Monday, October 1, 2018

Whoops, We Almost Bought a New Car for No Good Reason

Whoops. We Almost Bought a New Car for No Good Reason.
As long-time readers know, we have been battling car lust for a while. Well, at least I have. Our current car, our trusty 2006 Toyota Matrix, has never let us down. Okay, maybe the paint job has let us down a bit. And maybe my DIY clear coat job... definitely looks like a DIY clear coat job. And sure, maybe I have never gotten around to opening up the passenger side door and installing a new window motor.

But as far as things that actually matter on a twelve year old car, everything is tip top. The clutch is still springy. The engine still purrs. And most importantly here in the desert, the AC blows really, really cold.
Something changed once Baby AF came into our lives though. My previously casual searches for manual Subaru Outbacks became part of my daily routine. When we realized how difficult it would be to find an Outback with a stick and under 80,000 miles, we broadened the search to include Golf Sportwagens: seemingly the only other wagon available in the U.S. with a manual transmission.

Why would we even need a new car though? The motivation sprung from something pretty minor: once we put Baby AF's carseat in the middle seat, suddenly putting our two dogs in the hatchback version of an 2006 Toyota Corolla became a harder game of Tetris than it used to be. Instead of folding down both seats and letting the dogs have space to roam, now there was a carseat in the middle, preventing either side of the 60/40 split to fold down. 

And while the hatch of a Matrix is more spacious than you'd think, getting our two goldens to lie down back there at the same time just wasn't happening.

Thus began countless conversations about which kind of car we should buy. Should we opt for an older Subaru, a Japanese workhorse that's probably a lot more reliable? Or a new-but-probably-more-finicky European model that at least had a six year warranty.

And when we should buy one? Right now, since we have some trips to make over the holidays? Or should we try to hold out until we had a second baby? 

After a few test drives, we woke up one weekend day, somehow ready to pull the trigger on a Volkswagen listed for just over $17k.

And as we were about to call the dealer and start haggling, my wife asked a question we should have asked earlier: "Wait, why do we need two cars right now?"


"We both work from home, and our idea of hanging out is having people over for boardgames. How often do we even need one car?"


"Even if we need a new car eventually, are we sure we need it right now?"

"But the dogs..."

"We drive with the dogs like, maybe, twice a year. Shouldn't we just rent a car that week? Isn't there some way to get the two dogs in the car?"

"They don't really fit in the back with the seats up."

"What if we slid the passenger seat up and, like, put a plastic bin on the floor behind it, with a dog bed on top."

"Huh. That could work."

This bin we just happened to have fits pretty nicely.
Insert smaller golden retriever here. ^^^
It's just a prototype, but I think this idea could work. We can put all our luggage in the front passenger seat and floor, Mrs. Done by Forty would ride in the back seat with Baby AF and Cayenne, while Jax, humongous old pup that he is, gets the back of the hatchback all to himself.

And hey, the bin that's holding up half of the dog bed can be storage for whatever we're bringing on the trip, too.

Sure, it's a pretty ridiculous way to get us all in the car. And yeah, we're taking the too-frugal-by-half approach, when a lot of other sensible people would just buy a new car.

Still, this feels like us. This feels like the thing we ought to do. We should at least see if it works before spending money on a car we'll barely ever drive, right?

It's such a simple idea that I wonder why we didn't come up with this earlier, instead of almost dropping nearly twenty grand on a car we don't need except for, maybe, two weeks a year.

Then it dawned on us. We're tired, all day, every day. The combination of work, Mrs. Done by Forty's R.A. position and dissertation, house chores and all things Baby AF: all of this has us running on fumes most of the time.

Plus, as our twitter followers know, we just went through a scare with Jax, then had to help him get around the house using a towel to support his hind legs for a few weeks, whenever he had to pee or move to a new room. (It turns out it was just bad vertigo, not brain cancer or a stroke or anything worrisome, thank God.) So thankfully we still have two, lovable-but-pretty-big golden retrievers, which we have to find a way to transport a couple times a year.

Jax, back to normal.

Cayenne, back to normal, begging for food.
With all the stress in our lives right now, it appears that we're prone to making some questionable financial decisions at the moment. We might make more emotional purchases: even some big ones.It turns out you can be pretty good with money most of the time, and then still make huge mistakes when you're not operating at your best.

This is a reminder for me to be more sympathetic to people who have made some less-than-optimal financial decisions, or to at least try to understand where they're coming from before climbing up on my high horse. The person who took out more student loan debt than I think was prudent, or who maybe took out a payday loan, or bought a second car...maybe they were just going through a stressful time. Maybe they're better with money than I am on a good day, but I've just had a less stressful life, so I've avoided a couple more pitfalls.

This should change the approach I ought to take when I'm writing about personal finances. If I assume my readers probably already know it's not a great idea to take on more debt or to buy yet another new car, then writing from a perspective of educating is just...wrongheaded. 

Readers might not need much personal finance "education" at all. Instead, they might need an affordable way to deal with stress, or maybe some affordable daycare, or sufficiently high wages, to prevent them from making a bad financial decision in the first place. 

If the dismal results of personal finance education programs tell us anything, it might be that simply teaching people what to do with their money, just providing them the knowledge, isn't going to cut it. We might need to view poor financial decisions as the result of various stresses, rather than the result of any ignorance of basic personal finance.

I think there's probably more here. But I'm in no position to advise people on how to defeat life's various stresses, as they are all kicking my ass at the moment. For now, I think the best thing I can do is to not make any big changes, and to try to postpone any big purchases. 

There's plenty of little stuff I can focus on instead. Like... how do I keep a golden retriever from licking this little guy's face for six straight hours in the car.

As always, thanks for reading.

*Outback photo is from the National Roads & Motorists Association account at Flickr Creative Commons.


  1. Such a cute baby :)

    We made the emotional decision to buy a second house last October...I'm not sure if it was the best decision. Not sure if we chose the best location or if we spent too much money...Only time will tell.

    However, I feel like I should institute a rule in my IPS policy about making decisions during stressful times.

    1. Thanks for the baby comment, SFL! We think so, too.

      Oooh, I'm intrigued by the IPS policy. Have to go over to the blog and check that out.

      But yes, we also bought our home under some emotional circumstances. We wanted it, so we bought it. In the end, we're really happy with it even though it sure complicates the FI by 40 plan. :/

  2. Yeah, that's a super cute baby. :)
    Good job putting off the purchase for now. I think you're right about stress. People make questionable decision when they are stressed out.
    Good luck on making it work. I think renting a bigger car for when you need it is a good idea. That way you can try it out too.
    Best wishes

    1. Thanks, Joe! We thing Baby AF is cute, too.

      We were SO close to just buying the car. I am lucky that cooler heads prevailed in the end because there really just is no reason for us to have two cars. We barely need the one we have.

      Maybe renting really is the way to go. For just the cost of insurance on the new car, we could rent one for a few weeks a year.

      But a second kid is going to complicate things. I'm not sure there's a plastic bin solution to that one.

  3. YES! A BABY PICTURE! Thank you.

    And I have that debate a lot. Two big dogs, one big car seat... three adults fit comfortably in one car but both dogs and three adults can only squeeze into the other car. We regularly have a guest who we drive around or borrows our car (monthly). I find myself wanting a minivan in case we have to drive more than one extra adult.

    But it's not sensible yet. I'm not ready to spend money. I want our next car to be electric if possible. We go on at least two long annual road trips with the dogs and might do more weekends if it was comfortable but choosing it based on might isn't a good idea.

    Put a little more pressure on me like having a second kid, though, and I might cave. Already the whole family doesn't fit in my sedan, only the humans plus one dog would comfortably, both dogs if you piled them atop each other.

    The only things I know right now for sure is there is no perfect car we can get yet so that keeps me from making a foolish mistake and we don't want to spend that money yet.

    So your overall approach to writing is one I can get behind. We're all human. It's just a matter of the right number of levers being pulled that means we do or don't exercise the will power to make the good decision. It's why I've never done any business in the teaching side of PF. I can only tell you how I make mistakes or don't and let you draw conclusions and lessons from there.

    *Pardon the jumble, writing as I walk the dogs :)

    1. Hey Revanche! I agree that there really is no perfect car. The second we buy one, something could change (additional human baby or, God forbid, one fewer dog).

      At the moment we're thinking maybe it makes sense to wait until the 2nd kid is actually here and to see what's what at that point.

      And totally agree that the teaching side of PF is tricky. I wander into that from time to time but have to remember to check myself.

  4. "...the AC blows really..." Here I thought you were referring to my blog. Ha!

    Do what you feel is best, DBF. When you have kids there are some hidden expenses that creep up on you. I will tell you this: we love our Subaru Outback, 2011. We call her "Lucy". She's a champ. And we feel secure in that thing on long road trips. Love the roof rack. And seat heaters. :-)

    1. LOL at your blog comment. You're blowing up, friend!

      I should pick your brain some time about the Outback. The years we're looking at are right after that, though they're all the exact same car, really. We just wanted to get something with as low miles as possible.

      We were ready to go on the Subaru but then Emily Guy Birken let me know that her mechanic husband said they're unreliable. It's the only time I'd ever heard that, but he had some data. Have you found the car to need a lot of work?

  5. I can totally relate to this post. It's just soooo tempting to try to buy your way out of problems. And sometimes that actually is the best solution. But more often than not, it just ends up flushing money down the toilet and either not solving the original problem, or creating a whole suite of new problems that need to be solved.

    I've been having bike seat issues all summer long - basically my rear end hurts like crazy after about 20 miles. I have spent (not exaggerating here) nearly a thousand dollars over the past 6 months or so on seemingly every possible combination of bike seats, and shorts, and chamois creams... but nothing has really helped. Finally CatMan says to me... "Um... have you considered the idea of maybe getting a professional bike fitting?" Here's the deal - I'd pretty much crossed that off the list of things to try because it was "too expensive." But even the most thorough bike fitting available in this city, performed by a medical professional, costs well under $400... and actually stands a better shot of fixing my problem than just blindly buying seat after seat after seat - when I really don't understand what's causing the problem in the first place! Gah! When will I ever learn this lesson?

    Anyhow, I'm very glad to hear that Jax is doing better. I know how stressful it is not just emotionally, but physically, when you have to basically provide 24/7 nursing care. Can't even imagine having to take care of both a sick fur baby, and an actual human baby simultaneously! Here's hoping there's more sleep and less stress in your immediate future.

    1. Sorry for the very, very late reply ECL! Work up and got crazy busy so the blog went to the back burner.

      And thanks for the well wishes with Jax! He's doing amazing now: like nothing happened. The other day I found he went in the pool without permission and I realized he was all the way back to normal. :)

      The story with the bike fitting is kind of a metaphor, isn't it? So many of my purchasing decisions follow the same pattern: I get in a loop, and I'm a bit stubborn, but the best solution usually presents itself.

  6. It's funny how our brains trick us onto rationalising things, especially when we're stressed out. We recently bought a new (used - 2008!) car when the old one was still fine at getting us from A to B. I won't bore you with the reasons we came up for rationalising this decision but needless to say they were probably not that strong.

    We also signed up to get some new windows done for our house when the old ones are as far as I can tell not smashed and I can still see through them, surely the mail two requirements for what counts as a successfully functioning window?! But no we've dropped the best part of 4.5k on it. Hey on the bright side it may save us £5/month on our heating bill due to better insulation... Good investment right!? :)

    The emotional part of purchases is it still a large one even if us "logical" FI types would rather not admit to it.

    I like your stance of putting off any major decisions until you are less stressed though. Will definitely float that one too the Mrs if/when we have baby #2 :D


    1. Hey there, FIREstarter.

      New windows are crazy expensive but at least you're helping the environment, if not your bottom line at first. Over a long enough time frame, I'm sure they pay for themselves, right?

      And it is nice to know we're not the only frugal folks who sometimes feel the urge for a new vehicle. And 2008! That surely helped the bottom line, right?

      But yes, for us the stress sure seems to correlate with our less than stellar decisions. If we can't win...delay!

  7. Adorable! Yea, I know what you mean about making financial decisions when you're stressed and tired. You absolutely want to just throw money at a problem to get a solution. As you said, if the issue only comes up twice a year then just rent a bigger car when it comes up. However, buying that car probably wouldn't have been such a big mistake anyway. My frugal self of a few years ago may have thought differently though! When you earn a good income and have a high savings rate (heck you're almost at FIRE), a car purchase now versus a year or two later really isn't as consequential. I will probably never be a spendthrift as my frugality is ingrained in my head so I've tried to not beat myself up for less than optimal financial decisions as long as I'm still heading in the right direction

    1. Hey Andrew!

      "When you earn a good income and have a high savings rate (heck you're almost at FIRE), a car purchase now versus a year or two later really isn't as consequential."

      That's the rationale that almost got us to pull the trigger. With our savings rate, buying a new car only delays FIRE by something like 4 months. But when I add in the higher costs of insurance & maintenance on a new car, that's another story. Still, does it really matter if we do it now or later?

      Maybe we SHOULD buy a car....

      Wait, no.

  8. Dogs and babies! Best post ever!!!

    1. Oh yes, and vehicles. I have 3 right now. I need to downsize. When am I ever going to drive 3 cars? Ok, never.

    2. Thanks, Daizy! Good to see you again.

      I'm not entirely sure we should really even go to two cars when we get a new one. One probably is fine, since I WAH and so does Mrs. Done by Forty (for now). Who knows what the future holds though.

  9. Adorable baby pic!

    As someone with chronic fatigue, who therefore goes through various degrees of brain fog in a given day, I'm all too aware of how stress or exhaustion can interfere with making the best financial decisions. Purchases that you were just researching can suddenly start to feel mandatory just because you've looked at them for so long. It's a weird phenomenon. Glad you were able to catch it in time, and that your dog is okay.

    1. Thanks, Abigail! Yeah, I can imagine that chronic fatigue makes this phenomenon more prevalent and harder to deal with. Another reminder that not everyone approaches finances the same way!

      And I completely know what you mean about the purchase feeling mandatory since you've spent so much time thinking it over. Sunk costs strike again...