When cars go bad

This week has been a challenging one for me with regard to our kid hauler.

There’s been a recall notice that I’ve sat on for forever, and since I’m on vacation this week I decided to take advantage of some free time to get it taken care of. Unfortunately, the Toyota dealership didn’t have the part to repair our 2000 Toyota Sienna, but one has been ordered and I’ll have to take the minivan back out for the final repair when the part comes in.

Toyota inspected the vehicle, and found that the alignment was off. They offered to fix it for $119, but I decided to pass. I called around and found a tire place not far from our home who would do it for $89, and decided to go that route. The alignment was successful, but they also found another issue with the CV joints. They are broken and leaking grease underneath. I was able to see the damage myself and confirm that this is something that should be taken care of.

However, I was quoted $500 ($250 per side) to have it fixed, and I decided to hold off. The van is only worth between $1,500 to $2,000, and I couldn’t see spending up to one-third of the vehicle’s worth on repairs when we already planned on replacing the minivan in the first quarter of next year.

I was distraught by the news. Although we have no debt, we don’t have enough saved up for an all-out replacement, or even a minor step up in vehicle. So my options were, as I saw it:

  • Switch vehicles with my wife until we can save up money for a replacement and risk a catastrophic failure, or;
  • Go buy a new (well, used) car using credit

As difficult as it is to think about, I was tempted to go buy a car on credit. I rationalized in my head how we could get an inexpensive enough replacement minivan and have it paid off by the end of the year. We could use the same vigor we applied to getting out of debt by June and then be debt free, again, by December.

But the more I thought about that option, the less comfortable I became. Did we really just bust our butts to get out of debt only to go back in again? How would we feel going back in debt after we’ve done all this grandstanding to get out of it?

So I did what I’ve learned to do in my mature years: I gave it five (proverbial) minutes.

After having student loan debt for so long, I have excellent credit. I could have gone out and bought anything I wanted and had it sitting in the driveway when my wife returned home from taking the kids to a dentist appointment. Instead, I opted to contact three people I consider wise, present the problem to them, also talk to my wife, and then make a decision.

The consensus was, generally:

  • You should consider repairing it
  • You’ll hate going back into debt
  • See what else you can think of

In an moment of clarity, I came up with a third option, and ran it by my wife, Amy. “If we could pay $100 per month for five months for you to drive the kid hauler safely and buy us enough time to save up cash for another minivan by December, would you do it?”

We were already on the same page. “We should fix the van,” she said.

I called the repair place, and asked if they could come down on the price. They knocked $60 off, and I agreed to the deal. We dropped off the van to get fixed, then packed up the family of five into my little Toyota Corolla and went to a local water park to enjoy the afternoon.

I don’t believe in no-win scenarios.

It appears we get to keep our dignity in tact. Granted, I would much rather put that money into a new vehicle. But talking it over with Amy, she jolted me back to my senses. The line where we say “enough” to borrowing money has been drawn, and we’re not backing down from it.

Rosie‘s days with us are numbered, but at least they won’t come with the stain of a car payment. Let’s just hope this plan works out.

Update – July 31, 2018: There ended up being some additional repairs that needed to be done to fully fix the van. With the alignment and CV joint repair, the total repair cost came to almost $800. Although that tweaks the above numbers a little, it didn’t change the outcome. We still believe it was better to spend $800 now, than to go in debt even for a vehicle we don’t plan on keeping much longer.

It still hurt to pay it, though.

What will you buy when you’re out of debt?

The wife and I enjoying a date night in The Year Of No.

Last weekend, the kids took a weekend trip to the grandparents’ house giving my wife and I the opportunity to test what a date night in “The Year Of No” would be like.

We went through the gift cards. I found a movie card for $10.45, but that wasn’t going to be enough to get us into the evening show. I know we have another gift card around the house with much more on it, but of course, I have no idea where it is. We looked, we gave up.

Then Amy remembered we had three $5 gift cards to Starbucks, and she had one $5 gift card to Target (the latter a gift from one of our daughters to her at Christmas). We headed off to our nearest Target — which has a Starbucks inside of it — for a date night on the cheap.

I purchased a decaf coffee, and she got a hot chocolate. Total Starbucks out-of-pocket cost: $0.00. Then we walked aimlessly around Target. She found a t-shirt for our son she insisted he have, so her Target gift card and her weekly spending money cost her $1 and some change.

We looked at shoes and clothing. We chatted with a couple who had a cute little boy who just couldn’t help but wander from his mommy and daddy. I checked out the Bluetooth speakers systems. The Bose sound really good. Then we went home and watched a movie on Netflix. It was a nice evening; just two loves spending the night together.

But a real curveball came on our date when Amy asked me a question: “When we get out of debt, what are you going to buy first?”

I didn’t have a good answer. I thought about it, and decided that maybe I’d upgrade the home computers or something, but that’s really more of a utility than something fun. I spend enough time on a computer during the day for work that coming home and spending more time on one isn’t as appealing as it used to be.

When I thought about it more, I realized the reason I don’t have an easy answer is that I’ve grown more content with the things I have over time. I really enjoy experiences far more than I do material things these days. A newer car would be nice. A new guitar might be fun. But overall, I don’t have anything that I’m super interested in purchasing.

My pursuit has other drivers. I want to own the feeling of not owing anyone or any organization money. I want the freedom to say, “Let’s go on a trip!” and know I’m not robbing Peter to pay Paul. I want the peace of mind of no obligations other than the Four Walls: food, shelter (with utilities), clothing, and transportation. I want the joy that I love to experience by giving to those in need when I’m moved to do so.

That’s what I want. We are going to get there this year.

We are two weeks in “The Year Of No,” and things are going great. Now, to keep the motivation going and dig deep into our goal of zero debt.

How to remove temptations to spend from your phone

iphone with wallpaper that reads "no"
I made an iPhone wallpaper so I get a “subtle” reminder about my mission this year.

I really love my smartphone, and I also hate it.

These devices are magical. Having been in the technology field for more than a decade, I’ve seen the computing power grow so much. I surmise the average person doesn’t comprehend how much computers have advanced in the last 20 years.

In fact, I suspect many don’t even consider a smart phone to be a computer. But indeed it is, and these handheld devices are now more powerful than their desktop and laptop counterparts of not long ago.

The changing computer landscape also brought with it advances in how information is delivered and consumed on the small screen. Social media has flourished. Email is still king. The ability to purchase with your phone has grown to around 25 percent of all purchases in the U.S.

These are amazing times.

I love spending money on awesome things. As we entered the holiday shopping season, I noticed a cooler that I had my eye on all year was on sale through a Facebook post. I’m not ashamed to admit I purchased my own Christmas gift, at 25-percent off, from my phone.

But I recognize that having these magical devices can also come with a curse. Because they are with us all the time, they have the ability to reach us almost nonstop with messages to buy things we maybe should hold off on, or even convince us to become less content with the life we have.

In light of this, I have started taking action to prevent the phone from becoming too much of a temptation for me.

  • Apps: I started by deleting apps off my phone that tempt me to spend. After the fifth notification from Buffalo Wild Wings to come try its new special, I deleted the app and went to town on other apps that tempt me to spend. I don’t need these in my life right now.
  • Unsubscribing from emails: Despite the growth of social media, email is still a very effective marketing tool. I’ve been fighting a battle to unsubscribe from all these lists I’ve gotten myself into over the years, but no matter how many I unsubscribe from, there seems to be something else I missed that pops up given long enough. I’ll keep fighting that battle. The effort is paying off; my inbox has a lot less solicitations in it these days.
  • Being self aware with social media: This is a tricky one. Social media is great because it has allowed us to stay connected, but it’s also quite the marketing beast. My favorite social media platform is Instagram because unlike everything else out there, the pictures make me happy. But have you ever noticed how the perfect pictures with the beautiful images and the right filter can also make you feel just a wee bit discontented with your life? Yeah, that’s mostly fake, so beware of that. Many people only post pictures of the good things in their life. However, I don’t have a problem letting in a little darkness once in awhile.
  • Content blockers: Apple introduced content (ad) blocking in 2015, and I use one to block most of the annoying ads on web pages. It isn’t a perfect technology, but it is better than going without on my iPhone. I’m not against ads, but some companies take it way too far by cramming too many ads on a page. As a sidenote, on my non-mobile device I like to use Ghostery for Chrome.

And as you can see from the picture above, I even made myself a wallpaper for my phone to remind me about “The Year Of No.” Now, the word “No” is the first thing I see before getting to my apps or my browser. Let’s hope these tools help me keeps our money in the bank and re-routed toward our debt.