Living the Dream, Driving a Beater


Living the Dream, Driving a Beater | Duluth Moms Blog

Oh, the excitement of buying a brand new car! The confidence of knowing no one else has used (or abused) it. The comfort of experiencing how CLEAN it is, and what is it about that new car smell?

But despite all the feels that come with buying a new car, I think it’s nothing compared to the long-term satisfaction of getting a sturdy used car for a fair price and driving the blasted thing until the wheels fall off. 

I happen to know a thing or two about this topic. Our Toyota Prius, 11 years old with 192,000 miles, is still considered my “new” car. Not that it looks new, mind you. But I guess my mindset is easy to understand given our next newest car, a 2003 Ford Explorer, has 230,000 miles on it. The 1993 Chevy truck is practically a youngster at 134,000 miles. 

I guess it’s safe to say that none of our vehicles scream “status symbol”. That is perfectly fine with me.

Back when my husband and I were talking about getting married, we agreed that we wanted our lives to be on a “cash-only” basis. Not that we wouldn’t use credit cards but that we would only spend money that we currently had – not money that we might have someday. If we had a credit card balance, it would be paid by the due date and the only debt we would carry would be our mortgage.

Nearly 10 years later, this is exactly what has happened (save for a few medical bills along the way). I suppose we don’t have everything we want, we certainly have everything we need. We’re also able to cover unexpected expenses as they arise.

How have we done it? 

Well, mostly through developing a certain mindset about money. A mindset that carefully considers purchases before they are made. Regular communication about where we are at this month. Making all financial decisions in accordance with our values and practicing other thrifty tricks I have previously written about. But nothing has helped us reach our financial goals more than keeping our cars for the long haul.

Even before I was married, I drove way more than my fair share of beaters. (My Ford Futura aka “The Car of the Future” comes to mind. That hole in the floor gave me a great view of the road whizzing by beneath my feet!).

So, you’re probably thinking “Right, good idea in theory but how do you work this out so you aren’t constantly saddled with car repairs?” 

Good question! Here are my top tips so you, too, can live the dream while driving a beater:

Start out by purchasing the newest, most reliable vehicle you can afford.

I bought the Prius when I could afford a new car and have never regretted it. That car has never failed me and though it now has reached beater status, I have only needed to replace a few worn parts over the years. We are definitely going to be keeping this vehicle until it croaks.

How do you know which are the best, most reliable used vehicles to consider? Arm yourself with the latest copy of Consumer Reports Used Car Buying Guide. This guide has reliability ratings for many vehicle makes and models.

Follow the maintenance schedule for your vehicle.

No exceptions. 

Don’t sweat repairs.

We paid $5000 for our Explorer back in 2012. Though this vehicle has required quite a few repairs, the total cost has nowhere near approached the cost of buying a brand new SUV.

Always have a mechanic look over a vehicle before you purchase it…

and be willing to walk away if there are too many red flags or if the owner refuses to make repairs.

This saved us thousands in repair costs for the Explorer. However, we didn’t follow this advice with our Chevy truck, which broke down on the way home from buying it and is currently awaiting a new transmission. I guess it’s not that big of a deal, since we only paid $500 for it!

Living the Dream, Driving a Beater | Duluth Moms Blog

Change any fluids that need changing as soon as you purchase the vehicle.

Safety is job #1. When your mechanic says the car is no longer safe to drive, believe it. Get it fixed or replaced.

Still not convinced? Here are some other great money-saving reasons to buy a used car:

  1. Vehicle registration fees and insurance costs are less with older vehicles.
  2. If you can afford to replace your vehicle in the event it gets totaled, consult with your insurance agent about cancelling your collision and comprehensive insurance. You can put the money you were spending on this insurance into your vehicle repair/replacement account. You have one, right?
  3. You’ll save a lot of time and money not worrying about keeping an older vehicle sparkling clean and polished.
  4. You no longer need to fear runaway grocery carts or inattentive car door openers.
  5. If you have a minor incident where you say, lose control of your vehicle at an icy intersection and knock over a stop sign, and said stop sign breaks your bug visor and dents your hood, no biggie. Not that I would know anything about this. Nope. Not a thing.

So, there you have it! There is simply no other way to get a greater bang for your buck than steering away from new cars and driving beaters.

Keep living the dream, friends.

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Sarah VanderMeiden
A native of St. Paul, Minnesota, Sarah is a dyed-in-her-wool-socks Minnesotan whose life-long love of woods and water drew her to move to Duluth 23 years ago this November. An avid hiker, she loves to explore all locales on Lake Superior’s shore, snowshoe frozen North Shore rivers and go for walks in Duluth’s Lester Park. Working in Higher Education for over 20 years, Sarah’s greatest joy was to talk with students about how to navigate the challenges of college, what they wanted to do with their lives and how to make their dreams come true. After stepping out of this career to be a stay-at-home-mom, Sarah has returned to her passion of helping people achieve their personal and professional goals as a Board Certified Coach. To find out more about coaching and her background, visit or find her on Facebook at Sarah VanderMeiden Coaching . Sarah’s family lives in the country and share their five acres with a small flock of laying hens, deer, wild turkey, way too many mice and 10,000 honeybees. Sarah has given up gardening and keeping her house clean to pursue her many interests including enjoying the lake, singing, photography and spending time with her family camping in their vintage travel trailer or tickling each other on the couch.