Vehicle shopping while on a budget

We are in the midst of purchasing a new-to-us vehicle. It will be the third vehicle we have purchased since paying off $127,000 in debt. With each, we’ve opted to skip any sort of loan or financing and save up cash to purchase the car.

In the past, this would have been an impossible dream, and in the present it still requires intention and sacrifice. For months, we have been squirreling back cash — a percentage of almost everything we make goes into a sinking car fund. In the past week or two, it’s filled up to the point that we’ve started to get serious.

Here I should insert that one of us does better with the serious car shopping than the other — that is, my husband is a phenomenal car shopper. He does hours of research, makes phone calls and narrows both the scope of our needs and target budget.

It is my experience that in a marriage, there are typically two types of people. I know what you’re thinking. A spender and a saver? Someone who lives for spontaneity and a more deliberate personality? A geek who loves ledgers and an individual who is allergic to math? Good arguments could be made for all of the above.

However, my personal observation is that each relationship is blessed with a participant who is focused on the short-term goals, such as day-to-day budgeting, vacations, household appliances and grocery shopping, and another who loves to think about the big picture. Think: retirement, college savings, and you guessed it — vehicle purchases.

I’m not allergic to car shopping, but it’s not going to be listed as a hobby of mine anytime soon. However, in my pursuit to grow and stretch as a human, I have learned a few things from my husband about the process so that we can work well as a team and of course save money.

Know what you want

It’s never a good idea to roll up to a car lot without a whim of what model, make, year, or even color of a car you’d like. Begin refining your tastes by making a list and answering the following questions. Who will be the primary driver? Approximately how many miles will be put on the vehicle each year? How many passengers do you need to accommodate?

Are there models or makes you’d like to avoid? A simple inventory exercise can help you begin your search with a solid picture of what you really need and like so that you don’t spend too much time chasing after a purchase that doesn’t meet your family’s essentials.

Call your mechanic

I’m a huge fan of finding a local auto repair shop and making a point of having all of your routine maintenance done by the same technicians. You might be able to skip around town using the best coupons to get the cheapest oil change, but in the end saving a couple of bucks won’t outweigh having an expert opinion that could save you thousands.

Once you’ve narrowed your focus, you need to call your local mechanic and ask their advice on which cars you should avoid. Patterns of regular problems made to specific models or even specific years of models often cross your repairman’s path. He or she just might save you from investing in a lemon. When you actually begin test driving vehicles, if you can swing by the shop to allow your mechanic actually look under the hood, that’s even better.

Know when to walk away

It’s not just an excellent Kenny Rogers’ lyric, but a sound piece of car shopping advice, too. I love my friends who work so hard everyday selling cars. I need them. But if you feel pressured at all to make a purchase, you might not just need to know when to walk away but also when to run.

A car is huge purchase. If you don’t absolutely love the car you’re thinking about buying, you need to move along as quickly as possible. Don’t waste your time. If the dealer or owner suggests you spend more than what you’ve budgeted, because “it’s just a few dollars more,” you need to politely excuse yourself. You — not the car salesman — have to live with that major expense. He or she won’t be picking up the bill or coming home with you. You need to be completely confident. Don’t be disrespectful but do be bold about your budget.

I’m not sure I’ll ever fall in love with purchasing a car. However, it is important for me to be actively engaged in the process of buying household vehicles, whether it comes naturally to me or not. The best thing about acknowledging strengths and weaknesses in marriage is realizing that usually couples complement each other well and can lean on one another to bring about the best decisions.