We said good-bye to our ’99 Dodge Caravan this week.
- DH = dear husband
- DD1 = dear first daughter
Symbol of our commitment to debt-freedom
Early in the afternoon on Thursday, which happened to be my birthday, I got a call at work from DH. He had just managed to pull off the road and into a parking lot; the van had died. “I’ve called a tow truck,” he said. “I’ll get it assessed, but I don’t know if it’ll be worth it to have it fixed again.”
Our van owes us nothing. We bought it in 1999 when I was expecting our third child and we were entering the intensive mini-van stage of life. 19 and a half years later, we’ve all long since aged out of that era, and our 19-year-old daughter and her 2 older sisters have been embarrassed by our ancient van for close to a decade. Their parents, on the other hand, have been very proud of it.
For over 6 years now, DH and I have been on a mission to pay off all personal debt. Our ’99 Dodge Caravan, already an uncool 13-year-old vehicle when we started this journey in 2012, has been an ever-present, visible symbol of our commitment to debt-freedom. And it almost saw us to the finish line. In 2 months from now, we’ll be putting the last payment against our mortgage.
Car mentality: DH’s progress
When I first met DH, he drove a spiffy Toyota Celica. Over the winter months, he paid to keep it in a garage as a protection against the harsh northern elements, and from spring to fall, he lovingly washed and waxed each week. He had bought it new 3 years earlier – and was still paying $750 per month for it.
Over the years, DH has drooled over certain vehicles – especially Porsches. And though he gave way to the mini-van era with good grace, “Some day …” was his well established dream for a long time.
But his attitude has undergone a significant turn-around over our debt-reduction years. He has looked back upon the money sink-hole of his Celica payments and expenses with increasing horror as he experienced and valued a gradually lighter and lighter burden of debt. He has sung the praises of our ’99 Dodge Caravan – so reliable, so convenient, so remarkable in its functioning year after year after year … The lure of “spiffy car” no longer has power over him.
A lifetime first: our new-to-us car – paid in full
We’ve known for the last few years that our van might die at any time, and DH has been keeping his eye on Dodge Journeys – to be ready when the inevitable happened. 2 years ago, when we had broken the 6-figure milestone of our debt and DH was still in the process of shedding the last bits of his old weakness for new, shiny cars, he pulled up in our driveway in a brand new 2016 Dodge Journey. “It’s just a test drive,” he said. “It’s just for fun.” I didn’t think it was so fun, and only a year later did DH admit, “That was a close call.”
4 months ago, DH noticed a gently used 2016 Dodge Journey for sale. We seriously considered buying it since it had low mileage, some worthwhile upgrades, and was 40% off the price for new. By that point, we were in a position to pay for it outright and still meet our debt-freedom date of September 2018. But we decided to keep on driving the van – because it was still running.
After we’d made the decision not to try fixing the van this week – a starting quote of $1,300 with a strong possibility of more to follow – we looked for used Dodge Journeys. At a dealership very close to home, we found a 2013 model – fully loaded – at 65% off the price for new.
Adjusting to new(-to-us)
As I walked around the used car lot, I wondered why I had never bought used before. There was a 2018 vehicle in the mix, along with cars from pre-2010. They looked fine! They were being sold with certain guarantees, and the used-car-salesman image just wasn’t happening. The business seemed to be family run, and our salesperson was a woman about my age who knew every detail of every vehicle. She spoke in a straightforward, low-key way. Nothing to mistrust. No sleaze.
We are really, really happy with our new-to-us car. Most significantly, it has a functioning air-conditioner! Our van’s ac hadn’t worked for years, and the ac on our other vehicle (2011 Ford Focus) died 2 years ago. We just happen to be going through a record-breaking heat wave right now, and the Dodge Journey’s ac is SO welcome!
“I feel guilty driving this,” DH said to me yesterday, and I understood because I had been thinking the same thing. Of course there’s nothing to feel guilty about. It’s a 5-year-old car! It doesn’t come close to ranking among the “spiffy” options out there. It wasn’t expensive, and we paid for it with money on hand. Nothing decadent about this purchase at all! But it’s such an upgrade from what we’ve been driving. “It’s the nicest car I’ve ever driven,” I said to DD1 on a recent phone call. “That’s not hard, Mom,” she said. “You haven’t been driving nice cars.”
A hint of things to come?
I can’t help but think that there will be more of this adjustment ahead. We’ve got so many old, worn-out things – bikes, carpeting, furniture, the paint on our walls … In the months and years ahead, we’ll have the freedom to replace them when we choose to. I hope that we won’t get swept away by the siren song of materialism – that we’ll stay on the look-out for the lies and false forces of marketing. But I also hope that we live the freedom we’ve been working towards – and that we’ll stay on the look-out for the lies of false guilt too.
DH and I both felt a bit weepy as we watched the tow truck carry away our ’99 Dodge Caravan. It’s seen us through countless family camping vacations, trips to soccer games, swim meets, track practices … And more recently, it’s been a steadfast companion through our years of debt-reduction, a constant symbol of the better way we have chosen.
Do you buy new or used vehicles? Have you or your loved ones ever felt embarrassed by an old car? Have you ever felt a false guilt when buying something? Your comments are welcome.