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Q&A Tuesday: Is it possible to avoid a car payment?

We currently have a 1999 Sedan with about 130,000 miles on it. It’s been paid off for 6 years. Our plan is to drive it until it dies. Our other car is a 2004 SUV which has only been paid off since December. We’ve been rolling that car payment amount of our budget into saving for a replacement vehicle when the Sedan dies — which could be anytime now. 🙂

My husband and I have been going back and forth about what to do when the Sedan does die. Unless it lasts us another few years, we won’t have any significant money saved for another car. We’ve considered using what we have saved and if necessary (as in the car dies tomorrow or in the very near future) possibly taking a small loan ($1,000-$3,000 that we’d pay off in at most 2 years) out to get a decent car.

My concern then is that “new” car will die about the time our SUV needs to be replaced and we simply can’t afford 2 car payments and we won’t have enough savings for 2 cars. So then we consider trying to buy a newer car that would last longer but we’d have to take a loan out? What would you do? -Angela

Since my husband and I have made a commitment not to borrow money for anything, if we found ourselves in your situation, here’s what we’d do:

1. We’d stop worrying about it too much.

Yes, it’s great to have a plan. Yes, it’s great to work hard towards that plan. But you can waste a lot of time worrying about a worst-case scenario which, in reality, will likely never come to pass.

I personally am guessing that if you take good care of the 1999 Sedan, it just very well might keep rolling along for another few years. 130,000 miles isn’t all that much, if you ask me. Our vehicles usually last until somewhere around 170,000 miles. 🙂

2. We’d keep rolling the former car payment into the Vehicle Replacement Fund as you’ve been doing.

If you’re putting $150 to $200 in your Vehicle Replacement Fund per month and the Sedan keeps hanging on for another year, you should have around $3,000 saved — which is plenty enough to pay cash for a  decent used car which could last for another few years. If the Sedan hangs on for another two or three years, you’ll likely have more like $6,000 to $9,000 saved — which should be enough to purchase a good used car which will last you another five years or more. And don’t forget, even if the Sedan isn’t drivable when it does breathe it’s last breath, you could very likely still get some money for it by selling it for parts.

As soon as the Sedan dies for good and there’s no bringing it back to life, you can replace it with whatever amount you currently have in cash in your Vehicle Replacement Fund.

3. We’d consider working out a temporary one-car arrangement.

One viable option is to go ahead and sell the Sedan now, put the money you make from the sale into your Vehicle Replacement Fund and then work out a temporary one-car situation while saving your former car payment and everything else you can squeeze out of your budget towards a new vehicle.

Or, you could wait and see how long the Sedan holds out, keep saving your former car payment and if it dies before you have $3,000 saved, you could just go to having one car while you were saving up for a replacement.

This might not be an ideal situation if you’re both working and/or in school, but it can be done. In fact, my husband and I have managed to survive with one car even back in the early years of our marriage when I was working part-time, he was working part-time and he was in school.

4. We’d consider doing something a little radical to help beef up the Vehicle Replacement Fund.

If you have any extras in your budget (such as eating out, cable, gym memberships, etc.), consider cutting these for a short while and throwing the extra savings into your Vehicle Fund. Or, take on a side job short-term and put the extra income towards your Vehicle Fund. You could even go through your home and find items you no longer love and use and have a garage sale or sell stuff on eBay or Craigslist.

If you got creative, were willing to drive a vehicle which might not win “Best Car of the Year Award” and kept saving your former car payment every month, I think it’s very possible for you to avoid getting a loan on your next two replacement vehicles. And then, once you replaced both of those vehicles, if you kept saving your former car payment money in a Vehicle Fund, I think it’s entirely possible you could put yourself in a position to be able to always pay cash for cars in the future.

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  • Kara says:

    Sounds like an awesome plan to me!!!

  • celia says:

    ebay is great! After an insane amount of emergencies- I got put on disability, a car repair, a new dryer and then we had a roof leak all in a 3 month time span)my husband raised 3 grand on ebay. It really saved our bacon. He is fixing to have another ebay sale in a few months and we anticipate another 3 grand.

  • Barb says: has lease transfers with varied terms. We don’t have a car payment and don’t want to replace for 4 more years. I always wonder what would happen if we were in an accident where the car was totaled. I look at this website as a possibility.

  • Cindy says:

    Great tips, Crystal!

    Unfortunately, where you live also determines to an extent how many miles that a car will be drivable. I have found that cars in the South last MUCH longer than cars in the northern states that are constantly subjected to salt on the roads during the winter. Over time, the salt rsust out the entire underbody of the car. We try to maintain our cars in the winter by constantly washing the salt off, but it’s a fact of life that you’re going to get some rust.

    That being said, I plan on driving our cars as long as possible to save for our next car(s) and you shared some great ideas.

    • @Cindy, How far North are you? We are in the Chicago area, and have driven one vehicle past 300k miles and another past 250k. We are just very diligent about washing our cars; hubby does it weekly, even in the winter 🙂 He also waxes each one annually. Just an idea!

  • Lea Stormhammer says:

    I had to giggle when I saw the 130,000 miles! Why? Because our ‘new’ 2002 car has that many miles on it! My 1999 sedan has over 200,000 on it and is still going strong! I realize that not all cars are made to last and that some cars never make it to 100,000 but it still made me giggle!

    We’ve put about $2000 into car repairs between the two of them this year and it’s still way cheaper than buying another car. And yes, you can get a decent used car for about $3000.


    • DeAnna says:

      @Lea Stormhammer, Me too, Lea! My 97 Cavalier has 260,000 on it and, except for the a/c, is still going strong! We did buy a “new” car (it’s 2 yrs old, 30,000 miles) 3 months ago, but we joke that good ol’ Lester will still be kicking in 16/17 yrs when our kid needs a car 🙂

      • Jessica says:

        @DeAnna, ditto. 😉 our 2004 station wagon has 130,000. it better keep kicking for at LEAST 130k more!!

        • Crystal says:

          @Jessica, Ha! I giggled as well! My 1999 Pontiac Grand Prix has over 260,000 miles on it and I plan to keep driving it for atleat another year and a half. I believe as long as you take care of your vehicle (give it a REGULAR tune-up) it can last well beyond what you imagine. Also my Husband and I have only had 1 vehicle the entire time we have been together and it has worked out just fine for us. Yes sometimes it can be a hassle but we always found ways to make it work. Thankfully next year we plan to buy my Husband a truck due to having a new baby. And through aggressive saving we should be able to pay $8000 cash for one. Keep your fingers crossed.

        • Stephanie says:

          @Jessica, I giggled too, our 1999 Toyota Camry has 240,000 miles on it, and we are fully expecting it to hit 300 before it dies. I love Toyota for that reason!

    • Sofia says:

      @Lea Stormhammer,

      I was smiling as well. My husband drives 1995 Toyota Corolla that has 260,000 milage and he is pretty sure its going to last few more years. Infact, his family jokes around that may be my 6 yr old daughter will learn her driving lessons using this car!!!!

    • MaryEllen says:

      @Lea Stormhammer, Looks like there are a lot of us here who don’t have to constantly upgrade to a newer car. Our ’95 Park Avenue has more rust than paint and has 260k miles on it. But it’s still going strong! That’s one reason why it’s great to research cars before you buy to check out their track record of how long they seem to last.

  • I love these ideas! I think it’s totally possible, I read about doing this in dave ramsey’s book and it really opened my eyes. He suggests pretty much what Crystal says. when you make your last car pmt, start ‘rolling’ that pmt into a fund for the next car. Mind you this is once you’re out of debt. Also, if your other car is a 2004, that’s pretty new! I drove a little car in college that I got up to over 200k miles on it, actually if i’m recalling correctly it had about 250,000 when I gave it up. Oh and it was STILL drivable. 😛 Maintenance is important, get those oil changes and tune ups, and look for ways to save on repairs by paying cash, etc. Also, it pays to talk to a trustworthy mechanic. When my timing belt needed replacement, a family friend told me that when you are paying a ton in labor for that, you should replace a few other things while they are doing that, because it’s a lot of work, so you should spend the extra 50-100 bucks now while they have those parts exposed, rather than wait until some of those cheaper parts break later and then you have to pay more in labor to get to them in another 6 months. Just one example. 😛 You can totally do this!!

  • karla says:

    Don’t worry so much! one of my cars is a 1992 chevy 1500. it has 225,000 miles on it and is still running strong. I’ve never had a car payment and I’ve never paid more than $4,000 for a car. my everyday car is a 2005 huyundai sonata that i paid cash for 3 years ago. That has about 130,000 miles on it (alot for a 2005) and i don’t anticipate it going anytime soon. As long as you take care of your car It should last you. I think you’re current plan is Great. when the time comes to replace it, look for deals on a used car. craigslist is great! And like Crystal said. you will likely be able to get some money for the car when it dies. I once got $300 from a junkyard for a car that was in an accident and totaled. Take Crystal’s advice!

  • blue-eyes says:

    Wow, 130?? Our Jeep has over 200 and is running great! Keep up the regular matinence and you could get many more years out of it. The better you take care of a car/suv, the longer it will last.

  • Kathryn says:

    Just want to add my voice to those saying it’s totally feasible to avoid a car payment. We haven’t had one in about 8 years and intend to keep it that way! My tips: be diligent about preventive maintenance and examine your definition of “until it falls apart”–even a $2,000-dollar repair may be worth the money if it will give your car new life. And, when you buy your replacement car(s), consider a model with a long-time reputation for low maintenance and durability (e.g., a Camry or Accord).

  • I agree that being a one-car family is definitely an option. We’re at almost seven years of marriage now, and have only ever had one car. The first five years were with a 1987 2-door SUV. Have you ever done two kids (that means two car seats) with a 2-door vehicle? Not easy, but better than a car payment or two. Which reminds me I need to go feel more grateful for our “new” (1998) 4-door sedan!

    • Allison says:

      @Joanna @ Starving Student Survivor, Hehe, we did three car seats in a Honda Civic hatchback! That was quite a trick! But we did that for 4 months until tax time, when we bought an Olds Aurora for $1000 cash from my parents! We can’t get all 3 seats in the Honda now, since the baby is in a bigger seat these days.

      • Jen says:

        @Allison, Wow, I’d really like to know how you got 3 carseats in there. We just had to upgrade from an 03 Toyota Corolla (which had 105k but I know would have lasted a lot longer) to a minivan because we’re expecting our third child and 3 carseats just wouldn’t fit in the corolla.

        • Allison says:

          @Jen, It was when our 3rd child was born, and we only had the one car. The kids are 16 & 20 months apart, so I had a 3 yr old, 20 mo old, and the new baby. The older two were on the outside, with the infant seat base in the middle. Once I had the big seats in, I climbed in, braced against the opposite side, and used my legs to push the seat against the wall of the car, giving me just enough room to wrangle that base in there. My knees were very sore! The front seats were scooted up so far it was uncomfortable. I certainly don’t recommend it, because I’m sure it’s not safe to have the seats jammed in there like sardines, but it was the only option we had at the time. It definitely won’t work now with the baby (he’s 18 mo now) in a convertible seat…I tried. =)

          I don’t know if it would work in a 4-door, because you wouldn’t be able to shove the seats all the way to the side…they’d just move when the door opened. Then again, necessity is the mother of all invention! I hope to be joining you in the ranks of minivan-ownership soon!

        • Jenn says:

          @Jen, you can buy infant seats specially made to fit in smaller cars (I don’t know personally but a friend of mine had to do that to get her 3 seats to fit in the back of a Ford Focus!)

        • Andrea Q says:

          @Jen, Check your vehicle owners manual! There are quite a few cars and minivans where the manual specifically states that it is unsafe to install three seats in the back. You can also check car seat safety forums for recommendations about what types of seats can fit three across in certain vehicles.

    • Stacy Sawyer says:

      @Joanna @ Starving Student Survivor,

      We did this as well. We wanted to get by with just one vehicle for as long as possible. My husband needed a truck for his business so that is the vehicle we had. We had 3 car seats in an extended cab pickup truck for a while! That was quite squishy. When we had our 4th baby we had to get another vehicle 🙂

  • I have a different question. We have two decently drivable used cars, but they both only hold 2 carseats in the back. Problem is, we just found out that we’re going to have a 3rd this spring, and will need a bigger car. We’re pretty sure that we’ll probably switch to being a one car family, and sell our two used cars to get one used car that will hold everyone, but I’m not sure which vans out there are the best, and would like to get something that is pretty reliable. Any suggestions?

    • trisha says:

      @Jenni @ Life from the Roof,
      Depending upon the car seats, there are some cars you can get 3 of them in the back. I would look into Ford Crown Victorias, may possibly be able to fit a carseat in the middle front (depending upon air bag situation) but again, they might be able to get certain 3 carseats in the back. We’ve been very happy with our Chevy Astro van (and my hubby is a Ford fan, but the Ford vehicles to accommodate at least 6 were more than we were wanting to spend). May be cheaper to buy new carseats (that would fit into a car such as a Crown Vic) . Another option is IF you can put a car seat in the front (airbag situation) then keep what you have and drive 2 cars when you are going somewhere together.

    • Sara says:

      @Jenni @ Life from the Roof, Jenni- i have a Honda Oddessey that we got when we were preg. with #3…we bought it used with 100,000 miles on it and its still going strong after 3 years later- we paid more than you would for a cheaper used van but we know it will last at least 10 more years- Honda’s last forver with lots of love- my hubby has a CRV with over 200,000 that is still going strong!!

    • Janice says:

      @Jenni @ Life from the Roof, We love our Chrysler Town & Country. We got an awesome used one at CarMax right before our twins were born and we were needing to bump up to three carseats. We love it and have had no problems in 4+ years. If I had to replace our van tomorrow, I would go buy another one!

    • Pam says:

      The sunshine kids cat seats are skinnier than most. They cost more but have great ratings. 3. can fit in a car. For vans Honda and Toyota are the best.

    • Kassandra Wood says:

      @Jenni @ Life from the Roof, As much as I love to be positive, I have to say DO NOT buy a ’90’s/early 2000s model Chrysler Town and Country… me and 2 family members purchased ours at the same time and although they are wonderfully comfortable and convenient, mechanically they are full of problems… The a/c is full of problems.. we have invested over $1000 and it still doesn’t work, the rear heater coils go bad easily and they tend to have water leaks for various reasons which can land you with a van that is running hot and eventually a cracked motor head. I started a convo on Facebook and several people chimed in with the same issues. We later chatted with a mechanic who confirmed that these were common issues of the Chrysler T&C. I hope my bit of honest advice can be of some help!

    • Jessica says:

      @Jenni @ Life from the Roof,

      We have had three different Dodge caravans that have served us very well over the last 10 years – and I would buy another one again in a heartbeat.

      When doing your research, talk to a trusted mechanic. Ex: we are getting a steal on an Expedition (from a friend of ours) – but after talking to a mechanic friend, we were warned of a few things to watch for. A great mechanic can usually tell you what problems certain vehicles have.

      • Ms.M. says:

        I’d suggest the Sunshine Radian carseats as well. When #3 came along for us, buying 2 new (to us) vehicles was not an option, but we both needed to be able to drive all 3 kids at times. My husband has 2 of the Radians (which are very well rated for safety, and will last until your child reaches 65 or 80lbs, depending on the model) and another regular carseat in the back of his CRV. It was $420 oop for new seats, but cheaper than a new car! We also bought a Town & Country and took it back 10 months later – we fixed the brakes and the AC in that time, and several other issues needed to be addressed (we’ve gotten 2 recall notices in the 6 weeks after we sold it!). We now have a used Mazda 5 and I LOVE IT! Extremely reliable, seats 6 (or 2 adults + 4 carseats), and is much cheaper to drive than a minivan (much better gas mileage), and it’s also rated very well by consumer reports for safety and reliablility (ie – less $ on future repairs).

    • Elizabeth says:

      @Jenni @ Life from the Roof,
      We have a Honda Odyssey that we bought used and I like it a lot. My husband researched the track records of the different vans and the only two models he was even willing to consider based on what he read were the Honda Odyssey as a first choice and a Toyota Sienna as a second choice. It’s the first van I’ve ever driven, so I don’t have a lot to compare it with, but when we got it a friend that had a Town and Country said they were looking for an Odyssey b/c their T&C had been in the shop way too much in the 2 years they had owned it. Also, my husband’s aunt has been driving the same Odyssey for over 10 years and loves it and doesn’t plan to get rid of it any time soon. Hope this helps!

      • Lana says:

        @Elizabeth, Our oldest son is a quality engineer on the Honda Odyssey and I can tell you that he takes his job very seriously. Thanks for buying the Odyssey!

    • Jenn says:

      @Jenni @ Life from the Roof, Toyota Sienna. We bought ours 4 years ago, used from a dealership–it was only used as their “shuttle” so it had very few miles on it (it was a couple years old…and this was before we were doing the Dave Ramsey thing!). We put a LOT of miles on our main vehicles. Both of our families live 7+ hrs. away (in either direction), so the Sienna now has 150K on it and the biggest repair we’ve had to do was replace a strut (which my mechanical dad helped us do and saved $200 on labor). Even had we paid labor, it would have been less than a $400 repair. Toyotas are known for going 300K miles if you take care of them.

    • @Jenni @ Life from the Roof, Thanks for the advice, everyone! I’ve been researching a bit myself since posting this, and think that I’m going to try and see if it would be possible to fit 3 carseats in the back, even if that means we have to buy a different carseat. As one person pointed out in some threads on this, buying a carseat is a lot cheaper than buying a car :). And if that doesn’t work, I don’t think I’ll be getting out much on my own with three little kids age 3 and under for awhile, and if we all need to go somewhere as a family (like church, etc.) then we’ll just do the two-car thing for local drives. But I’ll definitely keep the suggestions for what kind of van to buy in mind when we do have to get one!

    • Allison says:

      @Jenni @ Life from the Roof, Are either of your cars larger size cars? We have 3 seats in our Aurora, one toddler/booster type and two toddler convertible seats, with the rear-facing one on the passenger side, since that front seat can be moved without impacting the driver. When the baby was in the infant carrier we had it in the center, but moved things around once he moved to the bigger seat. Plus, my oldest sits next to the youngest, so she can give him his binky or cup if he needs it. And in a car, you can still reach all your kids. I found that to be the most frustrating thing with a van…they’re just out of reach no matter what. Of course, there’s a lot to be said for sliding doors, room for big strollers, etc.

      As far as which vans are the best, Honda has been the best-rated for years, and I’d stake Toyota as equally reliable.

    • Rachel says:

      @Jenni @ Life from the Roof,
      Look up the Sunshine Kids Radian 65 car seats. They are only 13 inches wide at the base. I can fit three of them on the narrow back row of my van and they are rear or forward facing. They are expensive, but cheaper than a new car!

    • Stacy Sawyer says:

      @Jenni @ Life from the Roof,

      I love my chevy uplander! It has lots of room (we’ve got 5 children and we shop once every two weeks so room was a must), drives smoothly and no problems.

    • My Boaz's Ruth says:

      @Jenni @ Life from the Roof,

      Go over to –> Tell them what car you have, the kids, etc and they may be able to help you determine which seats you need to get 3 across in your backseat. Many cars can get 3-across if you just have the right seats. And it is much cheaper to replace car seats than the whole car.

      • Andrea Q says:

        @My Boaz’s Ruth, I totally agree with this suggestion! And would add that some vehicles are not designed to hold three seats safely across the back. The owner’s manual of our 2004 Odyssey specially states NOT to install three carseats in the rear bench seat. Check your owner’s manual!

  • Jamie says:

    Craigslist is a great place to look for a car. We have been in the market for a used SUV and have found a lot of great cars for less than 10k. We are driving a 20 year old Integra with 325,000+ miles on it. We paid $600 for the car and it has been great. Yes, it has alot of miles, but it still keeps on going. We had the car detailed by a friend and the inside looks new! The incentive to keep driving this car is knowing that it is paid for, and we are saving money until we can pay cash for a newer car.

  • trisha says:

    PRAY, PRAY, PRAY! That is the plan (along with setting money aside now to help) and don’t worry about what hasn’t even happened.

    I have been amazed at how once we “committed” to NOT get a car loan of how God provided for us, even when our vehicle died about a year or two before we wanted/needed it to. We were NOT prepared to replace the vehicle yet, but managed to get some money out of the vehicle, borrowed a pickup for a month or so and then practically had a car dropped in our laps (a guy asked hubby for some help jump starting his pickup and somehow got on the subject of cars and found out his mother was trying to sell her car!) for a little less than what we got out of the old one (which gave us the $ to pay for some necessary maintenance)…….and then when surprise baby #4 came along and we were going to have to get a bigger vehicle and we decided we were NOT going to go into debt to get a bigger vehicle, we found a nice van at a price we could do and sold our car (and used most of our savings–but no car payment!).

  • Dawn says:

    We have 2 vehicles and no payments, including a 1996 Grand Marquis with 130K+ miles on it. My husband is always very careful with regular oil changes and regular maintenance. Every vehicle he has owned over the past 30+ years he has gotten to 240,000 miles! Not only is it wonderful to not have payments, but having older vehicles makes the yearly “plating it up” here in Indiana so much cheaper!

  • Crystal L. says:

    That car will probably last you a good two years yet I would think! I have a ’94 Toyota Corolla with 250,000+ miles and she’s still working… okayishly. LOL. I ain’t afraid to drive a deathmobile! 😀 Good thing I only use it to drive maybe two miles a day on average.

  • Helen says:

    A word of warning about buying cheap cars – safety! I am so cheap and frugal and we have never had a car payment. But we don’t just buy a cheap car because its cheap. You might feel really stupid if you didn’t spend that extra $1,000 and get a car with a better crash test safety rating. Just a word of advice from a wife with a husband who was in a rollover and broke his neck. Could have been a lot worse than that!

    • Allison says:

      @Helen, I agree that safety is an issue, but so is practicality. It wasn’t practical for us to get a car payment when all we could afford was a $1000 car. There was no option to “spend that extra $1,000” because it didn’t exist. The car we have now is old, has cheap insurance, and sometimes breaks down. We couldn’t afford to get her running AND get the anti-lock brakes fixed last time around, so she’s only got regular brakes. BUT, it wouldn’t do me any good at all to buy a “safe” car and then have it repossessed. Sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do. But when we do have more wiggle room, safety ratings will be considered. =)

      • Helen says:

        Oh I understand being tight for money. I guess I could have worded it better and said if there is any wiggle room for a safer car, use it! There are few things that we prioritze as important and will not buy the cheapest that we can. A car is one of them. Maybe because my husband almost died, but I have seen it. Car safety is worth the money to me.

  • Ashleigh says:

    Couldn’t agree more! Especially about doing something radical! Wish my husband and I had tried harder before taking out another vehicle loan. We are going to drive our two until the wheels fall off and keep on rollin’ the payments into the replacement fund for a while after they are paid off. Good luck to Angela!

  • Crystals ideas are great ones and I agree that 130K miles is just not that much as long as you are tackling the regular maintenance. The vehicle I drive to work daily is also a 1999 model and is about to roll 300,000 miles. All I have ever changed is the oil, belts, spark plugs and the clutch. It has never left me stranded and I am comfortable to continue to drive it the over 100 miles a day I commute until it begins to have engine issues. We always buy our vehicles brand new which I realize is against the grain of frugal but we also paid cash and want the assurance of knowing maintenance is kept up. Since we drive them until they die I don’t think this is extravagant and you have a lot more leverage when you are paying cash for a car.

    If the need does arise to purchase a vehicle before you have saved enough money I would check out your local credit unions for repossessed cars. They should allow you to have them inspected by your own mechanic and are usually looking to sell quickly and inexpensively to recoup as much of their lost funding as possible. If you are eligible to join the credit union they will also have very low interest rates if the time does come before you have saved enough cash. If you have to take a loan this is a good option.

    I hope your car lasts and you are able to pay cash for the car you need. Good luck!

  • Alyssa says:

    I just wanted to mention that ebay is a great place to buy a car when you are ready to do so. My fiance and I have both bought cars from there for a really good deal. It may also be worth your while to look into buying a rebuilt car with an R title as opposed to a clear title.(These are cars that get into accidents, and are fixed back up.) Last year I bought myself a rebuilt 2007 Mazda 3 off of ebay for about $5,000 less than the Kelly Blue book value of it. And it’s ran great for me with no problems ever since. Since it is rebuilt though I would reccomend getting it inspected before you buy to make sure you are getting a well-fixed up car. You may even be able to convince the seller to pay for the price of an inspection at the shop of your choice- because if they’re not hiding anything they shouldn’t mind. Also, be willing to go the distance for a good deal on a vehicle- I flew from PA to Florida to pick up my car and was able to score a one-way ticket for $70! I’m just so enthusiastic about how great my car has been to me I wanted to share these tips with everyone.

    • Becky Thomas says:

      @Alyssa, I’m glad you got such a good deal on ebay, but buyer beware! My husband went on ebay to find a good used Jeep. He bid 5 different times, and lost the auctions each time. All 5 times he was contacted after the sale by the seller saying that the 1st deal went through and wanted to do a deal off of ebay! He, of course, refused. It pays to be careful!

  • Erin says:

    I drive a newer car with a car payment. My husband drives an older car without a car payment. He drives a TON of miles every year for work (last year was over 35,000!!) so he runs his cars until they are dead. But we have found great luck by taking cash and buying his cars at auctions. Of course you HAVE to take someone with you that knows about cars and can take a look at them before the auction starts. Then you know which ones are good and which ones to bid on. Because of the auctions (in Wichita, KS at least) you can buy a much nicer car for a significantly lower price!

    • Kimberly says:

      @Erin, We also bought our car at auction. We had my husband’s uncle, a mechanic, take a look at it for us. We were able to buy, on a teacher’s salary, a 3-year-old car for a THIRD of the blue book value. We’ve had it over two years. Not one single problem!

  • Annie says:

    Good for you for not wanting to go into debt for a new car. It is very doable. You may have to make a one car situation work for a few weeks, but it’s so worth it to not be in debt. My husband and I have had to do this twice in our 4 year marriage, because our cars got totaled. We have budget categories for both car maintenance and replacement, that we put money into each month. WIth what we had saved, and what we got from insurance we have been able to buy “new” cars. We found the last one on craigslist. It took a few weeks, but we also were looking at an expanding family at the same time, and wanted a good van. You can do it, and don’t be afraid of 130,000 miles (a 2001), that is what our “new” van had when we bought it! We also have a truck that has well over 200,000 miles (a 1995), and runs well. However, that is why we always put money aside for replacements!

  • Lori says:

    We are a two car (2004 and 1999) family and have gone into debt for one of them. We are currently in the process of selling our 2004 car in the hopes of making enough money to pay off quite a bit of debt.
    My husband is a teacher and I homeschool our children so being a one car family if very feasible for us right now.
    Our goal: to pay off all of our debt (except for house and a student loan) and then be able to purchase a newer used car that will last for a longer time.
    The 1999 is a volvo wagon and it currently has 145000 and is still going strong!

  • Maria says:

    I just have to laugh, because to me, a 1999 car is practically brand new! Until six months ago I was driving a 1990 subaru. Now I’ve “upgraded” to a shiny 1997 minivan with 204,000 miles on it.

    Instead of going out and buying a new car at the first sign of trouble, it could be cost effective to repair it and drive it another five years!

  • Denise C. says:

    What a great question. I had an 04 SUV that had a brand new engine put into it back in February. The truck was paid off, and to us it was the best decision. Neither of us could stomach the thought of car payments. (My husband’s car is also paid off.) Low and behold my truck had more problems surface in April, and my husband said the vehicle was not safe enough for me to drive anymore. (I am a SAHM to 2 kids.) Our next step was to figure out WHAT WE COULD AFFORD WITHOUT BREAKING THE BANK. We had some money earmarked for some backyard renovations. Those were placed on the back burner. My husband and I sat down the night we knew we had to replace the truck. We set a STRICT budget. I had some “wants”, but they were very, very little. Within 2 days we found exactly what we were looking for, UNDER BUDGET! We were able to get x amount of dollars for our old SUV, put down chunk of change for the “new” SUV which is a 2007. (Some people I know said my truck was not “new” because it was not a 2010 or 2011- SERIOUSLY). My husband and I got some awesome financing through our bank with a very low interest rate, we stretched it to 5 years, and plan to have it paid off within the next year. This is good because my husband’s car is going on 10 years old, and it will need to be replaced soon.

    Just in case you are wondering, I got my new SUV through carmax.

  • When we decided that we didn’t want to go into debt over a car, I was in the same boat as this. I couldn’t imagine how in the world to do it, as I had no clue how to find a reliable vehicle for a few thousand dollars.

    The main advice I have is to talk about it. Be open with friends/co-workers/churchmembers about what you want to do. Put the word out that you are planning for your next vehicle to be cheap, but want it to be reliable. That is basically what we did, and once our mechanic knew what we wanted to do (and that we were willing to drive anything as long as it was reliable), he started thinking about us as things came across his path. We ended up getting a much more reliable vehicle for only 200 more than what we were able to sell our unreliable vehicle for.

    You never know what kinds of resources the people you know have. If you never mention what you’re thinking about, you might miss an opportunity.

  • Rosie T says:

    It is VERY realistic to pay cash for a car, but that doesn’t mean its easy. In 6 years of marriage, we have ALWAYS been a one-car family. Our car is paid for (we paid it off about a year ago, a few months before my husband graduated… he didn’t have a job before graduated, so I wanted to be completely out of debt before graduation), and do we every put miles on that thing. I desperatly WANT a 2nd car, but we are surviving jsut fine without it. Our plan is to get a 20k household emergency fund fully funded, then we’ll start “diversifying” our savings… a little more to DH’s 403(b) (we already contribute 5%, which DH’s employs matches and doubles), some monthly to a 529 for the kids, and a big chunk towards a 2nd car. Our current sedan is still pretty “new”… just 70,000 miles on it, so we plan to keep it and drive the wheels off it. I hope that in abou 18 months we’ll have not only our $20k emergency fund, but a $10k vehicle fund to get a van with too. Its not easy, and we go without a lot of things in order to save at the rate that we do… but its worth it, to us, to stay out of debt and to pay ourselves instead of paying the banks.

  • gwen says:

    I have a ’92 Nissan Sentra two doors. This year I spent 1,500 for a couple of things that needed to be repaired. And still find it better then a car payment.

    The mechanic told me that the car had 10 years more of life! :). And for know I’m not planning in buying another car.

  • MARGARET says:

    Interesting talk of cars here.. We have a 96 with 175 on it and a 02 with 150[ thousand of course]. and dont intend to buy anything until we absolutely have to. they are good cars a little worse for the wear but reliable and quite conservative on gas. My husband has been in the auto industry for 35 years and has seen alot of cars and trucks go into the 300’s easily with maintainace.We are a nation consumed by what we drive and should be more concerned about owning out right what we have.. If I have a few dents and a little rust but I have fed someone who needs help I will be a sucess…

  • Laura says:

    One other way to possibly save money: find a reliable, fair mechanic. My husband became friends with a mechanic at our Aquatic Center (we have a membership that is worth it since both he and my daughter swim laps there regularly). Rick, the mechanic friend, has fixed a variety of normal wear & tear problems on both of our cars for discounted prices. If you don’t have a friend that’s a mechanic, try asking at your church for someone who is one. We did also have a good relationship with the person we used prior to Rick who was a “green” mechanic. Car repairs are expensive but are negotiable and still far, far cheaper than monthly payments. Best wishes!

  • WilliamB says:

    I am going to express a heretical opinion: it can be worthwhile to get a car loan.

    [Is the hail of rotten tomatoes over?]

    One can be penny wise and pound foolish. It would be a bad financial decision to buy a lemon because that was all you could get with your current savings. Since you’re asking for advice, I would look for a newish car (2-5 years old, depending on the quality of the make/model and the condition of the car in question, and your budget) that is safe and will last a long time. Then I’d scrimp to pay off that loan as quickly as I could. After pay-off I’d ease back on the scrimping: say, 75% into the “next car fund” and 25% for other uses.

    Of course this is assuming you can get a loan, etc., etc., etc. is a great place to compare current interest rates (for all sorts of loans, bank accounts, mutual funds, etc) and credit unions often have better rates than banks.

    • Shelah says:

      Thanks, William. We frugal people can be so all-or-none.

      We have always bought cars with whatever money we could afford and drove them until the wheels fall off.

      But these older cars only lasted a handful of years. Then we were back to buying an old car with whatever money we had…..which was not a lot b/c we didn’t really have much time to save.

      We too are expecting babe#3. We are highly considering a brand new Honda Oddyssey …..gasp.

      We have nearly all the money. Yet we’d have to have a car loan for 1 yr.

      We’re finding that Honda’s are holding their value so well that a 2yr old Oddyssey doesn’t cost much less.

      To use the money we have we’d have to buy a older model….taking us back to having an older car that gets older more quickly.

      A newer or new car will give us plenty of time to save for the next one……especially since we’ll drive the Oddyssey until the wheels fall off. We might even take our children to college in it.

      We’re heading toward 40yrs old….we figure if we drive new(ish) cars for 10+yrs, then we’ll only need 3-5 cars for the rest of our lives. Or we could keep buying old cars for a handful of years and keep doing that over and over.

      • Crystal says:

        I hope you didn’t get the impression I was encouraging people to only buy old cars. My encouragement is to only buy what you can afford without getting a car payment. If you keep throwing the amount you would be paying on a car payment into savings every month, over time, you’ll likely be able to pay cash for a nicer car (or even brand-new, if you’d like — though I think it’s always wiser to buy something which is a little used so that you can save yourself a little extra money) which will last you for a long time. 🙂

  • Laura says:

    Have you ever considered Its a website similar to craigslist, but its limited to military families. It doesn’t mean you can’t log in and see what people are posting. I recently saw a nice car on there, and usually the reason why people LOVE looking at yardsales or posts in this website is because as you may already know when you are in the military like us, we need to travel often, sometimes we can’t take all of our precious things, or sometimes we need to deploy and need to get rid of things, and you know they are good things because we are almost forced to let go of things. NOt always, but for some families this is the case.
    Try it. We only have one car payment right now and recently refinanced it, at a rate of 3.9% which is awesome for us. Considering we don’t have a house payment. We are more than ready to buy a home, but we are not sure if we will live here next year . 🙂

  • Carol says:

    I really enjoyed reading this post. Especially the advice for only having 1 car. We are a 1 car family, and while there are times I wish I had another one, I certainly don’t miss the car payment and all the expenses that come with a car. Of course, I don’t have a cell phone either! Yes, my friends think I’m nuts, but it works for us. I think you have a great idea with rolling the car payment into a seperate fund for a 2nd car. I plan on doing that also!

  • Jenn says:

    Regular maintenance is worth the money!!! It makes your vehicle last far longer than you think possible. We are a one (small) income family and we were able to quickly come up with the money to unexpectedly pay cash ($5k) for a car for my husband when he job situation changed and he no longer had a company vehicle. When you’re serious and motivated (and asking for God’s blessings!), it’s amazing what you can do with a limited budget! 🙂

  • Kirsten says:

    Please, ladies, any suggestions?? We have a ’96 Tracer with 325k that has had many, many repairs over the years we’ve had it (transmissions, engines–some from salvage yards, belts, fans, rebuilt after an accident, etc.). It has recently started to have transmission trouble again, it rattles and roars when idling at stoplights, and on the list goes. We also have a ’99 Lexus with 180k that has been inoperable for close to 2 years due to an engine sludge problem that we just haven’t been able to afford to fix ($4,500). We have no money saved to buy a reliable vehicle, so what’s the best direction to go–the Tracer really seems to be on its last leg, and would it be worth repairing the Lexus even if we could somehow pull together the 4500 to do so? Any Dave Ramsey folks out there that have even a tiny bit of advice for us? Sorry this is so long…

    • peever says:


      I don’t know that I’d spend $4500 to repair a Lexus with engine sludge. I’d probably scrap together every last dollar that I could get my hands on and buy a good, reliable used car. You can get a pretty decent car for $3-4.

    • Allison says:

      @Kirsten, Definitely get another opinion on the Lexus. As to whether or not it is worth repairing, IMO, it depends on what the vehicle would be worth if it were running. If it’s a 20 year old car worth $1,000, I’d say no way. You might get a few bucks if you sell it to a salvage yard. If it’s newer and worth $10 or $15k, it might be in your best interest to sell it as is and use that money on a good vehicle. If it’s worth $4,500….I dunno. I guess back to my first statement, get another opinion. =) Good luck!

      And congrats on getting a Ford to go 325k miles! Surely you deserve an award for that one! ; )

      • Kirsten says:

        @Allison, the engine sludge issue is definitely legitimate since it was a defect found in many ’99 and ’00 Lexus RX300’s. Unfortunately, the problem happened on ours several months after Toyota was willing to reimburse for the repair. We’ve tried many times to get it covered by Toyota/Lexus but it’s a no-go. It looks like it would get about $5,000 if it was running.

    • Pamela says:

      @Kirsten, I’m not a car expert by any means, but I second that suggestion to get another opinion. You might also consider seeing how much you can sell your Lexus for and look into replacing it with a less expensive but reliable vehicle. My brother just bought a car from someone who couldn’t afford to fix it. 😛 My other brother sold a car to someone who thought they could fix it. If someone out there has the ability to fix it themselves (like a mechanic, for instance) and turn over a slight profit or drive a nicer car than they’d have otherwise, they might have more incentive to buy your car and it might end up costing you less just to do that than to pay for such an expensive repair.

      It’s hard for me to imagine paying that much to repair something since neither of our vehicles costed that much in the first place (one’s a 2000, the other’s a 2002, and they’re both in great condition and haven’t given us any major problems).

  • peever says:

    We haven’t had a car payment for almost 6 yrs and we haven’t spent more than $3-4K for any of our vehicles. I’m currently driving a ’99 Ford mini van with almost 140,000 miles on it and I anticipate driving it for many more years. Just keep up with the regular maintenance and you should be good to go! We have had to shell out for repairs over the past 2 yrs, but it’s still much cheaper than a car payment

    I agree that you should try not to worry about it. I know, easier said than done. I like to worry about what ifs as much as the next person, but you just gotta take it one day at a time. My husband always reminds me that things have always worked out for us and he’s right. They have.

  • Margaret says:

    Kirsten… Maybe you should get a 2nd opinion on the lexus. It sounds like a strange problem and maybe the person/dealer who told you this didnt know what they were talking about. If not maybe you could barter and find someone who would fix it on the side rather than a dealer.. ITs a tough place to be and I hope that this works out for you . I hope someone has some more valuable imput… gods blessings

  • Carrie says:

    In 13 years of marriage we have never owned two cars (except for a month or so one time sort of by accident, and we sold the extra car as soon as we could), nor have we ever considered borrowing to buy one. I wouldn’t even want a second car — then I’d have to get more car seats or hassle with moving car seats from one to another, pay more insurance, and have less room in my garage for the kids’ bikes and stuff.

    OK, we live in a near suburb of Chicago where my husband can take the El every day and leave me the car if I need it — which I often don’t for days at a time. You may say we’re lucky to live in an area where you don’t need two cars, but it wasn’t luck — I’ve only ever considered housing that’s on a public rail line. I just won’t live somewhere where you’d have to drive all the time.

    Course, that means we’ve always lived in very expensive areas, so I guess that’s not so frugal. But it is hands-down worth it to me to pay more to live in a walkable community and go without things like cars and cable tv.

  • We have always paid cash for cars and we have a very low income, even when it was just a couple $1000 a year, we were able to pay cash for cars.
    One thing that if you are willing to do, is looking at buying cars that have been in accidents. i know it is not a popular thing, but if you find someone who knows cars to help you, you can get some great cars that are very safe, for a couple $1000’s less than they would have been.
    We had one that looked like someone had jumped on, only the roof was damaged….we bought it for $200 from an insurance auction. It had low miles on it and worked wonderfully! Ugliest thing….but it was a great car.

  • Keep saving and keep driving your car until it dies. I bought a 99′ suv in 03′ because I thought my 93′ honda was getting old. It had 130,000 miles at the time. Seven years later my 93′ honda is still running with 253,000 miles on it. I had to replace the timing belt, water pump and a few other things which cost around $1,000, but well worth it to have my honda back. The gas mileage is better than the suv and it runs great. Keep saving and good luck!

  • Great advice! We have two cars and no car payments! Our 1997 Toyota Tercel has over 139k miles and our 1999 Dodge Grand Caravan has around 150k.

    Mary Ellen

  • Jenny says:

    This is tried and true advice, for sure. When we finished paying off our VW’s several years ago, we stashed those payments in the “car fund.” We then sold both cars on autotrader (for much more than you get as as trade-in!), added the sale amount to our stash, and bought a 4 yr. old Honda Odyssey with CASH! We are still “paying” our car fund to build up a new stash, but we are planning on this Odyssey lasting 10+ years for us. My husband does have a company vehicle, but on those rare occasions where we both need our personal vehicle (such as his Navy Reserve drill weekends), we rent a car; and with frequent renter perks and deal scouting, this has proven to be MUCH cheaper than owning/maintaining a car just for those weekends.

  • Liz says:

    Pray and give it to the Lord…be content and have faith in Him. I recently shared on our blog how a car accident was a blessing to our family. You can read our testimony here…

  • Amanda says:

    In some states, even if your car can run, they are very strict about inspections. My husband’s 1995 Ford Explorer has some rust spots (Northern winters+ no garage), so when we moved to PA, it wouldn’t pass inspection. Only 150,000 miles, and we had to give the vehicle up!

  • Luci says:

    I just wanted to point out that my 1991 Ford Escort–which was purchased used–had clocked over 200,000 miles when we sold it earlier this year. It was still running and in great condition! Sometimes, spending a little to take very good care of your car pays off “down the road.” (It also helps that we have a mechanic that we barter with–computer parts and work for car parts and some labor costs. Works out very nicely!)

  • Stacey says:

    I say, buy a Honda! In 1999 I bout a ’93 Civic for about $7,000 with approximately 60,000 miles. It’s long since paid for and has 176,000 and still gets 30 mpg, even with a dent in the hood! It’s almost 20 years old so the seats are starting to rip and the knobs on the stereo are falling off, but minor problems that can be fixed. The fan must be on a speed of 3 or 4 to circulate air and the A/C and heater aren’t the best, but those could be fixed too if we wanted to invest more money into the vehicle. The best thing is we’ve never had any problems. We make sure to do regular oil changes and we had the timing belt replaced to prevent it from breaking. I can only think of one time it’s been in the shop. We are saving for something newer, but plan to get another Honda. We love our Odyssey too!

  • Gina says:

    If you take car of your cars, change the oil, etc, I don’t think there is really much to worry about. My husband bought an 1995 2 door a few years ago for $500. It did the job, got him to work and back for almost 5 years. We thought we needed to replaced it soon, but it just kept going. It had 230,000 miles and still works. If you are willing to live simply there is really nothing to worry about.
    Our other car is also paid off, but at 130,000 miles, I am really not worried about it right now. Yes it’s year is 2000, but it’s a good car and we take care of it. There also needs to be a trust factor too, that God is going to take car of you and your family, it just may not be in something top of the line.

  • Jerilyn says:

    my husband works on cars and a couple weeks ago some guy came in with a toyota that had 585,000 miles on it- NO JOKE! His secret? Getting regular, scheduled maintenance. There are unforseen circumstances and cars can junk out at anytime- but getting oil changes and fluid exchanges will make your car last longer!

  • Alaine says:

    Some other tips that come to mind:
    When your car does die, look into charities that will take it off your hands and give you a little something extra. My brother, who is in college, got an org to give him $100 for his pickup truck that wasn’t even running. You can also put a listing on craigslist or sell for parts – lots of people like to fix these things up – but make sure you check out the regulations in your state for doing so first.
    Also, ask around your friends and family to find someone who has connections with a dealership or has a used car salesman that they always buy from. I have a few “friends of friends” that have hooked us up with reliable used cars – my last car was purchased for $1500 and lasted 3 years, until I sold it for $500; and our current car we got for $4k and have had for 2+ years (its a 1999 Toyota with 50k miles – so it’ll probably last us another 10 years, with any luck!). I don’t see why you’d need large sums of money to buy a decent used car. I’ve never taken out a loan for a car, ever – remember, they lose value the second you drive them off the lot! And if you are purchasing direct from the dealer, go towards the end of the month, when the salesmen are all trying to hit their end-of-the-month sales goals. You’re more likely to get a better deal.

  • Heidi says:

    I used to think that a car was “old” and needed to be replaced at around 100,000 miles. If taken care of most vehicles will last MUCH longer with few problems. We just got rid of our 1998 Dodge Caravan which had 439,000 miles on it (no that is NOT a typo). It needed a new water pump and something else was leaking. The estimated repair was $1,200 so we decided to get a new vehicle even though the engine was still running strong. We had the cash to get a vehicle a long time ago, but we were committed to driving it until it was unreliable or needed a significant amount of $$ in repairs. We knew with that amount of miles we wouldn’t get hardly anything for it and every mile/month we could run it was a “free” mile/month. We replaced it with a 2005 Dodge Caravan with 89,000 miles last week. We expect it to run well for many miles until we have the cash to pay for the next vehicle :).

  • Jenn says:

    Crystal’s plan sounds similar to ours. It can sometimes be difficult to go without two vehicles though if you live in a very rural area as we do with temps of 54 degrees below zero in the winter and a pastor husband who drives all over kingdom come during the week. It’s good to have a back-up vehicle 🙂

    Our 1998 Olds Intrigue has 184,412 miles on it and it is going strong. We’ll keep it until it dies while putting aside money for a “new” car. We keep a second vehicle, an older van for a vehicle we use “in case of emergency”. This allows us not to put too many miles on it and only use it when necessary so the van doesn’t have to be replaced soon after our car, putting us in a constant cycle of trying to save cash for cars.

    We have been doing the suggestion of putting aside money that we’d normally budget for other areas into our “car payment” fund so we can buy another vehicle sooner than the old one completely breaks down!

  • Laura Davis says:

    I just wanted to suggest you keep in mind that “newer” doesn’t necessarily mean “more reliable.” My husband knows a lot about cars, and when my ’92 Escort finally died, he suggested replacing it with a 1996 Toyota Tacoma. I was skeptical, but he said those trucks are built like tanks and simple to repair, so he convinced me. We paid $4,750 for it on Craigslist and it’s been running great. DH even said that it’s actually better to get an older model car in some cases because they were built to last back in the day. Anyway, just something to keep in mind, although finding a good model might take some research. I know he’s also very impressed with Volvos for durability–my sister-in-law has one built in the ’80s that still runs fine!

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