That’s my car, Milton “Miltie” Matrix in the above picture. He got into what we politely call a “fender bender” at a nearby shopping center. I had just picked up some Chinese food for lunch and promptly backed him into another car that was pulling out behind me at the same moment. The other driver said he had just come from a dental appointment.
A dental appointment, huh? For all I know he might have been intoxicated from a high dosage of nitrous oxide. I mentioned this later to the cop who wrote the accident report; I thought she might have found it useful to know. She just laughed and kept her head down while writing.
I can’t say ‘ol Miltie wasn’t trying to warn me, though. All those lunchtime hops to the Chinese takeout might be one reason for a slight uptick in my cholesterol count right now. In hindsight this was a cry for help for me on my car’s behalf.
So where is blame being cast here? Well, Miltie is blaming it on the egg foo young; I’m blaming it on the other driver; and my insurance company has officially blamed it on me. Justice can be illusive.
Nonetheless, my irritation with that other driver remains unabated. If he too had been picking up a high caloric hot meal, which is what all red-blooded American males do at high noon, this whole incident could have instead offered financial opportunities for both of us. Stay with me on this point for a moment…
There just happens to be a barbecue chicken joint right next door to the Chinese takeout. Had the other driver only gone there instead of the dentist, I bet we could have come up with something interesting. That’s how they came up with the idea of peanut butter and chocolate, remember?
Nowadays those two would be looking down at their phones, of course. Don’t you love their headphones?
Anyway, there’s unfortunately nothing in my situation which can put me into a better light. I’m not going to try competing with a Mr. Perfect who does responsible things at lunchtime like getting root canals and crowns. Nope, I’m just the guy who’s in a hurry to get home and tie on the ‘ol feedbag full of MSG. I surely didn’t convince that cop, and I know I’m not swaying you either, dear reader.
Even on the damage front I’ve lost. He was driving this big Chevy pick-up truck and drove away with only a small paint rub on his brake light; I have a dented rear hatch door. I am now someone to whom you mentally say “tsk tsk” as you pull up behind me at a stop light. Valet parking is now out of the question.
About a week after this incident, we began the claims process with our insurance company. This turned out to be short-lived. Their adjuster looked over the car, filled out a zillion fields on her tablet, and estimated the replacement of the hatchback door to be around $1,500. She immediately cut a check to us for $500 and gave us a list of approved repair shops. The $1,000 difference to pay for the repair just also happens to be our policy’s deductible amount.
After considering it all on a night’s sleep, we decided to return the check the following day. Neither of us wanted to part with a grand. That’s a lot of egg foo young.
Our car is a 2007 Toyota with just over 150,000 miles on it. I had downgraded the insurance coverage on it a couple of years ago when we started discussing how much longer we would keep it. At the time, I was only thinking about increased repairs and possibly throwing good money after bad. I really hadn’t considered the likelihood of having an accident (my only other one was also a fender-bender at a grad school parking lot in the mid-eighties).
So this forced us into make a quick decision about our current priorities.
For the last year we actually have been looking at different cars that we might like. It’s been mostly a passive process of looking at other vehicles on the road, plus buying the Consumer Reports car issue. We even got as far as narrowing our interest down to three different models.¹ In December we opened an account at a local credit union to prepare for the eventuality of getting pre-qualified for a new car loan. We had no plans to do anything, but we wanted our ducks to be in a row for when we did.
Other things continue to take precedence on our list of desires, namely new furniture for our home. We’ve been busy over the last year painting rooms, acquiring a few furniture pieces, and slowly but surely getting the place in shape. A new car is desirous but not an urgent needed.
Thus, a repeating axiom of early retirement reminds us that “choices need to be prioritized.” The car’s engine thankfully still runs fine; its interior is worn and just starting to morph over to the shabby side of the spectrum, but fortunately remains on the safe side of “respectable.” If family surprises us with a visit, I can always run to the Avis franchise down the street for something presentable. “Oh, this? I lease it.”
Quite a few of our fellow citizens here in the U.S. were bamboozled by the tax law passed in late 2017. But Uncle Sam fortuitously rewarded us with a healthier than usual tax refund check, and a part of that will go towards a new car fund for next year. This reminds us of our second axiomatic rule for retirement finances: “You can’t have it unless you budget for it.” No dipping into the retirement savings and incurring a taxable event.²
So for at least the rest of this year, we’ll be the ones that you see on the roads with that dented Toyota. Go ahead and “tsk tsk” away at us. Oh, and that cholesterol uptick? I’m being told that my mid-day lunches are now to include more salads. I’m suspecting that’s a strategy conceived to keep me away from shopping center parking lots.
Until next time…
¹ The Kia Soul, Toyota Rav4, and Toyota Camry are our current contenders.
² At least “not yet” in our case. I will start regular distributions from my 401(k) when I turn 62 in three years, and even then I plan on a frugal amount to start.