16 years of car payments, finally over!

“The journey is never ending. There’s always gonna be growth, improvement, adversity; you just gotta take it all in and do what’s right, continue to grow, continue to live in the moment.”

Antonio Brown

The road to being debt free has been long and windy, filled with blood, sweat and tears, and a little exhaustion thrown in. Though we have a bit more to go, our first goal for 2021 is complete! After 16 years with a car payment, we finally made our last car payment! Here is that journey.

Not one, but two

16 years ago I bought my first vehicle. I was in college, had an amazing boyfriend (now husband) and was working my first summer job. After I saved a few paychecks, I found a car I could buy at a minimum payment of $200 per month. It was a sweet little Toyota Camry, that had only been owned by a grandmother who rarely drove anywhere. Where this story really begins is when I said “Of course I can afford that!”, even though the payment was just less than what I was making. 

A few years later, as my husband and I were about to get married, that one car turned into two. Two car payments, though still affordable with our combined incomes. A little black Kia Rio that turned out to be a lemon, quickly turned into a silver Toyota Corolla. A cute and comfy commuter car with great gas mileage. 

Toyota Corolla

In 2008, after having bought our first house and with the prospect of owning a giant Newfoundland dog, I HAD to get a bigger vehicle! By this point the Camry was recently paid off, and we were just feeling good about ourselves. That is when we tested out a Honda Ridgeline, and were instantly in love. To this day, we miss just how comfortable that truck was! Thus began not one, but TWO car payments….again. I didn’t even keep the dog! 

Honda Ridgeline

Decisions like this, much like having children, take two to make. If I am being honest though, it really came down to my lack of financial education and being used to strapping our money to the last dollar. It was also my ability to win an argument and prove just how much money we could scrounge to make it work. We have definitely learned a lot since then. Fortunately finances (good and bad) have not gotten between us. We must really love each other!! 

First attempt to reduce debts

Our first big jump into saving money, came when we had our first child in 2010. I returned to work when my son was six weeks old, and we began paying for daycare on top of the two car payments. We realized quickly it was not going to work. It was then that we looked at our finances again. “If we can just get down to one car payment, only one of us work full-time, we’ll save on daycare and it’ll balance out”. Forces definitely aligned, call it fate or God’s plan, it all started lining up!

We went to a car dealership with the Corolla and the Ridgeline, to see if we could walk away with just one vehicle. It came with some negative equity, but what they gave us for the two vehicles was enough to justify the trade in and got us to the payment we needed. We parted ways with our beloved vehicles, and entered into the world of another Kia, Sorento this time…and another lemon!! I mean, driving down the freeway no longer able to accelerate. Thinking back, I am not sure how we made it to the mechanic, nor how we made it over the mountains to get back home. We brought it back to the dealership with the diagnostic list a mile long, and asked for (demanded?) a different vehicle. 

Orange is the new black

Welcome our new vehicle, an orange Jeep Patriot. It was a comfortable vehicle that was fun to drive on trips. We tended to over pack when we went on those trips, would stuff the back to the brim, and then outgrew it quickly. I also knew that we were going to have a third child at some point and would have a hard time fitting them all in the back bench seat. In 2015, the “opportunity” came to get another vehicle. 

One Summer morning as we were getting ready to leave the house, the Jeep would not start. We called a tow truck, who took it to a dealership. It turns out a pretty critical part that allowed the Jeep to function was under a national recall, and there was almost no way to replace it. Obviously we did not plan for this to happen, nor did we have savings at that time, and were once again in the position to find a different vehicle. 

A van, NOT a minivan!

As we were looking around the lot, I was gravitating toward the minivans. We had a family, of course we needed the space! But my husband did not want to become a minivan family, so we began looking deeper. He spotted a white van, which I thought looked like a European style mail delivery van. A Dodge Ram Promaster. I thought he was joking at first, but when we got inside, we began picturing ourselves in this vehicle. 

Not only could it fit five of us, the back of the van had a huge cargo space which would fit all of our camping gear, plus more! We were sold! Yet very upside down with this car loan. With all of the previous car trade ins and negative equity, we walked away with a loan much higher than the van was worth. 

Finally paid off!

Almost six years after purchasing the Promaster, which has been an amazing vehicle, my husband and I came together again to tackle our debts. Through some hard, but necessary financial lessons, we came to figure our way out. Or really, our way forward. We will spend 2021 getting rid of the things that are holding us back, so that we can do what we want – go on adventures!

Early March 2021, after several months of saving any extra money we could, we took a cashiers check and completely paid off our van! What an incredible feeling it was! 16 years of having a car payment, and finally free of that large monthly bill. I was only briefly let down when the bank teller said they do not have certificates to give. I was hoping for a certificate of completion, or something that said “Congratulations you paid off your loan!” But he told me that is not something they have available. Was I just being ridiculous hoping for that? I mean, this has been 16 years of our lives – a long time coming! This was big deal! Oh well. The receipt showing a $0.00 balance will have to do! We may even frame it. 

We are excited to start applying that money each month toward our next debt, with our hope of being debt free in 2022. Our first financial goal of 2021 is complete! 

The deep stuff that has made all the difference

One thing I have noticed in the many years we have been together, is that my husband and I may fight over the little things, but when we come together to tackle big problems and begin making solid plans, things tend to work out, really well. It is a little weird how everything begins to line up. It could be that planned goal we both work towards, that helps us make daily decisions which keep us on track.

One piece missing to this story, is the amazing sacrifice my husband has made over the years to help our family. Taking on what seemed like random jobs at times, and working rough hours so that we can throw money at our debts, and save money on daycare. He works at night and takes care of the kids during the day, helps them with homework, takes our daughter to story times and runs errands. Graveyard is a tough shift to work, exhaustion that even I do not fully understand, and yet he rarely complains. A quality I struggle with myself. I am looking forward to the day he no longer has to leave for work at night. When we are no longer strapped by our debts, what other opportunities and adventures might present themselves? We do not fully know yet, but are excited to find out!

16 years and 6.5 vehicles later, we are finally done with a car payment!!

Please, somebody turn my head away from that RV I saw – it is NOT a need! 😉 

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