MY MOTHER is 95 years old and still has her driver’s license. She drives her car on rare occasions. You might ask, “Why are you letting your mother drive at this age?” Answer: She passed her written driving test at age 93 and is actually a safe driver. She also doesn’t text or talk on her cell phone while driving, unlike so many other people.
My mother is an independent woman—and enigmatic, too. She’s self-assured about driving and yet fearful of seasoning the family dinner, worrying that she’ll add too much salt or pepper.
When it comes to spending money, my mother exhibits this same enigmatic behavior. She owns a 2000 Chevrolet Impala. It needed a lot of work and the estimated cost to fix it was $1,500. Without hesitation, my mother authorized the repairs. She isn’t, however, always so agreeable when it comes to spending money. When ordering dinner, she refuses to pay an extra dollar to substitute a vegetable for the French fries. She’d rather suffer with her old pair of sunglasses than pay for a new pair.
It’s not like she needs this car in her life. She rarely drives anymore. When she needs to go somewhere, I usually drive her. If I’m not available, my sister or a neighbor can take her. The car is driven about 1,000 miles a year and mostly by me.
I tried to talk my mother into selling the car. I explained that eliminating the cost of the insurance and maintenance alone would save her a substantial sum. My mother isn’t wealthy and she could use the money.
But there’s something about the car that keeps her plowing money into it. After listening to my mother, I realize it isn’t just about the car. It’s what the car symbolizes. It represents the past and the future for my mother. She’s emotionally tied to this car.
The car reminds her of her history. She and my father traveled across the country in it, visiting family and friends. It’s like her house: There’s a lot of memories stored in the car. It also reminds her of the future and what it might look like. Losing this car would be like losing another part of her life—another chink in the armor, another sign that time is running out.
This car is important to her. I get it. The car will stay as long as my mother wants it. It is a comforting reminder of not only who she is, but also who she was. It’s part of her life’s foundation. It’s money well spent.
Dennis Friedman retired at age 58 from Boeing Aerospace Company. He enjoys reading and writing about personal finance. His previous articles include I Can’t Do That, Subtraction Mode and Be Like Neil Young. Follow Dennis on Twitter @dmfrie.