Folks spend an outrageous amount of money on vehicles. It’s mind-blowing that a car with a $35,000 price tag doesn’t really raise an eyebrow these days. Heck, a $35,000 car isn’t even all that fancy.
Vehicles – just like everything except primary residences – should be bought with cash. Financing a car is one of those insane, nonsensical things that has become frustratingly commonplace, just like credit card debt and PMI and home equity loans. Car financing is a terrible financial move. A car’s value is nearly always lower than its outstanding balance during the life of a payment schedule. Save up and buy a car you can afford with cash, and then keep it as long as mechanically possible. If there’s an emergency, and a car needs to be procured right away, no time to save, the budget should be the cash on hand. Got $500 and need a car? Then buy a $500 car. They exist, I promise. Can’t afford that? Bike. Take public transportation. Carpool. If you can’t afford to buy a car with cash, you can’t afford a car.
The next step is to take care of your car. Not just the oil changes – spend time taking care of your car! It’s one of the most expensive purchases we make, and we should treat it really, really well.
Keep it neat. Clean it. Make it smell and look nice.
Take 20 minutes to wash your car on the weekend. All you need is a hose, a bucket, some suds and a sponge. Just like that guy in the 80’s movie. No waiting in line for a $12 car wash and $35 detail necessary. Remove all the nasty pollen and salt and spot clean the bird crap. Use Windex on the inside windows to clean off the dog/kid slobber. Use a wet rag to dust the dashboard. Stop by the $1.25 car vacuum place on your way past and spend 5 minutes getting rid of the dirt on the floor, and the mats, and get in to the seat cracks.
I find that when my car is clean and clutter-free, it is more pleasurable to drive. And own! I’m convinced that when people say they want a new car, when their current car works just fine, what they actually want is clean and neat and nice car. They’re looking for an “easy fix” attached to very short term satisfaction, followed by 5 years (!) of car payments. A few months down the road, the new car patina wears off, and if it’s not being cleaned and well-maintained, the dissatisfaction will creep right back in.
When my car stays clean and neat and nice, I focus on its mechanical, instead of superficial, life cycle. I want to buy as few cars as possible in my lifetime. When I look back at where the money I earned during my career went, the Car slice of the pie will be a sliver.