How Cars Affect your Financial Freedom – GS17

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I had a revelation about cars that has caused me to not really care what mine looks like. It’s not that I don’t want a really fast car, it is just that there is something I want a bit more: financial freedom.

Is any car worth your financial freedom?

The thing I have noticed is that so many people give up financial freedom for their whole lives solely because of the decisions they make with their cars.

I know it sounds like a bold statement, but I think it is frightening how true it is.

For most people, a car is the second largest purchase they ever make. Second only to their home. The huge difference is that even if they make a bad home purchase, generally speaking it will go up in value over time. Car Depreciation on the other hand, is a beast. Regardless of whether you buy a new or used car, is going to go down in value, but the key is how fast does it go down in value?

So, if you compare a new car vs. a 6 year old car, the new car will lose a couple thousand dollars in resale value each year. The 6 year old car on the other hand will lose several hundred each year. If you think about it from an investors perspective, it is easy to see that if you must have an investment that loses value you will probably pick the one that loses LESS each year.

What if your car choice cost you $1 million?

A friend of mine illustrated this concept perfectly. He bought a 10 year old Ford Taurus for $500 from his grandma. He drove the car for 4-5 years and then sold it for $800. Not a bad investment at all.

It is an especially good investment when during the same period I saw friends buy brand new $25,000 cars and trade them in when they got sick of them a couple years later. My first friend had a monthly payment of $0 for 5 years and sold his car at a profit, while the other friends were paying $400+ a month on a car payment and ended up selling their cars for less than they owed.

My first friend had that $400 to invest each month. The amazing thing is that one simple decision very well could have made my first friend $1 million in retirement.

That is why I am okay with driving an older car. The new car smell is nice, but not worth $1 million.

Should I never buy a new car?

Dave Ramsey would say yes. I don’t necessarily feel that strongly about it, but financially speaking it isn’t the best decision. I do realize that there are other “non-financial” factors that could be affecting the decision. But, I will say this – IF you do buy a new car…

These are the best ways to get your moneys worth out of it.

Break the car-payment cycle

The key is to break out of the car payment cycle. Far too many Americans believe that they will always have a car payment. The goal should be to get the cars paid off as fast as possible, then start saving cash to buy the next one with cash. It is a nice feeling to have all your cars paid off and be in a position where you can save $400 a month to buy your next car with cash, rather than using that $400 to pay off a loan.

Homework:

Spend some time thinking about your current car situation. Are your car purchases making your bank richer or you?

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50 Comments
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  1. Financial freedom — exactly why I don’t want to give up my ’95 Toyota Tercel *yet*. :)

  2. Joshua,
    I am completely with you on celebrating milestones and spending cash at the appropriate times (rather than dying with it all in a bank account). They key, of course, is spending at the appropriate times. Most people don’t have problem you mention. Most are on the opposite extreme. But I do agree with your point – thanks for sharing…

  3. During my senior year of college, my parents helped me buy my first car. I have no mechanical skills, so my parents thought it would be best for me to get a new car that still had a warranty, and would be more likely to be reliable.

    They made the first year’s worth of payments, and I bought it from them last year.

    Looking back, it was kinda dumb. I mean, I could have gotten a 2 or 3-year-old car and be in a similar situation.

    I’m taking excellent care of my car. It’s 2.5 years old and has 23,500 miles on it. I’m on top of all oil changes, tire rotations, and other things the manual suggests.

    I hope that it will last us 10+ years, but our family might outgrow it first.

    As of this month, we owe $8796 and have $277/month payments. We’re making double payments now, and after the new year rolls around, we’re going to throw every extra bit of money at it. We think we can get it paid off by the end of 2009, and at that point we’ll be totally debt-free (we live in an apartment).

    At that point, we’ll probably set aside a bit of money each month to use for car maintenance and to eventually replace it with cash.

    Long story short, I want this to be the last car payment we ever have!

  4. poor boomer

    Lack of a car keeps me in financial bondage.

  5. Im not sure that Dave Ramsey would “never” say own a new car. Once you get to a point in your life where a new car not impact your financial freedom then he would say go for it.

    Good post, yesterday I drove by 5 car dealerships with my 1991 Miata with a bad valve sorely wanting to stop in. Thanks for reminding me why I am nursing this car for another year.

  6. @Gholmes
    Actually you are right, He does say that if you have a boatload of money and buy it with cash it can be okay. But as you probably know he strongly discourages it for anyone else.

  7. You may have highlighted this before, but here is an excellent illustration of this article from Dave Ramsey, called “Drive Free. Retire Rich”…
    http://www.daveramsey.com/etc/lms/drive_free/player.cfm

  8. I agree. This is a good article. Car payments are many times the #1 obstacle that causes the average family not to achieve financial stability.

    While I am a car guy because I want to look “nice” while I drive, I knew it was more important for my wife and I to get out of debt first. So when we began our journey I sold my 03 Altima for a 98 Escort and it was a smart move. I hate car payments, I’ll never go back. I would much rather save, pay cash and drive a “nice” car without that nagging payment.

  9. I wish my cousin that has 2 brand new cars but lives with his wife’s parents would read this. They are “car poor” because they had to have brand new. MADNESS!

  10. Joshua,

    Thanks for asking. I realized that many family and friends were always struggling financially and I didn’t want to live my life that way. At one point in my life everything I had was via monthly payments and it was squeezing the life out of my paycheck.

    When my wife and I got married we stumbled upon Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover book, we read it. Tallied up our debt which was more than our household income but we know through diligence, hard work and faith we could be debt free. We knew if we had no debt, we could retire millionaires. Hope my response wasn’t to long, there were other reasons but I wanted to keep it short as possible. By the way we are on the home stretch!!! Are you debt free or working on it?

  11. My wife and I are in a prime situation. We live reasonably close to most major services (work, food) and my employer finances a bus pas for my commute to work. We have only a single car, it’s reaching its 10 year old anniversary next year and is just starting to come over 100,000 miles. We plan on keeping this car to 200,000 miles, and better yet, try to keep with a one car household. I’d love to still be able to keep the one car arrangement with 2-3 kids in the years to come. I’d love to hear about those families who have only one car!

  12. Gary Numan says that cars can promote financial freedom.

  13. Similar to Dave Ramsey, lately I’ve actually been feeling more strongly about never buying a new car again.

    Maybe as I’m getting older, I’m realizing more and more that a new car just isn’t necessary. The nice smell goes away, and the paint won’t be as shiny down the line.

    Like you Bob, it’s not that I necessarily hate new cars. It’s just that I want financial freedom so much more. Buying quality used cards seems like the wisest choice to me now.

  14. This post just goes to show that this is good advice each and every year and never dates.

    We don’t have a car payment and it’s fantastic! It is nice to identify with your friend that could use the money he would have spent on a car payment for something else. It is a liberating feeling!

  15. It was a GREAT feeling to finally pay off my car! I would still have those payments if it wasn’t for my (now) husband who made me realize it was a mistake to have those payments. We now have a rule to only pay for any future cars with cash.

  16. Saw this article pop up again…and so I came back to comment, seeing as I did a few years ago.

    We did pay off that car in ’09. And we still are a one-car family, but not for long. We are anticipating moving to Indianapolis in the very near future (just getting job negotiations ironed out!) and we will need to buy a second vehicle.

    We could pay for it in cash, but we probably won’t. We are also intending to buy a house this summer. We will put 20% down on the house and pay our closing costs out of pocket.

    We will probably finance a portion of the car so that we will have the money to put 20% down on the house. Avoiding a year’s worth of PMI is more than the total interest we’d pay for the car if we didn’t even make extra payments.

    Once the dust settles from the house purchase, we’ll pay off the car ASAP. We just don’t want to kill our cash flow, so it’s worth it to us to pay a little in interest for the car.

  17. Francis

    Wow! Two years have passed! We had our first kid (boy) in 2009. We did purchase a car in 2010, but paid $3k for it in cash.

    Not having a car payment is grand!

  18. As a former analyst at Ford Credit I concur that new cars are a money sink, a black whole to financial misery, and a depreciating asset like no other. The only way to make money out of cars is to hold on to them until they are a bucket of bolts.

    Seriously, 7 years is the magic number of years to hold on to a car to be most cost efficient.

    One valid reason for purchasing new is the environment. Energy costs are increasingly impacting total cost of ownership calculations, as well as environmental impacts. That old Taurus may have been reliable, but it probably emits 10 times the pollution of a new model.

    We need to shift to the mindset of bicycle and public tansport first, and car second. It’s too lazy and convenient to take the car option, but it’s costing us too much money.

    • Monique

      Hunter,
      Bicycles and public transport can work for an individual, but they are very difficult if not impossible once you have children. Also, those “greener” options are not available to everyone. When the nearest grocery store is 5 miles away and the nearest bus stop is even farther, driving a car is not a matter of laziness or convenience but necessity.

  19. Jeff Smith

    Went through the Dave Ramsey course at church. We already had cars paid off and make OURSELVES a car payment. We try to have one great reliable car and one we can at least get around town. We intend to replace the OLD one with a new or at least like new in a few years. The good one now becomes the old one. We keep them as long as possible. That is the plan. Pay cash, drive paid-off.

    Most of our friends have nice new cars but we all get to where we are going. We just don’t have the pressure and stress of $400-$600 car payments.

    When the cost of fixing the old one becomes a car payment, we get rid of it.

    We also put $$ away for repairs. Just put a new alternator on the old one – had cash in the envelope – no problem.

    Own your can, don’t let it own you!!!

    Easier said than done I know, but it is possible.

  20. Jeff Smith

    Thanks for the encouragement – your blog.

  21. Actually, Dave Ramsey says that it is fine to buy a new car, but only when you are finally living like no one else. He says it in his FPU dvd. The gazelle intensity is to get you out of debt and living debt free. Once you are done with all the baby steps, and you are actually wealthy, it is fine to buy a new car, because you are supposed to live like no one else and you are excused.

  22. Right on Bob. Betsy and I paid off both cars and have been saving for our next vehicles… but then something else cool happened. I now work from home, and Betsy will be working from home starting in June, so we don’t need two cars. For now we’re planning to keep both until one dies, and we already have enough saved to buy our next used car… but we’re no longer saving for 2 cars, only for one – which is sweet. How much do we plan on spending on our next used car? Who knows… the lower cost the better, but I know that the limit is $6,000. We’ll probably end up spending between $3-4k… which we already have in the bank. :)

  23. I have a friend that is trying to sell his Lexus SUV. When asked why, he replies because this is the longest he has ever driven one vehicle. What? It makes absolutely no sense to me at all, but he is like many others I know that can not stand to drive their vehicle into the ground.

    Where this really hits your point on fincancial freedom is that this same person always complains about not having enough money to go on vacation, treat his son to nice things, etc. I guess it is more important for him to be “happy” in his ride. Sad really.

    Thanks for the posts. True freedom is in Jesus. Happy Easter!

  24. I know it should make good since to purchase a good used car. My problem is I find what I think is a good deal…..just as the warrenty is over the car falls apart. It seems the car had 12,000 miles but they were rough miles. It cost me a new trnsmission and a valve job. Those two items made the price of a new one when added to the used cost. I think I will stick to a new chevy without many features and have a new vehicle.

  25. My wife and I are having the car discussion – My 8 year old car has probably seen it’s last winter since it doesn’t start in cold weather now…and wouldn’t ya know we live in the Chicago area – cold weather is the norm for quite a few months!

  26. One more way new cars hit you in the pocket is with insurance. We recently purchased a new-to-us convertible, my wife’s dream car. I looked long and hard for a 2 year old car with reasonable miles, ended up settling for a 1 year old with semi-reasonable miles. The insurance increase surprised me. We sold out oldest car (’97 Oldsmobile) for $1350 and kept the two “newer” cars (’03 Dodge truck and ’03 Toyota). Paying for liability only on the truck. Still have full coverage on the Toyota.

  27. Stephen

    The key here is research. I had a car that I was still making payments on when it decided to die in a major way… as in “It’ll cost between 2,000 and 3,000 to fix a car worth only $2,000″ major way. That was a used car when I bought it and it was nothing but trouble.

    I started researching heavily and found a new car that I could get for the same overall cost as the old one (Payment + Fuel costs + Insurance). Because I bought a car that gets awesome fuel economy (I drive about 100 miles a day) and has low insurance costs since there aren’t as many of that make and model on the road, I ended up at the same point I was at before, financially speaking. One key was to see what insurance was BEFORE I signed on the dotted line.

    I’m not thrilled about having a payment for another 5 years, but i also know that with it’s 100,000 mile warranty, I won’t get stuck with a blown head gasket or timing belt in a few years that I have to shell out major $ for. that peace of mind is worth it.

    All that being said, my wife’s van needs replacing, and we’re going to do our best to save up the funds for a replacement so we don’t end up with another payment.

  28. So I’m a fairly young guy, who, being in the military makes a decent amount of money. So when I informed my co-workers that I would be selling my 2007 Honda Civic Si that I owe around $14,000 on in order to purchase a $5,000 mid-sized pick-up, they were basically appalled. Most of the guys I work with, because of the awesome perks of the job, are driving brand-new vehicles, most of which are either full-sized trucks or fast mustangs and cameras. I went the route of downgrading in order to pay off my vehicle and stockpile my money for the future… and I’m the one that’s considered wierd.

  29. Awesome post!

    I wish there was good bus service where I am at. I don’t particularly like driving. I used to live in Ames, IA and almost never drove my truck.

    I’m really hoping the truck my parents bought me (with cash) holds out till I get out of school and then have some time to save. My parents have been a great example to me. Because they payed off everything including the house by the time I was three they were able to save for their kids college education and take advantage of the buyers market to invest in real estate. My next vehicle certainly won’t be a new one. I have other financially priorities before that.

  30. I am a car nut, so for me a car is more than just transportation. Still, while starting early in my career, I suffered through owning a beat-up Toyota to save money (admittedly, it helped that I had an old Triumph TR6 project car to mess with). When I was twenty-eight years old in mid-2001, and with the Toyota virtually worthless but facing some huge repair costs, I finally bought my first “real” car . . . a 2000 Mustang GT with only 9,700 miles on it. While not cheap, I bought it for almost 20% less than a new one would have cost. I was getting married at the time and I didn’t want to deplete my entire bank account, so I financed about 75% of the purchase price. While some might think this somewhat of a frivolous purchase at the time, I paid the loan off several years early, and have since put an additional 150,000 miles on the car. Nearly eleven years after I bought it, the car is still running strong and I don’t regret my purchase one bit. Buying used and keeping the car forever has been key in meeting my other financial goals; the key as a car enthusiast is I bought something I knew I could be very happy with for a very long time.

  31. Rebecca K

    We have one car that’s paid off (it’s my first car, never had a loan, and it’s still going strong!), and one that’s new-ish. However, I don’t feel badly about it, because when we got married ~2 years ago, my husband was LEASING….. (I’m the Dave Ramsey termed “nerd” in this house). We got a call from his dealership that his leased car model – used – was in high demand, so they wanted to pay off his lease 2 years early for him and let us get something else. So we traded in a lease for a newer car. At least now the payments are going towards something we’ll keep for a long time instead of the irresponsible lease. And when the rest of the debt is paid off in July, we’ll then pay the car off faster too.

  32. Dave Ramsey would actually say it is OK, just depending on your financial status. He states he WANTS people to have nice things and enjoy them, even new cars.

  33. I am not for buying new cars. There are so many used available.

  34. We buy a new car every 25 years whether we need it or not. We buy Honda’s.

  35. Sounds like you read my book! I did what any self-respecting 22-year old who got his first big job would do – I bought a MERCEDES!!! STUPID! I now drive a ’97 Ford Ranger and have enough in the bank to replace it three or four times if it happens to die. I realized that having a DEPENDABLE car and cash in hand is always better than having a NICE car and impressing people who don’t know me.

  36. Michael Morejon

    Awesome stuff. I definitely agree, I wouldn’t buy a new car (agreeing with Dave Ramsay and your stuff :)

    What’s the point? The car is going to be “old” in a year anyways. If I were to buy a 2010 car (today) it might be a “used car” but in 2010 it was “amazing!, new!, top of the line!” blah blah blah.

    If you REALLY want a NICE new/used car, just get one that’s a few years old, not too many miles and it’s the practically the same thing.

  37. I recently bought a used Honda. I had family members who bought 2 new Hondas. Hondas have a pretty high resale value and are usually really reliable, so I don’t necessarily consider them a bad investment. One place you can save on your car is by actually going out and comparing car insurance companies. Maybe you have been with one company for years. Who says they have the best price? There are many companies looking for your business, and you should make sure you get the best deal.

  38. thats a good psot…a simple car purchase can might affect your life seriously if not planned properly… every time you take new decision about your existing car- it would cost you to a certain extent… so it would be wise to plan it carefully, select the appropriate one and to maintain things carefully…

  39. Amen brotha….

    Car payments keep the poor and lower middle class in the poorhouse, and prevent the rest of us from getting rich.

  40. I saved for one year so I could buy the car (double cab pickup)in cash which I did instead of getting a loan (with interest and insurance). I still have the car which is of great assistance as I do a bit of farming.

  41. My cunundrum is that I have a special needs child in a wheelchair. I can barely lift her and can no longer lift her wheelchair, so I have a wheelchair accessible minivan. They are not cheap…even when you buy used. Add the maintenance I am paying on it to keep it running, and I am paying more per month than a car payment on a luxury vehicle. Advice??

  42. Oh I’m in a dilemna! I have a 2010 toyota Tacoma that I have modified to take me pretty much anywhere. When I first got it, my idea was to drive it until it fell apart or I kicked the bucket, which ever came first. haha :P

    I owe $14,000 on it now and the only thing that hurts me is that I could be saving much more if I had a more economic car. I looked on kelly blue book, NADA, and black book and the truck (for a trade it) is worth $22,000 (in crappy condition) in a trade in, but my truck is not in crappy condition, she is in great condition.

    A buddy of mine traded in his 2007 tacoma with over 100,000 miles on it (and it had also been in an accident, but was repaired) and they gave him $18,000 when he traded it in for a newer car.
    I know the dealer will give $21,000 for my truck, been to several, and managed to get them to give me that number before walking on them.

    What is really holding me back is that I love this truck! I got it and modified it to where I wanted to, not for looks or “recognition” on the road. I modified her with the idea that she would be able to take me anywhere in any kind of weather. I am so attached to this truck. I want to keep her and hand her over to my future son/daughter (don’t have any kids or a girlfriend for that matter) when he/she came of age.

    If I could only pay off the truck I wouldn’t care that she only gets 17-18mpg. :( but the $400 monthly payments and the $200 on gas a month kinda hurt.

    I don’t want to give her up, and I am more than halfway paying her off!!! I can afford to make the payments, I would just like to be saving more. :(

  43. I think this is wonderful advice, but you can swing too far in the other direction. My family is in the habit of buying junkers on Craigslist for $2000. The car would be great deal, but because of the age and high miles, some major part of the engine would fail within a year or two, and the cost to repair would exceed the value of the car, so they would buy a new (junk) car and scrap the old one. It was an expensive cycle. When I started my first job, my father gave me a car on craigslist as a generous college graduation present. I’m very blessed with his generosity, but year later, the transmission failed. My husband and I almost got into a car wreck sliding backwards down a hill at a light when trying to accelerate. As newlyweds, we weren’t yet in a financial position to buy another car. We traded in the $4400 junker for $500 and now have a small car payment each month for a slightly used car, but at least we have a car that is safe and reliable! I’m bummed we have a car payment, but for us, it’s worth having a more reliable ride.

  44. The money I am saving on gas from switching from a big heavy gas guzzling SUV to a newer small lightweight compact gas efficient economy car pays for a big chunk of my car payment.

  45. Wow, this blog is really helpful for me. I just graduated and stupidly brought a car with zero down in September. The first interest rate was workable, but the dealership changed my interest rate so now my payments are $450….plus insurance. I could really used some advice here. Is it wise for me in the long term to trade in the car for something much lower? Or to wait out with the payments for a little bit? I want to have lower payments because I have 5 year plan to get out of debt. But most of my money is going to the car payments. However, having my car, 2012 Hyundai Elantra Touring, is really reliable and I think it will be helpful for a businnes I want to start….but my payments are soo high? I’m getting a pay increase in 6 months so things won’t be as tight then, but I dont think that’s the right mentality to have. I know this is an old blog, but I really hope some one responds…thx

  46. Paul Koti

    Its really helpful blog to realize the practicality in handling the budget within the range and to get out of danger i.e., bankruptcy. May the Lord Bless this Blog to be useful for many more. I Brought a new car on 15th Oct 2008 and using the same. But here we have to consider the cost we were incurring on Spares, service and maintenance.

  47. Rachel Wilson

    I would also agree with many people that this blog was very helpful. One thing to remember when buying used cars is to do your research. My husband totaled my pontiac Sunfire in October 2012. I had kept the full coverage insurance on it because of many reasons and I’m glad I did because I was able to get a check for the replacement value of the vehicle. When we started car shopping, I was looking at new cars because that is the only thing that I knew, but at the time I also wanted a van because we were having to tote around a bunch of kids at the time. I went to a used car dealership and found the van that I liked but the price was too high. I went home and found out that the price on the van compared to that of Kelly Blue Book and NADA was about $1,400 too high. Finally when all negotiations were done, I was victorious and was able to get the dealership to drop the price on the car.

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