I recently did something I never do: I bought a big-ticket item.

I am basically a frugal person and try to make a dollar stretch as best I can. And when the time came for me to buy a new car, I worried for days.

My 1998 Honda Civic hatchback, with a five-speed standard transmission and 117,000 miles, finally had driven its last mile. I had planned to keep that car forever, but when the transmission and clutch needed to be replaced, I had a decision on my hands: Put money into it or bite the bullet and buy new.

As my trusted mechanic said to me, if I used the car for trips to the train station and back, he'd opt for the transmission redo. But since I now travel 20 miles back and forth to work and usually in stop-and-go, bumper-to-bumper traffic (and in all kinds of weather), getting something new and reliable made the most sense.

Besides, I'll have this new car for 20 years or more -- and by then, my mode of transportation will be the senior van. (If you think I harp on town spending now, wait until I become a member of the retired senior set.)

So off I went with my sister to buy a new car. Wow, a lot has changed in the 15 years since I went to a dealership. (And, by the way, don't think for a minute that people aren't spending money. The dealership was jammed on that Saturday. Every salesperson was busy handling potential buyers, and more were waiting to be served.) I discovered that there's no more haggling over this or that -- cars come fully loaded with every doodad known to the automobile industry. What an eye-opening experience for me.

I went from having a car with no radio, no air conditioning, no power windows (or steering or brakes) to one that has everything from a built-in Bluetooth for my iPhone to a cargo area where the seats automatically collapse with the pulling of a lever.

Welcome to the 21st century.

But my favorite part of my new Honda CR-V with all-wheel drive? The rear-window wiper. I know, simple pleasures.

Now I am one of those obnoxious people I screamed at who would swoop around me in their SUVs while I was trying to stay on the road in my little Civic. (A friend of mine once told me that my Civic was so small that I needed two -- one for each foot.) On the afternoon of our recent blizzard, a trip I figured would take a couple of hours in nasty weather from New Canaan, ended up being less than an hour. While I did it safely, I found myself passing slower (and older) cars creeping along on snowy roads.

While I try not to think about the money I had to take from my retirement funds to pay for it, having a new car has brightened my mood. And my disposition improved even more once I decided to donate my old car to charity. I chose the Association of Blind Citizens through Helping Hands of America, recommended by my dealership.

My late mother endured macular degeneration and the slow loss of her eyesight over the last 10 years of her life. She also tolerated riding around in my old car, which was difficult for her to get into and out of as she aged. But she was a trooper. Donating the car in her memory was the least I could do for her.

Patricia A. Hines is a Fairfield writer, and her "Hines Sight" appears every other Friday. She can be reached at hinessight@hotmail.com. She also can be followed at http://blog.ctnews.com/hines or @patricia_hines on Twitter.