Wheels won’t stop turning.

Friends, pull up a chair. I need rational people to talk to  🙂

Yesterday, I put another car rental notch in my AMEX card. One of my aunts passed away and I went up north to the funeral. There were no bus options that would allow me to get to the funeral on time. My aunt was 81, and never in exquisite health. It was good to see the rest of my family and catch up over church lady sandwiches, date squares and sweet pickles. (Honestly, who doesn’t love that?)

On my way back to the city, I stopped in at a used car dealership that many of my friends and family have given high praise. It was a damp, drizzling day. Seems I was the only hot blooded potential customer around yesterday. My customer service experience was second to none.

Brad, the young and kinda cute sales rep came out to say hello.  He encouraged me to look around and let him know if I had any questions. I cruised the entire lot.

Let me cut to the chase: I went on four test drives yesterday.  First was a 2002 Jetta ($6995), second was a 2006 Saturn ($7995), then a Kia (I forget the price, hated the drive), finally a 2005 Honda Civic ($7995). For the record, Brad is a super great guy. He didn’t make me feel like a dopey girl who didn’t know squat about cars, and answered all my questions. When he showed me the champagne coloured Saturn he asked me what I knew about Saturns. I said “nothing really“. He took the time to let me know they didn’t make them any more and they had similar engines as some of the GM products. When he asked “how do you like the colour?” I said “well, I’m not keen on it, but I’ll try not to be a princess about it!

He let out a hearty laugh and said “that’s the first time I heard that one!

As I got in the Saturn, I texted my brother-in-law, Stephen, who’s a pretty fine mechanic. He’s now working for Porsche. I said “what do you know about 2006 Saturns?” He eventually texted back and said “poo poo, too cheap, don’t do it”. So I enjoyed my ride and returned the Saturn.

Stephen then asked “where are you?” and I told him where I was. “Awesome place” he confirmed “you’ll get treated well there”.

Since I had Stephen’s attention, when I returned to the lot I texted him with another query. “What about a 2002 Jetta – 112kms, $6995?” He asked me a few questions to confirm the model of the car, then responded with “bulletproof – sexy ride if you get the windows tinted!”

On the other hand, sales rep Brad wasn’t excited about the Jetta for me. He warned me that Volkswagen has exclusivity on parts, and they’re often twice as much as another car. I’d heard that before, Stephen had mentioned that previously.

As I was talking to Brad about the history of the Jetta, Stephen texts me again after crusing the car lot’s website to tell me there’s a 2005 Honda Civic on the lot.  I see the message in my handbag. I say to Brad “is that Civic still on the lot?” He smacks his palm into his forehead and said “wow, good thing your brother is helping us out here – that’s a great idea, let’s go see it!”

The Civic was a great test-drive. Much cleaner than the Jetta inside, and it’s also a stick-shift. To me, driving a stick is really driving. Makes me feel like a race car driver! Stephen texts me that the Honda is a good car (even with 119,000 kms) and he and his girlfriend just bought one almost the same. Brad pulls up the car history, and it’s just off-lease, and there are no accidents on record. As Brad pointed out, it’s a black exteror and black interior, so one doesn’t have to worry about any princess tendencies.

The Jetta was owned for the last 5 years by a guy in Toronto, so I know it’s been subjected to stop-and-go traffic.  No accidents on record. A grungier interior and exterior is starting to show its age.

I’m still absolutely torn over the idea of buying a car. Actually thought I’d be ill last night thinking about it. Was it the thoughts of the car or that third drink I had trying to figure it all out?

The seven block walk to the car rental yesterday morning, in the pouring rain, didn’t help me want to put off the purchase. After I’d showered, put a nice dress on, straightened my hair nice….just not fun.

I looked up insurance online last night for both vehicles.  The Civic is about $188/month, and the Jetta is a bit less at $169/month. Jetta would cost more to repair, and likely need more repairs due to its age. Since there are so many Civics on the road, I’m told parts are readily available, and much cheaper than Volkswagen. The Civic was prettier. The Civic is a two-door, which is not attractive if you have occassional passengers with some mobility issues (like my daughter).

What the hell is wrong with me? (other than this wee hangover) I hear my trusted friend wisely saying “have compassion for yourself” and I’m wondering if that could mean I can simplify my life by having a car.  My tasks would be simpler, but balancing my books wouldn’t be.

I read Gail Vaz-Oxlade’s blog this morning and she’s wagging her finger saying “spending more money than you make is dumb.  And spending money on STUFF when you haven’t yet earned it is tantamount to committing financial suicide.” Is she following me?

A colleague, who I adore and admire his fiscal prowess, noted this week that he holds me up as an example of how a person can live a full life in the city without a car. Wow, he’s proud of me. If I buy a car, will I disappoint him?  (Yeah, that matters to me). Does he really know how much of a drain it can be at times?

Don’t normal people have cars? Do normal people owe money on cars?

It’s exhausting trying to do the right thing all the time, isn’t it? Trying to be responsible. Geesh, maybe I have a bad dose of debt fatigue. Why do we think the anti-dote is more debt? Ack, I’m a mess.

I have no money set aside for a car purchase. I have enough in my TFSA to buy one ($10,000) or I can put it on my line of credit. Both sound so stupid now that I’ve typed them out. Still, I can’t get the desire out of my head. I’ve come up with a million justifications: I could visit my parents more often, I could help out my step-mother more, I could take the girls on little day trips, we could grocery shop less often, I could drive to my part-time gig saving me a few hours a week. I could go on, but you get the idea.

The overwhelmingly responsible thing to do would be to wait until the end of 2012 or 2013 to make a car purchase. Next year I want to take the girls on a nice trip. That’s my big savings goal. The year after that maybe a car? The house eventually needs new windows upstairs and eaves trough. Maybe that should come before a car? Can I really wait that long? Not likely.

I should really wait until my obligation to clear my consumer debt is completed. Wish you’d all just have a coffee with me and slap me around and help me move on with this issue, one way or another!

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9 responses to this post.

  1. Our country is not really conducive to people not having cars. That’s why I take a lot of the “no car” admonishments with a big grain of salt. As far as I’m concerned, if you’ve maxed out your TFSA – which you have – you HAVE saved the money. You just didn’t earmark it for something like this. I don’t know what you have earmarked it for. Probably like me, you just jumped on the TFSA wagon seeing it as a great program without thinking – hmm, what’s that money supposed to be FOR long term? To keep for 20 years and not touch it?

    Speaking of the TFSA, I don’t know what you have yours invested in, but mine pulled over 10% this year – so now would actually be a good time to pull it out since the TSX is doing pretty good.

    Anyway, I don’t think in some ways that you are like Gail’s audience – asset wise you’re good, it’s the cashflow that’s tough. It’s not like you’re looking at a Beemer, you’re looking at basic transportation. From watching her show, her audience is messed up period. Speaking from personal experience, I regret depriving myself on things that would have made my life easier. But like you, I put money into taking my kids on trips and stuff too. So in hindsight, I would have made my day to day life better and foregone a bit of the fun stuff. Not all, because they’re only young once. But there’s something to be said for daily peace of mind knowing you don’t have any debt too. Balanced with the daily peace of mind that you don’t have to run out on foot to buy milk (or cheese 😉 ) when it’s -20C either.

    Your insurance costs kind of freak me out. I’m paying about $60/month for mine, but that could be just a different province. Have you considered not having collision coverage? Or could you get a reduction given that you don’t use it for commuting? Also, if your daughters get put on your insurance, will that rack up the rate down the road?

    Having said all that “rah-rah go for it stuff”, like you, I don’t know if I would or not. My dad used to say that anyone over 25 shouldn’t be getting a car loan. And that’s probably true, but he’s a frugal freak too. As far as the type goes, I’d look at your needs long term – and your daughter’s needs (so I’d go with the Civic). I bought my current car with the intention of passing it on to my oldest son once I stopped commuting so far. So I bought something he would like that I didn’t really care for. But a car itself is something I wouldn’t be willing to forego no matter where I lived (unless it was NYC or something) – so take my opinion with a grain of salt. 🙂

    Right now, it looks like your insurance cost is offset by the rental / bus costs. It’s the cash outlay for the car that’s going to cost you – plus any repairs at say $400/year right now. Probably (hopefully) nothing for a couple of years. I think – as you know – there is no easy answer. Your friend isn’t the one running around in the snow getting groceries, not able to visit family or not able to take his kids out to Niagara Falls for the day. Would having a car tempt you to spend more at other times (going places with the kids maybe?) Personally, I’d go squeaky on the groceries and try to drop it down $100/month, make a few bucks doing some mystery shopping or something with that car (I know this can be done since a friend and I did it for a test for a month and made $100 for doing it).

    But I hear you – these decisions make my head hurt too. Is it a necessity? No. But technically almost nothing really is.

    Reply

    • Jacq, thanks for having that virtual coffee with me.

      In my mind, the TFSA is my emergency savings. It’s just in a high interest account right now. I’m totally dense when it comes to investments in other things, which will have to the the topic for some future posts!

      It’s the insurance costs that help temper me too. Actually, one of the on-line quote companies called me back this morning to verify my quote. When they asked how far I drove to work I said “no kms, I work from home”. Then they asked if I’d ever use it for business travel. I had to say that I might. The cost went up to just ofer $3,000/year. Back to the $250/month scenario.

      I do worry that having a car would pressure my cash flow in other areas, like day trips which would impact dining out, entertainment, etc. I also worry that I wouldn’t walk as much. I don’t belong to a gym, but I feel like I’m in reasonable shape (not buff for sure) for somebody who just walks everywhere.

      You’re right, it’s a challenge because there isn’t one right answer. I appreciate another smart woman helping me confirm that!

      Reply

  2. Posted by everydayminimalist on October 15, 2010 at 1:48 pm

    In that case, if you don’t have the money yet, don’t buy it.

    You could also buy a super cheap beater car. I bought my minivan for $2000 and I haven’t had to pay for anything on it except new tires after 2 years, new windshield wipers and car mats.

    It’s old, it’s hunky, but it only has 190,000km on it. Minivans are usually the best deals of the beater cars out there, seeing as families drive them

    Reply

    • Good suggestion, and I’d pondered the “beater” theory. Trouble is, seems no matter what I may purchase, the insurance is still kooky in Toronto. A mini-van won’t fit (nicely) in my share driveway in Toronto, so that’s out. I certainly take the point about “if you don’t have the money, don’t buy it”. I do appreciate you chiming in!!

      Reply

  3. Posted by Momofthree on October 15, 2010 at 2:33 pm

    Maybe what you need to do is live with the cost for a few months and see how your budget feels?
    Total the following:
    Monthly loan amt
    Monthly insurance
    The monthly cost of the following:
    Amt for regular mtce (oil changes etc)
    Amt for surprise mtce
    Amt for gas (estimate what you think you will drive and check out what mileage the car gets)
    Amt for biannual e-testing
    Amt for annual license plate sticker
    Amt to replace tires (not sure if you would need winter tires, how often you need new ones will obviously depend on how much you will drive)

    I said an amount for the loan above because even if you purchase it outright, you will want to pay yourself back and have savings in place for the next car (if you decide you want another at the end of the life of the one you buy now.

    Once you have lived for a couple of months with the cost you will know if you are ready to adjust the rest of your budget permanently and you will already have a bit put aside in case of any repairs soon after purchase without having to pull more from savings.

    Good luck!

    Reply

    • What an outstanding suggestion! Live like I have a car (the payment, the insurance, the gas and the maintenance) even though I don’t, and see how comfortable/uncomfortable that is. I can tell you right now, it’d be mighty uncomfortable for the next few months. However, I think I’ll use that strategy in 2011! LOVE it!!!! Thank you.

      Reply

  4. Wow – excellent responses. I’ll have an extra-large hazelnut with double cream.
    Here’s my two cents for what it’s worth: if I could manage without a car I would do it in a New York minute. A car will never save you money, it will never appreciate in value, it will always be a money pit. And have you seen the price of gas lately? And the $55/hr mechanic’s fee just to lift the hood? Now, having said that I will admit that the only time I haven’t owned a car was while I was going to university – 5 years. London, Ontario’s transit system (buses only) sucks but I liked riding them – they were already warm when I’d get on one in mid-winter, I didn’t have to shovel out my driveway or clean ice off the windshield half a dozen times a day, didn’t have to worry about running out of gas or wonder why that red light on the dash was flashing ominously, didn’t have to pay that big insurance bill every month ($600 more a year when I added my daughter as an occasional driver), AND I could get all my reading for my classes done while someone else did the driving – SWEET. If you buy a car you will start to use it ALL of the time! You won’t be able to help yourself – the time saving convenience is the key factor. You have to be SO disciplined NOT to use it for every little errand: spend 30 minutes walking to the bank and back or do it in 5 minutes by driving.
    YET – I have a car. A car that is shared between 3 adults – not an easy feat. We all write our schedules out weekly on a large calendar and figure out the cheapest way to get all of us to our various destinations on a daily basis – work, school, to the trailer etc. We share the expenses, make the car work for us, and so far it does.
    Well, we can’t tell you what to do but I think if I were you and had access to the TTC, the subway, buses and street cars, taxis and rentals, I wouldn’t own a car.
    Thanks for the coffee:)

    Reply

    • Jane, glad you liked the coffee. I like the Hazelnut blend too!

      I’ve owned a car for most of the last 25 years. It’s only been the last 13 months that I’ve been totally carless. A million years ago when I was married, my ex-hubby and I had two vehicles; he a truck, and me a small car. We moved to a bigger town (Barrie, ON) from our tiny town, and I was working from home. I made the pitch that we only needed one vehicle, and eventually won the argument. It was an adjustment (for me, in particular) but we made it work. I certainly am all too familiar with the depreciating hunk of steel in the driveway that needs upkeep.

      Never once did I think it would save my money, just perhaps a bit of sanity and some time.

      Just to add insult to it all, in the fine metropolis of Toronto, a person who owns a car pays an additional $60/year car tax, just ‘cause. Add that to your long list of expenditures!

      What I won’t do is use the car for super short trips. In my neighbourhood, my house is the best (and free) parking spot for the bank, the bakery, a few grocery stores, etc. It makes no sense to drive. I can totally be convicted of that because it’s a real pain to park in my area (as well as others), so I’d only drive when I knew where/how easy it was to park. BUT, I do fear that overall I’d walk less.

      Friends and family keep asking me about my fitness regime – truth is, I have none. My only secret is being carless in the city – I walk everywhere. Even taking the subway means a 10-minute walk, a few flights of stairs, etc.

      If I were like you, and had occasional access to a vehicle, I suspect I’d be less anxious. Truthfully, I’m feeling less anxious at the end of today than I was at the end of yesterday. I feel a bit like a whiner – which I loathe. I think what really bugs me is that I thought I’d made up my mind in one direction (no car) and then was totally swayed again (please buy that Honda Civic).

      My Mom gave me some good advice today too. She suggested to just make a decision one way or another, rather than living in this decision purgatory. She was encouraging me in the no-car/realize your goal of being debt free direction. But she further suggested to identify a time-frame to pick up the decision again for assessment, whether it be 6 months, or one year. But for whatever time period I decide on, to just put it aside and pick it up again then. I think that’s pretty smart advice (albeit coming from a woman with a nice Toyota Sienna with leather seats). Still, my Mom lived in a big city with me when I was quite small without a car. I don’t recall us being hard done by. In fact, I didn’t even know we were dirt poor.

      Perhaps I’ll learn from my earlier awareness that I need to ask/get more help when I need it, and I can call more cabs and rent more often. It’ll still be FAR cheaper than putting a Civic, a beater, or just about anything in the driveway.

      Reply

  5. You got some oh so awesome advice here. Having thought about it – several times today!!, I too would not get the vehicle. That insurance would be a deal breaker for me unless I lived in the boonies (in which case the insurance probably wouldn’t be as high).
    I was also thinking of something I’ve done in the past when faced with decisions – making a decision tree. What’s more important: putting $4000/yr away for retirement (and “buying” 40+ days of “staycation” a year) – or a car? Having cable TV – or a car? etc. etc. We can (sometimes) have it all, just not all at one time unfortunately.
    I’ve also read that people judge events by the stories they tell themselves – so go on telling yourself about your awesome awesomeness about how you defeated the norms and didn’t cave – and don’t dwell on the sucky parts. 😛
    😉

    Reply

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