As you may have gathered, I’m fond of having budgets – usually so I can ignore them. But about a year ago, I decided I didn’t feel like having a job any more, and I became an avid disciple of a blogger who calls himself Mr Money Mustache.
Mr MM advocates early retirement (not as in ‘at age 55’, but as in ‘within 10 years of starting work, around age 30’) through badassity. It turns out that badassity is Canook for ‘using your common sense and not spending money on heaps of crap’. It’s amazing how you can change your life just by getting good at not buying things. And, as a not insignificant bonus, you also end up being far nicer to the planet.
Now, a sensible Mustachian would obviously do all their saving before retiring. Naturally, I poo-pooed that idea. And, just before waving goodbye to my desk, I did something else that would have had Mr MM crying into his stash in despair: I bought yet another fancy clown car.
I blame Top Gear, but it seemed natural at the time to fork out close to R200k for a shiny Audi. Besides, I’d recently survived a major accident, in which my last fancy clown car (an overpriced Mini) successfully saved me and my passenger from injuries too awful to contemplate. (We tried contemplating them. It wasn’t fun.)
But, after a year of doing whatever I wanted – which, oddly enough, involved very little driving – that beautiful, expensive piece of machinery suddenly stopped making sense. One day, I woke up and realised I didn’t want it. What I wanted was a vintage hipster bicycle for tootling around town and a tiny little Noddy-car for groceryering. (Unlike Mr MM, I can’t see myself growing enough facial hair to use a bike trailer.)
The Audi quickly found a new, more appreciative owner, and I trawled Gumtree looking for one of these:
It was an educational experience. Here are a few of my favourite ads:
I worked really hard at my car-buying. I read reviews for almost every tiny car made in the last 10 years. I read detailed instructions on how to inspect a car. I read a 12-page undercover report by a journalist who’d been sent to spy on car salesmen. I read Terry Pratchett. (That wasn’t technically part of the research, but it was necessary after several straight hours of Gumtreeing.)
I drove to Somerset West to grimace at a mangy Panda. I drove to Paarl to get a speeding fine. I went to see cars in the dark and rain and cars that would have looked much better in the dark and rain. Until, eventually, I’d had enough.
I’d like to say that the car I ended up buying is the best possible fit for my budget and requirements, but there’s a chance I simply bought it out of fatigue. Plus, the friend I took with me to inspect it (as per expert car-shopping instructions) was about as much use in this regard as a week-old newspaper.
The Cringe-Inducing Ex is one of only two ex-boyfriends who still actively seek my company. Since, like Taylor Swift and most other women in the world, I’m a psycho bitch from hell, this makes him a very special friend indeed.
On the down side, the CIE’s chief pleasure in my company is retelling the same embarrassing stories about our relationship and making the same mortifying observations about my taste in subsequent boyfriends every single time I see him. In fact, in case you were ever considering dating me, I advise you not to. The CIE will come up with a nickname for you so hideously accurate that I won’t be able to get past it.
“Seen The Turtle lately?” the CIE inquired for the hundredth time as he drove us through the mist towards Montague Gardens.
“No, I haven’t seen him for YEARS. You KNOW that.”
I dashed into Broadway Bakery to buy some pasteis in the forlorn hope he’d lose his train of thought. No such luck.
“So, any news on The Queen Mother?” he asked, crunching pastry. “Is he married yet?”
“I told you, I don’t follow him on Facebook. Why don’t YOU stalk him if you’re so interested?”
“I used to, when you were dating him.”
At last we reached the dealership and took the little car for a test drive.
“What do you think?” I asked him as we pootled along in an underpowered kind of way.
“It seems very small,” he said.
“Yes, that’s the point.”
“But you’ve always had nice cars. What will The Walking Dead think of you driving a car like this?”
“It doesn’t MATTER what he’d think, since I’m never going to SEE him again.”
Back at the dealership, I reminded the CIE to kick the tyres. He pronounced them all present, so I went into the Wendy house and bought the car.
As a thank you for his sterling service, I then dragged the CIE through the icy, windy streets of Lower Woodstock to find some lunch. The CIE looked around nervously.
“Do you walk here often?” he asked.
“Yes, all the time.”
“Are we anywhere near the Old Biscuit Mill?”
“It’s just around the corner.”
“Can we go there, then? I’d feel safe there.”
“I won’t,” I grumbled. “The prices they charge can be very dangerous.”
We wandered through the empty, echoing cloisters of the Old Biscuit Mill. Behind the cutesy artsy bucket mill fountain thing, a warm, inviting deli doorway beckoned.
We went inside. They had bread.
They had meat.
They had cheese.
Since these are three of my favourite things, we sat down and asked for a menu.
There’s a well-documented phenomenon in behavioural economics called relativity (it’s not the Einstein kind). Essentially, when you’re dealing with large amounts of money, smaller amounts of money seem relatively insignificant.
For example, if you were at the Waterfront buying a handbag for R12,000, the chance of saving R200 on it would be unlikely to cause you to drive to Century City. But, if you wanted a pair of jeans that cost R250, you’d probably drive all the way to Belville to buy the same jeans for R50. I think this is why I barely flinched when I looked at the menu and saw that the sandwiches were around the R70 range*. After all, I’d just bought a car.
I ordered a roast beef on sourdough with shaved Gruyere. The CIE ordered a more reasonably-priced bowl of R55 pea and brie soup. We sat and waited for our food.
“I like their sign,” I said to the CIE, pointing at the deli’s branding on the counter. “I like how they’ve used such a tiny little sausage. It’s cute.”
The CIE considered it for a while.
Then said: “Doesn’t it remind you of …”
*If you think it’s ridiculous that I’m examining why I went ahead and ordered a R70 sandwich – thus violating my strict R50 lunch budget – I’m sorry to say it, but your Mustache needs work.