How To Put Yourself On An Automotive Budget

When buying a car, it's important to keep to the price limit you set for yourself. DriverSide shows you how.
By Brian Alexander, Content Editor
It's easy to go overboard when buying a car. Add a few convenience and comfort options and a slick set of wheels and suddenly you find yourself outside your automotive budget, making way higher payments than you originally intended. Not a good place to be.

Understanding what you can and, most importantly, can't afford and sticking to a pre-planned budget is the best way to avoid financial disaster when it comes to buying a new vehicle.

The first step in setting up a budget is obvious; determine the absolute maximum you want to spend on a car. It sounds simple, yet you might be surprised how many people have difficulty accomplishing this task.

"People need to have a good understanding of what they can afford. Use your current payment as a base and decide whether you want to go up or down from there. You don't want to end up spending more than you can afford, and certainly no dealer wants to take back a car because you can't afford it," says John M. McDonald of General Motors Finance.

Most people fail to create an effective spending budget because they forget all of the factors that contribute to the purchase price of a car. Remember, a vehicle's price isn't simply its base price. After options, taxes and fees, a vehicle can end up well north of its base MSRP, so it is important to consider associated costs in your final budget, especially when you will be making payments based on the final purchase amount for the next several years.

Options alone can be dangerous. In fact, we've driven cars with upwards of $10,000 worth of extras. The best way to safeguard against buying options you don't need or can't afford is to familiarize yourself with the vehicle you want.

Decide what options you want and then choose which of these you can really afford. Familiarity with the options list will keep you from making an impulsive decision when bargaining time comes around.

"A lot of research can be done online. Manufacturers offer 'build your own vehicle' options on their websites so that you can ascertain the price of the exact car you want. You can even break down the financing to see what the monthly payments will be like," continues McDonald.

Insurance, while difficult to factor into the lump sum cost of the vehicle, needs to be taken into consideration as well. Get quotes for the car you plan on buying so at the very least you can factor this into the total monthly cost of the vehicle.

Once you've arrived at a price you are comfortable with paying every month for the next few years, go to a dealer and see what pricing is offered on the car of your choice.

Also, as it's your money, ask if there are any current incentive programs - sometimes dealers have short-term cash-back or other offers available. Most importantly, if the price you are given is outside of your budget, don't be afraid to say no. Cars get expensive really, really fast.

Buying a new car should be a fun experience and if the deal being offered doesn't work for you, look for one that does elsewhere.

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