When Seizing the Day Backfires

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.

More about...Psychology, Transportation

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William @ Drop Dead Money
William @ Drop Dead Money
7 years ago

Everything was fine, Kristin, until you traded daily essentials for a hobby. You wouldn’t sell all the food in your pantry and fridge to get into a new hobby like stamp collecting, would you? (Does anybody do that any more?) Selling a daily ride to get into a new hobby (emphasis on the new) is the same. If y’all bought the BMW as a hobby (i.e. not a mode of transportation) then you’d be out $100 when he realized he was in over his head. If you couldn’t afford to buy the BMW without getting rid of his ride, you… Read more »

Paul
Paul
7 years ago

I had intended to reply to the original story, but when I read your reply, it said almost exactly what I had intended to say. If the boyfriend wanted to fix up the BMW as a hobby, he should have saved until he could afford to buy it without having to sell his working car. Reliable transportation is too important to mess with. Also, all the older BMWs were made in Germany and it’s tougher to find parts for them. At least some of the more modern models are built partially, if not fully in the US, making it easier… Read more »

Joyce
Joyce
7 years ago

I never thought of it that way, but it’s exactly correct thought process. Will remember this for future reference for my family! Thanks for the wise words 🙂

Bella
Bella
7 years ago

I so completley agree with this statement – because we’ve been there. The new Jeep that used to be reliable daily transportation that was transformed into the non reliable (even for going out and having fun) hobby project. It was an expensive, frustrating, and long lesson to learn. The problem with a project car – as a hobby – is that it’s only financially a reasonable hobby if you do all the work yourself – and that’s the fun part too. The problem comes in when you do some upgrade or need some repair – and you still need to… Read more »

Big Dave
Big Dave
7 years ago
Reply to  Bella

The only way to have a ‘hobby’ car projcet is when the car not needed for the day to day world…My Jeep only comes out to play on weekends giving me time for repairs and upgrades as the budget allows

Kristin
Kristin
7 years ago

Yup! That was the big regret–that we gave up a reliable, daily ride. I didn’t understand the beauty of that stability and convenience until we messed with a good thing! Like they say, you don’t know what you got till it’s gone. I miss that ol’ Nissan now. But this whole thing helped me learn to truly appreciate stability!

chacha1
chacha1
7 years ago

must agree. Hobbies should be, by definition, something we do with money (or time, or space) we can afford to waste.

Once we borrow from daily needs to indulge in a hobby, we have chosen poorly.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
7 years ago
Reply to  chacha1

Exactly. These days, a lot of hobbies like knitting and quilting are luxuries because it takes more time and money to DIY than to buy a cheaply-produced good. If you’re short on time and cash, it doesn’t make sense to take away from essentials.

I do think we need hobbies as a creative outlet, but it’s all about balance.

Michelle
Michelle
7 years ago

A car is a pretty big purchase, so you’d hope that it would be easy to notice that you might be biting off more than you can chew. However, I think a lot of people make that mistake. For example, deciding to do big home improvements that you’ve never had any experience with before.

I appreciate the reminder that everyone makes mistakes, so rather than beat yourself up about them and stress yourself out, it’s best to recognize that not everything works out as hoped and to learn what you can from the experience.

Pauline
Pauline
7 years ago

One step at a time is the way to go. Is it still a hobby after all, so it should bring you pleasure. This is a great project for you two to learn how things work, how they get fixed, yet the day you don’t like it anymore, like you said, you can list it, take on the financial loss and go on with your life.

Nicoleandmaggie
Nicoleandmaggie
7 years ago

Good luck with the next car!

Kristin
Kristin
7 years ago

Thanks 🙂 We’re working on it. Living as a one car couple for now, while he saves some money for a reliable ride.
I’m actually enjoying the one car thing. It’s a bit inconvenient, but it’s kind of nice to have a morning drive together with our coffee and the radio.

Rya @ bulgarian money blog
Rya @ bulgarian money blog
7 years ago

Haha, this made me laugh out loud: “But it’s kind of hard to tell your judgment is clouded when, well, your judgment is clouded.”

I think you guys shouldn’t sweat it so much. My former boss used to say, cheerfully, “Sh*t happens!” 🙂

So, you’ve had car trouble. So, you’ve lost some money.

You’re okay.

William @ Drop Dead Money
William @ Drop Dead Money
7 years ago

Right! Show me the person who’s never made a mistake and I’ll show you someone who never got out of bed.

Wait, that’s a mistake, too. 🙂

Like a smart person, you learned.

Like a generous person, you’re sharing the learning. Thanks!

Kristen
Kristen
7 years ago

If I could like this comment ten times, I would! 🙂

Jim
Jim
7 years ago

Lesson PAID IN FULL!

Jody at Because I'm Me
Jody at Because I'm Me
7 years ago

I really appreciate this post. Thanks for sharing your story and your newly found perspective.

We all make those mistakes. I made a big car one too, different but huge and based on emotions. Lesson learned. As I was losing my shirt financially I figured I’d better get a lesson out of the darn experience, so I did!

I agree with the other posters and suggest that after you’ve got your car situation worked out boyfriend saves for a hobby car, then purchased with the insight of a trusted mechanic.

Dogs or Dollars
Dogs or Dollars
7 years ago

I like that this story doesn’t have a resolution. That you are still in the thinking it through phase, which illustrates the point even better than an overarching solution.

Yeah, he should have got the car as a hobby not a daily driver, but sometimes we make big moves. And sometimes they bite us in the @$$. Life is about those big moves, how you deal with them, and what you learn from them.

Alison Wiley
Alison Wiley
7 years ago

I love your story and your lessons-earned, also the phrase “frugality poison”. I smiled the whole time I read your post, because it reminded me of my twentysomething self back in the 80’s, buying a Triumph Spitfire against the advice of a mechanic, and then having the ding-dang car catch on fire spontaneously. Oh the folly of youth. i love the idea that you are writing this and helping other people avoid this syndrome of being irrationally emotional around cars.

mary w
mary w
7 years ago
Reply to  Alison Wiley

Yeah, I bought a new Fiat Spyder in 1976. Learned a lot about cars in the 8 years I had it. Also met lots of nice people when it stranded me on the side of the road more times than I can count.

It sure was fun ride tho. It’s probably been a dozen people’s project car since I got rid of it.

Kristen
Kristen
7 years ago
Reply to  mary w

Ah, memories. My now-husband’s first car (we started dating in high school) was a Fiat that never ran. One of my memories – you would have to push start it and then you couldn’t stop or it would shut off again, and as a teenager, I didn’t have my license yet, let alone drive a stick shift. So I recall a particular summer evening when we had to push-start the car. I remember running down the street as fast as I could in a denim mini skirt and flip flops trying to jump into the car once he got it… Read more »

Laura
Laura
7 years ago

Kristin, I REALLY loved this post! I love the insight about how clouded judgment can build on itself until it’s degenerated into a way of being, and I think that’s something for me to chew on in reviewing my own life right now. Regarding the car, I think you & your boyfriend are smart to stop for the moment and let it all rest until the compulsion to erase the negative feelings over it passes. It sounds like you can get by on a one-car household for now, so maybe that’s the waters to test: can you get by with… Read more »

Kristin
Kristin
7 years ago
Reply to  Laura

Thanks, everyone, for the advice and support! Can’t wait till the boyfriend gets home to read your comments. It’s nice to hear that others can relate.

Holly@ClubThrifty
7 years ago

I’m sorry about your car problems….although it did create an interesting story! I hope you get it all worked out. Don’t beat yourself up so much!

fantasma
fantasma
7 years ago

This is Fantasma to a capital T! My car has multiple big issues and all I want to do is buy a nused car. I am backing away from the edge because it wouldn’t be a smart decision to buy a car right now.

Mrs PoP @plantingourpennies
Mrs PoP @plantingourpennies
7 years ago

Cars are such tricky things I’m our finances. Theoretically they should just be methods of transportation, but we use them so much and are in and out of them that we end up identifying strongly with them and THAT can totally cloud judgement. You want to like something you use everyday, but not get so attached that when it bites you won’t kick it to the curb!

Marsha
Marsha
7 years ago

Thank your lucky stars that you learned this lesson with a car, not a house. Just remember this if or when you’re considering a house purchase. A bad car purchase might hurt you financially for a few months, but a bad house purchase can haunt you for decades. Consider this a currently expensive lesson that may save you many times over in the years to come.

Carol
Carol
7 years ago
Reply to  Marsha

I made the mistake with a house. Bought a fixer upper; lost thousands of dollars. Five years later, and I’m back on my feet. But if I hadn’t bought that house, I never would have learned that owning a house is fun, but expensive in ways that I’d never know but for the fact that I bought one. I’ve lived to tell the tale.

Samantha
Samantha
7 years ago

I really loved this post. I completely see myself in it: “I might be a free-spirit, but I’m still a perfectionist.”

Kristin – I really appreciate your thoughtful and extremely well written articles. Keep them coming!

KarenJ
KarenJ
7 years ago

As Dr. Phil always says “Life is not a success only journey.” We’re bound to make mistakes along the way, but it’s important we learn from them. In the case of my husband, he made some impulsive purchases of property a few years ago, and when the market took a tumble, we were stuck with two underwater properties, one of which was a money pit. I don’t even want to think of the thousands we poured into that house, only to recently do a short sale in order to get it off our hands. The other one went into foreclosure… Read more »

Kristin
Kristin
7 years ago
Reply to  KarenJ

Yikes, Karen. Sounds like a nightmare, and I’m sorry you had to endure those troubles. But it sounds like you’re moving forward nicely. Love this quote:
“Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.”

Anne
Anne
7 years ago

Who doesn’t see themselves in this post? It’s about life …… and maturing. My husband and I bought this old wooden house because it was on an acre and a half and looked like somewhere The Waltons would live. We figured we would have it in sparkling shape in one year. When we moved out ten years later, it was certainly improved, but nowhere near in sparkling shape. Looking back we would NEVER do that again. It drained our very limited time and money. However, our children remember it with much love as the place they grew up with plenty… Read more »

Kristin
Kristin
7 years ago
Reply to  Anne

I’ll have to remember this when I’m in the position to buy a home! Even though you wouldn’t do it again, I’d say your kids’ memories of The Waltons-esque home is a pretty darn good silver lining 🙂

mike
mike
7 years ago

My friend bought a old porsche 80’s a while back, long story short it wasn’t long before he spent more on fixing it then it cost him, it was a short lived expensive experiment. Unfortunately, he never learns from his mistakes and continually makes the same or similar financial mistakes. The big thing to remember about depreciating assets is that they are essentially money pits. Focusing on the cheapest reliable source of transportation that also fits your lifestyle (bus, car, bike, walk, etc) will free up $s for more important stuff. Cars are an expensive hobby, one that rarely pays… Read more »

David Phillips
David Phillips
7 years ago

It doesn’t need obsessive-compulsive behavior to get thoughts and problems stuck in the head, rattling round and round, pushing out productive thinking and raising tensions. With this story you’ve started on the fix — get it out of your head and into writing, where it becomes more tangible, bounded in size, and analyzable.

Good luck with the permanent fix for this particular issue.

chacha1
chacha1
7 years ago

“it’s hard to get to the lesson when you reject your mistake in the first place.”

this is a great observation. wish more people would take it to heart.

Lucas
Lucas
7 years ago

Great article.

bg
bg
7 years ago

Fun story! It reminds me of my old Vespa scooter that moved from the need-be to the hobby level, until I really didn’t want to ride it anymore in fear of it having a breakdown… Lately, we thought about buying a new van as our old one is getting old. However, it would’ve been rather expensive and would actually have left us with a car size we didn’t want. So now we bought a second-hand but still very young&fine Smart car as main vehicle and will use the van only for the few occasions a year when we absolutely need… Read more »

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
7 years ago

“and when you do make mistakes, take something from them and use them to your advantage; otherwise, this entire maxim is meaningless.”

LOVE that line! I can see a lot of myself in this post, and being a perfectionist has kept me from trying things in the past. I’m still learning that mistakes and failures aren’t the huge deal I make them out to be — especially when we can learn from them.

Rta
Rta
7 years ago

We Americans are indeed car obsessed, and maybe house obsessed as well. I think those two things substitute as creative outlets for many people who would never spend that kind of money on painting, poetry or pottery.

It seems that those who do have an art form generally view a car as transportation and a house as a dry place to sleep and store their art materials.

Grayson
Grayson
7 years ago

Great story. I learned a long time ago to never make a project car your daily driver. I am an avid car enthusiast, but it is an expensive habit. After making the same choices before, I decided to save up to purchase a jeep to work on. I am glad I did because I got it for a steal, but there were a lot of underlying problems to fix.

Luckily for me, I know how to fix cars, but I also had a working vehicle to get me where I wanted to go.

John S @ Frugal Rules
John S @ Frugal Rules
7 years ago

Sorry about the car. Great end to the story though in saying you won’t be hasty with the next car decision. The great thing about mistakes is that they provide for good lessons. We all make them, and hopefully we’re better for it. Sounds like you are.

Morgan
Morgan
7 years ago

Thank you so much for sharing. My ex and I bought a Vespa as a daily rider and ended up with the same problem, throwing good money after bad until we broke up and it wasn’t my problem anymore.

There was a sign at the Vespa shop we were constantly taking the scooter into (paraphrased here since I can’t remember the exact phrasing): “Hourly fee: $80. Hourly fee for a scooter you’ve worked on yourself: $500.” There are professionals for a reason.

Edward
Edward
7 years ago

The problem is, if he didn’t buy it, the thought of that ’69 BMW for sale would still be rattling around in his head as though it was a good idea.

Hobbies can be expensive learning curves–I realized that when I bought an airbrush.

The only “mistake” really, as others have pointed out, was buying something as a hobby but at the same time using that to replace something dependable.

Good article!

Katelyn
Katelyn
7 years ago

If you bought the BMW as a hobby/fixer car, why not use the broken-down car you now have as the fixer hobby. Especially if its just sitting there now. A beater is the way most people learn about car repair and maintenance anyway. It may not be as stylish as the BMW would have been. But your boyfriend will learn a ton about whether he actually enjoys this hobby on a car that won’t run unless it has some work done on it. And you can look at it as a low opportunity cost since the money was already sunk… Read more »

Jenna, Community Manager at Adaptu
Jenna, Community Manager at Adaptu
7 years ago

Oh man! What is it with guys and wanting to fix old BMWs? My best friend did that too (with more success). Best of luck!

A-L
A-L
7 years ago

I can sympathize with the boyfriend. I’ve always had a thing for vintage cars,and would love one as a daily driver. But like some other posters have mentioned, I never intended to get rid of my Corolla. It might not be sexy, but it has never been in the shop apart from regular maintenance or something that was my fault (i.e. accident). So I’m saving up my money and one day maybe I’ll have a great old car as a daily driver. But I’ll still fall back on my Corolla when the cool old car inevitably needs some attention. Thanks… Read more »

Michelle
Michelle
7 years ago

Could have been much worse. I have a friend who did the same thing, except with a 60s era VW Bug, instead of a BMW. Racked up $20,000 in credit card debt trying to fix it up. Sold it for less than $12,000. Ouch.

Pat yourself on the back for recognizing the problem.

Bubble
Bubble
7 years ago

It reminded me of my harley davidson days….
Bought one, with my first bonus, 15 years ago. Bonus 10k. Spent 10k.
Had fun, and after 10 years I had to move and sold it for 5k.
Few months ago i was passing by a garage sale and saw an HD. Beautiful. I said to myself, should I buy it? I thought of my 10 years withthe previous HD and said…yes, it was fun…but…is it really worth it?
Maintenance was high….tires costed money…insurance….gas…..
NO THANKS
Today my bonus is 10 times then and i save it!
🙂

Holly
Holly
7 years ago

Car aside, I think the real thing you hit on was the psychology behind the decision. We all make decisions based on our subliminal beliefs to turn them into self-fulfilling prophesies. You essentially said it yourself: “Things are so perfect right now-surely everything can’t be this perfect-why don’t we do something to prove that things cannot be this perfect?” So maybe we should ALL investigate our beliefs about happiness and its longevity and how that relates to our money decisions. I have made oodles of self-sabotaging decisions simply because I had the unconscious belief that pure stability and happiness are… Read more »

RJ
RJ
7 years ago

Striking remarks, and exactly the right tone of truth and comedy with your message. I sincerely LOVE this post. And I’m making my friends read it. Keep on writing, Kristin. 🙂

Jill
Jill
7 years ago

As other posters pointed out, instead of a car, it could have been real estate. Or a stock investment. I love the take away on this — once you realize you’ve made a mistake, STOP! Assess the situation and don’t do anything until you are SURE that that you are making a rational decision, not an emotional one. I got a cold chill when I read the part about wanting to erase the mistake and make it go away like it never happened. Been there, done that, but never rationally embraced that was what I was doing until I heard… Read more »

Jim
Jim
7 years ago

Great post Kristin……keep em coming!

Thea Day
Thea Day
7 years ago

Thank you for this post. Being able to read about specific financial issues that others are having makes learning about personal finance so much easier than simply reading advice. We are in a similar boat. We sold one car that was worth more than we needed to pay off some debt. My husband didn’t think he could stand being a one-car family so I agreed to let him hastily purchase a cheaper replacement car and use the difference for the debt payment. Gulp. Come to find out–after the purchase, of course–the replacement needs about $1,300 in repairs. Funny thing is… Read more »

Peach
Peach
7 years ago

I like the fact that you took time to reflect about just what went wrong. You could have chalked it up to just a bad choice. But giving it more thought and discovering the reason WHY it failed so badly gives you the chance to learn from it and never do anything like it again. I’d say it was a lesson worth learning.

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