The kids and I love it when TJ gets home from work. First, it usually means a much-needed break for me while TJ builds Legos with our boys. It also means I get to speak with a human being about topics other than going potty or not using mommy’s Anastasia Brow Pen as a $30 brown marker. The best part is, I don’t even have to get a phone call or text to know he is heading home. All I have to do is listen for the deafening sounds of TJ’s car struggling down the freeway.
TJ has had his 2000 Chevy Prism since his early years on a college campus. Now, eleven years later, though his situation in life has changed considerably, the car remains. I’ve thought it would die on us for so many years, I can’t believe it’s actually stayed around this long in (semi) working condition. The emergency brake light is always on. The driver’s side door doesn’t open without rolling down the window and opening it from the outside. The “check engine” light has been on and off for eight years. The “door ajar” light also flickers on and off as you travel, playing Russian roulette with our lives as we wonder if the door will suddenly fly open and eject us both. It burns through oil so fast, TJ has to keep several spare quarts in his trunk for trips over 20 miles. If you turn the car off and on in succession by making several quick errands around town, it will likely die on you and need a hit of starter fluid to come back to life. In short, this car is ready to move to Florida and settle down for retirement.
The thing is, TJ has always insisted he loves his car and doesn’t mind driving it to work every day. He still believes it has a few years left in it (he’s been saying this since we were married). It took a full-on intervention from me to convince him it was finally time to get a new car, not only because his car was dying, but also because we could afford it. He has earned the right to drive to work without worrying about an engine exploding in his face.
The discussion about which kind of car to buy diverted into other pertinent conversations about our future. Would we have more than two kids? How much car could we afford? Would we be living in a snowy climate for the next foreseeable future? Should we eat crow and get a minivan? (Never!) These discussions have been ongoing for the last year or so as we became more serious about buying a car. We came up with some ground rules for ourselves in terms of what to buy:
- We will only pay cash for a car. We could put half the money down and take a loan on the rest, or we could lease, there are many options out there. But we feel best about paying cash up-front for a car. To us, buying a car that requires payments just means we’re buying a car we can’t really afford.
- We eventually need to replace both our cars. So for now, we will be buying a reliable sedan to replace TJ’s car and save up again for the next year to replace my car with a mid-size SUV. And because I’m continuing to grow my small business ventures, I will be able to contribute my side-hustle money to make this happen faster. Go, me!
- We want something newer, but not new. We don’t mind driving a car that’s five years old since most cars these days were built to last a really long time. But we also don’t want anything much older than five years, only because we’re not eager to revisit all the problems we’ve had with TJ’s hunk-o’-junk. And we will probably get the most bang for our buck by buying a five-year-old car because it’s already lost half its value while remaining highly reliable.
What strikes me as so funny about all this is how TJ has never really cared what people may think when they see him puttering down the road in his little beater. He almost wears his crappy car as a badge of honor, a testament to his dedication to being thrifty and debt-free. Sure, we could make payments on a beautiful, brand new car, but we would be driving around in a lie. As Dave Ramsey always says, why buy something you can’t afford with money you don’t have to impress people you don’t like? Still, there comes a time to retire the old car and buy something reasonable, and I’m glad we’ve been financially prepared enough to make that leap without going into debt.
What are your car-buying stories? Do you pay cash, or do you take out a loan?