealthy aunt will buy me a MINI Cooper — I certainly wouldn’t turn it down. If only I had a wealthy aunt…

More about...Planning, Transportation

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