What Having One Car Can Teach You About Money

One of the biggest decisions our family made when we decided to get out of debt was to sell our second car. There were a lot of factors that went in to this decision (the car needed major repairs and we needed immediate cash, among other things), so ultimately we found ourselves living with one car. This has been an interesting situation for our family, and has caused a lot of discussion among my friends.

Having only one car is an anomaly in our culture. We’re busy people, and all of our activities are further than a bike-ride away, so for most families it just doesn’t make sense. To be honest, it doesn’t really make sense for our family either. That’s why this is definitely not a long-term solution for our family. We have five kids, four of whom are old enough to be involved in sports and other activities, so we are often running a tight schedule even with two cars.

There were a lot of reasons not to sell the car, but we are really glad we did. In fact, we recently had the opportunity to purchase a used car for a very reasonable price – and had the cash on hand to do it – but we chose not to. Here are some of our reasons.

We’re Gaining Momentum
The main reason we didn’t want to spend the cash is we have paid off several major credit cards in the last two months. There’s a lot of debate over the best way to pay of debts – smallest to largest, highest interest rate to lowest, even complicated formulas like the one mentioned here. Whatever method you choose, the idea is that you gain momentum by building on your previous successes. We wanted to continue paying off the debt and knew that buying another car right now would divert money from that.

Other Expenses
Even if we could get a cheap car, we would have to put fuel in it, pay for oil changes, maintain it. Rarely do you buy something that requires only the initial expense. (If you buy an iPad, you want to buy apps for it. If you get a pet, you have to buy food. If you buy a car, you have to maintain it.) This is closely related to the momentum point – it would take more money away from our debt. Narrowing our focus to just getting out of debt (more about this in a minute) has been one of the most helpful things we could do.

It’s Uncomfortable
You’d think this would be a reason to buy the car, not a reason against it. But right now, every single time I have to take my husband to work, I’m reminded of how uncomfortable it is to be in debt. When we have to get a ride from a friend, or interrupt a work day to drop someone off, or one of us has to wait for the other one to come pick us up, we remember why we’re in this mess and how badly we don’t want to be here anymore. It’s definitely a good motivator.

Think about a laser. According to HowStuffWorks.com, the light in a laser is “…very directional. A laser light has a very tight beam and is very strong and concentrated. A flashlight, on the other hand, releases light in many directions, and the light is very weak and diffuse.” The more you narrow your focus, the more intense your concentration on that area will be. Sure, we COULD buy a new car, maintain it, pay for gas, and all the other things that go along with it, but we would be spreading our focus more thinly. Is there anything wrong with that? Of course not. But for this season of our family’s life, we’re focusing on paying off debt. In order to make this season as SHORT AS POSSIBLE, I want to maintain a very intense, direct focus on getting that accomplished before we start splitting our focus onto other things. (That’s another reason we’re waiting until summer to buy a dog…even though my kids are, well…”hounding” me about it.) (Pun VERY intended.)

So those are a few reasons we’re waiting to buy a new car, and a few of the lessons we’re learning along the way. Remember, these are only the FINANCIAL lessons we’re learning. There’s not enough room in the blogosphere to list all of the other lessons we’re learning. Cooperation, organization, and patience are just a FEW of those. Sometimes, even though the journey isn’t fun, it’s building character in a way that the easy road never could.

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