Being Environmental When You’re Disabled, Broke, + In the Midwest

I recently bought my first car and this a very bittersweet thing for me. On the one hand, it symbolizes a level of maturity and independence I haven’t been able to claim before, on the other hand it has some serious detriments. Not only because of the financing, purchasing, and insurance 3-Rings-Of-Hell that I had to endure, but also because it meant breaking a promise to my younger self that I would never own a car.

Specs for Car Nerds:

Before I go into the heart-and-soul let me give any auto-nerds the specs. It is a 2013 Chevy Spark 4 cylinder 5-gear manual transmission…yes, learning how to drive stick has been a journey. She’s a periwinkle that reminds me of my favorite flower, Forget-Me-Nots.

Balancing my Needs with my Wants:

What I want is for the earth to not suffer at the hands of humanity anymore. Cars equal carbon footprint equals oil production equals the United States’ global imperial presence to get this one resource.  

All of it makes me itch. I just want to live on farm and be self-sustaining. And while I always operate with that on my mind’s horizon, unfortunately right now I need to work and get a paycheck and pay some bills.

Now obviously public transportation and bicycling are the most sustainable forms of getting around when you are able to. Unfortunately, they are also not options for everyone. One of the major reasons I had to leave Boston was because I couldn’t make the T work for me. This was devastating as someone who loves public transportation, has relied on it for most of my life, and strongly believes in the ethics of it. But I was so inexplicably exhausted that building the energy even to get places was too much, let alone doing things once I was there. If I went to meet friends, by the time I arrived I was running low on spoons and desperately just wanted to go home. I was having to take Uber and/or Lyft just to get to work.

That may sound whiny if you’re someone who is not mentally ill or does not experience chronic pain but try to imagine this: You wake up and your entire body is fire. Just like the night before, you feel like you’re going to vomit. You need to be at work in an hour, it takes you forty minutes to coax yourself through the pain, out of bed, and through the motions of getting ready. Even though you are telling yourself to hurry, you have to stop now and then because you’re so dizzy you can’t see or your hip gives out. You’ve now missed the bus that would get you to work on time. And the one that will get you there a little late. Your brain is saying, “you’re worthless for not being able to get to work on time you should do the world a favor and go back to your bed and lose your job and become homeless which is what you deserve.” You’re able to use some coping skills to make a compromise with this brain-voice: You call the Uber.

I looked into having a car in Boston but it financially was impossible and I couldn’t rationalize to myself having a car in a major city.

While being back in the Midwest is saving me a lot of money and doing some good things for my overall sense of stability, it also necessitates a motor vehicle. We are the postindustrial rust belt, after all. My hometown is also the hometown of Oldsmobile. There are people who do it without cars, but since I realized I needed a car even when I had one of the best transit systems, coming home meant it was an absolute must-have. So I had to compromise what I wanted to be able to do with my life to what I needed to do in order to live my life.

Here are some crucial points of this compromise:

-It’s not electric or hybrid, but it’s as environmentally friendly as possible for my price point.
-That meant sacrificing safety for a smaller size. My paternal grandmother died in a car accident and my dad is so adamant about driving a larger car because he feels it will keep my brother and I safe, so he was disappointed in this choice. At the end of the day though, this sacrifice feels worth it to me so I will need to rely on my reaction time and driving experience to keep me safe.
-It is a stick shift. Conceptually I know a lot about manual cars, in practice I know nothing. I stalled my car six time in the driveway before I took it out on the road.
-The interior is pretty beat up, the former owner(s) definitely had a dog.

Here's me with Baby Blue: 

Financial Stuff:

This part might be boring but growing up broke means that I did not have a ton of access to financial literacy and sharing money savvy when I have gained the knowledge is extremely important to me. I have learned almost everything I know about money from blogs, other lower-income students in college, and trial-and-error.

As much as I fuck with poor people, oftentimes basic financial knowledge is something we lack. (There are deliberate and systemic reasons for this.) And so much financial advice is geared towards income-secure people it’s ridiculous. Like don’t talk to me about the importance of a 401K when my priority needs to be feeding myself and my family. They don’t even consider our realities when writing this shit, I swear. So it’s essential to me to share strategies for poor people where I can. Here are some things I learned in the aforementioned Financing Hell:

· If you can pay a higher monthly car payment, do it. Having the lower one for 60 or 78 terms is typically bad in the long run. Because you’ll be paying such a high interest and for so long, you end up paying way more than your car is worth. You risk totaling it and owing more on your car than insurance will give you for it. Go with the shortest loan term you possibly can. And if you absolutely need a longer one, get a loan where there is no early-payoff penalty and try to pay a little above the payment amount each month. This money will go directly towards principal so you can pay it off faster but still have the cushion of the lower payment for months where you can just scrap that.

· Do not buy a new car. Just don’t. Yes, you’re worth it. But something used will get you there just the same and still let you count your blessings.

· Don’t be afraid of craigslist cars, but absolutely know what you’re doing (or bring someone who does). Negotiation is really key here so you need to know more than the person you’re talking to. And take it to a mechanic—doesn’t have to be a real one, but at least get it to one of your friends or you’re cousin’s uncle or that one old teacher who knows something about cars. We all have one of those in our networks.

· I couldn’t get approved for an auto loan from my credit union because I didn’t have a co-signer. If you’re like me and have parents who can’t co-sign for you, securing financing might be hard. The usual advice for this is to save until you can afford a car but that’s not always how it goes. Things to explore if you’re in a financing pinch and need a loan fast: getting a loan from your credit card company and/or saving part of the amount and getting the rest in a personal loan.

· What I ended up doing was getting financing from my credit card company on an auto loan. This comes with a significantly high interest rate and some restrictions. I’m talking 9%--my credit union if I had a cosigner would have given it to me for 3.99%. And they say Millenials make this bull up. So what I’m going to do now is go back to my bank and try to convince them to buy my loan off of me and let me repay them at the lower interest rate. Fingers and toes double crossed, pray for me.

Was this helpful? Do you have any new expensive joys in your life? My chronic ill family, how do you deal with the guilt of not being able to live up to your own inner standards?