The one year anniversary of our purchase of our 1998 Blazer is coming up, and I thought I’d talk about this car, who we have fondly come to know as “Bess”. I do not remember exactly where that name started, but we feel it is fitting, and this car has come to represent a lot in our lives. Cheesy, but true.
Keaton and I have said from the beginning of combining our finances that we will not do car payments. We have student loan debt to pay off, and we want to focus on that rather than commiting to paying $300-$500 a month on a car payment. We don’t need fancy cars, we just need something to get us from point A to point B. This has presented some challenges, but overall we have made it work, and every month we don’t put money into our cars, we have more money to work towards paying cash for his tuition and paying off my undergrad loans. Our initial inspiration for all of this came from this post.
So let’s start from the beginning. July of 2015 Keaton and I had just moved to Bolivar from Springfield so he could be closer to school. I drove my 2000 Audi A4, and Keaton was driving his Ford Escape he had had since high school. On my way back to Kansas City for wedding planning one weekend, my Audi died. Like, I was driving it no problem down the street from my mom’s, and the RPMs dropped, the spedometer went to zero. Just stopped driving.
We made do with one car until after our honeymoon, then eventually found out that my car needed a ton of diagnostic work and we could be looking at $1500-$3000 to fix it, which might not even fully fix the issues it was having.
Around October of that year my little brother decided to buy a new car. He was driving the Blazer at the time but saved his money and bought a better truck with cash. He had put a lot of work into the Blazer and had replaced just about everything but the transmission. Mileage was high but he only wanted $1200. We decided to jump on the opportunity because we would rather buy a car with full disclosure than gamble on a used car from the unknown. We finally had two cars again and it was glorious! No coordinating rides, Keaton didn’t have to ride his bike to school in the rain. Perfection.
November 2015–Keaton and I were driving home from Ohio in the dark during a rainstorm when a college student braked suddenly on the highway. We swerved to avoid her, and ended up side swiping about 30 feet of guardrail. Luckily, all three of us walked away from the wreck with no injuries. But, the Escape was done. We were back to one car, and decided to make do again until summertime.
We drove Bess until July of 2016, and it took a lot of teamwork to make it work with one car. I actually ended up driving 2 hours away for work starting in February, and Keaton would go 3-4 days at a time without a car. Luckily, Bolivar is small, and he also has some good friends who helped him get around. And his biking skills dramatically improved. We saved our money and planned on buying something in cash that would work for commuting to and from clinicals when he started in the fall.
Over the summer we actually bought Keaton’s parent’s Nissan Altima, and took Bess to get looked at due to some weird stalling issues. Then, we got the worst of the worst news: The transmission was going out.
We were not 100% surprised, but it was still a tough pill to swallow. We debated what to do, went and shopped around for used cars, and ultimately decided to fix the Blazer. After the repairs, their were still some issues happening, which resulted in a new fuel pump. We fixed that too.
Now, before you freak out about dumping all this money into an old car, let’s do the math.
We have owned the Blazer for about 1 year. In that year, it has required approximately $2200 in repairs (my stepdad knows someone who installs transmissions, so we got a good deal fortunately).
$2200/12 months= $183.33 per month spend on the Blazer
Now, if we drive the blazer another 6 months with no issues (likely, because brakes and tires are fine, engine is partially rebuilt, etc.) the monthly cost will go down.
$2200/18 months= $122.22 per month
Most of my friends and family who have car payments I would say pay on average $300-$500 a month. With all of the repairs we have spent on our car (and we’ve pretty much spend the maximum thanks to the transmission issue), we are STILL not paying what most people spend on their car each month. And, every month that goes by without issues, I am putting that money elsewhere. Towards a vacation, our debt snowball, a night out to dinner. This is money I have the freedom to allocate where I’d like.
Now, the caveat to this is the only way to make an old car work is to have a little cushion. Keaton and I keep a little more than the Dave Ramsey recommendation of $1000 in the bank just because we know that our car has a little higher likelihood of having issues. We also pay $120 per year to keep a AAA membership, which safeguards us against being stranded if our car does break down suddenly.
We do get occasional grief for our choice in cars. But, we have also met other people learning the same lesson. One of my good friends just sold off her 2013 car with a loan to buy an old car so she could save the extra money each month. And guess what she and her husband are doing with the money? Taking a European vacation.
Sure, there will be a time when my loans are gone and I could probably afford a payment or a nicer car. But it really boils down to what you want to spend your money on. Keaton and I prefer experience to nice cars. I would rather save $500 for 10 months, buy a $5,000 car, then continue saving that $500 so I can take a $5,000 vaction in the next 10 n the morning, or if you drive down some gravel roads and kick up rocks.
Plus, old cars=less stress if you’re clumsy and spill things. Or if you want to drive down some back roads and gravel gets kicked up. Or if someone is a jerk and dings you in the parking lot.
My point is, life is too short to spend money on things that aren’t important. People, places, experiences are important. To us, cars just aren’t.