All About Cars

Confession. We have three cars.

Yes, we’re a two person household.

Yes, having a third car is probably not the most fiscally responsible thing.

No, I don’t care.

BUT – I thought I’d maybe take a minute to talk about cars, car payments, and other car-related things.

I’m not really a car person. I like cars, I suppose, as much as one likes something that they spend at least 90 minutes a day in (I have a really long commute each day). But I don’t love cars or anything.

I usually only have one “must have” when it comes to cars and that’s that the front seat needs to be a power seat. You see, I am short and if the seat doesn’t rise up then I have to sit on phone books in order to see over the dash. (True story, my first car was a 1991 Buick Park Avenue. It had an immoveable bench seat. I had to sit on a stack of pillows to see over the dash the entire time I drove that car.)

My husband is more of a car person then I am. At least, when it comes to cool, old cars. Neither one of us really cares for new cars. But he loves vintage hot rods.

And that’s how we ended up buying a third car. A 1978 Pontiac Firebird. Red car, big black phoenix. Gorgeous.

Now, just because I’m not a car person, doesn’t mean I don’t freaking love this car. I love taking the T-tops down and going for a ride in the summer. I love how cool I feel in that car. I love that my hubby and I will just get in the car and drive, just the two of us. It’s amazing.

But… do we need this car? Definitely not.

Do we want this car? Absolutely.

I haven’t talked too much about needs vs. wants here on this blog, yet. But it is a topic I hope to dive into more as I continue writing. And one of the things that encouraged me to start this blog in the first place is that, sometimes, we don’t make the fiscally responsible decision.

And that’s okay.

My husband and I are DINKs with a good amount of disposable income.

If we were trying to retire early, or pay down mountains of debt, or buy more rental properties or whatever… we would not have bought this third car.

But we’re not really aiming for those things. Instead, we’re aiming for balance.

That is, the balance between putting a sizeable amount of money away for our future retirement and the balance between living our lives in the now.

Some finance bloggers will tell you to get rid of your car! It’s a money sink. It’s going to lose money the second you drive it off the lot. It’s keeping you fat and lazy and blah blah fucking blah.

Look… all of that might be true. But it’s absolutely not realistic for everyone to just get rid of their cars. I could give you a history lesson, but the United States is not a commuter friendly country on the whole. There are some cities or towns that embrace public transportation, and bike paths, and carpooling, but I don’t live in one of them.

I have a 40 minute commute each way and my building is not accessible by public transportation. My husband’s commute is only about 15 minutes each way, but it’s still not bike-able. Especially not in the Midwest. In winter.

So, I’m not going to tell you the way to save money is to sell your cars. I’d be a hypocrite if I did that.

Instead, what I thought I’d talk about is that there are ways in which you can keep costs down if you live in an area where owning a car is non-negotiable.

Look, I’m not a car person. I’m not going to give you a pro and con list of all the cars out there and their reliability or whatever. The fact is, if you buy smart, take care of your car, and don’t drive like a maniac, you’ll probably be okay with whatever car you do buy. (I’m excluding lemons from this conversation, as theoretically, they should be in the minority!)

Hopefully, whatever car you do buy is something that will make you at least a little happy (since you will be spending a good chunk of change on it). Don’t buy some cheapy economy car that you’re going to resent every time you have to hand crank the window, unless that is truly all you can afford.

And if you’re like me and have a pretty terrible commute, consider one or two upgrades (Bluetooth speakers? Satellite radio?) that might make that commute a teensy bit more bearable.

So, here are my tips for a smart and balanced approach to car buying.

  1.       BUY USED

I mentioned in my SmartyPig blog post that my husband and I both have slightly used cars. Those cars are both from Hyundai. Why? Because Hyundai has the best warranty on the market.  You cannot beat 10 years and 100,000 miles. You just can’t. Even when purchasing a used car from Hyundai you can still get this warranty applied to your car. You just have to negotiate.

  1.       KNOW YOUR MAX MONTHLY PAYMENT

Look, the prices on cars are not set in stone. Sometimes when I’m car shopping I will look online, find the exact used car I want, and then go to the dealership and try to haggle my way to a better deal. But sometimes they’ll have a car there that wasn’t yet listed online or that might better fit my lifestyle and then all my research and planning goes out the window.

This isn’t a big deal, as long as you understand what that max amount of money you’re comfortable spending each month is. Maybe that’s $200, maybe that’s $500. But it has to fit your household budget. Tell the salesman you’re working with that you will absolutely not go above X dollars a month and let him help you choose the car that fits your needs.

Note: If you haven’t created a household budget, I’d start there before you go one step further on your car buying excursion.

  1.       UNDERSTAND WHAT IS REALLY IMPORTANT TO YOU

I mentioned this above, but I usually have only one requirement for a car: a motorized front seat. If a car doesn’t have that, I can’t drive it. So it’s kind of important. But there are other nice-to-haves that I’m okay without. Heated seats, Bluetooth speakers, a tow hitch… none of those things are deal breakers for me so I don’t get too tempted when the salesman tries to upsell me.

Knowing what matters to you – your “must haves” vs. your “nice to haves” will help you make better decisions in the moment and keep you from splurging on something you really don’t want or need.

Now, I’m sure my husband is going to read this post and tell me that it’s useless because there are not enough “numbers” in here. And I kind of agree.

Some of you might be looking for a post that will help you break down the monthly expense of owning a car, but this is not that post. Maybe I’ll write it (or maybe I’ll get him to write it *hint hint*), but for now, I’m hoping that this post appeals to some people as is.

A car, particularly one that will be driven a lot, is a significant purchase, yes. As with anything you’re going to spend a lot of money on, I hope that you can find some joy in it.

But by stopping to think for just a few minutes before you shop, hopefully you can find the car that suits not only your needs, but your budget, too.

 

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