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That New Car Smell

Everyone likes that new car smell, but it would make more financial sense to buy one of those "New Car Smell" air fresheners than waste thousands of dollars on the real thing.

When I was stationed at Fort Bliss Texas in 1993, I had a friend nicknamed Boo-Boo.  He was from Yuma Arizona and was big as a bear.  We met in Basic Training and this was our first duty station together.  I don’t remember who was responsible for giving him his nickname but it came from the cartoon character sidekick to Yogi Bear.  The one who always said, “But, Yogi, Ranger Smith isn’t gonna like this.”  Boo Boo was a gentle giant with a strong conscience.

Unlike most other new recruits I knew, Boo Boo had an awesome ride; a brand new 1993 black Ford Mustang GT.  I walked by it every day since we both lived in the same barracks and, I have to admit, I wished I had a car just like his.  I still remember how the car rumbled when he stepped on the gas and how it gave me goose bumps.  After a few months though, I noticed that day after day that shiny black Mustang was parked in the exact same spot.  Boo Boo was just ignoring his beautiful car.  Finally, my curiosity got the better of me one day when we were walking over to the mess hall.

“Boo-Boo, what gives with your car? Why don’t you ever actually drive it?”

From the look on his face, I could tell my question hit a nerve.  He looked down at the ground and explained that after the car payment and the insurance payments, he didn’t have any money left for gas.

“At least the parking spot is free,” he reasoned.

I can’t think of one person that doesn’t like that new car smell but can you imagine making payments on a new car that was just sitting there collecting dust?  I have seen situations like this numerous times over my career in the military. I have always joked about how the nicest cars around military bases usually do not belong to doctors and lawyers but to GI’s.  

You don’t have to be in the military to want to keep up with the Jones’s but before you go out and buy yourself that new car you need to realize that they lose almost 25% of their value as soon as you drive it off the lot and around 15-20% more each year after that.  Transportation is a basic need but a new car isn’t. Boo-Boo learned his lesson the hard way.

If you are in the market for a new car, I suggest the following steps.  Do some research on the one you really like.  Do not buy it, but find out what the monthly carrying costs would be if you financed that car – payment, insurance, gas and maintenance.   Now here’s my “UNcommon Sense” advice.  I want you to open a car savings account.  For the next 12 months deposit the monthly carrying cost – car payment, insurance, AND gas - into that account. You can set it up as an allotment or draft just like you would with any of your other bills.  After 12 months, see where you are.  How hard was it to make those payments?  If it was painful or if you found yourself skipping payments, that should tell you that you need to come up with either a cheaper ride or put off purchasing a new car.  But if it wasn’t, go out and purchase that car.  The car of your dreams will be a year older so you will be able to buy it at a much lower price.  You will also have a great down payment.  But most importantly you will know that you can afford the car AND the gas!

For those who would still rather have that new car smell, it would make more financial sense to buy one of those “New Car Smell” air fresheners than waste thousands of dollars on the real thing.

Steve Repak, CFP® Author of Dollars & Uncommon Sense: Basic Training For Your Money

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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