It’s a pretty humbling experience to be a nearly 30 year old professional who can’t afford a vehicle. I said this to a friend recently. Her reaction? “Hold up, you need to define what you mean by ‘afford.’ You could go out and get a car today. You just don’t want to go into debt which is why you are in the situation you are in.” There it is.
Here’s a little history. I drove a small paid off SUV. Then I got a job (this job) 25 miles from my house. Driving over 250 miles a week meant I was spending at least $300 a month on gas (or more when gas prices were higher). At the beginning of this year, I decided to downsize. I was able to sell my SUV and purchase a used car with cash. At best it was a lateral move. I knew this. I simply needed a car I could pack the miles onto and hopefully save money on gas in the process. I felt really great about this decision. Sure I missed my pretty SUV, but I’d done the right thing for my financial life. What’s that saying, the one about no good deed going unpunished? Yeah, that one. Cut to me, three months later, sitting in my very dead (and smoking) car on the very small shoulder of the very busy interstate in rush hour traffic. When I called for a tow the guy said, “You are in a very unsafe location, miss.” No *bleep.* Long, depressing story short, my mechanic used the word “unfixable”, and I was without transportation for the foreseeable future.
This whole situation was rough from a logistical standpoint (hard to get to work with no car), but more than anything this has been a financial crisis. Here’s how it all shook out:
SUV sold for $9,000 cash
Used car purchased for $8,200 cash
Leaving me $800 cash positive
Dead car cost me $300 to diagnose and tow around town (this isn’t my first time around the block, I got three opinions).
Down to $500 cash positive.
Used car with no engine sold for $2,000 cash
Leaving me with $2,500 in savings. I prefer not to think about how much money I lost.
Have I mentioned yet this all happened the day before I left for an 11 day trip around Europe? I tried to put all of this out of my mind as I stuffed my face with crepes in Paris and rode bikes in Amsterdam, but it was always there in the back of my mind. What the crap am I going to do?
I also probably haven’t mentioned yet this all went down about three months ago, and *spoiler alert* I’m still dealing with the situation. As embarrassing as it is, I haven’t made a single decision about how I’m going to fix this situation. You don’t know me well, but this isn’t normal for me. I’m very quick to make decisions, which is probably how I ended up in this situation to begin with. Currently, I just… well, basically, it boils down to, I. DO. NOT. CARE. I’m so over this whole situation. I want to have a way to get to work and to not be in debt. Is that too much to ask? For my life, right now, it is. So I’m doing what all responsible adults do, I’m making my financial problems, someone else’s problem. Pete has taught me well (this is a joke, he doesn’t recommend doing this).
As it stands, I am an independent, nearly-30 year old professional who has been leaning on the good graces of others to get myself to work every day. I’m driving borrowed cars friends and family have lent me (on my third one in three months). Yeah, I am livin’ the dream, thanks for noticing.
But back to what my friend said, I can “afford” a car. I could walk into any car dealership with zero dollars and get a very nice, very new car, but I really don’t want to do that. I mean, of course, I dream about having my own car again, one that isn’t borrowed and full of other people’s stuff, but I’m also aware it would be a terrible financial decision for me. Which is why I am saving my ass off. Currently, I have $5,000 saved (outside of my emergency fund savings, which I’m not going to touch) for a car purchase in the future. I wish it were today, but by my calculation I’ll need at least a few more months before I can buy a decent car for myself.
Am I making the right decision? I have no freakin’ clue. I’m doing what I think is best though, and as long as (extremely generous) people let me borrow their cars, I’m going try to hold off on the inevitable car purchase in my future.
Peter Dunn a.k.a. Pete the Planner® is an award-winning financial mind and a former comedian. He’s a USA TODAY columnist, author of ten books, and is the host of the popular radio show and podcast, The Pete the Planner Show. Pete is considered one of the foremost experts on financial wellness in the world, but he’s just as likely to talk your ear off about bass fishing.