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I have decided to start a new series - Mistakes for Young People to Avoid. Really, this series could be helpful to anyone and everyone, but it will pertain mostly to stupid mistakes that young people - like myself - quite often make. In fact, nearly every installment in this series will be from personal experience.
These installments will be periodic, so stay tuned! Remember, blog posts will be made - usually - on Mondays and Fridays. This series will most likely be once per week. So since today is Monday, chances are that each new installment in the series will be made on Mondays.
Being swooned into a new car is not as fun as it sounds.
I am 23 years old. I have been licensed since I was 16. I have also had a total of eight vehicles. More vehicles than years I have been licensed. If this does not sound like an irresponsible way to live your life, then you are beyond my help.
This first installment of my series, Mistakes for Young People to Avoid, is on car-hopping. That is, whimsically jumping from vehicle to vehicle. Let's start from the beginning.
At age 16, my parents purchase a 1984 Honda Prelude 1.8L Dual-Carb with automatic transmission, from my aunt, for $500. It was worth $2,000. This baby was MINT. Still had that clean smell. After two years of ownership, I had jacked up the front end so bad that both front wheels toed-in (inward angle), so much that any speeds above 40 were shaky and dangerous. I had backed the car up with the driver door open, and caught the door on som shrubbery, bending it backward against the hinge. The transmission was also slipping and would not shift thru second gear. Needless to say, I needed a new car. And armed with my newfound responsibility and my parents' credit scores, we headed to a dealership.
First dealership we get to, I decide on a 2003 Nissan Sentra 1.8L with automatic and air conditioning. It was a very basic car. Power nothing and no CD player. I had that car for two weeks, and decided I did not want it.
This time, I did a little more research. Went online and looked at some other cars. Found a 2000 Pontiac Grand Prix GTP and a 2000 Cadillac Catera. I was interested in both. The Pontiac had better ratings, but the Cadillac was... A Cadillac. Heated leather, air ride suspension, sport mode, winter mode, Bose surround sound, On*Star, wood grain, etc. This baby was mine!
...For about a year...
After replacing the Mass Airflow Sensor ($280 under extended warranty) and recently finding out that the California Catalytic Converter needed replaced (some $700 or something), I opted to go car shopping again.
This changed my entire life... I was in the middle of college, getting my Certificate in Massage Therapy. I looked into getting a student loan for a downpayment on a new vehicle. I wanted a two-door, manual, brand new sporty coupe. I headed to a dealership that had just what I wanted... The [then] brand new Pontiac G5 GT, a 200-HP turbo four-cylinder. And they had one... In screaming yellow with a leather package.
A couple days of negotiating revealed that I could not get financing for that car. "Do you like MINI Coopers?" were the words I heard after my denial. And my eyes turned into the biggest, dopiest puppy-dog brown eyes you couldn't even dream up. My heart pounded. A MINI Cooper... My dream car since they came out in 2002.
And there it was... A 2003 electric blue MINI Cooper S. Six-speed Getrag transmission, Harmon/Kardon sound system, panoramic roof, the works! I knew all there was to know about these cars! And what's more? It only had 8,800 miles on it! One test drive and I was hooked!
Okay, let's do it! $23,000 sticker price. Nope. Denied. Okay, now what? The salesman goes to the back room. Comes back with this deal: $21,000 sales price, $6,500 down payment, and they take my Cadillac in at full retail! (And yes, it was full retail - $7,000. Trade-in was $3,500.) Okay! Sign me up!
So I pulled out another student loan for $6,500, and I was outta there! Then the first payment hit... $583. Whoa! Okay... I don't think I can do this... But I could have, if I'd known how to budget.
I kept making the payments, and boy was it hard! But I did it; I just never had any money for anything else... I thought. But, really, I just didn't go to movies or go out as much as before. I was saving no money at all.
Then I graduate college. Woohoo! My parents decide to pay off my auto loan and lower my payments to $200/mo. Sweet deal!
Fastforward about half a year down the road (have now owned the MINI for about a year and a half), and I decide I need a truck. I didn't even know how much I still owed my parents, but I didn't care.
I found a 2003 Toyota Tacoma Pre-Runner (2wd) with the fancy TRD Off-Road package. Monthly payments of $162, no problem! Retail price, $18,500. Trade-in, $14,000. They convinced my dad to sign the MINI over if they gave him a $1,000 check (out of my trade-in value). I was on my way with my new truck. Funny thing, I wanted a 4x4, and still ended up with this two-wheel driven one.
Half a year later, I'm commuting to work 20 miles one-way, getting 20 mpg. Compared to my MINI's 23 mpg in the city (and hot-rodding it everywhere), I was not happy. During this time, I met my wife-to-be. Her family invites me on a trip to Seattle.
While in Seattle, we talk about our future plans and all. And my truck comes up. Long story short, I decide I want a Honda Fit. I begin doing research when I get home. Great cars, great mileage, great reliability. Sign me up!
Found a 2007 Honda Fit Sport, with a short-shift 5-speed manual, tinted windows, and rare factory optional goodies. I leave the dealership with it, trading-in my truck.
During my ownership of the Fit, I loved it almost as much as I loved my MINI. I was getting 42 mpg and was loving it! But at $282/mo and insurance pretty close to that, I had to do something else.
This time, I'm a little smarter about things. I decide to use my $1,500 tax returns to purchase an older Jeep Cherokee. Their 4.0 inline six engines are known to be one of the strongest. I sell my Fit for KBB value, which happened to be $2,000 less than what I owed. So I got a personal loan for the difference amount from my credit union and was on my way. Found a 1990 Jeep Cherokee with the 4.0. Unfortunately, it was not the exact same 4.0 that I had researched. They put those in the '91's and up. I was bummed. But it ran pretty well... For a while.
I got the Jeep in March of 2010. January of 2011, the Jeep blows its head gaskets while my 9-month pregnant wife is driving it. Needless to say, she was without a car for a while, and I was off in the Army.
In the same month, we found a 2007 Ford Focus S. Has air conditioning, but little else. I read up on cars, and this was by far our best deal. We set out to get a Focus and we found one. And with only 30,000 miles! We paid $5,500 (financed $3,800, car retailed at $9,000) and we couldn't be happier!
Now... It's July of 2011, and we still have the Focus, and it's serving us pretty well. We will be in this car for some time to come. Now, a little more detail...
After all the trading of vehicles, I am left with so many bills! First off, the balance owed on the truck transferred over to the Fit, so I am - in all reality - still paying for the truck in that personal loan (which is almost paid-off). I am still paying on the MINI and have over $11,000 left to pay on it! So, at one point, I was paying for three vehicles, while only owning one. Where's the sense in that?
Right now, I am paying for two and only have one. But if you think about it, I could have two - the Focus and my MINI. I could have avoided all that and still had the car of my dreams, as well as a vehicle for my wife. Unfortunately, I did not have the guidance or foresight to think of that when I was single.
Every day, I kick myself for getting rid of that car. $200/mo for that is very affordable. And I only had 22,000 miles on it when I got rid of it.
I have not done the math on how much money I have blown on vehicles, but I am sure it is in the 20,000's, easily.
I was irresponsible, as many people are these days. It is the lack of financial education and the wrong mindset that got me there. I will never forgive myself for getting rid of that MINI. But all these experiences has made me realize things and has lead me to where I am - on a path to financial freedom! And it is my goal to one day own a MINI as good as or even better than the one I had, and to pay cash for it. Among many other goals.
I hope this account of mine has helped some of you or relates to you in some way. Please, teach your kids (and yourselves!) about finances and responsibility. And don't be afraid to tell them (and yourself!) NO.
Stay tuned for the next installment in this series, and be sure to keep reading!
You will forever be missed...