The Smart MilSpouse’s Guide to Buying a Car

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The Smart MilSpouse's Guide to Buying a Car

Before we got married, our friends joked that we should get a prenup. After all, it’s smart to protect your assets.

John and I would laugh: what assets?

Neither of us owned a house or had any substantial savings over a few thousand dollars. The most expensive piece of jewelry I owned (even now) was my engagement ring. I had already handed in my resignation and was looking (frantically) for a work-from-home job that could travel with me.

And our cars?

We each owned two pieces of metal with mounted wheels. Technically, yes, they were cars. But there was no way that we could have called them assets and not have been laughed out of a lawyer’s office.

My car was more than 10 years old and had lost a wheel while I was driving not once…but twice due to a parts failure. (That’s another story.) In fact, the second time, it took AAA 4 hours to even find a tow truck that wanted to tow my car off the road.

Despite my best efforts and taking it to the mechanic multiple times, it also had a power outage…in the rain…while I was driving around D.C. on 495, the timing belt decided to go on vacation on 95, and the air conditioner had waved a white flag.

John’s car was an old, pimp-tastic beater from the early ‘90s and unbelievably was more reliable than my car. Still, one night, the brake lines ripped apart and we coasted through a red light and into a parking lot. There was no crash, miraculously, but the mechanic took one look at it and declared that it was totaled.

No worries – we still had another car.

Until 5 days later when we didn’t.

My car, with all of its problems, heard the last, rattled breath of John’s car and decided it was time to pack it in.

In one week, we went from 2 cars to zero and had a crash course in the hard reality of buying a car. Here’s what we learned:

The Smart Military Spouse's Guide to Buying a Car

Maybe Don’t Buy When You’re Hard Up

When you’re less panicked and when you don’t absolutely need a car, you can watch for sales and deals. Beware of feeling pressured to make decisions because of your circumstances. It’s easier to be manipulated or buy things you want or don’t need when you’re anxious.

Consider Your Need

Buying a new car is a great time to step back and assess your needs.

John and I decided that we were going to become a one-car family – purely out of financial necessity.

The decision was tough at first – it meant a loss of independence for me that I hadn’t felt before – and it meant that we had to tweak some of our schedules and routines.

Now, more than 2 years later, I’m really proud of our choice. Not only was it fiscally responsible at the time, but it’s continued to help us save extra money that we wouldn’t have been able to if we were operating 2 cars.

And, as the tree-hugger I am, I feel really good about our contribution to reducing greenhouse gases and other pollutants.

Ask for Discounts

A car  dealership is no different than another store. Don’t be shy! Ask for discounts and see which ones you qualify for.

Our salesman didn’t think we qualified for a rebate and didn’t bring it to our attention. We pressed him for any other possible discounts and he mentioned it.

Guess what?

We did qualify for it, which meant $500 less that we had to pay.

But Seriously, Ask for Discounts

Many car manufacturers offer military discounts. Do your homework and see what those benefits will mean to you and your car shopping journey.

USAA Is Your Best Friend

John, who researches like a boss, made use of USAA’s car comparison tool as part of making sure that we were getting the absolute best price for the best car that we could afford. This brilliant piece of technology gives you the ability to see what the purchase highs, lows and averages are for the particular car you’re interested in so you don’t overpay.

We also used USAA for a rental car and for insurance on our new car.

Pay Attention to the Time

Although I wouldn’t use “lucky” to describe our conundrum, we were quite pleased to find out that the weekend we were shopping just happened to be one of the best times to shop for cars in the year.

Statistically, springtime isn’t a great time to get discounts and savings on a car.

Wait for the fall and winter if you’re focused on the financial impact. Shopping during the early part of the week is also better – you’ll probably be one of the only people in the dealership, will most likely get better service and will feel less rushed.

The end of the month or the end of the quarter is also a great time to look for a car – a salesperson might offer a better deal because they’re trying to hit a certain sales goal.

Be Wary of Add-Ons

Once you say OK to a car, the salesperson will most likely sit you down with another salesperson who will try to sell you fancy-sounding whosits and whatsits that your car just simply cannot run without. Really consider these add-ons before you say yes to any of them. Chances are, you won’t really need them in the future.

Check Out Extended Warranties

You may be interested in purchasing an extended warranty when you buy your new car. Make sure that you read the fine print and really know what’s covered in the extension. It might not be as much as you think.

Test Drive for Real

Have kids or parents that will routinely be in the car with you? Bring them along for a test drive. It’s better now to find out that the car seat doesn’t fit well in that cute two-door coupe than later.

Don’t Forget Insurance

Figure your insurance costs into the price of your new car. If you live in a state that slams cars with property taxes (like Virginia!) make sure you are aware of those costs, too.

What car-buying tricks and tips have you learned the hard way?

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