A little while back, I wrote an article on how to be happy even when you’re poor, and while the response to it was generally positive, it did receive some criticism.
In one particular comment, the need (or lack of) for a new(er) car was brought up.
First of all, I think it’s important to clear up that I was simply attempting to say that you don’t need a new-to-you car to be happy, and furthermore, none of us deserve anything – and that includes a car – and that erasing that kind of mentality from our minds will go a long way in helping us be happy, and I stand by that assessment.
That doesn’t mean there’s never a time to trade up cars though! The catch is that a frugal person doesn’t just up and buy a car because they feel like it. It’s a decision that they think through, plan out, and research – a process that all big decisions need to go through!
How Frugal People Buy Cars
They save up the purchase price
Most frugal people are opposed to debt. Debt costs money! So the frugal person saves up his pennies to pay cash for the purchase price. Paying cash may be a hard habit to get into, but it’s addictive, and once you get use to debt-free living, and significantly reduced stress, you become motivated to stay that way, and start finding extra ways to temporarily cut back expenses in order to meet your debt-free goals.
They give themselves a budget
This of course, is going to vary wildly by what you can afford, how much you have saved, and what kind of car you need. But you always, always need to have an upper limit set, so that you’re not tempted to over. My personal budget was $3,500, but that was my upper limit. My actual goal was to spend no more than $3,000 unless the car was a spectacular deal.
They research the best car for their needs
It can be tempting to decide on make and model based on “cool factor”, but that’s not really going to benefit you in the long run. For us, since our whole family can fit into almost any car, the main factor was fuel mileage since we make long distance drives relatively often. For you, it may be passenger capacity, or the ability to haul heavy trailers. Decide what you need, then research that family of vehicles to find the best fits.
Frugal People Are Patient
Once you have your list of makes, models, and year ranges, it’s time to start patiently waiting for the right car. Refine you search on craigslist by make, year model, price, etc. and start browsing. Keep an eye on your local classifieds Facebook groups, and any other local means of selling a car (our town has an empty lot where people often park their vehicles with for sale signs). You may find “the one” right away, or it might take a few weeks, but be patient. Don’t just jump on the first car that comes along! I admit that patience isn’t my strength, but fortunately, I have a patient husband whom I can always count on to reign me in when I need it.
Frugal People Are Flexible
You may have your year model range, or some other feature locked in, but don’t forget to be flexible! In my case, I was looking at ’08s and ’09s, but ended up finding an ’05 that was better maintained and had fewer miles on the odometer. As a result, I ended up with a better car for less than two-thirds of my original budget. Maybe driving a ten-year-old car doesn’t make me one of the cool kids, but I’m happy to put that money back into my afore mentioned savings/investment fund and continue on my way toward becoming of the uncool, but financially secure kids. 😉
Frugal people never, ever, ever, buy brand new cars
A new car loses 30% of it’s value within the first two years of purchase, which can you upside down on your loan. Yikes! Buying a new car doesn’t pay! While I was browsing through craigslist looking at cars, I found countless 6-8 year old cars for sale with “Take over payments” in the payment information area. The sad thing was, the total of what was owed on the car was more than it was worth (and you can check kbb.com to get rough estimates of a car’s worth). The only thing that made it look affordable is that you were paying off small chunks every month, rather than forking over the full price. It’s not a good deal!
Admittedly, most of us aren’t perfectly frugal, but as least we can educate ourselves on the best way to do things, and then make a plan that’s perfectly tailored for us personally.
In essence, that’s what frugality is: educating yourself, making a plan, and setting a budget which in turn frees you from feeling guilty about spending money.
Happy car hunting!