How to be a cheapskate

Our life in Wales involves living as cheaply as possible. It means questioning every purchase. It’s not always fun, but overall it does feel good to turn our backs on consumerism. We’ve been programmed to buy as much stuff as possible, even when we don’t really need it. How it works now is that we only buy the stuff we really need. And yes, that does include tea and chocolate.

That means I have to run my cars cheaply and economically as well. I never used to be much good at this, having been seduced by the world of cheap (ha!) finance. I owned a lovely Peugeot 306 DTurbo back in 2001 which was a very good car, but definitely not worth the £10,000 it effectively cost me once all of the finance (including rolling in previous finance deals) were taken into effect. Do take time to sit down and look at the sums. It’s bloody scary. Think again. It only makes really horribly rich people even richer.

A time when I had less hair and less sense...

A time when I had less hair and less sense…

Then I met the woman who would become my wife, who had a rather different view of the world. Through lengthy and detailed discussions (finance bad, saving good. I got the message eventually) I learnt to curtail my retail therapy – to a certain extent. I never bought a car again with anything other than the actual cash I had to hand.

Since then, the most I’ve spent on buying a car is £2200, and I got £2050 of that back when I sold it. Splurges have been much restricted since we moved though, as we don’t have that sort of cash anymore. Of the three cars I own at the moment, the 2CV cost me £450, the BX estate £266 (free the second time) and the BX turbo £375. The BX turbo really does leave me questioning why anyone would want to spend more on a car. There’s not much it can’t do.

The 2CV has cost me a fair bit over the years to keep on the road, but while I’ve probably sunk £6000 into the bodywork alone, that’s over a 12 year period, which is £500 a year. That’s not so much is it really?

And that’s the thing, to REALLY run a car on a tight budget, you still need to be prepared to spend money. Sure, there are those who buy a cheap car and do nothing at all to it, just throwing it away when something big breaks, but I prefer to look after what I have. After all, if I keep my car going, it means I don’t need another one and I don’t have to throw away an entire car.

I now have the luxury of more spare time, so that means I can tackle more work on the cars myself. Naturally that helps but there are many good garages out there (they often take some finding) that will carry out work for a fair price.

Economical motoring means trying to do more work yourself. Even in winter.

Economical motoring means trying to do more work yourself. Even in winter.

The absolute fundamental of cheap motoring is this golden rule. Don’t think of what the car is worth. Cars can be bought so cheaply, that it only takes a few hours of paid labour to spend more than the car cost you to buy in fixing stuff. To look at the value of the car and the work needed is entirely the wrong approach, and is exactly what consumerism is all about.

Take my BX turbo as an example. Yes, I paid £375 for it, but I’ve since spent £215 getting the rear suspension overhauled, £50 on an MOT, another £40 on getting a balljoint replaced and £100 on a set of tyres (though I offset that by selling the alloy wheels it had for £80). I’ve still spent over £400 on my £375 car. Madness? Well, no – because I now have a car which is much better and safer than it was when I bought it, and which hopefully will be good for many thousands more miles. By buying cheap in the first place, I’m still restricting my exposure to financial disaster should a major catastrophe occur. My total expenditure is still less than £1000. For that I’ve got a car which is supremely comfortable, fabulously economical and a joy to drive.

Sure, I will admit that there’s a danger where one expensive fault is followed immediately by another. That can happen and it’s only experience that allows me to say “this car is a good basis, stick with it” or “nightmare. Move it on.”

I will also say that much more time is taken up with maintenance than with a newer car. Even if you don’t do the work yourself, you still need to make arrangements and be prepared to be without the car if someone else is doing the work. I try to combat this by having a minimum of two cars roadworthy at one time – another added bonus! Don’t have one expensive car, have several cheap ones!

Being economical is not just about not spending money. It’s about spending carefully.

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