I can’t be entirely certain, but I have read enough savings and pre-trip posts on enough blogs to assert that Tony and I may be the very first long-term travel bloggers who decided NOT to sell our car on the path to our travel dreams. I know most people argue that cars are money pits and that in the time we are away, we will really just be losing money on our car, but bear with me on this one. Tony and I own a 2008 Sidewalk Edition Mini Cooper “S” Convertible. It is a REALLY nice car. So nice that I feel bad referring to our car as an “it”, because truth be told, our car is so pretty that I named her Sophia the moment I laid eyes on her and she has been Sophia ever since.
So, meet Sophia:
I know it’s terribly shallow of me to admit how much we love our car because backpackers tend to get caught up in the “nobility of nothingness”, and I am sure I will be flogged for not waxing on rhapsodic about the beauty of streamlining and stripping yourself of unnecessary possessions in order to learn to value what is really important in life. Before you exile me, I will say that Tony and I did sell/donate/junk A LOT of our belongings, so it’s not that we don’t know the joy of getting rid of stuff. It’s just that having done all that, we still really didn’t want to get rid of Sophia. You may call it rationalizing, but we did come up with a bunch of reasons why it didn’t necessarily make sense for us to sell her:
- Sophia is fully paid off, so depreciating or no, she is a financial asset
- Mini Coopers actually tend to hold their value pretty well, so on the off chance we did decide to sell Sophia post-trip, we likely wouldn’t have lost that much money by holding on to her
- We really don’t know where we will settle down after this trip, but unless we wound up somewhere like Manhattan or San Francisco, we would probably find having a car useful…
- Because we don’t know whether we will need a car post-trip, we would probably wind up simply keeping any money we made from selling Sophia in savings to put towards another car so it wouldn’t go towards our travel fund anyway…
- There is no way we would could get a car half as nice as Sophia for the money we would get selling her
- When we bought Sophia, we did so with the intention of driving her until she cannot be driven anymore. She is in excellent condition and has no mechanical issues, so there’s really no reason why we couldn’t conceivably drive her for at least another 10 years
- Finally, in case I haven’t mentioned it: Sophia is SO pretty & insanely fun to drive
Whether you buy these reasons or not, we felt that in the face of them (and our irrational love for Sophia), the most sensible thing to do was to keep our car. We figured she’s such a sweet ride that it shouldn’t be too hard to find someone willing to drive her around and look foxy for a year.
As fate would have it, our good friend Mike told us a couple of months ago that he was in the market for a car. It seemed like this was a win-win situation for all of us: we would have someone to look after our car while we were away and Mike would have access to a super hot car while only having to worry about insurance and upkeep costs!
There was just one hitch in our plan: because insurance is tied to the car and our car is in Tony’s name, if Mike should happen to have any accidents while we were away, they would all go on Tony’s record. I don’t know if this is common knowledge; after all, it makes more sense that the insurance record of whoever is driving the car would be affected, but this is emphatically NOT how it works. If you own the car and have it insured, anything that happens to the car is on you. We love Mike dearly, but you can never be too sure, so we looked for a way around this.
After some internet investigating (our favorite kind!), we hit upon another solution: we could sell the car to Mike for a pittance, which would allow us to transfer ownership (and insurance liability) to him. Then when we returned from our trip, Mike could sell us the car back for the same negligible amount and we would reassume responsibility for Sophia. We pitched this plan to Mike and he agreed to it, so for months this has been THE PLAN.
If only that were the end of this story.
Two days ago, Tony & Mike decided that they should actually look at the process of selling & registering a car in Texas. In the course of their rooting about, they discovered that sales tax on cars purchased in Texas is calculated on the basis of the purchase price OR the assessed value of the car, whichever is higher. Here we thought we were being all clever selling the car to Mike for $5, so that he wouldn’t have to pay much tax. Alas, rough estimates suggested that Sophia could be appraised for around $17,500. And with sales tax in Texas being about 6.25%, all of a sudden this sale was going to cost $1100.
Talk about a bad case of whiplash.
With a cool grand at stake, Tony and I frantically tried to find a less expensive way to deal with Sophia. We could swallow the money if absolutely necessary, but the knowledge of how far that money would take us on our trip caused our previous plan to plummet to the bottom of our list of possibilities.
Thankfully, the universe doesn’t seem to hate us, it just likes to keep us on our toes.
Because we are currently in Minnesota staying with Tony’s parents, we looked into the possibility of leaving the car here with them. It turns out that Minnesota has some pretty awesome gift laws. Specifically, parents and children can “gift” cars to one another, allowing ownership to be transferred, but no tax is paid! So, Tony can transfer ownership of Sophia to his parents free of charge, and because his father is retired (and already has several other cars) and has no accidents on his insurance record, the insurance will likely be very cheap to maintain her. All we have to pay upfront are the registration fees, which amount to about $250, and Tony’s parents have graciously offered to help out with those.
I have said it before, but I will say it again: this trip is only happening because we are fortunate enough to have the love and support of many wonderful people who are willing to help us realize our dreams. First my parents agreed to help out with the dogs, and now Tony’s parents are helping out with the car. We are SO grateful for the ways our families have contributed to our dream.
But of course, with a viable plan for Sophia came a new problem: how would we get to Austin to catch our flight to LA on August 8? We looked into getting a one-way car rental, but that was verging on $400 (for 2 days!!!), and that doesn’t take into account money needed for gas and a hotel. At that price, flights from Minneapolis were hardly more expensive. In fact, for the same price it would cost to fly to Austin, we could just fly from Minneapolis to LA… but not, of course, flying on Frontier Airlines, which was the carrier we were originally going to fly from Austin to LA. In order to change those tickets so that we could fly from Minneapolis to LA, we would have to pay $675 ($50 change fee per ticket + difference in ticket prices). Not gonna happen. After some soul-searching we decided to just view the Austin plane tickets as a sunk cost—whether we take that flight or not, we can’t get the money we spent on it back. Whether we decided to go to Austin by car or plane, or just fly to LA direct from Minneapolis, it was going to add about $400 to our original amount, so we decided to make the choice that makes our life easier: we canceled our Austin tickets and booked new plane tickets (with a different carrier) from Minneapolis to LA on August 8. Although we were really looking forward to seeing Mike in Austin, this choice saves us two days of driving and means we can spend a few extra days with Tony’s parents.
This isn’t the happiest ending this story could have, but I will say this decision wasn’t quite as costly as it could have been. Despite cashing in our Chase Ultimate Reward points back in May in order to pay for our tickets to Tokyo, we have since accrued enough points so that this decision “only” cost us $377 (and hey, we got triple points on that amount… gotta look on the bright side, right?). Plus we now have a $300 flight credit (+$50 change fee per ticket) on Frontier that we have until May 2013 to book… I have no idea if we’ll ever actually do that, but I guess until it expires we don’t have to consider that money completely lost.
I am half-tempted to say that this is just another example of how the best-laid plans were better of not being laid at all… but then again, I think that this could also be viewed as an instance in which we did not plan ENOUGH. If we had done our due diligence about selling the car back before we bought our plane tickets, we certainly could have saved ourselves some money and a good deal of stress. While the timing certainly sucked (really, unexpected costs aside, this is not the kind of thing you want to deal with in the week before you depart on an international trip!), I suppose this is a scenario we will find ourselves faced with countless times on the road where flexibility and a willingness to adapt plans (even if that means relinquishing ones you have a financial investment in) is critical to success. I wouldn’t go so far to say that this is something I am glad this happened, but I am proud of us for making what I think was the best out of a bad situation.
So let that be a lesson to the rest of you: no matter how clever you think you are, keeping your car when you go traveling will cost you money. Let’s all just hope that when it comes to Sophia, we’re topped out!