No, no. Not that bump. We’re not adding to our family any time soon, at least not that we’re aware of yet. I’m talking about the bump you might have seen on last week’s update post, where we added $3,500 to our debt in the form of a new car loan. Let me start by explaining what happened, then I’ll wax poetic about the philosophy behind everything.
So a couple of Saturdays ago, while coming home from Dave Ramsey’s Smart Conference for maximum irony, I hit a pothole in the road and my car started grinding. Like, really bad. I had my windows down, and I could hear the sound bouncing off buildings and other cars as I passed by them. I figured maybe I had just messed up my wheels or axle somehow, so I took it to a shop on Sunday morning. A few hours later, I got a phone call that went something like this:
Mechanic: “Hey, Kyle, I’ve got your car here, and that grinding you were hearing wasn’t coming from your wheels. It’s coming from your transmission. Also, when I was poking around in there, I noticed that your engine mounts have dry rot to the point where I’m surprised that your engine is even still attached.”
Me: “You’re terrible at giving good news.”
Mechanic: “Yeah, sorry about that… We don’t do transmission work, but I can give you the number of a shop down the road?”
Me: “Uh. Well, you saw the rest of the car, right? Like the odometer part and the everything-else-that’s-wrong-with-it part? Is it worth fixing?”
Mechanic: “Ha, well, I wasn’t going to bring it up, but this car? No, you’re looking at about $750 just to get the engine mounts, then you’ve still got your transmission to look at on top of that.”
Me: “Cool. I guess I’ll come pick it up, then.”
And just like that, I was in the market for a new car, right in the middle of our debt snowball. But no worries, right? We had that thousand-dollar emergency fund from Baby Step 1 that Dave Ramsey swore would get us through 95% of our emergencies while in Baby Step 2. He’s even told people over and over again to buy and drive a beater until they’re done paying off their debt. So, off to Craigslist I went, confident that Dave was right and I’d be back on the road in a day or two. Lol. To save you some searching, here are the top three cars on Craigslist right now for under $1,000:
- $650 – 1988 Astro Van, unknown mileage, mostly the same color. Transmission shifts hard, but probably still good for a work van!
- $800 – 2003 Ford Explorer, 200,000 miles. Check engine light is on for a misfire. Can be fixed, but replacing the engine is more cost effective. Nice interior!
- $625 – 2001 PT Cruiser, 75,000 miles. Tires have some tread on them still and the sunroof works. Bring your own battery and set up a time to meet me today, I have the title in hand! (Pictures show a lock on the steering wheel for some reason. Hopefully there’s a key somewhere for that.)
I guess technically, Dave is right. There are several cars that can be purchased for under $1,000. But here’s our situation: we’ve been paying on this debt for a little over two years, and we’re not quite to the halfway mark. I’ve only got an Associate’s degree, but that math says that barring some miracle, we’ve got a ways to go. We’ve also got another (paid off, thank you very much) vehicle that’s flirting with 200,000 miles, and while it’s still in great shape, it’s not going to last the rest of our lives. We also would like to start having children at some point in the next century, and I’ve heard they come with their own costs.
So do we listen to Dave and go for a “probably still works” kind of car?
- What happens when that one gives out, and we still haven’t made it to Baby Step 3 yet?
- What happens if the new beater dies at the same time Rachel’s car dies?
- What happens when the Baby Steps get put on the back burner when we start preparing for actual baby steps?
Or do we suck it up, eat some humble pie after boldly proclaiming that we would never again have a car payment, and get something that will last hopefully another 10+ years, even if that means a little bit of a financial setback?
Don’t get me wrong, I think Dave’s “drive a beater” advice is absolutely on point… IF you’re on track to pay off your debt and start really building your savings in a reasonable time frame. We’re just… not there. We are poster children for the grind. God has been good to us so far, and we are miles ahead of where we were when we started this, but there is a long haul still in front of us. We needed something that would better position us to maintain this small amount of momentum we’ve built up, not keep kicking the can down the road.
Be not one of those who give pledges, who put up security for debts. If you have nothing with which to pay, why should your bed be taken from under you?
- Proverbs 22:26-27 (ESV)
Spoiler alert: we took out a loan. Even though it made me almost physically sick to call the bank, I knew it was better to spend a little more than we had saved in order to get something that would last. And we actually did find something that I think will serve us well: a 2001 Honda Accord with just under 87,000 miles on it. It’s been well-maintained with no accidents, and nothing wrong aside from just a few scrapes and some hail damage.
Going forward, we’re still going to follow the Baby Steps, but we’re also going to figure out ways to be better stewards of our money. I still wholeheartedly believe that debt is to be avoided if at all possible, and now I’m seeing that it was pretty foolish to think that $1,000 would be enough to cover an emergency the size of my car. We’ll start saving little by little as we can to replace Rachel’s car when the time comes, and God willing, we’ll be able to follow through on our commitment to never have a car payment again. The debt snowball is still going to be our financial focus, but letting it blind us to other realities developing around us is a mistake that we’ll try not to make again.