How do I convince myself to buy a car?
February 14, 2015 2:51 PM   Subscribe

I car share with my former partner. How do I get myself to buy my own car?

I haven't been with my former partner for many years. We still share a car. Whoever has the kids has the car, although we are both quite accommodating if one of us needs the car at another time.

I probably should move on to a new set-up, though. But I can't seem to get myself to make the change.

-I could choose a car that seats 5+ people, so that we could take extra kids or people with us
-My kids' schools are not within walking distance and the extra car would mean we could bring a friend or two home after school, which we can't in the current car
-Same thing for kids' activities or dividing ourselves up and taking the kids to different activities
-A new car might be more reliable
-A newer car would have more safety features
-A newer car could seat 5 people (I would never put anyone, especially a child in the middle seat that has no lap belt in our current car)
-I would be able to run errands, go to the suburbs for shopping, run to Costco and do big shopping trips on my days without my kids, which are currently the days on which I do not have the car
-I wouldn't have to walk 20 minutes to my ex's to get the car
-I wouldn't have to take transit to icky neighbourhoods or walk from transit late at night
-When we both want to go to an event with the kids, I wouldn't have to choose between hours on transit or sharing the small space of the car with my ex (which is triggering).
-I could go away for the weekend, using the car, without having my kids or leaving them and their dad without a vehicle
-I have money in my savings account that could pay for the car.
-My kids often have medical emergencies and having two cars would mean I could get there to help more easily
-Although I do use transit, formal car sharing and taxis, sometimes I really just want to be on my own or not have to take a bus through a scary route or give up privacy and flexibility.
-I'm never able to convince myself that spending $80-$250 for a car share is worth it to have a vehicle for the day or weekend.

Cost. A new car would wipe out much of the emergency savings I have.
My ex will still take transit to work, so he would still need to take transit/cab to help in emergencies during weekdays. Us having two cars will only be an improvement outside of his work hours.
It seems decadent to spend $15k-20k on something as stupid as a car
The car will have maintenance costs and I'll now have to cover those alone
I'll have to pay all the insurance on my own
My ex doesn't have a ton of money either and will be facing insurance/maintenance costs on his own if I buy a car, which makes things tougher for him and my kids.
The thought of spending so much money on a car makes my head feel spinny and makes me feel ill.
I know the car I have now and I have no idea what the new car might entail.
I live in a very urban area and could just walk to get groceries and should stop thinking I should buy stuff in the burbs.
We have excellent access to transit a lot of the time, although it is not perfect.

I think anyone else would read this and decide to buy a car. Sometimes causes me to freak out and keeps me from buying a car. My life would probably be better if I had my own car. I'd probably feel better. Except the thought of spending all that money causes me to freak out. The thought of wiping out so much of my emergency savings causes me to freak out.

I know I could buy a smaller car, but I am going to have kids in carseats/boosters for quite some time and so it doesn't make sense to buy a Honda Fit if I can't bring another kid with us.

Part of me thinks that I can only mentally handle spending about $10k on the car, but, honestly, there is nothing used in that price range that is relatively recent. I had been looking at cars that are still within the 5-year warranty.

My existing half of a car is probably worth less than $1k, given how old the car is.

If I took out a loan on the car, I would freak out and pay it all off. I hate debt and I like to have a certain amount of money in the bank. It is possible that spending so much on a car is tied to that.

I feel like I'm not acting logically, but, then, money is not exactly free flowing in my household. It is very common for families in our situation to share a car in our 'hood.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats to Work & Money (24 answers total)
I'm not sure why it's important to you to convince yourself to buy a car. Taxis and rentals can allow you to do the things you want a new car for, for less money and hassle.

But if you do want to buy a car, you don't need to get one that's 10 times better than your current car. Most cars have five seat belts. Why not get something under $5K? Changing your parameters for what the new car should be might make the analysis easier.
posted by metasarah at 3:06 PM on February 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

Don't buy a car if you don't absolutely need one, aren't financially stable and it will wipe out your emergency fund. You shouldn't feel comfortable doing that, so it makes sense that you don't.

Have a separate emergency fund that you actually have saved for emergencies, and save up an additional fund for the car. At that point it will definitely make more sense to get one. That your kids have frequent medical emergencies seems like a particularly good argument to do so.

You don't have to buy a big car. We've done 3 across car seats in a Prius when we needed to. But save up for the car that suits your needs. If it's a matter of saving thousands of dollars on a smaller car, you can buy narrow car seats like Diono Radians to ensure they fit across the back comfortably. You also don't have to buy a "recent" car. I bought a pristine small SUV two years ago that is now 10 years old. It's a Honda, it's reliable, I don't have any safety concerns and it hasn't given me any maintenance trouble. If you look at older reliable cars, you'll find a lot more in your price range.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 3:08 PM on February 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Buy a car. It is time, for you personally, for your family, to allow you space to move on and disentangle financially from your ex, for so many reasons.

I'm not saying people need cars - I don't currently have one, but given your situation I think right now in your life this is a good time to have a car.

Get a used one that is incredibly reliable. You don't need to get one under warranty. Civics are obvious suggestions, but I'd suggest with gas prices this low that buying a hybrid would be a good option (market is depreciated). Get a 5-7 y/o Prius, perhaps, something with around 40-50k miles.

Look on craigslist, you'll get a better price than with dealers. Buy a 3-pack of Carfax reports (actually, I have two extra right now, send me a note if you'd like them) and when you're really serious take the car to a dealership for a $130 inspection. Haggle. Complete the transaction at a bank.

Good luck!
posted by arnicae at 3:10 PM on February 14, 2015 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Just to clarify, my kids are very short but stocky and likely to need boosters to age 12-13. So, while most cars have five seatbelts, I am not sure I can fit 3 kids across. I have checked a few cars with the car seat store and the car seat store said that it was too dangerous. But if someone can give me a safe option and a car seat that will fit short, stocky older kids, I am open to that car. Civics won't work because the back seats curve, etc.

I should clarify that I would still have emergency funds if I bought a car. But, no, I do not feel very financially secure and thati s probably part of it.

I should add I am in Canada and a 5-yo Prius is around $17k. And cars that are under $5,000 seem to say they would fail Aircare.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 3:19 PM on February 14, 2015

It seems like your budget is 10K, is that about right?

That should get you a mid-00's Honda Odyssey minivan, which will have enough room for 3+ kids, should be reliable, and should pass emissions or whatever else.
posted by hellojed at 3:32 PM on February 14, 2015

"It seems decadent to spend $15k-20k on something as stupid as a car"

Spend less! I bought a 2010 Mazda 5 (6-seater mini minivan) for about $12,000 in 2012. Well within a 5-year warranty!

To reduce cost a little, if you buy a used car from a rental car company, you can get about 20% off blue book, and very well-maintained mechanicals. The downside is the paint and upholstery won't be perfect. But, if you have kids, who cares? Here's Hertz Car Sales Ottawa, for example. Here's Budget Canada. Basically you rent the car for 3 day -- long enough to get your mechanic to check it out and to experiment driving it around -- and if you like it, you just keep it, and press a big button on the website to start the paperwork. If you don't like it, you pay the rental fee and return it. They're all 2-3 years old and mostly base-level trim and popular models ... which means pretty easy maintenance. I may never buy a car another way again!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:34 PM on February 14, 2015 [6 favorites]

My existing half of a car is probably worth less than $1k, given how old the car is.

You need to buy a car, now, because the one you're currently sharing with your ex will need replacement sooner rather than later. At that point you'll want it to be your ex's car, full stop, so replacing it will be his sole concern (and not a fertile field for 'is it worth repairing/what's the ceiling on those repairs/how are we paying for that/are we splitting a deposit on a new family car/what are we doing next').

Being financially disentangled as much as possible from your ex is good for you and for the children. I realize being a single mother can ratchet up any pre-existing anxieties about money, but can you mentally frame a monthly car payment (on a not-brand-new, but still reliable later-model car) in the same category as, say, utility or grocery bills? That preserves most of the emergency fund and your peace of mind, protects you and your kids, and gives you a lot more flexibility going forward (see: your long 'pro' list).
posted by Iris Gambol at 3:39 PM on February 14, 2015 [10 favorites]

I should add I am in Canada and a 5-yo Prius is around $17k.

Really? I just helped a friend buy a 2014 Prius with 6k miles in the NE US and that was only 20k (it was a good deal, but not THAT good of a deal).

+1 on the Priuses fitting three across. We had a second generation Prius (which is what I'm suggesting you consider) and I literally got a queen size mattress in that sucker. I'd consider at least a test drive.
posted by arnicae at 3:39 PM on February 14, 2015

Response by poster: I should add the car needs to be small (urban parallel parking problems) and that, yes, we will need boosters for some time. You have to be 4'9 and have feet touching the floor, per Transport Canada guidelines. My 5th grader is years from that. I will look at trying a few cars through the car sharing programs, which will allow me to look at this stuff with less pressure than with a car seller, though!
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 3:41 PM on February 14, 2015

See if you can look at an Accent because they're well within your budget as it will be less than the price listed there.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:06 PM on February 14, 2015

It sounds like your primary hold-up is financial. This is reasonable if you are unsure of your current financial situation. If the thought of owning a $10K car makes you feel sick because of the financial burden, then take a few hours to work the math and demonstrate to yourself whether the car truly is (or is not) the burden you imagine. Demonstrate to yourself that you will be able to cover the monthly costs for gas, insurance, parking a and maintenance. Demonstrate for yourself that you will have sufficient emergency fund after you purchase the vehicle.

If you can't do that, then you're right to be concerned about this decision! But if the math works, then that means there's an emotional component holding you back.
posted by samthemander at 4:34 PM on February 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'm in BC and I am following a combination of BC law, BCAA recommendations and Transport Canada guidelines. You have to be at least 9 here and it is also never okay to have the seatbealt going across the child's throat. See Transport Canada. BCAA says not to put a child under 4'9 in one and pretty much all the parents I know agree. My children are petite and it will be some time till they are tall enough to even be 4'9, which is probably about how tall they need to be, just to keep the seatbelt off their throats. And after market seatbelt adjusters are not considered okay.

That's why I was looking at the Kia Rondo and Mazda5. I think the Rondo is easier to park, as it is just slightly bigger than what I drive now. I don't really like the Mazda5. I would be willing to look at anything else that is not big and will let me take 3 kids in boosters.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 5:05 PM on February 14, 2015

Given your financial situation, it sounds like it would be nice for you to have a car, but you can't afford one. My advice would be to go without your own car until your lifestyle can more comfortably accommodate it. This seems like a situation where you feel like you should have a car, but your finances say "no." Listen to your finances.

It's better for your kids to understand that they have to go without certain conveniences for financial reasons rather than have parents who are financially overextended.
posted by deanc at 5:05 PM on February 14, 2015

Response by poster: I should restate "wipe out much of the emergency savings I have", as I suspect it would still leave me with more of a cushion than most people. But I do have an internal benchmark and it would dip below that.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 5:20 PM on February 14, 2015

You could use the Bubblebum booster. They are narrow & because they squish you have a bit more leeway in cramming them together in a small car. It has a piece that can used to position the shoulder belt properly (just like a highback booster has a loop to position it), but can also be used as just a backless booster for taller kids.
posted by belladonna at 5:46 PM on February 14, 2015

Buy a Mazda 5 and truly enjoy the freedom you deserve.
posted by saradarlin at 7:04 PM on February 14, 2015

I think you'll need a replacement car soon, so might as well buy one before it's a crisis. You can buy a smallish used car for under 10,000. Do some research, read lots of ads, take a lot of test drives. Take any used car to a mechanic; this has saved me from some major problems.

Sounds like you have 2 kids, plus the ex- sometimes. That should leave room for a guest when the ex- is not present.

Getting a car will really cut ties with your ex. Might be uncomfortable, but it will be freeing and you will feel better not spending that time dealing with the car.
posted by theora55 at 8:10 PM on February 14, 2015

Since you mentioned you were in BC and mentioned aircare being a concern, you should note the program ended on Dec 31, 2014.
posted by cgg at 8:52 PM on February 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Clearly you're good at saving. And you need a car. And you feel nervous without a healthy reserve fund. Therefore, the middle ground seems best: make a largish down payment that leaves lots of savings available for emergencies, borrow the rest and pay it off while you replenish your savings. Interest rates are low and this will create a predictable monthly expense for reliable transportation vs what you have now: unpredictable expenses for a car that is often unavailable and fast becoming unreliable.

PS. Your ex's finances are not your problem to solve. Don't worry about how this affects him. Give him your half of the car and disentangle this aspect of co-parenting.
posted by carmicha at 9:01 PM on February 14, 2015 [5 favorites]

I know that debt is anathema to you, but have you considered leasing?

Leasing a brand new car is pretty freaking awesome! I pay $274 for my Civic per month. I put nothing down. I have no worries about maintenance at all. I paid $100 at my 12,000 service. SWEET!

It doesn't sound like you'll pile the miles on, and as your needs, and the needs of your kids change, you can upgrade or downgrade your car every 3 years to accommodate them.

Leasing will allow you to continue to save money, while letting your savings sit. Rates are very low now.

I bought my last Honda and kept it for 7years. When I averaged out the purchase price and the repairs, etc, it came to around $300 per month, even after it was paid off.

Owning a car can be overrated. Even paid-for cars cost you, and in many cases, you break even. There is also something to be said about having the latest and greatest features in the car. I can't tell you how much I love my rear back up camera. That thing is miraculous. It's standard on the Civic.

So look into leasing to see if that could be the thing that gladdens your heart.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:24 AM on February 15, 2015

sharing the small space of the car with my ex (which is triggering).

I dated a guy who was sharing a car with his ex. It was not an awesome situation for me. The way you say that it's triggering for you to share a car with the ex (and you're walking to their place to get the car instead of them coming WITH THE CAR to get you) seems like it might be emotionally useful for you to snip this piece of entanglement from your life and maybe actually worth some money to do it. I know that money anxiety is real and something you're grappling with, but I suggest approaching that issue specifically and moving from there. "Given that I need to get a new-to-me car in order to move on from my ex and establish more independence, what is the most fiscally responsible way for me to do that"

I understand being allergic to debt and I understand just wanting to hold on to all the money because you are uneasy but some of that unease as, as you know, not really rational and you're sacrificing a lot in the short term (see your Pros list) because of this one pretty large issue that you have. A down payment and a low cost loan on a less expensive car would actually allow you to save money in the shorter term. If the current car you share with your ex becomes less reliable you'll then have to deal with potentially either buying another car yourself anyhow (in a much more time sensitive position) or buying a car with your ex which is not a good recipe for independence from this situation. And you don't mention it but is there actually a legal arrangement that outlines any of this? My SO formally gave up his car to his ex as part of his disentanglement from her and it was sort of amazing how nice it was to not have her and her car needs figured into any of our social-time calculations. You don't mention dating at all in your question but that's another thing that is likely to go better for you with your own car.

So in your shoes I'd try to get some sane advice on what sort of a low-cost loan you could get and see if there is a car more or less in your price range. And get some treatment for your anxiety because that is just a recipe for feeling better generally.
posted by jessamyn at 7:45 AM on February 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Get a copy of car repair for dummies and buying a car for dummies. Both have tons of info on what to look for when buying a car and what to do when things go wrong. Mostly they have taught me how to do spot-on diagnosis of problems so that when I do have to take it to the mechanic I'm not being jerked around. The savings in that alone can be astronomical. Read, and then use that in your calculations. It can also help you find the diamond in the rough amongst all the lemons out there.
posted by sexyrobot at 2:38 PM on February 15, 2015

If the current car is only worth $2k, then your actions are showing that no, you do not NEED a car worth more than $10k, or you would not have you and your children in the current car.
Secondly you can get boosters seats that are narrower than car seats, so you can get three in the back. When I say narrower, you can still get three adults into the back seat of a car, you can get three children in seat sized booster seats, no problem.

You seem like you are scared to get a car, to separate from your ex. Why are you scared? Ask yourself.

Put a watchlist for cars under $10k online.
See what the best deal has been for the last two or four weeks, then get the next best deal.
If the car does not work out? You will sell it, and get another.
You are smart, you have savings, the current situation is no good for you and your children.

It is just a car, of it is not the perfect car,
posted by Elysum at 2:53 AM on February 16, 2015

Response by poster: I bought a relatively new car for an excellent price and it seats extra people, but is good on gas. A friend helped me work out the maintenance and depreciation vs an older car and I realized that, while I'm tying money up, I'm no worse off for a cost standpoint and - and a parking system, which is great in the city! I get all the protection of warranty this way. I'm super happy and glad I made this decision. Thanks, everybody.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 5:01 PM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

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