Most likely, you know that particular money-sucking item that you own, one that drains not only resources but your own energy, time, and ability to participate fully in your life.
For me, it was a beautiful piece of machinery called the Volkswagen Eurovan, which had been in my family for fifteen years and had seen over 225,000 miles across America. Like Marshall’s Fiero in that episode of How I Met Your Mother or Winston’s junky SUV in the first season of New Girl, that car meant so much more to me than just a metal frame on wheels: it was a moving house of memory.
At the exact moment we pulled up to departures at the airport, the Eurovan’s dashboard lit up like a Christmas tree. As always, it had gotten me exactly where I needed to go: its work was done, and as though it knew that I was safe, it kicked up and keeled over. As usual, the repairs would be well over a thousand dollars, if they could even get parts. They’d order a part from Maine, and it would take fourteen days to arrive.
Meanwhile, I put up with the constant repairs. I pretended to like the twenty-minute walk to the bus stop in a blizzard while the Eurovan was in the shop again. I didn’t try to start the van in exceptionally cold weather. I babied it because I didn’t want to lose it, even though in exchange I was losing out on my life.
What was I really trying to keep? It was an image of myself as a traveler, a camper, a person who doesn’t conform. By trying to be different, I put myself in danger. More than once, I was stranded in a snowstorm because my car was just not appropriate for the climate and terrain where I live in Northwest Colorado. I’m already living an adventurous, outdoorsy lifestyle, but the van was a symbolic part of my identity: I wouldn’t drive a RAV4 or a CRV or a Subaru like some soccer mom. I drove a Volkswagen Eurovan, the kind with a backseat that becomes a bed and real curtains and a table in back.
I didn’t realize right away that the very material object I saw as a symbol of this adventure-life was preventing me from traveling—from being adventurous—because I became so fearful that it would break down in bad weather, and I would be caught in a blizzard.
I missed opportunities because of my fear of driving. Soon, I found myself trapped in my valley for months on end. I had always been a traveler, but suddenly, I couldn’t be convinced to drive up and over the mountain pass, and I became not only stuck, but resentful toward my situation. I didn’t want to buy a new car; I had poured all my resources into making this one work, and it felt like giving up.
There comes a moment when you have to cut your losses. If you’re examining your finances closely, you can ask yourself at what point you’d be breaking even. I thought that if I bought a new car, I’d be in significant debt that I didn’t have with the van—I was forgetting that if I put $20,000 into fixing my van, I’d still have an old car. If I bought a newer, nicer car with the same amount of money, I would have a nice, newer car that didn’t need very little maintenance. In the four months since I bought the Toyota, I’ve paid exactly $14 in maintenance for it: the cost of one headlight bulb.
Because Volkswagens are so highly-coveted and no longer available new, I could find a buyer for it pretty easily. The only thing in my way was me: I didn’t want to let her go.
I’m not sure how you know the right time to cut loose a financial burden, and perhaps you can never know when you’re exactly right about it. If something you own has been that good to you, something that has, for example, carried you safely from Charlotte, North Carolina to Mansfield, Missouri and back again, sentiment can get in the way—and it can break your heart. Perhaps there is no “right” time.
I won’t lie to you: there are days when I still miss her. A friend I hadn’t seen for a long time came to my house and was shocked not to find her tall, green frame stationed out front. I still wonder if I’ve become just another boring person driving a regular car—although, I’ll admit, I don’t think about it much when I can come and go over mountain passes whenever I please.
I encourage you to feel the liberation of letting go of that financial burden. You deserve so much better, and while it can be difficult at first, the money you will ultimately save, and the freedom you will find, is healthier not only for your financial well-being, but so often for your overall health.
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