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Exploring Pagans and their relationship with that earthiest of earth symbols, money.

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Driving my debt

With a mix of emotions both rich and deep, I spent the waning hours of 2013 acquiring a new automobile.  It's been ten years since I have bought a car, and I still think that 179,794 miles is only a fraction of what my Civic Hybrid is capable of driving, bought the deed is done, and now I can savor the many feelings it has evoked.

  • A few days in, the overwhelming winner is joy.  My new bug is just three years old, handles like a dream, and makes me feel safer and more confident on the road.
  • Sadness that I am parting company with a machine that has been with me for longer than any other comes a close second.
  • Then there's relief that I got out of the negotiation and credit process intact.  It's still possible to buy a car without credit, but it's becoming less and less common.
  • Let's not forget the angst over getting a vehicle that gets slightly worse gas mileage.
  • Countering that is the happiness that comes from giving my old car to a loved one, improving his life and keeping it out of the landfill.
  • And of course, there's apprehension over this $12,000 of debt I have brought into my life.

Chariots of Freedom

In her post about the American love affair with automobiles, Rhyd Wildermuth makes some salient points about cars as icon of excess, and ponders, "I don't know why any of you are driving."  I agreed so wholeheartedly that I thought I should try to explain.  I drive because much of the work that I am paid to do requires I be places that my public transportation system cannot take me to, at least when I need to be there.  Much of the USA is such, and as long as we continue to design our lives and infrastructure around cars, it will continue to be such.  Driving indeed means freedom for me:  freedom to earn a living, freedom to practice my religion with others of a like mind, freedom to provide necessities for my family and for others.

We can work towards a world where I can make a living without spending a shocking amount of time as the sole occupant in a four-seat vehicle, but we're not there yet.

Good debt?

Financial planners would probably tell me that a car is some kind of "good debt."  I know that my mortgage is the good kind, and I think a car payment may count, as well.  But I remain skeptical about there being any such thing.  This society has created a lot of situations for which debt is necessary, but none that are "good" that I know of.  There isn't a debt that I have owed that I wouldn't be better off not owing.

Debt is to money what psychic vampires are to magic, with the major difference being that we agree to the debt.  It's simply paying for something with dollars we haven't earned yet.  Debt is so ingrained that some economists worry more about it going down than up.  That's a lot riding on the future, and this from a society which largely ignores divination!

One of the reasons that this new car payment was even possible is that I didn't let the payment on the last car disappear, once it was paid off.  You're probably familiar with the concept:  you make the last payment on a loan, but somehow you don't have that extra money at the end of the month.  You're earning the same amount, and your bills just shrank a bit, so where did the extra go?  That's hard to say, because money is slippery.  Chances are, you spent it, but on what, I cannot say.

In the spirit of intentional spending, when we paid off my wife's car, I didn't let it go.  Even though we hover dangerously close to too much month at the end of our money sometimes, I figured we'd scraped by in the past, and would find a way to scrape by in the future.  I shunted that monthly amount into another account, so I wouldn't wake up one day to discover that I had taken up the Pokemon habit, or the cats had convinced me to keep chickens.  Money does strange things to the inattentive, and this time, that wasn't me.  The amount of the car payment was set aside for paying off other debts, and now that there's a new car payment, it's going to pay that debt.

What's galling is that my belief in becoming debt-free makes borrowing harder, and that's a difficult transitional period.  My credit rating has turned to crap, and I need this car payment to prop it up, at least until there are no more debts and no more need for borrowing.  So I will probably keep paying on this car for the full five years, and pay off other debts more quickly, like the mortgage.  The fact that consistently paying off debt is a Bad Thing is proof positive that we've turned our priorities upside-down.

So this beautiful, young car, this symbol of everything that is wrong with our society as well as a symbol of all the ways I can improve my life and provide for my family, is going to both free and enslave me.  It's a tool that is frequently abused and almost certainly more trouble than it's worth, except for all the other tools that are available to replace it.

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Terence P Ward is a business writer and journalist who blogs under the rather cumbersome moniker of True Pagan Warrior.  He can generally be found at home, tending to his gardens and the many demands of his cats; in the alternative, follow TPW on Facebook. 


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