How a Person With a Car-Related Financial Quandary Does Money

Elizabeth (not her real name) is a 30-year-old education professional in Philadelphia.

So, Elizabeth, I understand you have a specific money-related quandary?

Yes! I have a used car that I purchased back in 2013. My old car was a mess (it’s a theme) and it happened quickly. Fast forward to now, and this car is a mess! I took it into the shop in June before a trip and they discovered a lot of things wrong. I didn’t have the money at the time to deal with them, so since it was still safe to drive I pushed them off.

So now it’s October, and my inspection is due up, and all the problems are there, but my financial situation is such that it does not leave a lot of wiggle room for problems.

Since I am not a car owner, does this mean your car won’t pass inspection unless you pay for some repairs?

Yes, that’s exactly what it means. For example, my exhaust pipe leads out to two mufflers. At the spot where the exhaust pipe splits in two to feed into those mufflers, the metal was completely rusted through.



I will say, when I went to the auto shop in June, the guy was great. He literally took me under the car and showed me the problems and explained them, so it wasn’t your stereotypical “girl getting run roughshod over at the repair shop” experience.

That’s always good to hear!

So… what are you going to do? I assume that’s your quandary.

So the only major store of money I have is my retirement. I took a Financial Literacy class in college and the only thing I got out of it was the concept of compound interest on retirement. I started saving at 25, putting in up to my matches, and have what I think is a decent amount of money. But everything I read and hear from people I see as being way better at money than I am says you should never ever ever touch your retirement.

I’ve heard that. 😉

BUT. I live a 45 minute drive from work (on a good, traffic free morning), and while there are public transportation options available, the convenience factor of having the car is really important to me. The fact that I have to set my alarm an hour earlier in the morning to take public transportation is not anything I want to do.

So, basically, I am trying to decide if my mental happiness is worth the cost of car maintenance.

The other part of this, though, is what I mentioned earlier. The fact that my financial situation doesn’t have a ton of wiggle room. So even if I do this now, nothing changes the next time something comes up. So that got me thinking about all the debt I have in general.


So originally my plan was to look at the cost of the car repairs, look at the Kelley Blue Book value of selling my car, and depending on where those numbers shook out, make a choice regarding selling.

If repairs were more, sell and put that money back into the remaining balance of my car loan. If repairs were less, pull from retirement and fix.

I’ve pulled money from my Roth IRA before and survived. It is survivable!

I think that both of these plans are definitely options. Are there other options, e.g. “save more/spend less/hustle for more cash?”

Kind of but not really?

You did mention that you didn’t have a lot of wiggle room financially.

So in addition to my job, I have three additional duties that are stipended. I applied for an internal position that opened up that was in my department and would’ve been a title and pay increase, but didn’t make it past the first round. So I’ve been trying the hustle thing. Right now any additional penny I have was going to trying to pay off my credit card. I was paying more than the minimum, but also then putting myself in a spot where I couldn’t make it through the month without then turning back to it.

I’ve been there.

I got a $50 gift card to Amazon last month for something I did for work, and then used it to buy a case of pasta and detergent because it seemed wasteful to spend it on something fun. My job is salaried and requires various night and weekend work, so trying to add something like waiting tables or bartending would be difficult.

Got it.


Just to throw EVERY idea out there: are these repair costs something that would be manageable if you put them on a zero-interest credit card and paid a little every month for a year?

So I actually took my car in on Monday and got the estimate back from them, which was about $3,000. But again, adding that to debt from my credit card, even if it’s not on my credit card, would probably be too much to add.

Cool. A former presidential candidate once suggested getting a small loan from your parents. Is that worth pursuing? (Since we’re throwing out ALL THE OPTIONS here.)

I try and avoid doing that. They actually just sold a small cabin we have, but all the funds from that are earmarked for home repairs and prep for their own retirement. They are often very strapped themselves (I guess you learn money from your parents, or something????) so I want to be able to figure this out on my own. They’re actually currently on my phone bill. My mom paid me forward for the year on that, but see all things above re: financial situation.


It does seem like you’ve come up with the two best options, which is a testament to people really knowing what is best (or at least realistic) for them financially despite any so-called “expert advice.”

It’s nice to feel like I know something regarding money, haha.

So… should we turn this over to the Billfold commenters?

That is fine with me! I can’t guarantee I will follow their advice, unless it’s what I want to hear, in which case, great advice!

I’m not sure there’s much left to suggest, although maybe someone will tell you to ride the bus and another person will ask if you’ve considered carpooling.

But I look forward to reading everyone’s thoughts, and I hope you make a decision that you’re happy with, even though it’s going to cost you regardless.

Yeah. That’s what is ultimately the hardest thing about this, for me. The fact that there is another option, and I feel selfish about not wanting to do the thing that will save me money.

Well, you lose two hours of your day that way, right? Turning your commute from 45 minutes to 1 hr 45 minutes each way? And that’s just to get to work. You’re also getting to grocery stores, etc.



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