Desperately seeking justification

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I know, I know. Having nailed my colours firmly to the mast and banged on about living a simpler life in the last post, I had better deal with the very obvious elephant in the room, namely a brand new car that we will be picking up next week. With all this talk about the freedom of owning less stuff it might strike you as slightly at odds to be burdening ourselves with a car on a finance deal. I confess that I am not entirely comfortable with the decision but it’s made now so I suppose I ought to at least try and justify it.

Sometime last year I watched a TV program about people living in basic shelters in the woods. (Before you start, we have discussed getting rid of the TV on many occasions but for now, at least, it’s staying. Get over it.) They were off grid, living partially self-sufficiently and completely shunning the modern, materialistic way of life. No car, no TV, no electricity etc. etc. I admired them. What they were doing was extreme and frankly, not for me, but it doesn’t mean that they weren’t pioneers; challenging the status quo and giving us all something to think about. I see them a bit like the fashion designers that flaunt their latest creations on the catwalks of Milan and Paris. Nobody actually expects the average man or woman to be walking the streets of Nottingham in a space suit with a tambourine on their head next year, but some faint echo of the designs will filter through to everyday fashion for sure. It’s the same with people that take ways of living to the absolute extreme; we don’t have to copy them but we can take ideas from them and adapt them to our own lives. Gill and I are not ready to abandon our limited possessions and build a tree house just yet, and neither are we prepared to live without a car; but it’s not so much the car, as the brand new car, that I am having trouble adjusting to. This is how it came about.

Our previous car was fourteen years old and, a bit like me, it was suffering from fatigue. It was probably more of a perception issue than anything but we seemed to be getting overly familiar with the staff at our local garage. There was no doubt that what the car really needed was a new owner. Preferably a mechanic. Having put it up for sale on the Autocar website I began typing in the parameters of the kind of car we were looking for at a price we could afford. Well if websites could laugh this one would have been doubled up in stitches, rolling about on the floor and wiping its eyes; probably with an oily rag. I don’t know what possessed me but in a moment of madness I looked to see if we could get a 0% finance deal on a new car instead. I won’t bore you with the details of the sums involved* but they went a bit like this:

The cost of owning the old car over three years, taking into consideration purchase and sale prices, and adding in tax, insurance, repairs and servicing came to about £96 per month.

The new smaller car on 0% finance, including servicing and being exempt from vehicle tax, would cost £94 per month.

Factor in the £2500 deposit we have to pay (which effectively stays in the residual value of the car) and which might have generated about £110 in interest at current rates in an ISA, and you can see that the new car is no more expensive than the old one and hopefully it won’t want to spend half its life in the garage. It’s also a bit greener. (In a bright red kind of way.) Despite everything we were trying to do to be less materialistic we just couldn’t deny the maths and whilst desperately trying to convince the salesman that we weren’t really new car kind of people we signed on the dotted line and slunk out of the showroom trying ever so hard not to grin like a pair of Cheshire cats.

And here is my feeble attempt at seeking justification for our decision:

Whilst we don’t feel ready to give up on owning a car completely we do want to do less driving and make more use of the bikes, public transport and walking. The deal on the new car plays right into our hands because there is a limited mileage clause in the finance package which restricts us to an average 27.4 miles per day. Extra miles will result in a financial penalty at the end of the agreement. Enter stage right……… a spreadsheet! Yes I intend to monitor our mileage and use the mileage cap as an incentive to do more utility cycling and less driving. That way we get fitter and we save the planet into the bargain. Win, win.

I still feel uncomfortable though. Even more so because while I am sat at home writing this and listening to the rain hammering at the windows, Gill is at work. She went on her bike!

Hardy cyclist leaves for work

Hardy cyclist leaves for work

*If you really want to see it send me your e-mail address and I’ll mail it to you. (I promise I won’t tell anybody else that you asked for it.)

Buying a car, selling a dream

Never has the phrase ‘fish out of water’ been as apt as when used to describe a situation I have found myself in, not once, but twice, in the last two days. The situation in question was that of sitting in a fancy car showroom, opposite a young, enthusiastic, self-confessed petrol head of a salesman, discussing the possibility of buying a new car. We don’t do new cars.

As regular readers of this blog will know Gill and I drove from Gloucester to Lancashire last week sporting a makeshift passenger window fashioned from a plastic bag and a lot of gaffer tape due to the failure of the electric window winding mechanism on our elderly Skoda.

Make us an offer

Make us an offer

The now all too familiar prospect of another expensive visit to the garage prompted a discussion on whether perhaps it was time to consider changing our old car for a slightly less old one as we do from time to time. One thing led to another and I set to work crunching numbers to determine exactly what our current car had cost us over the last three years. The result was shocking and in some ways quite sad. It seems that in this age of interest free credit and a car industry that is desperate to shift new models we have arrived at a situation where it costs the same to buy a brand new car as it does to run a fourteen year old one. Hence the showroom visit but that isn’t what this blog is about.

What this blog is about is how fundamentally similar us humans sometimes turn out to be when we least expect it. As soon as we sat down with our clean cut, young and fashionably bearded adversary, because that is how I saw him at that point, I made it absolutely clear that we were not the kind of punters that sales targets and bonuses were made of. “We aren’t really car people” I announced and his face was a distorted blend of disappointment crossed with determination not to be beaten so easily. He declared himself to be a car person of the first order and we both laughed politely at how much ground we would need to cover to even come close to understanding each other. In a nutshell, we had absolutely nothing in common other than that he wanted to sell a car and we, reluctantly, needed to buy one.

Over the next half hour we batted off gentle attempts to add a few hundred quid here and there for unnecessary extras but as we did so we found ourselves revealing more and more of each other’s soft underbellies. The conversation bounced from metallic paint to some mystical ‘paint protection system’ which cost £300 but guaranteed that the car would remain in dazzlingly pristine showroom condition for as long as we were guardians of it. I had my doubts. Strangely though, in between all the sales guff, we found ourselves telling our new friend about our cycling adventure around the coast of Britain. He in turn revealed that he had a dream to move to Australia and start a new life but his girlfriend’s fears and family ties were holding him back. I explained the dilemma I had felt leaving my aging Mum when we went away.

I voiced my concern about a long financial commitment and a conversation that took place only the other night about jacking it all in again and taking off on another adventure. He asked with a smirk if such a conversation had involved a bottle of wine and we sheepishly confessed that it was two actually. A new common ground seemed to be emerging.

Suddenly we understood each other on a level that went much deeper than his love and our indifference to something as mundane as a car. It no longer felt as if we were in any form of car sales combat with each other. We both knew that really the only conflict lay in ourselves and our constant tug of war between the safe and the exciting. We were going for what would be a boring, safe car in his eyes but I sensed a touch of envy all the same. We had already taken a much bigger plunge than buying an expensive car and knew what it felt like whereas he was still standing on the edge of the diving board wondering. I wanted to tell him that the answer doesn’t come from fast exotic cars, the answer was staring him in the face but I didn’t because I sensed that he was close enough to diving not to need a push. That last step would have to be his and his alone. I still felt slightly uneasy about the new car, like it isn’t really us, but I felt very comfortable to have played a part, no matter how small, in encouraging somebody to take that leap of faith into the unknown. I am very confident that he will recall how it felt to land in Australia on the first day of a new life long after the memory of any souped up Subaru has faded.

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