Get Rich with Recycling


When my daughter turned 17, my parents very kindly gave her 2 things for her birthday: firstly, driving lessons and secondly their old banger car which they were replacing. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that, although the 11 year old Ford Ka (street value ~£200) cost us nothing, we’ve temporarily become a 2 car family…with all the cost, paperwork and general bullshit that goes along with that.

Cars are money incineration units. The more you have, the more money you burn. So I’m not a fan of owning more cars.  But we have to live in the real world, I want my daughter to be able to drive (its a life skill) and I’ve learned over time to pick my battles.

One of the core principles of financial independence is that all assets shall be used as efficiently as possible. Nothing should be wasted. This is the missing link between personal finance and environmentalism.

One of the ideas I learned working in corporate finance is that assets have a natural owner. The natural owner is the person (or company) who will put the asset to best use; they will get most value from it. Ultimately the economy functions best (is most productive) when assets are owned by their natural owner.

This is why you should get rid of stuff that’s lying around unused in your garage. And when you get let something go from your life, it should go to someone that values it properly.  This is why selling it might be better than giving it away.

Wherever possible you should either be selling your old stuff on eBay or giving it to a charity shop or to friends or family or otherwise re-homing and / or recycling it. When it comes to money, more is more. But when it comes to stuff, less is more.

Most people have too much stuff. De-cluttering frees your mind and it frees up your living space.  So why not carry out a de-cluttering exercise in your life?

De-cluttering is not just a space freeing exercise, its a mind-altering and character building exercise.  By letting go of stuff, you let go of your inner hoarder. You recognise that maybe that novelty toilet seat did not transform your life nor did it make you any more popular at parties. You acknowledge that YOU ARE NOT YOUR STUFF. Thanks to Marie Kondo, its even trendy right now and you can boast to tell your friends and spread the word.

So, for now, we have 2 cars. More cars = more hassle.  And so it came to pass that last week my daughter came home with the news that the car had a flat tyre and it was up to Dad (that will be me) to remedy the situation.

She’d abandoned the car with a flat tyre nearby in a quiet suburban road of biggish detached houses. I walked there.  The car was safely parked by the pavement so I started to change the tyre. At this point, a little side story played out. A grumpy middle aged man approached me and asked why I was parked on his street (errr hello: can you see the flat tyre??) and warned me that the street was patrolled by The Neighbourhood Watch.

This guy lives in a large detached house with high metal fences and an electronic security gate. It looks like he made money, but at the cost of turning into a fearful and mean-spirited Suburban Nazi. If these are The Joneses, who would want to keep up with them? Don’t fall into that trap, people.

He’d seen the age of the car, the way I was dressed (mechanic jeans) and assumed that I was some peasant / gypsy / burglar come to rob him (or, worse, lower his house price).  The Escape Artist invited him to fuck off go away and call the neighbourhood watch, the Police and the SAS if he wanted.

Once I’d removed the flat and put on the spare tyre, it was off to the local garage to get a quote to change the tyre.  The bad news was that it wasn’t just a flat tyre: the wheel had dented. The garage contacted Ford and quoted me something like £220 for a new wheel and £80 for a new tyre…so about £300 all in.  Given that a rusty 2008 Ford Ka with 3 wheels is worth about £100, this didn’t seem like a good investment and, to the garage’s great credit, they suggested I find a second hand wheel.

When I was 17/18, my first car was a deathtrap 1974 Mark I Ford Escort which I couldn’t afford to get mended at a garage so I bought a Haynes manual and fixed stuff myself using second hand parts when it broke (which it did A LOT).  I have ZERO natural talent when it comes to things mechanical but it just goes to show what you can do when you’re broke and desperate resourceful.

So I checked the internet for a local(ish) scrapyard and I found A1 Car Spares in Wokingham and set off. The place itself was amazing. Hundreds of scrapped cars as far as the eye could see, stacked 4 high on great racks like a warehouse for dead cars.


Between the aisles, electric forklift trucks buzzed around like worker bees in a hive, lifting cars down from the racks and plonking them on the floor where the customers could select prime auto parts from them.

Although the place looks like an environmental disaster movie, it’s actually the complete opposite. It puts perfectly good assets back to work without the environmental impact of new manufacture or melting down. It may not look like it, but these people are actually doing God’s work. It reminded me of fallen tree branches on the forest floor being tidied away by ants and bacteria, breaking old stuff down to create new life.

The customers were a mix of scrap dealers, petrolheads, mechanics and ordinary members of the public.  I’ll be honest, it was the sort of place that soft nice middle class people might find slightly intimidating as it was not sanitised nor dumbed down for clueless consumers. You had to know what you wanted and find it yourself in the scrapyard.


The Escape Artist had prepared and I knew I wanted a 165/60R14 75H (I cunningly got this from the old tyre) wheel with tyre for a 2008 Ford Ka.

I spotted a 2008 Ford Ka high up on the rack and could see that one of the tyres looked almost brand new.  The guy in the forklift whipped the Ka down, the wheel off and it was mine.

The new wheel is a thing of beauty.  The tyre is as good as new: the tread is deeper than a Stephen Hawking lecture (and more useful). The cost of this trophy was an amazing £30!  £30 for something that I could easily have paid £300 for new if I’d been lazy.

It’s not just cars, this principle applies to just about anything.  So let’s have another example, this time based on smartphones.

Given the mass insanity that is today’s worship of smartphones, this is a good place to examine your recyling policy. Apparently a new high end iphone is £750+ for something, as far as I can see, does no more than my £130 Moto phone.  And people are buying this stuff, many of whom are not even millionaires.  I know!

Son #1 recently declared that his phone was broken and that he would “have to” get a new one (to avoid social humiliation at school).  The Escape Artist staged an intervention.  I got him to agree that if I could get his existing phone fixed, then he would hold off on buying an iphone 3000 at vast expense (he has a job washing up in the local pub and so has his own money that he is free to spend as he wishes).

Phone shop

And so it came to pass that I found myself in my local phone repair shop. Run by a hard-working immigrant family, this is another example of people doing God’s work, improving the environment and making money whilst doing so.

Whilst I was in there, I got chatting to them. I have to report that the consumerism-out-of-control situation is not as bad as I thought…its worse.

Did you know that both Apple and Samsung have been fined for slowing down their phones? So what you think is just the phone slowing down with age or the battery wearing out might have been deliberately engineered in?  Jeez…this is the sort of shit that gets capitalism a bad rap.

They told me how people just throw away their phones in the bin rather than recycling them. This is despite the fact that the shop will always take people’s old phones – either paying cash for newer models or collecting the older ones and giving them to charities that give them to people in developing countries.

And most importantly of all, they fixed my son’s old phone for a fraction of the price of a new model. 

If you don’t know your friendly local phone repair shop, then go find them and get to know them. True, this won’t make you rich by itself. But remember the power of The Aggregation of Marginal Gains.

Happy recycling!

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  1. I’m sure that everyone has their own recycling stories. Consumerism relies upon people buying new when their old one breaks, or when a newer new one comes along or you just buy another new one despite having loads already (GFF has to admit to owning at least 100 pairs of socks despite not buying any in the last 3 years).
    Consumerism is at its heart the antithesis to having a content and happy life- avoid if at all possible!

  2. Gwen Hamer · · Reply

    Best article so far. Cars and phones are a drain and so many people claim they “need” them. Even that they “need” the latest model.

  3. My kind of dude !!! I also would have let your girl do the tire exchange in the nearby area, so that she knows the drill when the same thing happens when she’s far away from dad. I also had a similar problem with my microwave oven who stopped working once the lamp blew out (the real reason I bother to reply in the comment section). The model (whirlpool) wasn’t manufactured anymore, 17 years old. Needed to spend money adapting the built-in wooden kitchen frame around the damn broken micro-wave, to make it neat again. Fuck it. Ended up buying 4 identical second hand models from second hand sites for £25-50 per microwave oven, so that I am done with this crap forever, given my age. The new one did cost me over £300 when I bought it 17 years ago. I now have four for half the price and they will go for another 40 years, since two are brand new.

  4. “This guy lives in a large detached house with high metal fences and an electronic security gate. It looked to me like he has succeeded financially in life but at the cost of turning into a selfish, mean-spirited Suburban Nazi. If these are the Joneses, then who would want to keep up with them? Don’t fall into that trap, people.”

    This reminds me of the person who lives next door to us. When we moved in I parked my car on the street and then didn’t use if for a couple of months. As we were driving off in it he flagged us down and says “oh this is your car is it? I was about to report it to the council to say that it had been abandoned.” He also lives in a large detached house, with metal spiky points on the top of his wall and a electric gate at the front. We call him ‘the dodge’ because of the way he acts (dodgey) and it still makes us laugh to this day.

  5. Haha. Brings it all back to me! I have spent far too many weekends in far too many wet and muddy Glasgow scrappies over the years. Never have bought a new car and always owned mostly bangers that all required varying levels of personal mechanical intervention. But I now have skills and knowledge (thanks Mr Haynes) that let me keep my ongoing motoring costs low, even though the standard of my cars has risen 🙂 Well worth the effort – within reason!

  6. Ahh – the Mark 1 Ford Escort – that brought back some lovely memories as it was my first car too. Mine was a 4 door L reg version. Luckily mine never went wrong in the 5 years I owned it – all it did was rust away – I got really good at applying fibre glass especially to the front wing.

    Cars are a good example of how some things have improved massively over time. My current car is 15 years old and I have owned it from new (I realise that gets me kicked out of the FI club.) I have not taken particularly good care of it but it is in near perfect condition with no rust on the bodywork and the mechanics are still great.

    I am very impressed you managed to avert your son from social humiliation without him buying the latest overpriced apple product. Failed dismally with my daughter who used her own money to buy the latest iphone which will be icrap in 2 years. To be fair, if you priced the phone on a per usage basis then, perhaps, it is not as bad as it seems as she is on it constantly!

  7. I’ve just read Goodbye, Things by Fumio Sasaki if you are wanting some more minimalist inspiration. Great book and great article, TEA!

  8. Great post! I managed to rescue an immaculate Dyson V8 from a skip at the local tip. All that was required to fix it was a £13 battery change. It is absurd that people don’t even attempt to fix things. Again, this is compounded by the staff at the tip not allowing items to be rehomed owing to health and safety issues.

  9. Hi – Enjoyed that post!
    Your story resonated with me – I also own my parents old car (Japanese built – they seem to last better than french car and similar value, cant afford German built yet).
    Two thoughts that your story brought to my minds forefront: The principles of minimalism (mentioned by a fellow readers above and a whole post on its own) which seems to help with the above issues but is every businesses nightmare
    And also the idea of not owning things, rather, renting them – I use Zipcar as an example. The asset is then utilized much more (our cars are stationary 90% of its life)
    Imagining renting your fridge, washing machine etc and when it goes wrong its in the owners (Samsung, whirlpool etc) to come fix it rather than replace. That way manufactures would have the incentive to make things last so their customers don’t need to replace and risk moving to another brand.
    The same principle applies with housing, a landlord will want to sweat his assets and fill as many rooms as possible compared to when you own property you have a spare bedroom, study etc
    I welcome thoughts on the above.

  10. In 2015 someone saw fit to dump a brick in the middle of the hood of my little 11-year old Astra. Vauxhall Bodyshop quoted an all in price of £1.200.- (new hood, fixing it, respraying the front etc., etc.). Called my local scrapyard who told me that they had several Astras in stock and I should just come by. Found a hood in a similar colour and the guys at the scrapyard also changed it for me. All in price: £80.-. Never bothered with respraying anything.

  11. […] TEA also looks at car ownership, as part of an excellent post on the benefits of a repair and recycl… […]

  12. Only question, why wasn’t she alongside you learning these valuable life lessons? As a former teenage girl, one of my regrets is not learning to fix my own car.

    1. Hi Tracy – good question. The answer is my teenage daughter was alongside me for some of it – it was her that took the photo of me with the tyre. I asked her to come with me to the scrapyard but she said no because she’s revising hard for A level exams. I didn’t force her as that would have caused a big row. You have to pick your battles in the frugality & parenting business…

  13. […] Get wealthy with recycling – The Escape Artist […]

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