Cutting Costs: The Cars You Buy and How Often You Buy Them

By Melissa

A couple weeks ago we were with friends and playing a quick little game that was essentially “The Newlywed Game.” They would ask questions, Philip and I both had to answer, and we would see if they matched up. One question was, “What is your husband’s dream car?” And there I sat. Uhhhhhh, what did he tell me that one time 15 years ago? A fancy Ford truck of sorts? So I wrote down some nonsense answer and shocker, I got it completely wrong. But you see, here’s the thing. Philip doesn’t really have a dream car. I mean, sure there are cars that he thinks are hella sexy (hellooooo, Range Rover), but when he also looks at the price tag on them, any fleeting thought of ownership is completely leveled. And that my friends, is one of the many many reasons I love this man. He doesn’t feel the need to upgrade cars, he doesn’t lust over expensive cars, and he doesn’t mind driving older cars. And it equates to a total financial win for us.

We will take two, please and thank you. Wait, there’s a $90K price tag? Never mind!

So we wanted to share our tricks to keeping our vehicle expenses low. We will be breaking it into three main categories: the age of car you buy and how often you buy them, gas and insurance. Today we will tell the story of our ghetto cars. So buckle up.

So here’s the thing, we drive not nice cars.

I mean, they aren’t terrible, but these are the upgrades from our really terrible ones that we drove until student loans were paid off. 😂 And even once our loans were paid off,  it wasn’t like we were itching to get a new car for the sake of getting a new car. It’s just that our last cars were basically held together with bobby-pins and tin foil. 

When I was about six months pregnant with Cohen, we realized that Philip’s old truck didn’t have enough room for two car seats in the back, especially since one of the back doors wouldn’t open (because we fancy). We had also been told by our trustworthy mechanic that we needed to start preparing for a new transmission. So if we were needing to put more money into a car than it was worth and even after that it ultimately still wouldn’t fit our family, we felt that we needed to move on. 

Looking for new cars was shocking!

It was at that time that I started looking at cars and the price of them. YOU GUYS! Did you know brand new cars are expensive?! Like so much money! As I was perusing the internet looking at trucks, I moseyed on over to the official Chevy website and decided to “build” a truck that I thought would work for our family. It gave me every possible option (most of which I didn’t even know what they were) and I ended up with a beautiful brand new truck that cost just south of $70,000! THATS INSANE!!! When I told Philip I think he rolled his eyes so hard that they nearly popped out of his head. Clearly, we were not getting a brand new truck. Could we afford those payments? Sure. We had just rid ourselves of giant student loan payments, so there was room in the budget, but there is just no point in our minds to jump back into that type of financial obligation. 

So we started looking at the type of trucks we wanted to see how much we could buy them for used. It was 2016, so we started looking at 2015 models. When we realized it was still more than we wanted to pay, we started going down year by year to check the prices. We found that we were comfortable with the price of a truck that was about five years old. And you guys, when you have driven old ghetto cars for a really long time, even a car that is five years old feels like a dad gum luxury. Like Philip’s old truck still had a tape deck. Read that again, A TAPE DECK! So when the new truck had bluetooth? Hot dang, this was the nicest thing we had ever seen! We ended up financing it, since we hadn’t built up our savings account enough yet. But thankfully, between a tax return, paying extra every month, and occasional bonuses, we were able to pay it off in about eight months. Which was just in time for my trusty old Civic to give up the ghost. 😑

Actually, though it was old, it certainly wasn’t trusty. My little car had been giving us grief for years. It was forever having weird issues that needed a lot of attention and money, despite regular maintenance. And for the previous two years, we had been dealing with a cracked cylinder head (???) or something similar. Despite taking it to very affordable and trustworthy mechanics, the repairs were never quite enough to actually fix the problem. So the last time I had smoke pouring out of my hood while driving home from work, we took it to our mechanic again and he said that best case scenario, we were looking at $1000 to fix it, and worst case…closer to $4000. Here’s the kicker, the car was worth barely more than that if it were in tip top shape. So again, we started looking at used cars.

We found another Civic that was about four years old and it seemed to fit the bill. We went and checked it out and came home with that day. While we were at the used car dealership, we asked about trading in our old Civic and they offered us a whopping $700 for it. 😂 Needless to say, we sold it privately for about twice that, to a guy that knew how to repair cars, because who else in their right mind would want that thing?? We financed the new one again, but a few months later got a bonkers tax return thanks to having a really expensive baby who also had a really expensive NICU stay for a week, and we were able to use that money to pay it off.

So here we are now!

The cars are paid off, they have lots of miles, they have weird quirks and probably weird smells. But the best part about them, they are full of car seats. At this time in our lives, getting ourselves and our kids from one place to the next is our priority, and looking like ballers while doing it is a little less important. And truthfully, if I’ve learned anything in the past six years of parenting, it’s that kids ruin everything anyway. So how much less do I care about a box of Nerds being spilled in the back seat of our current truck than I would a nice car? I can’t imagine the stress that would come with keeping a new car nice!

We will need to get a new car toward the end of the year as we prepare to add another baby to our family. So what will we get? A Range Rover! Kidding, of course. We will likely find something that is a few years old that will last us for another decade or so. And while I calmly type that, the thought of trying to research allllll the things essentially gives me stress hives. I’m sure we will share as we go through that grueling process. 

So why does this even matter?

Because payments SUUUUUCK. If you are paying $300 a month towards a car, that means that you have that much less to put into investment accounts. Our favorite podcasters break down the true cost of car ownership, and it is legitimately shocking. They compare what your investment accounts would look like after forty-five years if you bought a new car every five years and had payments for that entire time, versus if you only bought new cars every fifteen years and invested what those payments would be. The difference? $742,000! It blows my mind. And while it isn’t always feasible to invest every last dime that you aren’t putting towards a car, in general, if you are able to live on less, you will be able to save more. It’s just math.

So there you have it! If you have a newer car that you are paying off, then great! Pay it off and drive it for another 10-15 years! If you are looking to buy a car, perhaps look for used models that can save you thousands of dollars. And if you are driving a car that is eating all of your money, it might be worth selling it and buying something cheap to get you by until you are on steadier ground. Not a must, but it could be helpful. You need to decide what is best for you. It is personal finance, so of course it’s a personal decision. That being said, we have found that older, less expensive cars are a good way for us to escalate our savings.

Any recommendations for us?

So what car should we get next? We will need something to fit four kids in boosters and carseats. And then since we plan to keep it a while, we also need it to fit four leggy teenagers. And maybe a stroller or bikes or suitcases. So I guess I just need a little storage too? We would love any input you have with SUVs you’ve loved! Or hated! Any feedback is helpful!

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