A 3-Step Plan for Saving for a New Car

by Gary Foreman

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Are you in need of a newer car but just can’t afford one? These simple steps can help get you into a reliable car that you can afford. And it might even help you avoid the car payment trap.

Gary,
Do you have any helpful or creative guidelines for saving for a new car?

My husband’s car is shot, and we cannot currently afford to get him into something else. How can we get by until we can afford something else and what can we do to save more toward a newer car?
Brenda

Brenda asks a good question. According to Car and Driver, the average life span of a vehicle is now about 12.1 years. That means that many of the cars we’re currently driving are rolling into their sunset years.

Add to that the fact that used car prices have increased 32% during the pandemic (source: ConsumerReports.com) and you can see how some people may find it tough to get into another vehicle.

 A 3-step plan for saving for a new car

Sounds like Brenda needs a plan if she hopes get into another vehicle sometime in the near future. That plan should contain three elements.

First, she should plan to put money aside to cover repairs on their current car and ultimately buy a newer car. Next, she should make a decision on how to save money for the car fund. Finally, she should have a desire to maintain their current vehicle to help it last longer and increase its value as a trade.

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1. Create an auto account

The first step is to create an auto account. Preferably it should be one that makes it easy to deposit money, but a little harder to withdraw it. You’ll want to add money each month. The only withdrawals should be for maintenance and repairs to your current vehicle or to buy a newer car.

How much should you add each month? Ideally you’d save about as much as you’d be willing to spend on a car payment. In other words, begin making a car payment to yourself. This offers a big advantage. Instead of paying the loan company interest for the money you still owe them, you’ll be earning interest on the money that you’ve already saved.

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2. Find money to add to your auto fund

Finding money to add to the account is Brenda’s next challenge. Remember that if you take on a car payment, you’ll have no choice but to come up with the money each month. So if a newer vehicle is important to you, be willing to make some sacrifices to save for your auto fund.

For many families, the best source of savings is in the area of food. Feeding the average family costs between 10 and 20% of their income. Each day most of us have many opportunities to save without making significant lifestyle changes. These small savings add up during the month. (See Guidelines for Reducing the Grocery Budget.)

Wherever you find the savings, make a commitment to reach your goal each month. If you miss a month, it’ll be tempting to shrug your shoulders and forget about it. It’s true that you don’t need to worry about your car being repossessed, but each month you miss will only delay your auto-shopping trip.

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3. Keep your current vehicle running as long as possible

Expect to use your fund for routine maintenance and repairs. A common reason that people give for replacing their car is that it has become unreliable. The best way to keep a vehicle dependable is to perform the maintenance that’s specified in your owner’s manual, even if that means catching up on things that you should have done earlier. Having money saved should make that easier.

Don’t feel bad about using money from your auto fund for repairs. Yes, it does mean that you’re further away from that new ride, but the money is there to keep a good set of wheels under you.

Finally, if Husband’s car is truly shot, how would they know when it’s not worth repairing? A general rule is that you don’t want to pay more for any single repair than the car is worth. You can find out what your car is worth at Kelly Blue Book. Until the repair is larger than the value, it’s almost always cheaper to repair your current vehicle than to replace it.

What should you do if you’re forced to buy before you saved the amount you planned to spend on your next car? If you can find reliable transportation for the amount saved, pay cash for this car and then keep saving for your next car.

If you don’t have enough saved for a dependable car, you’ll need to borrow this time. But once the car is paid off, keep making payments to yourself for its replacement. It’ll take a little longer until you can pay cash for your cars, but if you persist, you will get to that point.

Reviewed July 2021

About the Author

Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who founded The Dollar Stretcher.com website and newsletters in 1996. He's the author of How to Conquer Debt No Matter How Much You Have and he's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report, US News Money, Credit.com and CreditCards.com. You can read Gary's full bio here. Gary shares his philosophy of money here. Gary is available for audio, video or print interviews.

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