This guest post from Joel Berry is part of the “reader stories” feature at Get Rich Slowly. Some stories contain general advice; others are examples of how a GRS reader achieved financial success or failure. These stories feature folks with all levels of financial maturity and income. Want submit your own reader story? Here’s how.

I’m writing this post as a follow up to my first post about why I drove a 13-year-old car. In that article, I set some goals for myself and came up with a plan to help me achieve those goals. Today I’m going to share where I succeeded — and where I failed.

My original goals were to:

  • Drive my 1995 Geo Prizm for four more years in order to save a large down payment for a newer car.
  • Put away $300 a month into a savings account for the down payment.
  • Spend $1000 or less per year in maintenance for the Geo.
  • Have $10,400 for a down payment on a new-to-me car.

How did I do? Let’s find out.

Goal #1: Keep My Car Another Four Years
At the time I wrote my last post, I’d already driven the Geo for 13 years. I had a choice to make:

  • Take out a loan for the value of a new car minus any money I could get by selling the Geo
  • Or, keep the car for a while longer while saving up more money to put down on the new car.

I came up with a plan to try to keep the Geo as long as it remained a reliable and safe car. I wanted to resist the temptation to purchase a new car and jump back into payments before I had to. All of my friends had purchased new cars and I was feeling a little pressure to keep up with them. I knew this was financially a bad move. I did not want to “keep up with the Joneses.” I wanted to buck the norm and not give into consumerism. I knew the longer I kept the car and remained payment free the better off I would be when I did purchase a new car.

So, did I keep the car for four more years? No, I kept the car for three instead of four years. Why?

My needs changed in the three years since I set that goal. My family grew and no longer fit in the car. When I originally set this goal, my children were smaller. They grew older, taller, and it was now uncomfortable for them to sit in the small back seat. When the car no longer met my needs, I knew it was time to change my plan. My needs changed and my goals needed to change with them.

Goal #2: Pay Less Than $1000 a Year on Maintenance
There was not a year of the three that I spent even close to the $1,000 I budgeted for maintenance.

This number was a worst-case-scenario number. If I was going over that number, I would have called it quits and gave up on the Geo. I averaged $400 a year on maintenance.

I consistently hear people say they need to get rid of their car because it is going to nickel-and-dime them to death. They get a new car out of fear, not because they truly have a need. The fear is the car would need a repair that would cost so much that it is better to sell it now and get a new car. I chose to ignore that fear and let the numbers dictate if I should keep the car or not.

Looking at the math, $400 a year and no payment works out to $33.34 a month that came out of my pocket to drive this car. I was okay with that. Other people might have chosen to sell the car. If I were to purchase another newer car, I feel the maintenance would be about the same. It might even be more because I would want to take better care of a newer car I was going to try to keep for a decade or so. I knew this car was going to be out of my life soon, so I had less to lose by not checking into every little squeak I heard.

People rarely take into account that the new car they buy might have problems as well. I have read many posts on the car forums about someone purchasing a brand new car and having nothing but trouble with it. Even though the repairs are covered under warranty, there’s a huge feeling of anger that they paid for a new car and it isn’t reliable. Most people end up selling the new car and take a huge loss just to be free of the troubled car.

Goal #3: Put $300 a Month into a Savings Account for a Newer Car
I set up a sub-account at ING Direct and had the money automatically withdrawn every month. I paid myself first to make sure the money was there before any other money was taken out to pay bills. This was easy to do; it only took a few clicks. The money being gone right away made it easier to meet this goal every month. When the money is not there to spend it made it easier for me to put off purchases until next week’s paycheck.

Goal #4: Save $10,400 for a Down Payment on Another Car
I missed this goal for two reasons. The first reason I brought on myself and the second was an unexpected life event.

The first reason I missed my goal was I sold the Geo one year early and missed out on that twelve months of savings. That’s $3600 that I gave up. Even though I was under budget with the maintenance costs, it wasn’t enough to offset the loss of those twelve months.

The second reason I didn’t meet this goal is we had a tough choice to make. One of my family members had a series of health problems that were getting worse and they lived very far away. We felt the need to take a trip to visit this person. The trip was something I needed to do; not going wasn’t an option.

We looked into all the alternatives. Credit card debt? I didn’t want to be paying for the trip on a card charging us 13% interest. 401(k) loan? I wasn’t willing to pull money out of my 401(k), pay the loan fee, and miss out on the potential returns the stock market could give us. ING account? The ING account was the only choice that made sense. After all, the ING account was only paying 0.8% interest at the time. But it would put me behind saving for a new car. That was a difficult thing for me to do.

We pulled the money out and went on the trip. We enjoyed spending time with family, saw things we would never have seen if we hadn’t taken the trip, and built lifelong memories. This is a choice I don’t regret at all. Money isn’t everything in life. I cherish my family and felt this was the right thing to do.

The Bottom Line
Three years ago, I set some goals for myself. I did my best to make a plan to help me meet those goals. As time went by my needs changed (needed a bigger car) and unexpected expenses came up (trip to see family). I feel good about how I did. I set some goals and stuck to them as much as made sense.

Over the 16 years I owned the Geo, twelve of those years were payment-free. My original payments were $250 a month. That extra $250 a month I that I didn’t have to spend on a car payment added up to $36,000 over the 12 years. If I subtract the overall maintenance I spent on this car over the full 16 years ($3400), it still leaves me with $32000. This number represents the amount of money I would have spent if I continued to have a car payment. I know many people who always have a car payment. I consider this a huge amount of money. This is the reason I chose to drive the car for so long.

In the end, I found a used car I wanted, put an ad on craigslist, and sold the Geo. After 16 years with this car, our family had outgrown it and was ready for another. Will I keep the new car for as long as I did the last one? That’s a question I can’t answer at this time. That depends on if this new car is as good as the last.

Life throws you curves; you have to bend with those curves. You have to take everything day by day and month by month. Your financial future is not set in stone. It is more like clay. Every decision you make and every curve life throws at you molds that clay. You need to re-evaluate your needs, wants, and limits every so often to make sure that clay is looking the way you want it to.

Am I the only one that decided to change the plans that I made in January of 2009? If you read J.D.’s note at the bottom of the original post he writes about his Ford Focus. He had a plan for that Focus, to drive it into the ground. Not long after that, J.D. bought a Mini-Cooper. His plans changed, and so did mine. I feel like I am in good company.

Reminder: This is a story from one of your fellow readers. Please be nice. After more than a decade of blogging, I have a thick skin, but it can be scary to put your story out in public for the first time. Remember that this guest author isn’t a professional writer, and is just learning about money like you are. Henceforth, unduly nasty comments on readers stories will be removed or edited.

This article is about Cars, Frugality, Reader Stories