Broke Down

A failing vehicle is one thing, but there is so much more going on here. In short, it was a stressful afternoon.

Started off like any other Saturday. Loaded up the truck with random pieces of lumber and headed to the farmers market. Yep, still doing that.

The truck has been sick for a while. In fact, part of my plan for today was to locate a new rig to drive and drop this one off at the shop sometime. As it turns out, now she’s really sick. I found another truck, but I won’t be able to grab it up until Monday. Hopefully she’ll limp into town.

But car problems happen. That’s life. In this case, it’s a bit more than car problems. It’s not the car, or even the immediate disturbance in life’s flow (I already told the boss that I wouldn’t be able to make it in Monday); this truck is a symbol of something to me.

When I quit the six-figure job and decided to get boots on the ground up here once and for all, I expected a shit storm, and that’s about what I got. I sold my Jeep and bought the Suburban as a junk-yard wreck. Within 3 months of making that decision I started getting really bad pains in my gut as my gall bladder tried every night at exactly 10pm to pass a stone the size of a golf ball. After the unexpected surgery (the night it kept me up until 4 in the morning; they had me in surgery by lunchtime) the doctors found cancer cells in their tissue samples. So I went through all that crap, plus another surgery to dig any possible remaining tissue out.

I was down and out. Hard to be an off-grid homesteader living out of an 84-square-foot shack when you have trouble standing up from the pain. Later that year I got Lyme disease, and that cost a pretty penny, dwindling all of my savings down to a nub. I did have enough to finish the house well enough to live in for the moment, but it’s far from done.

Through this whole time, I’ve replaced the brakes, alternator, tires, starter, and a bunch of other stuff on the truck. I considered these fixes my “car payments.” For what it was when I bought it (totaled out after being T-boned in a crash), it’s been a great truck, and a fighter to the end. In fact, if I can front the money to fix this latest issue, I may hang onto her a while longer, but as a farm truck for tugging equipment around up here on the hill.

I thought of all of that today, and other memories floated in as I dragged a bunch of stuff out of the truck (just in case the dealer offers me some money for it, which I don’t expect they will). That truck was paid off, just like my property, my home, and everything else that I own. I’m in debt to nobody for the first time in my life, and I’ve been riding that train for nearly three years. Last year I took a full-time job, and now I’ll be taking on a car payment.

Somewhere in all of this I feel a regression. There’s something ominous about the tug of the rat race, and the pull from freedom into servitude. We aren’t any longer enslaved to masters or landowners, or even bartering contracts for a lump sum (indentured servitude). Actually, the military is kind of that way with the 4-year thing, but let’s not muddy up the water too much. No, we enslave ourselves by purchasing beyond our means and loading up debt, which must be repaid.

If you save, and spend only on the things you can purchase with cash, then life is easier, though much less flashy. The problem these days is that it’s near impossible. We take out debt for everything, and it’s become the standard form of currency. What was once seen as a risky behavior is now a daily occurrence, every time you swipe a piece of plastic through a reader. It’s so ingrained in everything we do, that there are instances where you’ll be corrected for trying to pay with cash (buy a cell phone without a contract sometime; it baffles the sales rep).

We create our own prisons. Maybe this sounds like I’m complaining about a non-issue, but from the other side of the coin, after you’ve saved your money and paid everything off, it’s hard to look back and take on a new debt without a string tugging at your heart. I was hoping my rig would last the winter, and with the new job I would have enough saved to buy something with cash. With cash I can take a gamble on a cheaper vehicle.

As it stands, I’m just now getting back into a regular rhythm, so it was high time for a little crisis. So, Monday, I’ll find my way back into town, rack up a new recurring payment, and combined with the need for full-time employ (as I’m not self-sufficient enough yet to get by without, or clever enough, or entrepreneurial enough, or something), I’ll have officially re-joined the rat race. Once again I’ll be chasing a debt to pay down instead of saving up a nest egg for the things I may need in the future. Here’s to hoping I can continue reducing costs and get the new rig paid down quickly, but I imaging it will take me some time.

If you can, no matter what your current debt, try to reduce spending and rathole some money away while putting as much toward your debts as you can. I promise you, once you start knocking them out, life is a whole lot less stressful. It means you can shrug off an occasional emergency here or there (like I shrugged off the cost of new tires when the ones on my rig were down to the belts). It means you can pay cash. Hopefully my little stint into the debt world is short and sweet. I’m already cutting some costs around here in an effort to save money faster, and that initiative started a while back.

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