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Damned if I do and damned if I don’t

February 26, 2012

What to do? What to do?

The contempt for the car in my driveway is building. I’ve been a car owner for more than twenty years. My current thinking is that I don’t need one. I’ve been conducting controlled experiments with alternate modes of transportation.

My conclusions? Alternatives are cheaper, and they work.

It’s February in Ottawa. In the past week alone, I have cycled to and from a parent-teacher interview at the school, and bused the children to Saturday morning Chinese school rather than dig the car out from a 25 cm snowfall.

I am also in process of moving both of my children to schools within walking distance of our home for next September.

When I speak my plans aloud to rid myself of the car, I am met with astonishment and outrage and unsolicited offers of financial support. “You have kids!” “You’re between jobs!” While both statements are technically true, what is missing from the story is that I quietly rebuilding my home-based consulting practice.

I’m not suggesting that I give up driving.

There are two Vrtucars parked within metres of my front porch. The service makes good economical as well as environmental sense to me.

This morning something reminded me of my decision to cancel home phone service a few years back. It was not a popular decision at the time, but my ex-husband finally stopped leaving me voicemail. For that alone, it was worth it. Financially, it was a smart move too. We haven’t missed the service.

My centrally located apartment is the main level of a house. I have a driveway and I don’t pay extra for the privilege of parking in it. I shovel myself out, and I don’t pay extra for a contracted snow removal service. I am not driving to work. I bus, walk, or bike to my client sites.

Realistically, I will not be able to replace the car for some time if I decide to let it go. As a single parent, this prospect is a little scary.

What worries me more though are the implications of some correspondence I had with the bank earlier this week and the inner dialog that followed. The car had been financed at an astonishing rate of 0.9% for the past five years.

When I was given this rate, I was advised that there would be  a small buy-out at the end of the 5 year period. The letter I recently received indicates it’s approximately $7000. This is not my idea of a small number.

Regardless, the bank would be pleased to help me out with a new two year loan at a rate of nearly 7% and a higher payment. I called and asked for a lesser payment, either through a longer term or a lower rate. They sent me into a branch (I walked over) in which I learned that I was to do absolutely nothing before I was escorted out. It’s a take it or leave it proposition.

I then approached another bank to see if they would consolidate the remainder of my adoption loan with the lump sum due for the car. Without current pay stubs, they will certainly not, regardless of my assets and credit history.

After sleeping on the details, I remembered that I negotiated a lesser interest rate on my line of credit after paying it down. So technically, I could transfer the $7000 to the line of credit and make interest only payments as the car depreciates to a lesser value than the amount owed. (They are currently approximately equal.)

Getting back to the car, it costs $175 per month to insure it. Bus tickets and pedal power are much cheaper than gas and parking right now, so for the most part, I avoid using it. So why must this inner dialog continue? Will I think less of myself for not owning it? Will social services swoop in and confiscate my kids? I certainly think more of myself for not driving it. Plus, it is just so much easier to park a bike.

I am gently reminded that I am accountable only to my children, who have both proclaimed the Vrtucar, public transit, and adventures by bicycle to be very “Kool with a K, Mommy.”

It took me two years to zero that credit line.  If I must borrow from their future, it should only be for things we really need.

Shouldn’t it?


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