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Mary and the car

Thursday Mary told me her car is in the shop. It started shuddering, doing things it should not be doing. Yesterday she learned that it would cost $1,000 to fix. She outlined what had to be done: brakes, major tuneup, some other things I don't remember. I mentally added up what I know of these things and decided that $1,000 was not an unreasonable cost, given it's a reputable shop, given it's the dealer. I offered to give her my savings, the money I am accumulating for a down payment on my own next car. She was thinking of other options: trading the car in on something else. I offered her my present car - I could try for my next car now, give her mine, but she would still need to deal with the payments on her present car. Or get rid of it, as is. I thought paying for the repairs was really the best option but suggested she sleep on it.

She checked on trading it in and found this solution to be untenable. Is that the right word? She would be making payments of about $540 a month. She decided it would be best to repair the car. She thought, too, that if she can arrange to have the body damage repaired later in the year she will feel better about the car, accept it more easily. It isn't an old car, it runs well, it does what she needs, but she just doesn't like to look at it because of all the damage from her various fender-benders.

She has the money - school assistance money - to pay for the repairs. So she'll do that. She wants me to keep my money for my next car.

The money thing. I listened to another episode of This American Life this morning, on the gap between theory and practice. One segment featured the life of a young woman with children who works feverishly to manage her pitiful income but fails. In her case, a lot of the reason is that she is too compassionate. She helps others if she has anything at all to give. Sometimes she quickly spends the money she gets so that she won't be able to be so tempted, to give it away. I think many programs for budgeting allow for gifts but don't acknowledge the unexpected, the need some of us have to give what we probably should not, when we perceive a desperation in others. When we see someone in worse straits than we are ourselves and we know that we can somehow get by without the money, we give it, we can hardly help ourselves. I am sure this is one of those psychological things, seeing ourselves as cold and money-grubbing when all we are doing is trying to keep our lives more in balance. Maybe we need the sense of chaos, of the wolf coming close to the door, of the association with others who are not managing at all, or association with our own past lives, our childhoods perhaps.

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