From the day I bought my first car, it’s been drilled into my head that regular maintenance is the key to a long lasting car. So as I have done time and time again over the years, I took my car in for an oil and filter change, as well as tire rotations this past weekend. The timing of these routine up keeps was perfect since the service department I’ve been frequenting for the past 12 years happen to be running some specials which gave me the equivalent of nearly 30% off the total cost of the service.
While I am not a fan of paying for things I can do myself, I also know my limitations, and automotive mechanics is not my strong suit. Not to mention, I’d rather not gamble with my safety to save a few bucks. Hence my willingness to spring for the “luxury” of having someone else do basic maintenance on my vehicle.
Now, before I go into the details of the story, allow me to give you some background information. I am 30 years old and this car is the second car I’ve ever owned. Growing up, I did not have a lot of money so my family couldn’t afford to buy me a car when I first got my license at 17. At the tender (and evidently ignorant) age of 19, I decided that it would be wise to saddle myself with a gently used car that was recent and expensive enough to require a car note. Til this day, I have to admit that this is not the most shining economic decision of my life.
Although I never had trouble making the payments (I had 2 jobs in college and started working full time 2 weeks after graduation), it did not take me long to realize that a car note was a terrible mistake. As I entered the working world and started saving ridiculous amount of money as as result of living at home, I got bit by the financial independence/wealth-building/debt crushing bug, and vowed to aggressively pay down my car note. After doing so, I now got to keep the $215/month I was paying to American Honda Finance in my savings account, and I could not believe how much cash I was piling up. (By the way, this is not an exaggeration. 4.5 years after I got my first full-time job, even after paying cash for another car, I had over $85,000 in a money market.) After seeing how much money a car note could take from me, I vowed to never buy another car on borrowed money again. So when my paid-off car left me stranded on a hot summer day with ignition problems, at the height of my frustration, I decided it was time to get another vehicle. Since I had gone long enough without car payments, I was able to write a check to the dealership for the full amount.
Now fast forward 6 years later, the same car I paid cash for on a scorching July day, was getting a little TLC from the neighborhood Honda dealer. I was waiting for my paperwork when, like moth to a flame, a car salesman approached me asking if there was anything I was interested in. Before I could turn him down, my husband reminded me of when I got stuck in the driveway a few months ago, after an ice storm and suggested an AWD ride. Although I knew I wasn’t going to get a car right away, I decided that I had nowhere to be so it would do no harm to take a ride.
After the test drive, the gentleman offered to give me a quote for the car. Again, with my own car was still getting worked on and curiosity eating away at me, I obliged once more. Then, everything started moving quickly. Before I knew it, a supervisor showed up, then the sales manager was there, and at one point, I felt like I was going to meet everyone from the janitor to the president. They started selling me HARD! The guy with the most clout finally said: “What is it going to take for me to get you in this car today? Tell me what you want to pay for it. Tell me how much you want for your car.” I was caught of guard, yet, I had this smug look on my face because he had me feeling like Flo from Progressive with the name your price tool.
When nothing worked, he finally said: “Why don’t you take the car home?” I protested “Uh… yeah, no. I can’t. I have work tomorrow.”
“No problem he said. You can bring the car back after work. Rick, make sure there’s enough gas in it.”
And just like that, I was sent on my way with the keys to a 2016 Honda CRV in exchange for a copy of my driver’s license. No money down, no insurance information. All hey had was a handshake and the hope that I’ll fall in love with the car during an overnight test drive and saddle myself with a 60-month financing plan the next day.
So I linked my phone to the car’s Bluetooth system, turned on the heated seats, and took the long way home. I had enough gas and plenty of things to think about. I stopped at the grocery store and got to try the remote start while I waited for my receipt to print. I grinned from ear to ear at the rear view camera when I backed into the garage. So many conveniences! But by the time I put away the OJ, I told my husband: “I don’t want this car.” And before he could object I listed off all the reasons why it was a bad financial decision: excise tax, insurance, maintenance and depreciation.
These are all the things that people who routinely get new cars don’t consider. Beyond the price of the car, there are numerous other expenses with which various organization nickel and dime us. Ever since I got my Accord 6 years ago, my excise taxes and my insurance have steadily decreased year after year. Why would I set myself up for an absurd increase next February? The brake pads on an accord will be significantly cheaper than the brake pads on a CRV. Despite a “best in class” MPG rating, my fuel consumption will go up, even if minimally, relative to my current use.
The moral of this story? Sometimes, keeping your money can be as simple as saying ‘no’. Being able to reach financial independence takes requires a certain level of discipline. That level of discipline makes you understand that you must strive for maximum efficiency at the expense of spoiling yourself. You must resist the temptation of shiny gadgets that offer marginal and temporary comfort, in favor long term value. I have been driving for 15 years. Do I really need a back up camera to get into my garage? Heated seats? I’m New England tough with a nice collection of winter coats, and I’m not ready to give up my membership to the 100k-mile club. Maybe next year. Maybe…