Our Frugal Solution To The All-Wheel Drive Conundrum
I knew this day would come, though I dreaded it for years. Because we’ve been together a long time. We’ve charted many an adventure together. And now, our chapter has come to a close. I’m speaking, of course, about my beloved Frugalwoods-mobile, the 1996 Honda Odyssey minivan that Mr. Frugalwoods and I proudly drove.
It’s the car we brought Babywoods home from the hospital in and the vehicle that transported Frugal Hound into our lives. It’s the van that carted many a great trash find from the streets of Cambridge. And it’s the auto that, tragically, cannot survive life in Vermont.
Not Dead Yet
I’m thrilled to report that Frugalwoods-mobile is still alive and kicking–just with a new family. We sold our dear minivan for $1,000 on Craigslist and, I’ll be honest, I nearly shed a tear as they drove her away. But it was a deed that had to be done.
Our new life on the homestead will be decidedly more car-reliant than our erstwhile city existence and, we needed some all-wheel drive. Though Frugalwoods-mobile had many merits to her name, the dexterity to surmount deep snow and mud were not among them.
And as I’ve shared, our Vermont driveway is quite long, steep, and decidedly made of gravel. Although we successfully drove Frugalwoods-mobile on our driveway during the temperate, dry autumn, she wasn’t able to make the climb in snow and ice (even with snow tires on… ).
Thus, shortly after purchasing our homestead, we began our quest for a new-to-us car. Longtime readers know we’ve been researching potential FW-mobile replacements for years. True to our ethos on all things, we research thoroughly and then, when the moment is right, we strike!
Through our criteria of dependability, longevity, and effective gas mileage, we winnowed the automotive pool down to three options: the Toyota Prius, the Subaru Outback, and the Honda Fit. While the Fit would make a divine little city car, we decided it’s not entirely ideal for the rugged winters of Vermont. The Subaru, on the other hand, lives for winter. In fact, its been called the unofficial state car of Vermont with good reason. And the Prius provides the perfect counterbalance with unparalleled miles-per-gallon to its name.
A Two Car Family! Oh My! OH MY!
An interesting tenet of our new rural life is the fact that we must become a two-car family. Here in the city, it was easy to share one car since Mr. FW biked to work everyday and we had ample public transit–as well as walking–options.
On our homestead, however, two cars are mandatory primarily because Mr. FW will be driving back to Boston for work occasionally and doesn’t want to leave me and Babywoods stranded with no means of transport (from both a safety and a logistics perspective). It’s also true that when our car broke down here in the city, it wasn’t a problem to kick it carless for awhile. Out in the woods however? Not so much of an option.
We always knew we’d need to scale up to two vehicles once our homestead dream came to fruition and we waited as long as possible to make this transition. No reason to own two cars in the city for any longer than necessary!
Mr. FW and I have experienced the full gamut of car ownership over the years. We lived in the city for a number of years with no car at all–something that’s totally doable! We then scaled up to one car, principally for the luxury of driving to the mountains to hike whenever we wanted. And now, we’ve entered the stage–and circumstance–of life where two vehicles are necessary. By carefully calibrating our car ownership to our actual needs and wants, we’ve been able to shore up our savings over the years. We waited until we truly needed more vehicular capability before throwing down the cash.
Frugality = Paying Cash For Cars
In a fabulous testament to frugality, we purchased both of our new-to-us cars in cash and within just a few months of each other. The ability to swing purchases these large without incurring debt or taking on financing is an awesome benefit of living the frugal life. Sure, we might not have Netflix or eat at restaurants or pay to get our hair cut, but the trade-off is well worth it to us.
Avoiding auto-related financing is an example of how frugality is a compounding game. By not having a monthly car payment, Mr. FW and I are able to save at a higher percentage, which enables us to not have a monthly car payment, which enables us to save… you see where I’m going with this. Essentially, when you’re not beholden to creditors, or mired in debt, your money is your own and you can spend it in service of what you need.
Since it’s impossible to foresee exactly what it is that we’re saving for in any given month, Mr. FW and I operate on the principle of frugal autopilot. In other words, we only spend on things we absolutely must. By avoiding short-term conveniences and ‘road-bump opiates,’ we have the financial footing to do things like buy a homestead and two cars in the span of a few months.
Mr. FW and I don’t segregate our savings for purchases such as our cars; rather, we save all of our funds in the same account, some of which is liquid and most of which is invested in low-fee index funds. If you’re interested in reading more about our money management philosophies, you can check out this post, this one, and also this one here. In a nutshell, save more than you think you need and reap the rewards later.
Introducing The New Frugalwoods Fleet
New-to-us car #1 is a 2010 Subaru Outback station wagon, which we purchased for $12,000. Clocking in at just under 100K miles, this beaut of an all-wheel drive beast is rugged enough to scale even the most precarious of icy or muddy rural roads (at least, so far so good… ). Since greyhounds “roo” in lieu of barking, and since our greyhound rides in our Subaru, it’s only fitting that this car be anointed “RooBaRoo”!
The cargo capacity is robust–see Frugal Hound’s demo below-which is key since we’re constantly toting something somewhere (couches, chainsaws, baby strollers… ). Plus, Frugal Hound and Babywoods comfortably fit in the backseat together (we’ve only had a few incidences of someone’s tail going into someone else’s mouth… ahem). Win!
Furthermore, the gas mileage is quite decent (22 MPG in the city and 29 on the highway), which is important to us from both an environmental and a personal expense perspective. If we were staying in the city, I don’t think we would’ve gotten such a big car, but being in the country, this’ll be ideal.
We considered getting a truck (we scouted the Toyota Tacoma and the Toyota Tundra), but those are massive vehicles–much more expensive; much worse gas mileage; much less passenger space–and we decided to hold off for now. If after several years of homestead life we discover we truly need a truck, we’ll sell the Subaru and truck-it-up.
Quick Sidenote About The Windshield
In fine Frugalwoods fashion–and continuing on with the theme of Revenge Of The Appliances (our oven, plumbing, closet door, fridge, toilet, and myriad other things all decided to break in the first quarter of 2016)–the Subaru’s windshield was dealt a fatal blow from a rock on the interstate and necessitated replacement.
We investigated having it repaired, but the crack was too gigantic for a mere repair. Here again, frugality for the win! Although it’s not exactly enjoyable to pay $265 to replace a windshield, it sure beats the alternative of not having that cash to expend.
Sidenote within the sidenote: it would’ve cost nearly double that amount had we gone with a large, national chain of glass repairers. Instead, we asked our trusted local mechanic who directed us to a local guy who works for himself and thus charges half the price. The bonus is that we got to support the little guy (specifically his two kids who are currently in college–I can’t help but chat up everyone about their finances!) and get a great windshield in the process.
The Snowdrop (name pending)!
Since the Subaru fulfills our requirements for rugged road traversing, we wanted our second car to more nearly meet our needs for distance driving. Hence, the gas sipping hybrid Toyota Prius was our top pick. New-to-us car #2 is a 2010 Toyota Prius, purchased for $9,000. Also clocking in at just under 100K miles, this dainty machine will serve us well on lengthy treks.
The morning Mr. FW and I set out to select our Prius, we uttered these exact words to each other: “any color but white!” For some reason, we’re both averse to white cars. They’re just so… bright. And it appears that the merest of mud puddles would mar their pristine visage. We’re not into high-maintenance anything and a white car seems like it would require more coddling than say, a silver car.
So, want to guess what color our Prius is? Yep, it’s bright, light, shining white. Want to wager a guess as to why? Oh, I bet you know why. It was several thousand dollars cheaper than every single other color on the lot. Indeed, our favorite color is cheap. We hesitated for about 2 minutes on the color, then looked at each other and said, “of course we’re going to get the cheaper car!!”
The used Prius dealer confirmed that white is the least popular color here in the Northeast and that they always have a hard time selling white cars. Hence, the dramatically lower price and the happy Frugalwoods fam. Color is so incredibly irrelevant in the scheme of car selection. In fact, it’s the least relevant factor. Plus, you can’t even see the color when you’re driving!
Our plan is to drive the Prius the vast majority of the time and utilize the Subaru as a second vehicle when we require its AWD or cargo capabilities. Since we’ll be driving significantly more in Vermont, we hope to offset both our carbon footprint, and our personal gasoline expenses, by driving a highly efficient hybrid Prius (gas mileage is a whopping 51 in the city and 48 on the highway).
Full disclosure: we’re having a hard time naming the Prius, so I’d say Snowdrop is a working title. Other possible names: Winter Wonderland, White Lightening, I’m Invisible In A Blizzard, Snow White, Frugal Two, and Car McCar Face (boat fanatics everywhere will appreciate this reference). Suggestions welcome!
Why Buy Used?
Why not buy used? While I vow not to judge your spending–because we all have different priorities and goals–I will say that buying a brand new car is possibly one of the worst financial decisions out there. A car loses value the second it is driven off the lot.
And each year that elapses? That car’s value plummets and plummets. A used car, on the other hand, has already shed all of it shiny-newness surcharges. Enter the savvy consumer! As a frame of reference, brand new in 2010 our Subaru retailed for $26,790 and our Prius for $23,800. That means we realized a 55% discount on the Subaru and a 62% discount on the Prius. The initial depreciation curve on cars is terrifically steep.
Based on our research, 2010 seemed to be the right point on the depreciation curve. For the Prius, this year was particularly crucial because 2010 is when Toyota redesigned the Prius and endowed it with a system that makes it more efficient in cold weather than older iterations of the car.
We tracked the used Subaru and Prius markets for months beforehand (easy to do thanks to our friend the internet) and thus, knew the going rates for the models, years, and mileage of our chosen vehicles. When we were ready to actually purchase our cars, we were able to identify deals in the Boston market–both RooBaRoo and Snowdrop slid in under market rate.
Frugal weirdos everywhere know the secret to car ownership: don’t imbue your car with emotions or expect it to serve you in any way other than as a means of transportation. When we start to view our cars as status symbols, indicators of our happiness, or when we expect a car to magically make us “cool,” we’re in trouble. Cars are not intended to serve as stand-ins for human relationships or emotions. And when we try to force them to, we pay handsomely.