At last we meet again. Apologies for the break in posts, but last week we were on spring break, and the week prior I had to focus on a major purchase. The good news is I’ve got plenty of blog fodder to fill the coming weeks. Let’s celebrate it’s Friday and get back to full steam, shall we?
Our spring break was a wide and varied bundle of fun. We had planned to travel for a good chunk of the week, but the weather had different plans. In addition, Bamble the dog also started showing his age and needed a visit to the vet. Thankfully our plans, as always, were flexible, so we were able to pivot and combine some fun in town with a short trip.
We started the break with a visit to the local George W. Bush Presidential Library. It was really cool. The was our second presidential library, having visited Clinton’s in Little Rock. I won’t get into politics, but it was fascinating to contrast the two libraries – style, content, and attitude. I would definitely like to visit more presidential libraries, which makes me sound like I’m 70 years old.
Next was a trip to New Orleans, one of my favorite cities for a short visit. We visited the awesome WWII museum, took a short cruise on the Mississippi, and enjoyed some fine dining. The boys got to stay up late in a hotel room watching TV (somehow that’s magical for them), the missus got some great seafood, and I celebrated a family trip with no major fights. In other words, a perfect trip for everyone 🙂
On Friday night, my brother came out to spend the night. We grilled steaks and made s’mores. My boys tried to teach him Super Smash Bros Ultimate and Fortnite, but the word on the street is he was terrible at both. While my brother is local and visits often, it was special for both boys to have him “camp” with us. My youngest was really funny – with a huge grin he enjoyed showing uncle where he’d sleep, reminding him several times not to accidentally go into the walk-in attic (“You’ll fall through the floor!”), and making sure he realized that since they shared a bathroom they were officially neighbors.
And in a clear sign that money <> happiness, guess what my boys rated as the high point of spring break?
Speak Another Language for $15
The idiot lights on cars nowadays aren’t super helpful. Your check engine light could mean your gas cap is loose (huh?), your engine is about to explode, or maybe something in between. A light comes on, you take your car to the mechanic, and you steel yourself for the worst.
When my Mini started having some trouble last fall, I took it to an auto parts shop and felt undying gratitude when they read the problem code for free. I gazed with envy at the guy’s code reader and fantasized of speaking car language myself. Then I realized basic car code readers cost about $15.
I don’t push products hard on this site, and it’s not just because the pennies of commission I might earn from Amazon are tough to get excited about. But I’m going to pound the table and say that everyone who owns a car should have at least a basic car code reader. Mine is already the highest return on investment I think I’ve ever had.
I Bought A Car
My not-so-beloved Mini has been cast away. There is a new love in my life. A steamy blog post awaits!
I typically do a lot of research before I buy a car. And of course I do a lot of research whenever a problem arises. What I haven’t done regularly is just research the car I own when nothing pressing is wrong.
Just before spring break, my Mini started having more troubles when it got unseasonably cold. I’m still not certain what was wrong with it – it could have been the thermostat, the temperature sensor, or just that the car didn’t like the cold. The troubles and error code persisted even after it warmed up, but on a lark I cleared the code using my (wait for it…) code reader, and suddenly the car was fine.
As I researched DIY thermostat replacement (pretty easy for normal cars, almost impossible for Mini Coopers), I came to an unpleasant conclusion. My car was a piece of s***. The YouTube videos of people working on them border on comedy – no one can understand why some sadist made them so difficult to work on (well, they are Germans…), and even experts have trouble not breaking stuff or making mistakes when performing repairs. Most mechanics won’t work on Minis, so for real problems I’d need to go to a high-end mechanic specializing in imports.
As I considered the long-term fun of owning an overly complex and seemingly trouble-prone German-engineered car, I did some more googling. Turns out I owned one of Seven Engines to Avoid Like the Plague. Whoa. It appeared my minor problems to date were just the tip of the iceberg.
The missus and I aren’t car people. We just want something that works, and our tolerance for having a car out of commission is quite low. I was already thinking of breaking up with the Mini over some minor transgressions, so hearing the horror stories of other people sealed the deal. Just before break I dropped it like a bad habit.
Both my 2006 RX-8 and 2012 Mini Cooper Countryman had high predicted reliability when I bought them, but they both ended up with terrible reputations for their engines. My dream is to drive a car until it falls apart, but I feel like I dodged a bullet by dumping them both before major repairs.
Will I break my streak of bad luck with my new ride? You’ll have to tune in next week to find out!
Links I Liked
While I didn’t do a lot of writing over the last fortnight, I did do some reading. Here’s some of the stuff that I liked.
Nelson wrote a loving note of thanks to his 22 year old self for making the sacrifices that allow him to enjoy life on cruise control today. It’s a great reminder that front-loading your effort is a wonderful recipe for happiness. And I adamantly refuse to make a joke that Nelson already showed his 22 y.o. self enough love at the time.
The other day, I was reading another Nelson post where he was complaining about something (like that narrows it down…) and a reader mentioned the Longreads site in a comment. I’m officially hooked. It is a great curator of really interesting pieces that challenge our short attention spans and might – might – actually make us more informed. For a nice sample, check out their top picks from 2018.
One of my favorites told the story of an elderly couple from Michigan who cracked the code of two different state lottery games and netted almost $8 million dollars – legally and predictably.
I wish everyone was great with finances, but that’s not going to happen. Their loss is our gain, though, as Full Time Finance points out in “People Who are Poor with Money Subsidize the Rest of Us”.
An enduring lesson being taught in our household right now is that a big brain will only take you so far – good habits and discipline are key, especially when showing your work on math assignments. I was happy to read a finance-themed piece of the same message, as Brent writes in “Behavior is More Important than Brilliance”.
One of the knocks on frugal folks is that they never go nuts and have “fun” splurging with wild abandon. Mr. Tako answered the question, “Don’t You Ever Splurge?” by pointing out that fun <> spending and if being disciplined makes sense, it makes sense all of the time. In other words (spoiler alert), no, Mr. Tako doesn’t splurge.
What I’m Reading
I’m just about to wrap up A Colony In a Nation. It’s not going to give you a warm, happy glow, but I highly recommend it. It’s an important and timely book.
In the coming posts I’m going to talk about ways to save on a car and share the thrilling narrative of my recent car purchase. Stay tuned!
Picture courtesy of the mysterious “shell ghostcage”