A little over a week ago, my beautiful new Hyundai Santa Fe was totaled in a very scary accident at highway speeds close to 70 mph. Another driver lost control of his vehicle and plowed into the side of my car. I rammed into the guardrails, ricocheted off and hit the same car broadside, then hit the guardrail again before rolling to a stop. I walked away with no more than a stiff neck and a bruised hip from the seatbelt buckle.
I loved that Santa Fe. It was the first time I’d ever bought a vehicle with top of the line features: the Limited, complete with leather seats, upgraded sound system, Bluetooth, heated seats and mirrors – and on and on. It wasn’t a BMW or a Mercedes or even a Lexus. But it was the most luxury I’d ever experienced in a car of my own.
And then it was gone.
It’s a funny thing about how insurance reimburses you for a totaled vehicle. They don’t do it in a way that you can replace exactly what you had. I have a long commute, so I put a lot of miles on my car – I had 27,000 miles at the time of the accident, although the car was less than a year old. But insurance doesn’t pay you replacement value. They pay you as if you were selling the car to someone – and the value drops with that kind of mileage. Why it matters with a totaled car, I had a hard time understanding. But it’s the way it worked.
Don’t get me wrong – my insurance company, Travelers, was wonderful about the whole accident process. They were efficient, kind, and quick. But they had rules about what they’d pay. Those rules are pretty much spelled out in the policy. It’s just the way it is. I never paid much attention, since I’d never had a serious accident and never expected to (does anyone?).
Anyway, once I knew what insurance would pay me after paying the finance company, it was clear that I couldn’t afford to replace my Santa Fe as it was. In fact, if I wanted to maintain or reduce my car payments, I really couldn’t afford a Santa Fe at all.
I was seriously bummed. And angry. I hate having to commute so far. I’m at an age where most of my friends are retired and I want to be (but don’t have a pension that allows me that luxury), so I’m admittedly resentful about that. My luxurious ride was the one thing that made driving to work not only tolerable, but enjoyable. My anger built over several days of searching for a car that was ranked high for safety but was more affordable than what I’d had.
Then I received a phone call from a friend whose wife was just diagnosed with Parkinsons.
He was clearly shattered. As I would be in his shoes.
Something like that puts the ranking of driving a luxurious car way low in the priority of what’s important in life. I’m healthy. I have a husband who is healthy and a wonderful partner in life. I have my sweet Nala, my Border Terrier. We don’t have a lot of money, and I haven’t written a bestseller yet (and may never, especially while I’m working full time and commuting nearly 3 hours/day by car). But eventually I will be retired. Eventually we will be able to tap our retirement funds without worrying about running out if we live a long time. I have the luxury of an “eventually” in my life and marriage. My friend and his wife probably don’t.
So yesterday I set aside all of my misdirected anger and went car shopping. I set a few “must-haves” (All Wheel Drive, high safety ratings, and a few luxuries like Bluetooth and roof racks and heated seats), and added improved gas mileage to increase affordability. I discarded my previous color limitations. By the end of a long day of shopping I was the owner of a white Subaru Impreza. It’s not luxurious. I’m not thrilled with the color. But it was affordable. I won’t get excited every time I climb into it to go for a drive, but based on Consumer Reports, it will serve me well. It’s one of the few small cars that combines all wheel drive with excellent gas mileage (36 mpg highway, which is where most of my commute occurs).
And I got my heated seats (we have VERY cold mornings in the Adirondacks for close to 10 months out of the year), Bluetooth (I don’t use the phone a lot, but my husband likes to check in with me on my nasty commute home – this makes talking on the phone both safe and legal), and roof racks so we can park our canoe up there to head out for our water adventures.
So what really matters in the big scheme of life? Certainly not what car you drive. A lot of other things that used to be on my wanna-have list dropped off also.
We only go around once in this life (okay, so maybe more if you believe in reincarnation). It’s important to weigh what makes your life valuable – is it the toys you accumulate (and that someone has to unload when you die)? Is it having a big house with granite countertops? Don’t think so.
What matters is what we do with the time we have here and our connections with the important people in our lives. What legacy do you want to leave behind – a lot of “stuff” or loving memories?
I think it’s the latter that really matters.
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