“Materialism and Time” (or “Why I Don’t Want a New Car”) by Gord Laws

It’s strange how a person’s approach to materialism changes over the years. Well, mine at any rate. The things we want, the things we have, and other people’s things that we envy. Let me explain what I mean…

I’ll start by saying that I’m no kibbutz-bothering hippy. I like nice things and I like being able to afford them. Let me loose in a store full of Nike Air Maxes and you’ll quickly see what I mean.

Nike Air Max 90
Nike Air Max 90s: I have a serious addiction that I fear is way out of control.

It’s the approach to things that you want for the sake of wanting them that changes with time. well, mine has, anyway. Here’s why I bring it up…

In 2007, aged 25, I bought myself a new VW Polo 1.6. Black as night… The Metal Mobile.
My pride and joy. She was difficult to afford at the time and strained me financially, but I was in love. I vowed to make all the payments and to maintain her flawlessly, for as long as she would be mine. She was the best I could afford and I loved her absolutely. R147 000 (i took the upgraded rims and tinted-windows options). R2300 per month. Five years. R35k residual.

Absolute driving joy. Especially after the old, battered 3 Series with the broken everything that I was used to. Airbags, ABS, aircon, MP3 player and, best of all, shiny, glowing  instrument-lights that made the clocks light up electric-blue at night!

Still, I looked around and saw Golf 6 GTIs, BMW 3 Series and the like, and kinda wished that THAT had been the best I could afford. I admired flashy, fast cars – hatchbacks especially – and contemplated what I’d buy if only I could. I had opinions on which brands and models were better, and secretly envied my friends (whilst being mostly very happy for them) who got sporty cars. Like my boy Greg Russell (ECD of inJozi – they’re awesome, check them out) when he bought his Volvo C30 hell beast.
Jis, that’s a nice car.

I thought about how I could try to afford these kinds of cars. I did sums in my head about how much more I’d need to earn or save to make it viable at last. Ways that involved  never going out partying again, supplementing my income and, if necessary, eating only eggs and brown bread for three weeks of every month…

VW Golf 6 GTi
VW Golf 6 GTi: I used to want one. Badly.

Golf 6 GTi. I would feel a pang every time one passed me (which, in Sandton, they did often) and silently resented the douchebag driving it (yes, that car is the talisman of the SA douchebag, but if you’re a VW fan like me, you’ll overlook it it. It’s a beautiful piece of engineering). Sometimes, not so silently, even.

The years passed. The payments on the Metal Mobile became easier with each one. Eventually, the residual was due. I had not saved for it, so I had to finance it over 18 months. I settled it in six.

Then the payments went away. I immediately transferred the monthly amount I’d grown used to debiting, into my investment/s, so my car could start to pay me back a little, at last.
I’d also began to earn and invest more over the previous six years. The sums started to become less impossible and, for the first time, even feasible. More new cars emerged, as they do, and with each, a new level of social status.

Last year, I looked upon the Golf 7. I was impressed. I looked upon the new A-Class Mercedes Benz. I was more impressed.

Thing is, I just didn’t really want a GTi anymore. Nor an A-Class Merc. Nor a new 3 Series BMW |(man, they have dropped the ball on those from where I sit).
I could buy one if I really wanted to – a position I’d longed to be in for years. That’s not to say it would be easy. It would stretch me as much or more than buying the Metal Mobile did in 2007. It would take a few years for the payments to become comfortable; possibly, the entire five or six-year term of paying such a car off. And there would again be a residual. But it would have been possible. My finger could potentially pull that trigger.

Mercedes-Benz A 250 SPORT
Mercedes-Benz A 250 SPORT: If I was on the market for a new car, it would probably be one of these…

But, the desire was just not there. And it takes some desire to be that broke for that long.

Today, I am still with the Metal Mobile. She is more than seven years old and has done 113 000km, almost all of them with me at the wheel. She’s all mine, has been for a year and a half, and she doesn’t cost me a cent in repayments. I do low-enough mileage that her services are yearly and predictable.

Every now and then, tyres, parts and brake pads need replacing, but she is in good nick. I make sure I fix whatever is rattling or squeaking or “feeling funny” as soon as I possibly can, and I spare no expense on care for her. Sure, I take her to third-party service outlets (because VW, out of motorplan, is essentially the financial equivalent of a sex crime) but only reputable ones that I trust.

I love my car. I adore her. She is my pride and joy. She goes like a dream, she’s only ever been mine, and she’s beautiful in my eyes. Sure, she’s got a lot of little dings and scratches if you look closely, but only because she is black (let’s face it, black cars face hardships that white ones do not) and because she has lived – she’s been to six Oppikoppis, countless other festivals, lived in Joburg and – for a spell – even lived on the streets of Cape Town’s inner city. She works and I adore her.

Let me clarify, in closing, that this is not a blog about how I can afford a nicer car. Quite the opposite. I’ve decided to go it alone and freelance as an advertising consultant.  And recently, with a partner, started a company that requires a lot of unpaid, initial work. Cash is not garaunteed like it was on a creative director‘s salary, with a magazine to work on as Contributing Editor every month. Debt is the last thing I would want right now.

It’s going really well with consulting. Best move ever. But nothing is assured. Not having to pay for a car every month is a huge weight off my shoulders in this brave new world. Having a car that works at my disposal is equally comforting. And, every time I get into the Metal Mobile, I feel a little pang of joy; a bite-sized taste of how it felt to be 25 and starting the engine of the car you really want.

I would hate to drive a new car right now. I would hate to pay for it. I would stress my face off anywhere I went in it. I would become distraught when (not if) a knobhead opened his door into it at the gym.

I would feel the money come off my account every month like blood from a knife wound.

VW Volksie Beetle
Old age: it’s coming for all of us. Let’s just hope, when it does, we can be graceful about it.

One day, the Metal Mobile will become old, decrepit and broken. Perhaps then I’ll get her a new engine, clutch, gearbox and suspension (the latter, she’s had a few replacement-parts for already) and drive her for another five or ten years. Maybe one day I’ll have kids and she’ll be bestowed upon my first-born as an ancient relic; embarrassing and liberating in equal measure, like that Volksie on the old VW ads that those of you my age or older will surely remember.

Perhaps, eventually, she will require more maintenance than she is worth and I shall have to trade her in as a meagre deposit on something flashy and status-laden that I can barely afford.

But today? Today I drive the greatest car in the world. If you gave me a GTi, I’d sell it. I’d drive the money to the bank, in the Metal Mobile, singing a happy song, with that feeling of butterflies and pride in my gut every time I stomp the Metal Mobile’s gas pedal and feel the fearless roar rise from her mighty belly.

I think I’m gonna go drive her to the Sneaker Store right now. This month, she’s buying me a pair of Air Maxes. Gawd, I do love those shoes…