This post is written by staff writer Kristin Wong.
I've never liked Sundays. Especially Sunday evenings. They feel like denial to me. It's like I'm clinging on to the last bit of weekend, and sometimes I actually convince myself that Monday isn't just a few hours away. But then the shops close early, I realize I can't stay up late, and there's no escaping the inevitable: the weekend is over.
Sundays are the worst.
But one particular Sunday evening, two weeks ago, really sucked. Brian and I were hit by a drunk driver — something I was surprised to learn has happened to a handful of people I know. Perks of living in a big city, I guess. Thankfully, aside from some dull body aches, we were able to walk away from the accident with only the headache of the clean-up process.
But damn this clean-up process.
I vowed to drive my car into the ground, and I did.
Well, actually, someone else did. But the point is, my car is irreparable. The other party's insurance, of course, is paying for the car. It's kind of hard to deny fault when your guy pulls a hit and run and then plows into two more cars while completely plastered. But now, I have the task of deciding to buy a replacement car, which, I know, is a luxurious problem. But I still don't have much time in my life for this.
Plus, to be honest, I'm kind of sad about the loss. I know it's just a car, but that car was one of the few pieces of my life from Texas that I had with me here in California.
The car used to be my brother's; he drove it in high school. When he wasn't looking, I'd always put one of those ugly Jack in the Box antenna balls on it to embarrass him. He'd take it off and throw it away; I'd buy a new one and sneak it back on. Finally, he relented, and it's been on the car ever since. In fact, while the car was in between impound lots, I made sure to keep that nasty old antenna ball. And maybe it's silly, but driving that car kind of made me feel like Draden and I were hanging out, despite him being thousands of miles away at college. I'm already feeling a little nostalgic about it.
But then again, I can't imagine how I'd feel getting back in that Corolla while remembering its windows shattering all around me. So perhaps a change will be good.
Used or new?
It was just today that I found out the car is totaled, and I've been spending some time reviewing advice, which includes a few Get Rich Slowly posts. For a new car purchase, I enjoyed J.D.'s post on The best way to buy a new car. In it, he suggests a technique that involves calling a bunch of car dealerships and asking what their best possible price is for a particular make and model.
Then, my dad suggested I contemplate a used car. As a remote worker who doesn't drive much, perhaps a new car isn't necessary. Perhaps I could get more value from a decent used car that's a couple of years old and has low mileage. “A used car already has the most depreciable years sucked out of it,” my dad said. So I looked at this: Ask the Readers: Is a used car still a good deal? Like a lot of personal finance questions, it ultimately comes down to how the numbers work for you. As J.D. wrote, “The key to making a smart choice is to take your time and crunch the numbers.”
For me, crunching the numbers has been comparing the total cost of ownership of a new vehicle to that of a used vehicle and then considering the price of each from there. Allstate also has a pretty cool calculator for comparing the value of a new vs. used car.
But this is oversimplifying it a bit, as there are lots of other variables to consider — mileage, cost of ownership expenses each year, how long you plan on driving it, when you're planning on buying it… August is supposed to be a good month for buying new cars, as the current year's models go down in price. But I imagine this logic would apply to used cars, too.
How insurance works when you're shacking up
As the whole living together thing is fairly new for Brian and me, we hadn't previously thought about combining auto insurance policies. For now, we have two separate Progressive policies. But in California, Progressive apparently requires unmarried couples living together to be on the same policy. Exception: we can have separate policies, as long as we both have Progressive, but these policies must be cross-referenced, which can be taken care of with a simple phone call and typing something into a computer. I learned this when Progressive sent me an annoying letter in the midst of dealing with all this car accident stuff. Upon calling and complaining, they assured me that the policies need only to reference each other. However, combining policies might be a cheaper option. It's worth looking into once everything else settles down.
The power of an emergency fund
Thanks to responsible financial preparation, I was able to fully focus on what mattered at the time of the accident: our well-being. It's a frenzied scene at a car accident, and it's easy to get distracted by the hundreds of questions you're asking yourself. It helped that “how am I going to afford this?” wasn't one of those questions. Of course, worst-case money scenarios went through my head. I wondered whether or not the guy had insurance; I wondered how often people get screwed in these situations. But there was not the unsettling feeling of financial ruin like there would have been had this happened in my younger, less financially savvy days. In times of crisis, the last thing you want to think about is money. Sometimes, money problems are inevitable — it's tough to be prepared for everything. But this situation reminded me just how important it is to have an emergency fund. And when I had to pay the tow fees out-of-pocket while waiting on insurance formalities, this emergency fund did its job in giving me peace of mind.
Be wary of what you sign
Speaking of frenzy, it's easy to haphazardly give away your signature during times like this. When Brian went to the emergency room, for example, he was given a stack of paperwork. Had the situation been more dire, we probably wouldn't have been in a clear enough mind-set to question all that paperwork. A particular document required him to be responsible for the hospital bill if the insurance companies or guilty party refused to pay. “Uh, do I have to sign this?” Brian asked, already foreseeing the administrative nightmare that could easily fall back on him with this document on file. “Nope,” the nurse said.
“Oh. Then, uh, I'm not going to sign it,” he responded. She said OK, and that was that.
My neighbors are awesome
This doesn't have much to do with money, but it does reinforce the theme of community I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. Upon being hit, we were immediately shrouded with care from strangers on the street. One woman called the police for us. A man bought us bottled water from the local CVS. And a handful of others helped us find a place to sit and then calmed us down before the police and fire department showed up. I mentioned in the Fallen Fruit post that, lately, I've felt an urge to give back to the community; this experience fueled that urge even more. Also, slap me if I ever again complain about how “soft” Los Angelenos are.
I didn't realize just how much time I would spend dealing with the aftermath of this — it's almost been a part-time job. Luckily, the other party's insurance has been mostly accommodating in making sure we're reimbursed for our time, money and property. Mostly, I'd just like to move on and pretend like this thing was never in my life to begin with. I'd like to be in denial that it ever happened, and maybe get back to not liking Sundays just because they're Sundays, and not because scary things happen during that day of the week and that time of day.
The insurance and money-related hurdles have been a pain, and I'm ready to stop thinking about them. I'm ready get back to what matters — what I'm extraordinarily grateful to have walked away with from that accident — my health, my life partner and my antenna ball.