Thursday, January 10, 2013


A photo of a station wagon sitting in the Museum of Natural History is a pretty good metaphor for what I've been driving

Four hours into the five hour drive to my parents' house in Alabama, my car started making a funny noise.

I'm not really that surprised: it's a ten year-old Hyundai with 110,000 miles. I had been thinking about buying a new car for a long time now. On one hand I wanted something newer and more reliable. On the other hand, I love, love, love not having a car payment. I needed something to break to push me to make the decision.

Of course, the right time for something to break was not when I was rolling through Phenix City, Alabama the week before Christmas. I am saying some thankful prayers that I got where I was going, and back home again, without incident. I knew that I wasn't willing to do any big repairs to that car, so I got really lucky that I didn't break down somewhere in rural Georgia. And that I didn't have to go car shopping on Christmas Eve. Or something worse. No matter what the story, one does not put oneself in a good trade-in bargaining position when arriving at the dealership in a tow truck.

What I feel about this whole incident is relieved. I'm grateful that I have enough money in my savings for a decent down payment. Thank goodness I live on less than I make, so I have room in my budget for a (modest) car payment. Hooray for good credit that allows me to buy what I want with little notice. I love what Dave Ramsay* says about this subject: "Save for a rainy day. It will rain."

When I contacted my bank to apply for a loan, the "relationship specialist" told me that my loan approval was a no-brainer, and that I could just about buy anything I wanted. I didn't have to make a down payment or trade anything in, but I did both to keep the payments as low as possible. The bank will give you as much as you can possibly afford, but no one wants to be car poor. Part of having good finances is knowing that lenders will happily give you enough rope to hang yourself with. Or, in less melodramatic terms, to buy a cool car and then be unable to go anywhere that costs money in it.

Here's the deal: I'm a girl who likes to buy things, and I didn't always have my finances in order. It seems to be in my nature to want nice clothes and a well appointed home. I also like to go out, eat out, and travel. There have been times in the past when I worried about credit card debt or how I would pay for a home repair.

What I have been working on in the past few years is to distinguish between what I love and what I like. I haven't stopped spending money, but I'm trying to get the most out of my disposable income. That might mean buying one item of clothing that I really love instead of three that I kind of like.  It also means making choices about spending on entertainment- I will go to a restaurant with my friends but I try to avoid eating take out at home, and I always bring my lunch to work. I like going out to shows and movies, but have chosen not to have cable (or a television). I went on some pretty amazing vacations in the past three years, but I paid for them buy saving a little bit out of each paycheck. It took me a year to save for Ireland and nine months for Peru.

Now that I'll be making car payments again, I'm going to have to re-examine my budget and trim away a little more fat. It might mean some sacrifice, but I know from experience that no possession or experience is worth lying awake at night worrying about money. So you might have to put up with seeing me in the same blouse you've already seen twenty times. But there won't be any dark circles under my eyes, and I won't get nervous when opening the mailbox.

Dave Ramsay says it best: "If you live like no one else, later you can live like no one else."

So long for now, KISS (keep it simple stupid), and try to leave the credit card in your wallet. You'll be glad you did when your car starts making a weird noise on I-85.

*Quick disclaimer: Dave Ramsay would in no way endorse my actions- he would suggest I fix the car, then save $500 per month until I could afford to pay cash for another car. I agree with his philosophy in general but don't practice it to the extreme degree he suggests.


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