This reader story comes from Brandon. Some reader 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.
Buying a brand new 2010 Chevrolet Silverado was the best and worst financial decision my wife and I ever made. I had just received orders for Germany at the time, and we were preparing for the move. The Army would pay to ship one vehicle, but we had two. I had an F-150 and my wife had her Jeep Compass. We both loved the vehicles we had, but we compromised on a “family friendly” truck. (We didn't, and still don't, have kids by the way.) It was a crew cab, 4-wheel drive, Z-71 and all the other goodies I could want.
We sold my wife's Jeep and then traded my truck in on the new Chevy. We got some really good discounts, being in the military; but after taxes, negative equity from my F-150, and the extended warranty, we financed just shy of $40,000. This was the most debt we had ever had, but we decided we could afford it because the payments were the same as both of our other vehicles combined. Since we rolled the taxes into the loan, I used that money to get my dual exhaust (which a dear friend paid half of as a gift) and the spray-in bed liner.
Soon we were in Germany with a brand new truck and I was on orders to deploy to Afghanistan. We purchased a little Jetta for $1,250 to drive around base and for short trips because the truck didn't fit most of the places we went to in Germany. The only big trucks like that in Germany are generally driven by Americans. So the truck sat most of the time. Also, our insurance almost tripled because, in Germany, you have to carry 7 million euro in liability coverage. At this point, my truck cost just at $1,000 per month to own and operate. That was about half of my salary at the time.
Time to think
It wasn't long before I was in Afghanistan. I work in communications, so I had a lot of time monitoring the network and general shift work. This left me with a lot of time to think and analyze things. This is when I had an epiphany of sorts. I was crazy. I was going to be paying $7,000 in interest over the course of my truck loan. Seven thousand dollars! I could have paid off my old truck (which I loved and had even named — Marleiya). I had been debt free once and it felt great, but it was short-lived. That was after my first deployment to Iraq. That gave us a critically needed reset, but we didn't learn because we didn't have to struggle to pay it all off. We used 15 months' worth of extra deployment pay. This time was different; there was no way I could pay off all our debt in this nine-month deployment. My wife had student loans, I had some credit card debt, and then there was the truck.
I stumbled upon a blog — you may have heard of it — Get Rich Slowly. It was on some Internet list of ten best blogs of the year or something of that nature. I was bored, in a very cold tent with a slow wireless Internet connection. I read one article which had links to other articles, so I opened those in new tabs, then read the new tabs, and opened more tabs with more articles. I spent the better part of two weeks reading these articles on this blog, and by that time I think I had read almost all the articles on the site!
Determination set in
I had made up my mind. I was going to get debt free and stay that way. When I returned home, I talked with my wife and she initially thought I was a little crazy too. “How are we going to have a nice vehicle if we don't take out a loan?” she said. I just knew that one day she would understand. We ended up buying Dave Ramsey's “Total Money Makeover” and read it together. I would read a chapter, and then she would read a chapter. We would discuss the chapters together and decide what we would implement, what we felt was important, and how we would accomplish those things. Pretty soon we were both determined to get debt free.
We made a budget — a tight budget — and started attacking our bad habits first. We stuck to the budget and cut extra expenses everywhere we could. We limited ourselves on when we would go out. We cooked at home every night other than maybe once per month. Before we knew it, we had eliminated all debt except for that truck. We had tried selling the truck, but we couldn't sell it because we couldn't get a fair price on it and we still owed too much. (Remember the negative equity and sales tax?)
We had pretty much decided to save up our money and go on trips and hold onto the truck until later. We got comfortable with that debt again. We moved back to the States this past fall and bought a house. We don't really count the house as a debt (kind of fooling ourselves) because the Army pays the mortgage and then some on top of my normal salary. We bought a little SUV for my wife (with really high miles) in cash when we got back so we would have two vehicles again.
We still had the truck, but we decided the truck needed to go. In reality, we had the money saved up to pay the truck off, but we would have liquidated our emergency fund and education fund (which came from my great aunt when she passed, but that's another story completely). We went to dealerships and tried to trade down, but they just won't give you a deal unless you finance something through them.
We finally decided to check with CarMax and they offered to buy the truck at a price we couldn't refuse. It was a really hard thing to do. In some ways we felt like we were stepping down in status, but I knew we were just fooling ourselves. I knew stepping onto the path less traveled (going debt free) was the only way to true wealth. We sold the truck and they wrote us a check for the difference of what we owed. We used that money and bought my wife a Jeep Compass just like she had before — we wrote the dealer a check.
This has been our turning point. We have cut ties with the worst financial decision we've ever made — that truck. Even still, I am thankful for that truck as it will also be remembered as our best financial decision because it opened our eyes to our foolish thinking of vehicles as investments. They are simply tools for our use. I understand now that the automotive industry and banking industry (especially when they work together) are designed for the consumer to lose every time, no matter what. We are extremely excited about what the future holds. We can now start building our wealth instead of building the wealth of the bank.