Monday, December 5, 2011

Excess


My wife's car got side-swiped while parked last week. No big deal. Some damage to the front bumper, the driver's-side headlight, the grille. She was not in the car and so suffered no trauma at all. And when she returned to the car, the man who had accidentally hit it was waiting for her and took full responsibility for all that had happened. His insurance is covering all the repairs and I took the car in today to be repaired.

As part of that repair, we were given a rental car to use until our car is ready. This costs us nothing and I had been informed that we would be getting a small car. That's fine with me. The smaller the better. However, today, the rental car person presented me with the keys to a Ford Escape, a large truck with all sorts of fancies such as leather interior, a voice-activated control system for the radio, and on and on. The Escape, by my estimations, is, in a word, gigantic. I had to pause before pulling it into our garage to see if it cleared. It did, by two inches. Riding in the Escape I find myself unnerved by how high I am above the street and I worry that it will simply not fit in parking spaces. All this and it feels as though it has a tremendous engine that could pull my house off its foundations.

All of which is to say that the Ford Escape is much more car than I will ever need. I imagine that there are people who make use of such a vehicle, but it's difficult to imagine many people who _need_ anything like it. The whole thing reeks of excess to me. Excess and that new car smell.

I'll only have the Ford Escape for a short time and while I'm grateful to have a loaner vehicle at all, I'll be even more grateful to give the truck back. However, it makes me think of the other areas in my life where I am excessive and should rethink my priorities. I don't want any part of my life to resemble a Ford Escape.

(By the way, I don't mean to disparage the Ford Motor Company. I just happen to have their truck as my example. I lump all these giant trucks in the same category whether they are made by Ford, GM, Toyota, or Honda. They are all ridiculous to my way of thinking and so, if you are a Ford fan, please insert the name of another car company when you see Ford here.)

I think about the things that I like and that I want to have luxury in. That's not cars. I'm okay with just about any car that consistently runs, doesn't use too much gas, and seats four people and a dog. I used to be a lot more demanding of stereo equipment, but that passed after I graduated college and had to make rent and mortgage payments. For a while there I was big into computers and wanted the fastest I could get. Now, I type on a very simple machine that is a year old and looks to suit me for the next three or four. I have been wanting a new cell phone but that's because my old iPhone is getting almost slow enough to be unusable. Still, it works and I have delayed replacing it for a year and will likely go another six months.

So what do I spend money on that isn't necessary?

Coffee. I buy Starbucks coffee because I like good, dark beans and I can't find a local roaster who has a good enough decaf brew. Still, I could cut out my many cups of decaf. I've been working on cutting that mostly because I notice that I drink it out of habit rather than out of any sense of wanting coffee.

And right there is the way that I want to measure my consumption: if I'm consuming just because I usually do, then that's got to stop or at least be reflected upon. I think that many people buy gigantic trucks like the Ford Escape because they are used to driving a certain type of vehicle (they want to sit up high, think that a big truck is safer than a small car, etc). I'll bet that most of the people who are working extra hours to pay for that kind of fancy car/truck and trying to keep it in gasoline, could knock off work a lot earlier and hang out with their kids if they drove something small.

I want to think about the things on which I spend money that I don't need. I need to remember that every dollar I spend represents time at work that I had to put in. Starting last year I went back to teaching summer school. That was fine in that it brought money into the house, but it was terrible in that I missed so much time with my daughters and wife. I wonder what there is that I don't need and on which I'm spending money now that could be cut in order to get back things like the summer.

I might still work in the summer, but I don't want to live my life _stuck_ working in the summer because I've been lazy in my thinking about what to spend money on. I don't want to drive a big beast of a truck with leather seats and voice-activated systems just because I'm used to doing so. I don't want to pay the price of leading a life unexamined. So I'll have to keep thinking about that, keep track of what I am spending on, and figure out what I want and what I need. Best way I can think to do that is, of course, to write on. More tomorrow.