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May 08, 2019


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I think we all find our places to cut back and our places to spend. I never want to be someone who puts things above people, and that includes myself. Some of the extreme cheapskates are cruel to themselves, and there is no virtue in that.

I try to keep in mind that when I’m dead, I’ll have run out of time but not money and budget accordingly. If an old bike tire is costing me time because it is getting flats (I bike to work nearly 10 months a year), I buy a new one. The same applies for cars.

In his book about his wife, Calvin Trillin wrote that in Alice's ideal world, the incremental income tax would have a top rate of 100% because at some point no one needs more stuff. "She believed in enoughness."

I am working on knowing what my "enough" is, and it's definitely easy to reach with cars. I am obsessively trying to create the perfect dwarf blueberry containers for my mom, though, and I probably need to be hosed down.

St. Francis de Sales says of clothing that he would have Christians be the best-dressed and the most simply-dressed in the room. In regards to cars, perhaps this advice could be extrapolated to mean: we're not obligated to buy the most rusted-out junker we can find, not because we're vain but because that can indicate other problems (or cause other problems) and we're obligated to keep the people we drive safe. Also, if our possessions are held in trust for other people, then if we lend or sell or give cars to others, we don't want to shame them with the condition of our car.

Example: we traded our old car to our piano teacher for lessons. The car wasn't dying, and it wasn't a total junker, although it was no beauty queen. But if we'd waited to trade up until the car had absolutely died on us, we wouldn't have been able to help out our teacher in his moment of need.

I don't think this is a veiled argument for conspicuous consumption. Goodwill begs people not to donate clothes that are so ratty that they can't be sold. We ourselves bought an older, uglier car for the new drivers to take around town, and when we had to do work on it we debated whether we should sell it and get something newer. We didn't, in the end -- we researched and were able to get parts for less than the garage quoted us, and so kept our ugly minivan on the road longer. But we also don't need to get an ugly car for the sake of ugliness and humility, I think. God is perfect humility and perfect beauty. How do we, as humans, balance the two?

Pretty fascinating discussion! So you've never "committed the sin" (I'm not serious, just using this as a tongue-in-cheek expression, although these are things to joke about ;-) of buying a brand-new car? Lucky YOU! (better way to say it -- consider yourselves blessed!). We once did and regretted it not too long after. It was a cute green Honda Civic which we were able to sell for a reasonable price to buy a used, but still nice minivan when we had our second son. From then on, with the exception of a pretty new Mazda that my husband bought from his brother's friend for a bargain (and had to fly to TX to get), we only buy old cars. I blabbered on, and on, and on about cars in my THIRTY-SIX posts about cars in my blog. That's TWO "pages" of post! I'd put a link here, but I'm sure you don't have any time to waste with my long posts about cars from 2008 to 2016!

I share these struggles, too! In my heart and mind, I would like to practice voluntary poverty more completely, but the rest of the family isn't unified about this. We have owned a couple older cars that were an act of charity to drive - they made other people feel better about their own vehicles. Our loose rule of thumb is when the repair cost is more than the value of the car, we search for a new one. After Christmas, we faced that choice and ended up spending a little more than we originally planned to buy a safer, more efficient car, but we could still pay cash for it. I also struggle with the conflict between practicing voluntary poverty and introducing kids to beautiful things: beauty can draw us to God, but beautiful things - art, music, museums, gardens - cost money. Choices!

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