I'm not very good at barely getting by
July 8, 2011 11:33 AM   Subscribe

How can I get a car that runs when I have no money?

I'm disabled, waiting for a court hearing to hopefully get some disability. My husband works, but his income is just barely enough for us to get by. We have mounting credit card balances due to emergencies and sometimes needing food when we are overdrawn. I'm not really interested in having people tell me how bad this is, I realize that. Before having to leave my job we had no credit card debt at all and two paid-off cars.

My husband's car (2001 Saturn) had its transmission die. Estimates for repair are about $2400, which is way more than the car is worth. We intended to sell the car and buy something else, but then changed our minds and decided to save up to buy a used transmission and then get it installed. For the last six months, my husband has been driving my car (2003 Saturn), but now it's falling apart too. The cooling fan, power steering, and ignition all went out in a three week period. We've had to pay $700 to have the cooling fan and ignition replaced to get a vehicle my husband can drive to work. (The power steering was beyond our mechanic's abilities, since it's a recall on a faulty part. But the recall doesn't apply to us and the GM dealerships don't know what they're talking about.) One week later, the ignition stopped working again and we've taken it back to the same mechanic to get that fixed. While the car is in the shop, we've had to rent a car so my husband can get back and forth to work and put that on a credit card.

Recently we've also had our washing machine and air conditioner break down and are paying those bills off as well. These are the types of things that we don't have room for in our budget.

My mom sent us some money to cover the most recent car repair, because otherwise I didn't know how it would get paid for. I've been intending to be saving up money for car repairs/buying a new to us car, but the $1000 I had saved went towards a new washer and dryer and since then I haven't been able to scrape together any excess due to one thing after another breaking down.

We live 30 miles from my husband's job in a rural area where there is ABSOLUTELY NO form of public transport. We can't move because we live in a trailer and on land that is paid for.

I've reached nearly the end of my rope. Both of us are increasingly stressed and depressed by everything constantly going wrong. I desperately wish I could get a job, but I know I couldn't physically handle it and besides, I have no car to take me anywhere to work. And if I worked, I would lose all chance of getting disability. I have tried to sell things, possessions I've collected and things I have made, but though I occasionally get a hundred dollars extra, it is quickly eaten up by credit card payments and such. If I get disability, the backpay would pay off the debt and we would be able to make a monthly payment. But I'm increasingly worried we won't make it that long.

It's increasingly obvious that we need to get rid of our cars and get something more reliable and cheaper to fix. Because Saturns are hard to find parts for, hard to repair, and the company doesn't exist anymore, they are really bad ideas. Plus several of the problems on my car would have been covered by recalls, if the company still existed and if the car didn't have over 100,000 miles on it. (It's closer to 200,000.)

Assuming I'm able to save a little up and assuming we manage to sell both our cars, how much would it cost to buy something that would run? What cars should I be looking for? Is there any way to get a loan to make payments on something that would be about $100/month? I've considered some leases on really cheap cars that are about $200/month but they have mileage requirements that would mean my husband would have to drive one of our cars about half the time to avoid going over the mileage limits.

What the hell do I do? For the first time in my life, I find myself feeling really poor and helpless to improve my situation. I just really need some practical advice.

My previous AskMe about my husband's car
posted by threeturtles to Work & Money (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't mean this to be unhelpful, but is there any way to return the washer and dryer? You can get refurbished washers and dryers from an appliance repair shop with a warranty for a couple hundred dollars each. You can also get new Roper-brand washer and dryer (which is really Whirlpool) for less than $600 for a new set. That might help save a little money for the other things you need.
posted by cnc at 12:19 PM on July 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

I don't know if you're eligible, but Goodwill runs a program called Wheels to Work for employed people without cars or access to public transit-- it looks pretty regional how its run and if its offered, but you might look into it.
posted by geegollygosh at 12:21 PM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ask car salesmen at a local dealership to keep an eye out for trade-ins that might be within your budget. Your mechanic may also have a beater for you to buy, or ask him to fix up a car that otherwise wouldn't work, and make payments on the repair work.
posted by wayofthedodo at 12:21 PM on July 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

First of all, I am really sorry to hear of your situation. I have spent the past 18 months dealing with almost your wave situation and I am just now seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Please don't give up hope and continue to work as a team together.

If ever there is a time for extended family to provide finiancial assistance, this is it.

One thing that really saved me was that I had bought a new car the year before. My monthly payments were really high because I wanted it paid off in three years but see about having a longer payment plan (what ever fits you budget). I bought a Toyota Yaris, an basic car that is good on gas and has cost me almost nothing to maintain. I knew with my precarious financial situation I could not afford repairs but I could budget for the monthly car payment. Leasing is often only slightly cheaper short-term and definitely more expensive long term.

Good luck, you WILL get through this.
posted by saucysault at 12:28 PM on July 8, 2011

Maybe this will help your approach and open up some more options for you:

Saturns are not hard to repair whatsoever (I repair them in my garage, myself, no biggie); they are not hard to buy parts for; and the company is still GM, so they are still using the same parts in their other cars even though the Saturn "badging" doesn't exist anymore.

As others have said, keep an eye out for budget trade-ins. One of the best cars I had ever owned was an old Cutlass for a whopping $500 that lasted me years and years and years.
posted by TinWhistle at 12:31 PM on July 8, 2011

Is there any way to get a loan to make payments on something that would be about $100/month?

If you reduced your credit card payments, could you squeeze out more money towards the monthly payments on a car? I had an absurdly high interest rate and a large balance on a card, and when I was unemployed I called them and begged for mercy. It saved me $200/month. Tell them you CANNOT pay whatever the minimum is now. Keep repeating that.

I would start thinking about bankruptcy although I have no idea how disability payments would or would not affect that.
posted by desjardins at 1:06 PM on July 8, 2011

police auction?
posted by zombieApoc at 1:30 PM on July 8, 2011

Is there any way to get a loan to make payments on something that would be about $100/month?

Qualifying for a loan might be difficult, but for good reason -- if you've got increasing CC balances, where will the extra $100 payment come from?

Have you talked to a bank or credit union to see whether you can qualify for a loan? Limited income and mounting credit card debt doesn't sound good, but we can't tell from here whether you'll be able to get a loan. If you qualified for a really good loan, $100/month is enough to make the payment on a 5 year, $5500 loan. Add to that the scrap value of the older Saturn ($350 or so), and the sale value of the newer Saturn (not enough info to guess) and you'll know roughly how much you'd have to work with. Deduct sales tax, license fees and such, and you'll have an idea of how much car you could afford IF you can get the loan, which you may not be able to do.

If you can get a loan (which is a question we can't answer for you), you'll be able to afford something decent. It won't be a new car and you'll be putting a lot of miles on it, so you'll need to budget for some repairs along the way.

If you possibly can, avoid "buy here / pay here" used car dealers that cater to people in difficult financial circumstances by offering in-house financing. They'll sell you a crap car for a crap price on crap terms, and they will do all of that even if your credit is better than you think and you would've qualified for a better deal elsewhere. Talk to your local banks and credit unions first.
posted by jon1270 at 1:59 PM on July 8, 2011

It's a tough situation and one that I recognize and sympathize with. A few ideas:

--Can your husband stay with someone during the week who lives much closer to his job? That could make it easier for a while.
--Have you tried looking for ride shares in the local paper? Even taking out an ad yourself?
--Are you involved with a church, youth group, club, etc., that might have a bit of a "sudden help" budget?

For the longer term: Am I understanding right that you own both the land and the trailer? If so: I know it feels good to own substantial things but they're tying you down. Let them go. When obligation to sunk costs are part of the problem, it's time to treat the sunk costs as a non-flourishing investment and move on. Sell the land for the absolute best dollar you can as fast as possible, then find the cheapest, smallest place to rent you can that's close your husband's job (or the nearest town where you're also likely to find work) and move on. Right now that land is a problem. Sell it and it could be a solution.
posted by Mo Nickels at 2:00 PM on July 8, 2011

I guess we do really need to apply for a car loan from the bank, but never having done that, I'm not entirely sure how it works. Do I have to ask for a certain amount or do they tell me how much I can have?

We had really good credit (well mine better than his due to simply having more history) prior to the last year and a half. I hope that counts for something, but I know things don't look good now. The credit card debt is mostly from unexpected expenses, $850 air conditioner, $200 medical bill, $700 pet boarding when our petsitters fell through at the last minute, $200 rental car, etc. I consistently pay more than the minimums, but not enough to keep the overall balance from increasing in the last few months. So the theoretical $100/mo I think I could scrape together would come partly from switching to only paying the minimums on cards. Plus cutting down on other expenses like buying cheaper groceries, giving up eating out once a month, etc.

As for selling the home and land and moving, I really don't see how that would help us. It would give us a monthly rent payment that we don't have now and still wouldn't mean we didn't need a car because the town my husband works in doesn't have public transportation either. (Though, ok, it would be easier to do without a car in emergencies.) The only real money that would save us would be yearly property taxes (which we paid with our income tax refund) and our home insurance.
posted by threeturtles at 8:25 PM on July 8, 2011

"... $850 air conditioner, ... $700 pet boarding when our petsitters fell through at the last minute..."

I'm hip to hard times, and just getting by, and I've stood outside a Sears store window at Christmas time, with only enough money to either A) buy myself a winter work coat, when I was working outside 90% of the time as an industrial electrician, and was the only breadwinner/source of health insurance for my family, or B) buy my 2 toddlers new winter coats because theirs were ragged hand me downs. Forget toys and Christmas trees.

What I'm gonna tell you is that when your husband and only bread winner is having problems getting to work, your pets need to understand hard times, too. And that survival air conditioners can be had, even in rural Texas, even in summer, for less than $850.

"... As for selling the home and land and moving, I really don't see how that would help us. ..."

The advice Mo_Nickels gave you, that your land and trailer are your biggest assets, and that you need to consider selling them immediately, is spot on. Selling them puts lump sum cash in your pocket, which enables you to move closer to your husband's work, fix his car, maybe fix and sell the second car for more money, and still pay rent for some months on a smaller rental place, while you see about getting disability, or your condition improves enough that you can return to work.

Sitting in that trailer, on that land, for what you may think is the sake of your pets, until something else goes wrong, is simply refusing to help yourself, while you still can.
posted by paulsc at 9:38 PM on July 8, 2011

Can you rent out your home and move to a place nearer to his work that costs less? Is your husband's job transportable? I imagine the cost of living in rural TX is cheaper than most places in the US, but if you could move closer to family, that might help a lot. Especially if you anticipate becoming progressively more disabled and will need additional help.

I don't think paulsc was trying to be judgmental, but I agree that some of your expenses are kind of mysterious, and maybe you're not really distinguishing want from need. We have 3 air conditioners that cost $150 apiece. When we only had one, we closed off the rest of the house and only spent time in the cool room. And if I had to put $700 for pet boarding on my credit card, that means my vacation is cancelled.

Unfortunately, in hard times, you have to get more creative and start considering unpalatable options.
posted by desjardins at 6:17 AM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Your spending is way, way out of line with your income and you need to reign that in pronto.

$1000 on a new washer and dryer (you can find a older used but functional set on Craigslist for under $200), $850 for AC (new window units are less than $150, used ones can be free), $700 for pet boarding (cancel the trip or if it's an emergency one goes, one stays home). From an outside perspective the amount of money you've spent on just these three things is really excessive. And now you need to spend more money that you don't have to get working transportation and it's worrisome that your immediate response seems to be to dump a lot more money you can't afford into a car. You can find a running car for $500. Not a good car but something that moves down the road.

Are there any financial planning services for low-income people in your area? Maybe check through a library or organization like the Salvation Army. If that's not available then at least make a critical assessment of your income vs expenses to find out how much you're spending on what with an eye to cut as much as you can. Everything is fair game: pet expenses (may need to give pets up), internet/cable/satellite/phone/cellphone, any extraneous food expenses (dining out, beef vs chicken, eat lots of beans and rice), clothing, entertainment, hobbies/books/movies. Sell your car and save the insurance if it's no longer drivable. Is there a possibility that your husband can get a ride to work with a neighbor until you can save up enough to secure transportation? Go through all your receipts and all your bills and statements. It's time to be brutal here and cut absolutely everything you can because, as I see it, you need three things to happen:

1) cut your spending (this is where an outside voice is helpful to tell you what's necessary and what's frivolous or downright crazy)
2) start saving up what you can so you'll build up a little buffer to get you through a future emergency
3) while pursuing 2 keep paying your credit card down as much as you can (unless you think you'll be heading towards bankruptcy anyway)
posted by 6550 at 7:04 AM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

As 6550 said, you really need to cut down your costs. There are many free blogs online which give suggestions on how to budget properly and live frugally. I like Get Rich Slowly and Frugal For Life, but there are many good ones.

Sell the airconditioning, washer, dryer, and broken cars. I've not lived in Texas, but I've lived in Central America and we did fine without airconditioning (we used fans, which you can often purchase at thrift stores). It's not fun at first, but you get used to it. Now I find myself missing humidity and, when I visited Texas in June, I was fine even when the heat was 105+. We also only had a washer and hung up clothes lines (both inside and out) to dry our clothes. I've washed clothes by hand and it's not worth it, so do get (or keep) a washer, but look at freecycle/craigslist/thrift stores for finding low cost washers.

Diet wise, you can go very far on rice, beans, and spices. If you live in a rural area, there are probably farmers around with whom you can trade your services and, although it will take some time to get this started, growing your own food can help a lot. Lentils are also a good source of protein and very cheap. At my poorest, I would buy recently expired foods and bruised fruits/veggies. Talk to the managers of the supermarkets and see what sort of deals you can strike.

Unfortunately, right now is a terrible time to buy used cars, but I recently found a quality honda for under 5k. Hondas and toyotas are good cars and can go very far. A stick will save you gas mileage and be easier and cheaper to repair. You can learn online if you don't know how. I'd suggest only driving one car while you get your finances in order.

Reduce, reduce, reduce. Be brutal. It sucks. I've been there. You'll get back out and you'll get back out quicker if you keep your debt and expenses low during this time.

In the mean time, do you qualify for food stamps? Can you visit the food pantry in town? Even if you aren't religious, a lot of churches will provide help to needy families. Could you live with relatives until you get back on your feet?
posted by avagoyle at 3:41 PM on July 9, 2011

I would agree with some of the others that you have made bad priority choices with the examples you have told us. However, there is not much you can do about that other than to better prioritize your future choices.

Others have suggested selling your land and trailer, but this may not be your best choice. Assuming the land is a lot size you are paying a note on the trailer you are probably spending as little on housing costs as you can and are likely upside down on the trailer so if you sold out you may not have any boost at all. If you have more land or own the trailer it may be a different story, but to rent you will still probably have to pay more.

But your question was about the cars. Neither car is worth very much on its own, especially in the condition they are in. But you may find a place that would take both cars in exchange for one fully functioning car. I assume you are still paying insurance on the car that has the bad transmission, so this would help you out as well.

You don't say where you are, but as an example a friend of mine broke down on the Interstate just outside of Houston in an old Suburban with about 300 miles. Actually, it caught on fire. He got a ride back to Houston and put it on Craig's list. He sold it to the first of 50 callers for about twice what he figured it was worth. The guy came and got it still on the side of the road. If you can't sell them locally, try on Craigs list in the closest large city.

As for what to buy and how much you could spend, you never know. I think your options might be tailored to what capabilities your local mechanic has, as you said he couldn't deal with power steering. I suggest talking to them and seeing what cars they recommend. They may even have a client that is thinking of selling a car they are familiar with.

If you give us an idea of your location someone might have a better suggestion. Good luck.
posted by Yorrick at 7:18 PM on July 9, 2011

Does anyone have any suggestions related to cars besides telling me not to spend money that was spent from six months to a year ago?
posted by threeturtles at 10:36 PM on July 9, 2011

Hey I've been thinking about it and you guys are right. If I get rid of my air conditioner, my TV, my internet, my phone, my washer and dryer and stop eating hot meals I can just turn off my electricity too and then I'll really be able to afford a car.

Oh and my pets.
posted by threeturtles at 11:13 PM on July 9, 2011

First of all, I understand it's frustrating. Your health status has changed, and your ability to afford your standard of living has changed. I have not been on disability, but I have been unemployed for long stretches, and my husband and I had to move back in with a parent and borrow thousands of dollars to make ends meet. We also ran up our credit cards quite a bit. I get that this all sounds like criticism and I'm sure it would have pissed me off at the time.

But your question is "how do I get a car that runs when I have no money?" Therefore many of the answers focus on getting money. The only two ways to do that are to bring in more income or spend less of what you have. Unfortunately that can result in tough decisions and really unpalatable choices, like getting rid of pets. I'm not sure what alternatives you want us to suggest, since you seem to be digging yourselves deeper into debt. There is no magic solution to getting a car. In your situation, I'd sell the broken one for whatever I could get and keep the 2003. Whatever car you can afford won't be in much better shape than the 2003, so you're taking the risk of getting further and further behind.

Let's say you can borrow $5000 for a car at 7% for 3 years. I don't know your credit score, but I think this is optimistic. According to this calculator, that's a $154 monthly payment. On Craiglist in Dallas, $5000 seems to get you about the same car you already have.

In 12 months, you're paying at least $1848, you have about the same quality car you have now, and you don't own the car, and you have no warranty. Do you think you're going to spend more than $1848 in repairs on your current 2003 in the next year? That's the calculation you have to make.
posted by desjardins at 8:02 AM on July 10, 2011

Actually, you also have to factor in the cost of repairs on the "new" car, so it becomes "do you think you're going to spend more than $1848 + $x in repairs on your current car in the next year?"
posted by desjardins at 8:27 AM on July 10, 2011

« Older Sandpaper allergy??   |   Help me cheese it up. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.