Early last spring, my friends told me to call my car insurance company and negotiate a discount when my rates shot up by 85 percent. I thought about calling some customer service department and asking for that, or worse: shopping around, getting multiple quotes, really optimizing my deal.
Instead, I sold my car.
It took over three weeks to finish the repairs it would need to pass inspection, which is a thing that’s required in Maryland. Here, you only ever have to get your car inspected for mechanical defects once, and after that, you’re free to drive whatever disintegrating pile of crap you choose until a cop pulls you over and cites you for something specific.
When you buy a car, though, a state-certified mechanic has to compare your new whip to an umpteen-point checklist, and legend has it that nobody passes on the first try. A lot of buyers won’t touch a used car unless it’s already been inspected and all flaws have been fixed. There wasn’t really much wrong with mine, but the mechanic renowned for his cheapness proved to have a super relaxed attitude about working on cars, getting them out of his garage, and getting payment.
It cost me about $300 total to get it fixed and cleaned up. My car was a 2002 Toyota Echo in what I decided was fair condition, and it’s KBB value for my area was a little under $2,000. I put it on Craigslist for $1,950, and put it on Facebook for $1,500, because I was concerned about getting Craigslist-killed.
The mother of a former roller derby associate bought it for the Facebook special price, and did not murder me, even though she did spend a couple of days after the sale texting me about the check-engine light that came on as I was driving it over to leave it with her. I refrained from texting back anything that started in “caveat ” and ended in “sucker, ” and eventually, she was satisfied.
In the meantime, I’d been riding my bike to work, and spending money on bike accessories like lights and a new lock, for a total of maybe $60 to $80. It might’ve been more, but the dudes at the bike store really had my financial best interests in mind. They ignored me whenever I went in, so I didn’t end up purchasing anything I didn’t strictly have to, which is why I still bike in an old skate helmet.
I spent another $80 paying off Larry, the taxi driver whose passenger side mirror I knocked off trying to be a cool bike person and ride between a line of stopped traffic and a line of parked cars. He originally guessed it was going to be $200, but I said I wouldn’t agree to that without a written mechanic’s estimate. He said, “It just so happens my son is a mechanic,” and immediately called him. I feared the worst, but the son said $60. I threw in the extra $20 in case it was more, because I definitely never intend to call Larry again, even though he invited me to dinner with his wife and kids.
I also tore up a pair of work shoes when I wore them while riding on a wet day, and took a sharp right at the bottom of a steep hill. It was an exciting lesson in physics. Luckily, I wore the shoes anyway up until last week when I caved in and bought a new pair, and I didn’t lose much skin on my foot at all.
At work, I had to start pretending that I had become an exercise nut, because it was too awkward to say that I couldn’t afford my car anymore.
“Cara,” they’d say, “Did you bike here today? In this rain? In this heat? What are you going to do in the winter? You’re crazy!”
I’d respond, “Yes! I am a beast!” or “Strong like bull!” and we’d all have a good laugh. Then I go and mop my face with a wet towel in the restroom.
I am getting stronger. My bitchin’ quads that quietly atrophied after I stopped skating are back. Hills that winded me completely in the early days of my bike commute now wind me only somewhat. Every now and then, I pass another bike commuter with a nicer bike than mine, and I feel like a big man, and gloat about it for the rest of the day.
Shopping for groceries is a pain in the ass now, because I am too lazy to make extra stops on my way home and lug things around in my bag. Now I usually wait until the weekend and go with my husband, who is perfect in every way, but a slow, deliberate, optimizing shopper. I sold my car to avoid making pricing comparisons, so you see how our styles are different here. Without his help and general good nature, I doubt I would’ve risked getting rid of a car that still ran, even if it did mean I would have to make tedious phone calls to be able to come close to affording it.
I have already avoided spending a lot of money that I otherwise would have if I’d kept the car, but I can’t say I’ve saved anything extra as a result. The last of the cash I got for the car is gone as of last weeks’ grocery run. My bank account is lower than ever—even without the insurance payments, gas, and occasional maintenance.
It’s hard for me to say whether I let the thought of all the “extra” money tempt me into spending some of those extra dollars two or three times over, or if working fewer hours finally caught up to me. I think it’s a little of both, but I know I would’ve definitely been deeper in the hole if I hadn’t cut expenses somehow. I’ve been enjoying biking around, but my winter plan is that winter is going to suck. It’s a little bit less than satisfying to feel like I haven’t gained anything from all of this new found sort of virtue. My quads do bulge like king snakes now, though, and really, smugness is its own reward.
Cara Dudzic is an apprentice hairdresser in Baltimore, Md.