reviewing our progress for 2015

Has it really been more than three years since I posted on this blog? For some reason, I thought it had been less than a year. Apparently time is going by more quickly than I’d realized.

As we reached the end of 2015, I realized that I didn’t have any distinct goals in mind for 2016, whether financial or otherwise. And I’m actually just fine with that. Sometimes I have found it very helpful to make new goals in the new year. This year just isn’t one of those years. But I did find it encouraging to think back on 2015 and the ways that we have made progress.

The most notable financial goal that we achieved in 2015 was to pay off Keith’s last student loan from our years at Prairie. Yay!! This means that out of all the loans we acquired on the way to achieving our bachelor’s degrees, the only one we are now still paying is my loan from Whitworth, which is now about a third of it’s original total. All of our Prairie debt is paid off. We still have other debt, including Keith’s loans from going back to school at SCC a few years ago, but it is exciting that our undergraduate degrees from Prairie are officially paid for.

A small but challenging goal that I set for myself in 2015 was to refrain from buying any new books, CDs, or DVDs. I don’t usually buy a lot of CDs or DVDs anyway… maybe a few each year, and yes, I still buy CDs instead of MP3s or whatever… but books tend to sneak into our monthly budget here and there. Especially because I’m homeschooling our kids, it’s easy to justify buying a particularly good book for them once or twice a month. But we have a lovely local library system that allows me to place up to 25 holds at a time, check out up to 50 books at once, and request any library books that are not in the local system to either be purchased or borrowed from another library. The same goes for borrowing CDs or DVDs. I’m happy to say that I succeeded in following this goal for the most part. I did pick up a few used books here and there at garage sales, but even in that I was blessed to find a few that I’d really wanted. I read “The Heavenly Man” by Brother Yun this summer and really wanted to purchase a copy for our personal library, but I refrained because of this goal not to buy any books this year. Then I found a copy for fifty cents at a garage sale! (And bought it, of course.) That was an encouragement to me to continue with the no-new-books policy, and also to remember to ask the Lord for the things I want, even in the little things like special new books.

I may continue this no-new-books goal for 2016. There are a few notable instances in which having my own copy of a book is definitely worthwhile, and there are a few cookbooks that I’ve been really wanting. There are also a few favorite kids’ books that I would really like to pick up for our children so that we don’t have to keep checking them out from the library over and over. But I may wait and give them a special gift of one new book each on Valentine’s Day, or something like that.

Another way that we have managed to save money is by Keith taking on every car repair needed to our vehicles, and a few other repairs as well. This fall he replaced the air conditioning unit in our minivan. It was a complicated endeavor, and it took quite a while, but it ended up saving us approximately $600 for him to buy the parts and do it himself. He also fixed our washing machine when it broke and fixed the radiator on our car. I have really appreciated his determination to learn to fix these things himself, not only because it saves us money but also because I just think it’s really cool that he can do this stuff.

One other way that I was able to help our budget was to continue to replace items that we lost in the 2014 storage fire and send the receipts for those items in for reimbursement from our rental insurance company. They gave us about 10% of the value on many items up front, and more on others. On the ones that they only gave us 10%, they are happy to pay us back for purchasing “like kind” items, so I have been creatively (and ethically) replacing those things. For example, my most recent replacement was that I lost an heirloom cedar chest in the fire that was worth about $440, so I replaced it with other storage items: a very nice dresser for our boys’ room, an ottoman for our living room, a laundry hamper, some cool/useful decorative boxes, a laundry hamper, and a diaper caddy for our new little baby (due to arrive next month). It has been really neat to be able to get creative with replacing items lost with items that are more useful to us anyway. I think it is also a good way for me to be able to help boost our finances, as I’m still a stay-at-home mama and not bringing in any income.

So, that’s our progress for the year. Nothing earth-shattering, but I’m happy that we are continuing to make progress forward.

Published in: on January 15, 2016 at 1:32 am  Leave a Comment  

what “driving it until it dies” really looks like

Two summers ago, I shared about our sturdy Toyota Camry that we’d been driving for more than seven years. Much in keeping with the recommendations of financial gurus like Dave Ramsey, we kept driving the Camry long after we would have preferred a newer or different vehicle. It’s hard to let go of something that runs that well in favor of taking on a new car payment!

Last November, after eight years of loyal service as our main vehicle, the Camry had an oil cog split in half. This destroyed the oil pump, timing belt, and quite likely the engine. While it is still possibly that a small part and two days’ work may reveal that the engine is salvageable (and Keith intends to give that a try sometime), it is essentially a ruined vehicle and it is likely that we will not be able to do anything more with it than sell it for scrap.

In retrospect, this has raised some discussions for us. It was at about this time last year, well in advance of the part breaking, that we began to seriously consider looking around for a different vehicle. There was no obvious reason not to trust the Camry any longer, but for some reason, and it’s probably just that it was at 210,000+ miles, I was beginning to doubt that it would last for much longer without a significant issue arising. We considered purchasing a newer vehicle, something that would better fit our growing family. Our thought was that it would be worth it to sell the Camry before it hit any major issues, thus getting as much as we could for it while it was still worth something.

Having just come off a long season of unemployment, though, we weren’t really in a position to spend much more cash than the car was worth, and it seemed irrational to let go of something that was working well in favor of buying something different which might have it’s own set of problems.

So we chose to keep the car. But it was a decision point. We said things like “We’ll drive it until it dies.” And then it did actually die, and we did actually run it into the ground like we had always said that we would, and in retrospect I kind of wish that we hadn’t. I kind of wish that we had sold it before it was too worthless to do anything but sell as junk.

Had we sold the Camry last summer or used it as a trade-in, we would have easily had $1500 to $2000 more to put toward a newer vehicle. We couldn’t have known that it would die so tragically and all at once, rather than nickel-and-diming us, but selling it while it was still an asset was not a bad idea. If we are faced with a similar choice in the future, I think it likely that we will make a different decision than we made this time.

Published in: on June 5, 2012 at 7:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

driving an older vehicle

There are moments when I really detest our car.

Don’t get me wrong: I am thankful to have a reliable vehicle. At 203,000 miles, she is still running strong. We’ve been driving Dory for nearly seven years and still have had to do only routine maintenance and very few side repairs, such as replacing a cracked window and a broken ignition.

It’s just that she is so low to the ground, and the seats are so very uncomfortable, and it is so very awkward to get two small children in and out of their huge carseats in the backseat, and it is so annoying to have to cram groceries in every nook and cranny, and I wish I could take the stroller with us all the time instead of just on select trips. My bi-weekly grocery shopping trips to the city an hour away are becoming a thing of immense exhaustion and much inconvenient maneuvering. I’m tired of having no room in the car to change a diaper, I’m tired of taking everything out of the trunk to get the stroller in, and most of all I’m tired of those darned uncomfortable seats.

And I wish there was a windshield wiper on the rear window. And maybe dual climate control. And a CD player. And I wish that one of our rear seat belts wasn’t broken. And I wish there wasn’t that blind spot where the huge molding on the back window interferes with my line of sight.

This is really nothing new. I have been fighting discontentment with Dory for various reasons for a few months out of every year for oh, the last six years or so. Overall, she’s a great car. But the discontentment has been strong lately, so we have been analyzing the situation again and reminding ourselves why it is not yet time to get a different vehicle. Here is the reasoning:

  • We’re driving Dory less than 1000 miles per month right now. I see no reason that this car wouldn’t last easily until 225,000 miles, meaning she has at least a few good years left in her.
  • Most of my miles are highway miles, so if the average speed (between town driving and highway driving) is 50 mph, then I’m really only in the car for 20 hours per month.
  • If we were to get a newer car, we’d want to get one that was good quality and thus would last us another seven years or more. If car payments were $300 per month, and if we were only driving it 20 hours per month, that means that we would effectively be spending $15 per hour for the privilege of driving the new vehicle, or $20 per hour if you count gas.
  • As uncomfortable as Dory may be, the four of us can still fit in her and she still works for us. I look forward to the day when we get a higher vehicle with more room in it, but the ability to pay down other debts still seems more important than paying $20 per hour for the privilege of driving a newer car.

I think that for me, when it comes to things that are such strong wants that they are almost becoming needs (such as getting a newer vehicle), it is exceedingly helpful to analyze the cost ratio. Our car is not nickel-and-diming us; on the contrary, she is saving us car payments and is holding up tremendously well. The gas mileage is good, the air conditioning works, and the vehicle is acceptable in every other way. For now, it behooves us to continue driving Dory and continue putting more money toward our already-existing debts rather than taking on new ones.

And when the time comes to get a new vehicle, we will just be that much more grateful for it. Right?

Published in: on August 31, 2010 at 12:15 am  Comments (3)  
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saving on vehicle expenses (part two)

Beyond driving reliable older-model cars and keeping them in good condition, we have found a few other ways to save money on our vehicles in the month-to-month expenses. One large expense is vehicle insurance. This is worth shopping around for, and we do that periodically to make sure we are still receiving the best rate. For us, that has meant insuring with GEICO. If you’ve never shopped around for insurance rates, I highly recommend it. The amount you save is well worth the time you spend.

A note on insurance rates: you can save a lot by going with higher deductibles. When I insured my first vehicle (an ’86 Jeep, which we still own and which is now our secondary vehicle), I paid an extra $30 or so each month to have a $250 deductible. This was on a rattly, dented old Jeep, mind you! There is no need for a deductible that low unless you have a brand-new vehicle and are obsessive about each tiny scratch. We don’t and we’re not, so we save money by sticking to a $1000 deductible. And with a different insurance company and perfect driving records, we pay much less per month now for two vehicles than I initially did for one.

Another basic way to save on vehicle expense is by doing all our own maintenance. Or by Keith doing all our own maintenance, as the case may be. Keith washes the car, changes the oil, changes the air filter, and does whatever other maintenance work that may need done. When our ignition stopped working last year, he found the part we needed from a junkyard for something like $25 (versus the $150 or whatever that would be charged at a parts store) and then did the labor himself. He has worked on our muffler and other little things here and there. When our car stopped running a few months ago, he found a $2 part for the battery connection that did the trick.

Some of these maintenance matters are ones that I couldn’t do without Keith, but many of them are things anyone could do. It doesn’t take long to learn how to be able to do the basics on your car. If you don’t know how, ask someone to show you, or find a tutorial online.

In the areas where we can’t do our own maintenance, we shop around. Having bought tires from Les Schwab, they always switch our tires for free when we need to transfer to winter tires or back again. When we needed our windshield replaced, we ended up getting one for half the price that most places charge. Don’t assume that just because three places charge a high rate, there won’t be a fourth or fifth with a lower cost. An extra ten minutes getting quotes on the phone can save you a few hundred dollars or more on repair work.

We’ve learned a few things about saving on gas, too. We use an American Express card for gas purchases, so we get 4% back. (We still use our credit card for non-optional expenses like gas.) We go to the cheapest gas station, either Costco or Fred Meyer. And last but not least, we drive the speed limit. Or less. Shocking, I know.

Driving the speed limit didn’t begin as a money-saving venture. For me, it was a conviction about obeying the law. But I now find it incredibly satisfying to set my cruise control at 65 and watch the other cars cruise by, knowing that I am getting better gas mileage and am at absolutely no risk of getting a speeding ticket.

In addition, I recently read an excellent article which explained the financial benefit of driving the speed limit. I won’t go into it all here, but here’s one excerpt: Your hourly earnings from driving 65 instead of 66 is $36.50. Not even factoring in the possibility of increased insurance rates for getting a speeding ticket, it is just plain expensive to speed.

These are all the ways I can think of  in which we try to save money on vehicle expenses. Do you have any other suggestions?

Published in: on October 2, 2009 at 10:28 am  Comments (2)  

saving on vehicle expenses (part one)

I’d love to say that our primary vehicle is a shiny new Toyota Prius that gets 46 miles to the gallon. It is in pristine condition and completely paid for. Ah… doesn’t that sound nice? But the reality is that our primary vehicle is a ’97 purplish Toyota Camry with more than 191,000 miles on it. And while it’s not exactly in the pristine condition of my dream car, it’s true that we make no car payments (and never have, actually, as it was a gift from Keith’s parents).

Every now and then I have found myself coveting a newer car. Besides the basic greed issue involved in that, here are things of which I remind myself over and over. First, we make no car payments. Second, we have a much nicer vehicle than most of the people in the world. Third, it’s reliable.

On the reliability factor, let me note this. It is always, always, always worth buying a vehicle that rates highly according to Consumer Reports. (If you don’t have a subscription to CR, you should get one. It is an incredible valuable asset in all kinds of purchasing situations.) The Camry is one such vehicle which has for years stood out as one of the most reliable vehicles on the road, and it has been completely true for us. We have put about 100,000 miles on our Camry in the last six years, and we have invested little into it besides gas and oil and the occasional minor maintenance work.

I know people who in the same time period have put tens of thousands of dollars into less reliable cars and with not much to show for it.

I once had a co-worker who drove a Volkswagen Jetta, a vehicle known for being unreliable. He drove his Jetta to work, I drove my Camry to work. His Jetta looked cooler than my Camry. But my Camry always made it to work, while his Jetta broke down on the way to work more times than I can remember. Consequently, I was seen as a more reliable employee, and I received the promotion for which really only the two of us were eligible. I’m not positive if being 2-3 hours late to work once or twice a week was a part of him not being considered for the job, but I kind of think it was.

Reliability counts.

I know of many other friends who have bought not-especially-reliable cars which ran great for a while, but after a year or two began to need so much additional work that they have paid far more than the cost of the cars in repair work… just to keep it going!

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Given the rapid depreciation of new vehicles, it is more than likely that we will consistently buy vehicles that are five years old and drive them for another five years or so. Given the age of our Camry, that would mean we are due for a vehicle upgrade in the next few years. For the present time, though, our Camry is still running great, and so we expect to drive it until an increase in household members requires a vehicle with more room for carseats.

Published in: on October 1, 2009 at 11:33 am  Comments (6)