I’d love to say that I was one of those people who make all of my financial decisions based on money alone. You know, those people who major in a specific field, strictly because of the expected income. Who make career decisions based strictly on the income. Who buy cars, homes, and everything else based solely on a cost-use analysis. Alas, that is not the case. As much as I’m trying to make better financial decisions, money is definitely not the only consideration for me.
I remember back in 2000, fresh out of college and trying to decide what I was going to do with my life. I was waiting tables at the time, and back living at home with my parents (I lived with them for ~1 year after graduation). My parents had lent me a car, with the understanding that I should be saving money to buy my own, since it would inevitably die soon. It was a 1984 Honda Accord, manual transmission, hatchback, in rust red. My parents had bought it a few years before from my sister’s friend for $200.
As luck would have it, it died one night on the interstate on my way home from work. It was 3 am, and I was exhausted. Back in the days before everyone had a cell phone, I was forced to walk to the closest exit for a pay phone. Or, what I thought was the closest exit in my exhausted and panicked state. I probably walked at least a mile farther than I needed.
It turns out the transmission had gone out. My Dad, the mechanic, flat refused to have it fixed. Honestly, it would have been ridiculous to put that kind of money into a $200 car. And it was their car, so the choice wasn’t really mine. Still, I cried. I loved that car! And, despite having money in the bank for a nice down payment, and excellent credit, I didn’t feel emotionally ready to buy a car.
It was October of 2000, so the 2001 models were already out. I spent weeks scouring the papers (yes kids, back in those days you looked in the newspaper to find deals being offered at the dealerships), looking for the best deals. It didn’t take me long to decide that I wanted a Honda Accord, and to decided I’d buy a 2000, since I could get the most discounts on the previous year’s model. Oh, and it had to be silver.
My Dad took me out shopping, and insisted that I drive everything in my price range. Well, not everything; they’d just come out with the PT Cruisers, and he refused to even let me sit in one. You never buy any car its first model year he told me over and over again. So we drove, and drove, and drove. And, as it turned out, I still loved the Honda Accord best. The problem? Every dealership we went to only had white or dark green in the 2000’s. I could have had my choice of colors in a 2001.
On and on we searched, every dealership in the city. And, at long last, we pulled up to a dealership as someone was finishing a test drive in a gold 2000 Honda Accord. I want it! I squealed. Okay, it wasn’t silver, but gold was close enough. Better than dark green or white anyways. I was in love. We took it for a spin, and I decided to buy it. I know you love it, said my Dad, But be prepared to walk away if they won’t give us what we want.
What?!? I wanted the gold 2000 Honda Accord. And if I gave them the right amount of money, I could have it. I didn’t see any reason to walk away! Knowing that I was emotionally invested, my Dad took over the negotiations. In the end, it all worked out. I got the gold 2000 Honda Accord, and he got ABS breaks, key fobs, and floor mats added to the deal for no charge. Everyone was happy.
I financed the Honda through a credit union, and got the longest period they offered (60 months) so I’d have a nice, low payment. I wanted the low payment in case something happened, but immediately started throwing every extra penny I had towards the loan, and paid it off in under 3 years. I then had 8 glorious years without a car payment. Had I been smart, I would have immediately started throwing money into savings for my next car, or throwing the extra cash towards my student loans. But, that’s a story for another time.
I loved the Honda. Sure, I put a few bumps and scratches in it, but overall it stayed a nice looking car. Up until 2011, that is. I moved to the southwest for a job. The Honda was getting old; I wasn’t sure it would make the trip, and had no idea how to find a trustworthy mechanic for the inevitable maintenance an older car needs. So, I left the Honda sit with my house, and started looking to purchase a new car in my new state.
My buying process was extremely different this time around. I wanted the cheapest, most reliable car I could find that would fit my current needs. I looked into every manufacturer’s economy model, researched reliability, and then set out with my short list. I didn’t need a big car, but it needed to have a big enough trunk to fit large boxes for work. Most of the dealerships treated me like a woman buying a car. The Honda dealership lost my business when the salesman refused to acknowledge that they had any vehicle less expensive than a Civic, and once I pointed out the Fit, the guy refused to let me test drive it. It wouldn’t be a good fit for you, he kept insisting.
I ended up at a Nissan dealership with a very nice, new young salesman. I test drove the Versa sedan, and then the hatchback. The sedan had a nicer ride, but the hatchback had a wider trunk opening (boxes for work). I bought the most basic hatchback they had, and didn’t even give a thought to the color or anything else. It fit my basic needs, and was the least expensive option.
I never loved that car. Deep down, I think I knew it right from the start. I made really good money when I was at that job, yet I never felt the drive to rush to pay off the loan. It was just another bill, for just another necessary item. It wasn’t long after that I moved back home (to the house I had never sold), and not many months after that I left the company that I was working for.
The Honda sat in the cold Midwest winter. For a few months I allowed a young cousin to drive it because he needed transportation for school. Many months later, when I finally got it back, it had been wrecked, rewired, scratched, and overall abused. It was not the car I left behind. Faced with 2 vehicles, I considered my options. Honestly, I looked into selling the Versa. But, my Dad convinced me the Honda was on its last leg, and eventually I gave up, and sold it to him.
I’ve talked before about eventually deciding to sell the Versa, and buying the Honda back from my Dad. Honestly, it’s the decision I should have made from the start, instead of spending several years in a vehicle I didn’t like. The purchase of the Versa was strictly a financial one. And in the end, that didn’t work for me emotionally. I’m not big for fancy, expensive cars, with all the luxury upgrades. But, when you’re spending as many hours in your car as I do, it helps if you love it.
I’ve been round and round about the decision to buy a new car. All the financial advice says that I shouldn’t have even been considering it. Only buy used. Don’t buy anything you can’t pay for in cash. Drive a car until it no longer will go, or costs more to repair than it’s worth. It’s all great advice, and I get it. It was great having no car payment for months on end (or years before that). I like the idea of buying a used car. But, it’s not always the easiest thing to do. And, if you’re not careful, it’s not always financially prudent either. Many used cars are holding their values better than even, making it harder to get that great deal.
For months I was holding off, trying to stretch the car buying decision for as long as I could. It reminded me of when I first bought the Honda; I wasn’t sure I was ready yet. But, the more I looked, the more I started finding myself leaning in certain directions. My boyfriend and I would go round and round about what he thought, versus what I wanted. And when it came to the point where I was scouring the internet for specific colors, and the dealer was looking at me like I’d lost my mind, I knew that I was there. I’d fallen in love. I was ready to buy a car.
Much like the Honda, I went for the longest financing available (this time 72 months) to keep the payments as low as possible. Just in case, I thought. But I’ve already been playing with the numbers, figuring out how soon I can have it paid off. It’ll be a few months before I can start throwing everything I’ve got at it; I need to finish out my savings for the bathroom remodel. But it’s invigorated me in my drive to get ahead. If everything goes according to plan, in ~2 years I can have the car AND the student loan paid off.
Alright, so I took on more debt. I’ve put myself 2 more years behind in my financial progress. I’m not saying it’s a financially savvy move. I’m not saying it’s the best move I could have made. I’m saying that there is more to life than money, and for me, it’s important that I follow my gut, and make decisions that feel right at the time. No, that doesn’t mean blowing money without thought, just because it “feels right”. But sometimes adding emotions into your decisions allows you to be happier, which can lead to more drive for progress.
So yes, I bought a new vehicle. It’s a 2014 Ford Escape. The Honda is officially gone, never to return again. And, despite the fact that I was ready to move on, letting it go was still a gut-wrenching decision. I felt like I was abandoning it in its twilight years, and worried that its future owners might mistreat it. I had to keep reminding myself that it was just a car; no more than metal, plastic, rubber and cloth. I loved it for many years, and it served me well. And now it was time to move on.
– Cindy W.