Shaking the new car itch: A tale of priorities

When I went to the street to get the mail on Saturday, the latest issue of The New Yorker was in the box. Walking up the sidewalk to the house, I idly began to remove the subscription cards. I stopped, though, when I came to a full-page cardstock advertisement. I read the front of the ad. I read the back.

At the kitchen table, I carefully removed the ad from the magazine, carried it upstairs, and sat down at my computer. I typed in the listed URL, and for the next two hours, I was at the mercy of the advertiser. What was this ad for? The 2007 MINI Cooper.

I've mentioned before that I hate my current vehicle — a 2000 Ford Focus. I bought it in a hurry after my 1992 Geo Storm was totaled by a wayward tractor-trailer rig. I've loathed the Focus since day one.

Three years ago, as I began my debt-reduction crusade, Kris and I made a pact. As soon as I had paid off all my debt, I could buy any car that I wanted. I never dreamed that day would come so soon, but it has. I'll be debt-free by Christmas (except for the mortgage), which means I'll have some tough choices to make.

During our recent trip to London, I fell in love with the MINI. It seemed to be everywhere, and I was enamored with its compact style. I began to believe I had to own one. But I'm not in the same place I was three years ago. I have a different perspective on money. Do I really want to eliminate my debt only to immediately purchase a new car? That doesn't sound smart.

On the other hand, I drive a lot, and the Focus is like an anchor around my neck. Also, I do feel that it's appropriate to reward myself for achieving a goal. Kris and I had a long chat yesterday. We both think I've licked the debt monster and have shown I can work to pay things down. I have the go-ahead to buy the car.

Of course, in order for this to happen, I actually have to be willing to spend the money. I could probably pay off a new car in just a couple years, but I'm not sure that's something I'm willing to do. This frugal living stuff has become a habit. And although I hate my car, it seems foolish to get rid of it after only seven years.

Last night I sat down to work out the numbers. It's clear that buying a car would impede my larger goals.

One of my goals is to drive less, for example. I want to reach a point where it doesn't matter what sort of car I have. I want to work from home, writing. I want to walk to the grocery store. I want to ride my bike to reach more distant destinations (like the comic book shop). How does buying a car help me achieve these goals? It doesn't.

Not buying a car lets me reach these goals more quickly. By not buying a MINI Cooper, I'm roughly $25,000 closer to paying off my mortgage. By not buying a MINI Cooper, I have more to set aside for retirement. If my dream life is to stay at home and make my living as a writer, then I need to do things that will make this a reality. Buying a MINI Cooper is counter to my objectives.

Someday I really will buy a car that I want. That day has not yet arrived, however. Maybe I'll do it when the Focus dies. Maybe I'll do it when I turn 45. Or 50. Maybe a wealthy aunt will buy me a MINI Cooper — I certainly wouldn't turn it down. If only I had a wealthy aunt…

More about...Planning, Transportation

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Stacey
Stacey
12 years ago

What’s wrong with buying a used mini cooper?

J.D.
J.D.
12 years ago

Used MINIs are still pretty expensive! I left that part of the story out. I did go look at a used one, and it would have cost me $18,000. Apparently they hold their resale value very well…

tony
tony
7 years ago
Reply to  J.D.

i am now just reading this old post (2013) maybe you are driving your mini now or still driving your ford. But a nice compromise is to buy a 5-6 year old mini cooper. Being frugal is OK but you should not deprive yourself of nice things that you CAN afford. Inspiring article regardless.

Alias
Alias
12 years ago

Stick to the goal my man. There was something that always nagged me after I bought new cars. It took me a while, but I figured out what it was – it was the 5 years of “I don’t really own this car, the bank does”. Next new car I buy will come after my other goals are met and then I have enough saved up to pay cash. Then I will be truly able to enjoy my car from day 1.

Mrs. Micah
Mrs. Micah
12 years ago

Wow. Way to be aware! You’ve developed some good habits.

Perhaps, when the Focus dies or starts dying, you can buy a 2 or 3-year-old MINI and feel quite justified about it.

Stacey
Stacey
12 years ago

I would second Alias in this case. It’s a shame to put all that hard work in and then go right back into debt. Surely there is some other type of car that is more practical in the fiscal sense that would also be more enjoyable than the Focus.

On a side note why do you hate the Focus? Is it a matter of status/style or function? Or both?

AmyR
AmyR
12 years ago

It’s funny that I bumped into this article. I currently have two years to pay on my car loan and already I’m looking ahead to the next car. When my family went on vacation last month, we rented a brand new Ford “Edge” and I fell in love with it. Ever since I’ve been telling folks that it’s gonna be my next car, lol. This isn’t really meant as a site plug (well maybe it is) but there is a pic of it in my website, way at the bottom of the page.

Matt Hargus
Matt Hargus
12 years ago

I feel your pain. I started from the other side of the argument about a year ago, when I decided to sell my 2005 Mini Cooper S and start down the road toward zero debt. I don’t regret selling it, but I do miss that fun ride now and again.

Maybe you could try saving up the $25,000 and see if you still want to drop that cash for a car 🙂 That would really test your desire.

Astreil
Astreil
12 years ago

You deserve to buy a new car. But, it sounds as if you have some reservations. Here’s what my hubby and I have planned. We own two cars, a 98 Dodge Minivan (necessary because of child quantity) and a 91 Volvo station wagon, which we hope can make it until the debt is gone. Both are paid for. When the debt is paid off in a couple of years, we plan to sink the money we were paying toward the debt into a high-yield savings account or for 3-6 months. That will give us extra time to decide 1) exactly… Read more »

Paula
Paula
12 years ago

The Focus is likely not immortal, based on anecdotal evidence of Ford’s lack of interest in quality.

Start watching the new AND used car market for Minis and become an expert. Then, when the Focus gives it up, you’ll be ready to pounce.

Wesley
Wesley
12 years ago

I’m in the same boat with my Saturn. I’m planning to keep the junker until it dies (which I help along its way each time I drive it by goosing it whenever I hear the familiar rattle of the rattrap engine).

Once you can buy the new car outright, go for it. I’m glad you’ll be debt-free by Christmas, congrats!

Rita Bradley
Rita Bradley
12 years ago

Wow-you are so close to paying off your mortgage! That’s amazing. I too have to ask, what’s so bad about the Ford Focus? There are lots of people in the world that would love to own ANY car that runs. I only know you from your posts but your hate of the Focus almost seems out of character for you… I used to drive a used Toyota Corolla-also later destroyed by a wayward tractor-trailer rig. When I was driving it, I imagined that it was a cool sports car-that helped. Now I have a Suzuki Forenza and I haven’t been… Read more »

Louise
Louise
12 years ago

Now you know what true wealth feels like: you CAN buy something, but you don’t WANT to. You are starting to break the chain of consumption in our culture that put you in debt in the first place. The first couple times it happens, it feels really weird and confusing. For me, it was when I promised myself I could spend $1000 on new clothing after a big tax refund. I walked around my favorite store, befuddled that nothing appealed to me enough to buy it. And this was NEW FALL CLOTHING, people! Eventually, you’ll be able to just walk… Read more »

Dave
Dave
12 years ago

You just need a cold shower, man. With the kind of simple, debt-free lifestyle you are after, the best thing would be to just drive that Ford into the ground, then go buy a junker for cash. After you become filthy rich, i.e., once you’ve built GRS into a personal finance empire (books, seminars, employees, GRS The Movie, etc.), then go get whatever you want.

Xias
Xias
12 years ago

I don’t know, I’ve always been a function over form kinda person. Do you really want to drop that much money on a mini-cooper? I agree with your post, I’d wait and see how you feel once the Taurus is toast…hopefully NOT by a wayward tractor-trailer

Angie
Angie
12 years ago

Even those of us who have developed a thick skin w.r.t. advertising sometimes find something that we really, really want. Hey, JD, why not explicitly start saving for your next car? Something like $100/month might slow down your debt-free date incrementally, but if I remember correctly, your debt-free date used to be spring and now it’s Christmas. We love our car (a 95 Corolla, which we bought used for cash) and hope it lasts forever. But the kids are getting a little crowded in the back and know that in the next few years we’re going to need a more… Read more »

Mrs. Micah
Mrs. Micah
12 years ago

@ Angie

Where do you bank that lets you set up subaccounts? Mr. Micah and I are interested in that, but we’re still getting our bank accounts in order.

Ben
Ben
12 years ago

Gross. The Mini’s exterior is gorgeous but what about the sea of PlaySkool-look-alike plastic on the inside?

Major toss up for me. I went with a VW GTI instead.

Sakoro
Sakoro
12 years ago

ING lets you set up sub-accounts. It’s really all the same account but you can manage your auto-deposits separately and it lists the balances separately.

I’m sure some of the other online banks do as well.

Dave C
Dave C
12 years ago

I can relate. Starting 6 years ago when I got out of college I told myself “new Corvette. Someday”. I’ve always been frugal, but have taken it up a couple notches since then. I’ve realized I hate work, and the ultimate dream is to stop doing it. Now I have myself about talked out of buying any vehicle over a couple grand. – It’s a depreciating asset that, while making the dealership rich, won’t do the same for you. Figure out what you truly want/need out of a car and don’t pay for anything else. – I drive 5k miles… Read more »

Angie
Angie
12 years ago

We bank at a local credit union. I’d imagine that feature is pretty standard for internet banking, but I don’t really know from experience.

JACK
JACK
12 years ago

I’m also curious about why you don’t like the Focus?

I’ve had one for five years and, aside from the small car general complaints, my experience with it has been very good.

And for all the “anecdotal” evidence of Ford’s lack of quality, I think much of it is perception. For example, Ford’s Fusion has won raves and is beating out many in test results.

Paying cash for a car makes the most sense, if you can. That’s my plan. My Focus is five years old. I’m hoping to get another 3-5 out of it and am saving accordingly.

Karl
Karl
12 years ago

JD – Let me get this straight — you’re paying $200/mo for a dedicated server without raid1? If you want to, email me, and I’ll help you with any server issues that come up… gratis.

Mrs. Micah
Mrs. Micah
12 years ago

Thanks Angie & Sakoro!

Ian
Ian
12 years ago

Careful! That Mini may have unintended costs. A coworker bought one that spent many, many days in the shop. Though he loved it still. It seems all the other days were spent at the autocross — another cost.

What are you looking for in a car? Fun, sporty, attention getting. Does Honda make one?

Also, I’d say $25k is on the low-end. A carefully optioned one is more like $26k. A well optioned is $28k.

Good luck!

J.D.
J.D.
12 years ago

Why I Hate My Focus, by J.D. Roth I hate my Focus because it gets mediocre gas mileage (~26mpg). I hate my Focus because the seats are uncomfotable. I hate my Focus because the brakes squeal. I hate my Focus because the ignition is jammed. I’ve had it replaced once, but it’s still a problem. In order to get the key in or out, I have to park the car in reverse. And set the parking brake. If I forget and put the car in park before taking the key out, it’s a nightmare getting the key into the ignition.… Read more »

K
K
12 years ago

My goodness, it would be a tragedy to get into car debt. I don’t even understand the agreement you had with Kris…if you got out of consumer debt, your reward would be to go right back into it??? That’s sad and backwards. I’m glad you’ve learned this during your time of getting out of debt.

A dream car is one that’s purchased with CASH. And it can be used. And, as you have found, the “dream” can be reevaluated to include a paid off old car that you already own!

finance girl
finance girl
12 years ago

I know exactly how you feel. I drive a 15 year old Acura Integra, yet hubs and I have “this close” to having 7 digits on our balance sheet. I am in the process of saving for a new car and want to save $20k. I have $2k now but would have $10k if we had not gone on two very awesome vacations this year. Now am buckling down and figure I will be there in 2 years. You can do it!!!! 26mpg is not bad, yes you hate your car but do you hate it to the tune of… Read more »

J.D.
J.D.
12 years ago

K wrote: I don’t even understand the agreement you had with Kris…if you got out of consumer debt, your reward would be to go right back into it???

Yes, that was the agreement. But remember — that agreement was made at the beginning of my journey, before I learned all I know today. It made sense at the time. It even sort of makes sense to me now. But obviously not enough sense, or I’d be driving around in my MINI Cooper. 🙂

Rob in Madrid
Rob in Madrid
12 years ago

“I had a 1982 Datsun 310”

My Dad had an orange Datsun 510 hatchback with a white vinyl interior that I learned to drive on. I hated that car, gutless, ugly, with seats that killed you and to boot no heat in the winter. Dad kept it forever. I shutter at the memory of it.

brad
brad
12 years ago

Hmmm, I had a Focus 2000 ZX3 and that thing was peppy! I drove my brother’s 2002 VW Jetta for a week and found it felt heavy and sluggish in comparison. But anyway, your Focus does sound worth hating and I too had ignition switch problems. Having bought my current car with cash, I concur with everyone else who says that’s the way to go (if possible, of course). After I became debt-free, I simply established another goal, to save for a car, and managed to do it in three years. I agree that you should celebrate once you’re rid… Read more »

JACK
JACK
12 years ago

Wow. All I can say is I am glad mine’s a newer model than yours because I haven’t heard of anywhere near these problems. Sounds like you have a lemon.

I get 20 mpg in crushing city traffic. I get about 30 mpg on the highway. The only thing I can share your lament is the lack of power. But it’s a compact car that actually seats four and has a trunk. It’s no shock to me. The only other complaint I have is the amount of road noise that you will hear. But again, a compact car.

Judie
Judie
12 years ago

I have an ’04 Mini, and it is a great car! I paid for it in cash, which makes it even better – it is one of my favorite financial memories. I concur with the others saying to save up for it. Mini’s will still be around!

HC
HC
12 years ago

J.D., if you want out of your Focus in part because it’s had maintenance problems, you do NOT want to replace it with a Mini Cooper.

I have driving enthusiast friends who adore their Minis, but they spend a ton of time in the shop.

It wouldn’t be worth it to me, even if I had no debt to speak of.

Dave
Dave
12 years ago

But don’t you see, J.D. — all the reasons you hate the car are the reasons you should LOVE it, because those are the types of cars that will help you retire a millionaire. In fact, I’d like to see you do a GRS wall calendar … each month could feature a photo of a different junk-ass “bondo buggy” w/ a beautiful woman in a bikini on top of the awful car. You could do a little write up for each month, too, like, “Most new cars drop 40% in value during the first 3 years.” I’d love to see… Read more »

telly
telly
12 years ago

Back in ’99 my dad was kind enough to buy me a brand new Ford Escort for graduation. It wouldn’t have been my 1st choice but hey, it was FREE!! Or so I thought. It turns out he bought it for me as a gift, but I had to make the payments. 🙁 Actually, he made the payments on the 1st 6 months, allowing me time to start the new career and get settled. For the next 3.5 years (42 months of payments), I hated my car. I hated that it wasn’t peppier. I hated that it didn’t have a… Read more »

Skinny City Girl
Skinny City Girl
12 years ago

I see so many Minis in the paper for sale, I can’t help thinking that owners are not satisfied with them. Just a thought.
Plus, think about this. Usually people’s love of a new car fades away after a few weeks and he or she is already thinking about the next one. Flexcar is fun for that reason because you can rent a Mini (or choose from a list of very zippy subarus and even a few convertibles) that you can drive for $8 an hour and then forget about when you’re done.

fontraid
fontraid
12 years ago

It sounds like you really detest your Focus, which means that you would derive a lot of joy in purchasing a new car. However, I agree with other commenters: the Mini probably isn’t the right choice. Aside from its hefty price tag, maintenance can be a real pain. You also have to be careful with which maintenance shop you frequent, because with European cars (especially new ones) I’ve heard horror stories of BMWs getting their nice new innards ripped out and replaced with cheapo standard ones. Maybe you should consider doing some car research, broadening your options. I staved off… Read more »

Roger
Roger
12 years ago

Talk about a gift that keeps on taking, telly. Jeebus. This will raise eyebrows around here, but a viable alternative for “fun” driving is keeping a budget-priced classic car around for “fun trips” and having a workhorse for daily use. This assumes you have the garage space. 1) Something like a used Alfa or MGB can be had relatively inexpensively 2) In my state and many others, you can put classic plates on them and never have to pay tabs again 3) Insurance is cheap–I pay $200 a year combined to insure three classic cars and a classic motorcycle You’d… Read more »

Michelle
Michelle
12 years ago

Oh, J.D., how I sympathize! We bought a 2002 Ford Focus new, and it is the worst car I have ever driven. It is terribly expensive to fix and seems to have weird issues that nobody understands. All I have to do is say, ’02 Ford Focus’ to a mechanic and the dollar signs come on in their eyes. We too just made a decision about our cars. We own the Focus and a 1990 Volvo station wagon. Neither ran well, but we just found a good mechanic for our Volvo who fixed the problem for $83 (we’ve been struggling… Read more »

db
db
12 years ago

I think it all depends on the Focus you buy… In late 2001 I bought a brand new 2002 Focus and while it has a few issues I don’t really care for, but by and large I am happy with the car. It’s had a couple of unpleasant mechanical failures (grumble grumble expensive brake fluid leak) but hasn’t been terribly expensive to maintain overall. Of course I drive as little as possible — I’ve put under 27K on the car since late 2001. I do hate the thing on the highway, but to me it’s got enough zip. Of course,… Read more »

Aaron Davidson
Aaron Davidson
12 years ago

I purchased a new car in may. My old car I purchased in 2000 and was quickly paid off (under a year). I financed my new car over the period of 4 years. It is a hybrid, and at the time it made great sense. 90% of the time hybrids do not make monetary sense. For me it did, however I switched jobs and it no longer makes sense. I am at a crossroads, I sunk alot of money into the down payment, I am not upside down and have been making payments since. The car is far nicer than… Read more »

Brian
Brian
12 years ago

I will take the opposing view and say “Go straight to the dealership and put your deposit down!!!” 🙂 Honestly though… If you have to have a car, MINI is the way to go. The MINI is the first car I have ever owned about which I can honestly say there is not one thing that I DON’T like about it. It is amazing, beautifully styled, and fun to drive. Name the last time driving was fun… My wife told me about this post (trust me we are frugal). But there is something to be said for enjoying life while… Read more »

Livingalmostlarge
Livingalmostlarge
12 years ago

Why I hate my 2000 Ford Focus ZX3 – by livingalmostlage…Funny…I just wrote about this today too. I hate my DH’s 2000 Ford Focus. The thing has 70k miles and is about to die. I already replaced the key column, you need to do that to get the key out. Cost $100, except try waiting at 10 pm in a parking lot on a Friday night for a locksmith! Lovely waiting 2+ hours. Second all the work I’ve had done and will have to do on our focus. Disclaimer…2000 Ford Focus have the WORSE reliability, it’s gotten better but it’s… Read more »

SusanO
SusanO
12 years ago

Love is love, and hate is hate, and J.D. you are entitled to your opinions and desires! I myself just escaped from a car I hated hated HATED into a my dreamcar. I smile when I see it. I smile when I drive it. It’s funny – it has its own problems (the trunk lift thingees need replacing, the driver side door doesn’t stay open) – in fact, there are probably just as many problems with it as the other car had, but since I LOVE my “new” car, my life is better. I do agree that now’s not the… Read more »

Marina
Marina
12 years ago

One thing that no one has mentioned here is that used sports cars might not be the best deal. People who buy sports cars often drive them hard and when you buy a used one you risk getting a car that has taken a bit of abuse (see Ian’s comment about the autocross). Normally I would recommend buying a used car, but in the case of the MINI Cooper I think your best bet is to keep driving your Focus until you can buy a new MINI for cash (or at least put a substantial amount down). Good luck from… Read more »

beanspants1
beanspants1
12 years ago

I have to say you are lucky. I’ve had my car for less than 2 years, and loathed it since day 1, but I had no choice (old car died in the middle of nowhere, and I had a pressing engagement). No way I’ll make it 7. So Christmas or shortly afterwards it’s gone. I more or less paid cash for it, but still that’s $15k in 2 years. What a huge waste. I think cars are one of the few things its best to go with one you want, even if you have to spend a bit more. It’s… Read more »

Mariette
Mariette
12 years ago

J.D. I too love the idea of a Mini Cooper, but when I went to buy a new used car recently (new for me) and was checking out Consumer Reports – they didn’t give Coopers a very good rating as used cars. So I bought a Civic instead (wish I could have afforded a hybrid but they are out of my price range right now.) One thing you might consider, even though the Focus is driving you nuts, is to hold off for another year or so and drive different cars, experiment to see if you really are attached to… Read more »

Dave C
Dave C
12 years ago

@ #46 Situation is my mom has two cars, this one for a very long time. First car I’ve known that will die a death from time before use, 65k milies at 15 years old. With gas prices what they are and considering how much I hate driving my truck, plus the fact she wants to see it get started and used… tried giving her my truck, she didn’t want it. When the snow comes, or anytime she happens to want it, I’ll take it back. But we’re like that, being a family and all. I’m sure if I wanted/needed… Read more »

Michael Langford
Michael Langford
12 years ago

The mini is a very expensive little car to own. It’s a BMW, even though its branded MINI. You have BMW parts, BMW labor etc when fixing it.

Secondly, its a BMW. It requires Premium gas.

Thirdly, it gets absurdly low gas mileage for how little it is (we see 21-25 with a stick).

While my wife loves hers, it is not a frugal car at all.

–Michael

Andrea >> Become a Consultant
Andrea >> Become a Consultant
12 years ago

We have been looking at a new(er) car, because we have a second child arriving soon and a Honda Civic for all of us. It’s a bit cramped even now, when it comes to going out of town or toting stuff around. But then we realized we could probably just buy a roof carrier for $600. So now we’re looking at that.

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