America’s “Throw-away Society” — What a Waste

My car looks like this, but without the RAM air vents and the tinted windows.

I get as much use out of things as I can. I cut Brillo pads in half, mend holes my socks and salvage rolls of paper towels that fall into the sink. My husband just laughs at me. And if I actually DO throw something out, you’d better believe it’s been used until it’s so worn out, even *I* think it’s time for it to go.

When I mention all of the car repairs I’ve been needing the past few months, invariably I get the same response: “It’s time for a new car!”

Um, no, it’s really not.

In order to keep something in good-enough condition that it lasts for years (or decades), you need to take care of it. For a car, this means maintenance and repairs.

It took me 3 1/2 years to pay it off after buying it new in January 2004 (it was a 2003 model year leftover, so I got a great price on it to begin with), and for the past 3 1/2 years, I haven’t had a car payment. I’ve only had basic maintenance done on it — oil changes, brakes, tires. My brother replaced a knob on the heater controls. I get new wiper blades every year. These are the same things you do with a newer car.

So while I’ve spent $1650 on repairs since August ($600 fuel pump; $750 wheel sensor/bearings; $300 brakes), in perspective, it’s nowhere near what I would have spent on a new car. The engine and transmission are sound (knock wood), and I’m comfortable and happy driving my Pontiac Grand Am GT.

A new car requires a decent down payment, monthly payments and a new loan — unless you have the cash on hand to pay it in full. Either way, you’re talking upwards of $16,000, easily, for a basic new car. That doesn’t include the taxes, title and registration fees, either.

Additionally, we have another car, which IS new. We’ll be paying for that one, a 2009 Ford Escape, for another 3 1/2 years, but at least we got a 0% interest rate on the loan. One car payment is plenty.

So no — it’s not time for a new car, dear friends. This one works just fine!

Our ‘Throw-away Society” & Consumerism

Most of our society is an example of consumerism at its best. This is especially true when it comes to electronics, because the minute you buy a product, the technology is already out-of-date. You know there’s a newer, faster computer processor coming down the pike, or a bigger TV with a sharper, crisper display.

All of these items that get tossed are winding up in landfills, further cluttering the Earth. While I don’t consider myself to be a “tree-hugger,” I am concerned about my impact upon the world. I would no more throw away my car just because it needed some reasonable repairs than throw out a pair of shoes after five wearings.

I’ll admit that I don’t keep everything. But what I no longer need or can’t use, I donate, give away or sell on eBay. And I definitely don’t upgrade my cell phone every time the newest fad model comes out, nor do I have to get the latest iPod — my old-generation 30GB video iPod works just fine. I did get a smaller digital camera last year, but sold my 5-year-old, chunky Canon on eBay to recoup some of the cost and recycle. I didn’t want it ending up in a landfill.

Having been in the personal finance blogging business for a few years now, I know I’m not the only one out there who hates to just throw things away — right?

8 comments to America’s “Throw-away Society” — What a Waste

  • I managed an apartment building for several years and I was astounded how much people were willing to toss when they moved out. And these were not rich people!
    I wrote a piece about it for MSN Money’s Smart Spending blog. If it’s kosher to post the URL, here goes:

  • I NEVER just throw stuff out.
    I’ve never had to purchase a car – I always get my parents spares/old ones (I have 2 sets of parents, and have only been driving for 5 years, so thats why..)
    I will run this car into the ground, and then some, before I buy a new one.
    Just because your car has some (very typical!) problems, doesn’t mean you should just chuck it & upgrade. Its so wasteful, for the enviornment, finances, everything.

  • Your insurance for keeping your car long term is to maintain your car (new or old). It will lead to fewer repairs over the long run and will save you money. You are definitely doing the right thing. I do have a addiction to sunglasses, though…

  • Red

    Definitely. I was just having a similar conversation with my coworker a few days ago. I told her that I didn’t get the desire to upgrade your car constantly or your cell phone. I actually dread the day my cell phone stops working. It’s the best cell I’ve ever had, and Verizon has stopped selling it. (Of course, I could always buy used from eBay.) I don’t ever want to upgrade to a data package (too much money!) or have a cell phone with a touch screen. I like my toys simple.

    The one time I’ve had to car shop – because mine was totaled in an accident – I hated it. It was so stressful. I’ll be taking care of this car and driving it until it literally cannot be fixed. Car payments scare the hell out of me! 🙂

  • Ginny

    I think that you have a great attitude! Keep up the good work.

  • I think people focus on the repair bill and not on the fact that you haven’t had to spend on fixing it for the years before that (although I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t tweeted you and you explained it!)

    Context is definitely important.

    • Nicole

      @eemusings: The responses I’m talking about are AFTER I explain I haven’t needed any other repairs. Over and over. I don’t leave that out of the story when talking to family/friends! 😉

  • Preaching to the choir! 🙂

    My car is older than yours (13 years) I’m sure, and way uglier and certainly more rusted. Everyone thinks I should buy a small compact car if I can’t afford it, and just upgrade to this decade.

    I said: Well .. it still runs right? I’m good.

    I just can’t imagine spending so much of my money on a new car because you KNOW I’d buy it in cash. 🙂

    That being said, I do upgrade on occasion. Laptops are my vice, but I keep everything. I keep old electronics and I give them away or sell them.