New Car, One Vanilla and a Ton of Food

Hello there.

My mind and my life has been a fast-moving whirlwind on my five days off, this being the fifth and final day of Thanksgiving break for Yours Truly.

It started off nice enough, with a relatively relaxing day on Wednesday after picking our son up from his college Tuesday night.  I took my thirteenth vacation day of the year on Wednesday.

Since that time, we have had two enjoyable family gatherings with my mother, siblings, children, nieces, nephews, aunt, uncle and cousin, have done a gift exchange, spent hundreds on food, hundreds more on a OneVanilla card, and then thousands yesterday.

Funny, when our checking account nearly hit the $12,000 mark last Wednesday, my original post was going to be on how despite all the months spending and investing more than we took into that account, we were basically down “only” $5,000 from early January, where we nearly touched the $17,000 mark.  Not bad, considering that I just sent over $3,000 to my wife’s credit card after nearly $2,000 the previous month, paying for things like an upcoming Disney World trip and a new air conditioning unit.

My ready-made list of excuses was going to center around the fact that I have sent $400 on the first of every month, plus an additional $200, to our daughter’s Illinois Bright Start 529 account, for a total of $4,600, with one more payment to be made this year next Friday (December 1st), and $250 per paycheck to either my wife’s or my Roth IRA accounts, raised to $300 upon my receiving a raise this past May.  I have not calculated it, but we have sent nearly $7,000 to our retirement accounts.

I have no intention of ceasing contributions to our daughter’s college savings account, nor do I intend to stop Paying Ourselves First every payday.  However, I want to point out that we would have earned more than we have spent this year if you did not count my investing.  I know that many families in similar situations to ours do not invest, for whatever reason.  I suspect that many find it more important to own the latest iPhones, go on great vacations and drive great cars.

Speaking of a great car…

My 1998 Subaru finally bit the big one.  Without every detail, the short of it is that it died yesterday with a rattling engine noise that could be heard for blocks.  I was happily driving my sweet baby to a nearby lake where I love to walk her on nice days.  The engine suddenly made the worst noises that I have heard on a car and began sputtering horribly.  I’m no car guy, but I knew that it was not good.

I realize that the guys at Jiffy Lube are not the top mechanics, but I was hoping that it was just a belt that gave out.  They had warned me at the last oil change last month that both belts were ready to give out and that there were two major leaks and one minor one.

“Thanks for the information,” I told the guy.  “Just change my oil.”

I have been saying that for years instead of spending the hundreds that they would like me to every time I bring a car in.

The same guys took one look yesterday, showed me all the problems that they saw with a flashlight, and truthfully told me that this is beyond their capabilities and that I should bring the car to my mechanic.

I realized, of course, that my mechanic could keep the trusty rusty old Subaru going for a few more months for a few hundred dollars, but I had had enough.  I did not pay a dime for that car, my mother having given it to us a few years ago for our son to drive, but I have made up for that with about two grand worth of repairs.

Our 2018 Outback

The short of it is that I decided to replace our 1998 Subaru Outback with the 2018 version of the same car.  I stroked a check for $3,166, which is $2,900 plus the first monthly payment of $266.  Thirty-five payments to go.

One positive is that Subaru makes a $250 donation to charity for every purchase and lease of a new vehicle this month and next, and I selected a great one, the Make a Wish Foundation, for mine.

Us Subaru buyers have something of an ethos.  I do not wish to describe it here, but like many brands, those of us who love Subarus would rather have one than nearly any other type of car.  I would love to own and drive a Porsche, but if I had one, I would still mostly drive a Subaru.

It took me five painful hours from the time that I pulled the old van up to the local Subaru dealership, less than two miles from our home, to the time that I drove it home.

I have purchased and leased cars before, but it never took this long.  As a matter of fact, our new Subaru was the fifth car that I negotiated for.  The first one was a great and reliable Nissan Sentra that I bought used for about $10,000 in the early nineties.  I had my own car, given to me by my parents, prior to that, but that was the first car that I bought.

The second was a slightly used Subaru Forester that I bought a few years after our son was born.  I think it was around 2000 and I recall it being in the $16,000 range.  A few years after our daughter was born, I leased our current Chrysler Town & Country touring edition minivan in 2006 for a period of three years.  I purchased it off of the lease, which has since proven to be a mistake, but one that I fess up to.  I paid it off after another four years or so, and that was the last car payment that I made about four years ago.

Because of my former love of Nissans because of the first one that I owned and drove forever with almost no problems, I bought a used 2001 Maxima with over 60,000 miles for about $6,000 in cash about five years ago.  It ran well for about a year before it became nothing but trouble.  I could list out all the problems, but you will have to take my word for it.  I must have spent another $4,000 in repairs over the five or so years that I owned it and only drove it about 35,000 miles.  It never even made 100,000 miles before I donated it to the American Cancer Society this past July.

So yesterday around 1:00 p.m., I made my way over to the local Subaru dealership.  I was loaded for bear and assumed that salesmen would descend upon me like sharks sniffing blood.

Imagine my surprise when I walked the lot for at least a half hour and not one salesperson approached me.  As a matter of fact, the few salesmen that I saw were all showing other customers cars.

When I made my way over to the showroom, I was once again ready to fend off the sharks.  All previous times that I have gone car shopping, that had been my experience.

Again, nobody even bothered to say hello.  There were about eight salesmen and one saleswoman, and all of them were sitting at desks doing paperwork with customers.  My God, I thought.  These Subarus must sell themselves.  All nine salespeople were writing up contracts.

I spent about ten minutes poking around a brand new, black 2018 Outback in the showroom.  I wanted it, but the sticker price was about $29,000.  I am not stupid and know that $29K is probably the median price of a car these days.  I know guys who spend two to three times that amount for new Mercedes, Bimmers, Honda Pilots, Lincoln Navigators and the like.

My mother, brother and sister all drive Toyota Prius’s in addition to their family cars.  My brother’s family car is a decked out Honda Odyssey.  My sister’s is a Honda Pilot.

After five hours at the dealership, I drove that very showroom model with 18 miles on it home.

This is not a minute-by-minute summary, but below is how you spend five hours leasing a new Subaru Outback:

Hour One: poking around the lot, seeking out a salesman

Hour Two: traveling to a remote lot where the car I wanted to test was parked and going on a test drive

Hour Three: haggling back and forth about money until an agreement was struck

Hour Four: going over the user guide for the vehicle while they prepped the car, stripped the stickers off, washed it, filled it with gas, etc.

Hour Five: a painful hour spent with the finance guy going over payment information and contacting State Farm to transfer the insurance on my 1998 Outback to our 2018 Outback

Three things about the sales manager that helped him close the deal, although all three were attributable to his many years of doing this.  The guy is in his mid-forties, like I was until last week, and he had a weariness about him that I could relate to.

One, when I sent him back to “crunch the numbers” and “do a little better,” he returned and quoted one of my favorite lines from one of my top five movies and said that he was going to make me an offer that I could not refuse.  Even though I recognize that he probably says that twenty times per day, I still told him that I appreciated him quoting the Godfather.

Second, when he came back before sealing the deal, seeing my Bears hat (I never did get chance to shower and wash my hair prior to going), he told me that it was time for me to punt or go for it.  Being the kind of guy who likes to use sports metaphors, myself, I appreciated that reference.  I suspect that he sensed my need to get a car yesterday, so of course I elected to go for it rather than punt.

Third, he mentioned something about making a trip to Einstein’s Bagels.  Now, I am a Jewish guy but it is not readily apparent.  I actually found the reference slightly insulting, not knowing if that was a remark about my religion, my appearance or whatever.  He looked slightly Jewish himself, but I did not catch his last name until later.  Even though I have reached a prime age, I cannot always tell, myself, by someone’s last name if it is not something like Goldberg or Weinstein.  I have never been done a solid by another Jewish person who was not a relative before, so I was wondering if he was trying to insinuate that he was doing me a solid by knocking the sales price down from twenty-nine grand to twenty-seven and some change so that I could afford the lease.

Speaking of affording it, I was forced to apply for credit through Subaru Finance, which is of course through JP Morgan Chase Bank.  I shared my social security number, which I am loathe to do, but I do not think that you can avoid it when applying for automotive credit.   Curse it that I am not wealthy enough to stroke a check for the car!  Technically I could, but that would leave us dangerously low on savings.  So low that although we would own a nice new car, we would be in danger of falling way out of the middle class in just months should I lose my job.

So writing that I make $9,000 per month and pay “only” $800 per month on our mortgage, plus my credit score is over 800, makes me look great on paper financially.  I do not suppose that they want the information that I pay $2,500 per month to a college, spend half that amount on groceries every month and also spend over $500 per month dining out.  I will admit here and now that the amount spent dining out this November is more like $1,000, including over two hundred for one dinner out a few weeks ago at Bonefish Grill.

A few months ago, I came to realize that my wife and I are not exactly frugal.  Even though I have saved a prolific amount for our children’s college accounts considering how much I have earned over the years, we are not exactly frugal these days.  We have spent first of late and looked at the statements later.

Speaking of overspending, my wife and son are going on a trip to Disney World next month.  At first, only my wife was going to go so she could be nearby and keep an eye out for our daughter, who is going on a week-long trip with her marching band to the Sunshine State.

Our son had a rough freshman year of college and a rough summer as well, so we thought that he could use a trip out of the area this winter, especially somewhere warm.  He is doing well these days, but that is how it came to pass that he will also be spending four days at Disney World with his mother during the most expensive week of the year to go there, from Christmas to New Year’s.  Their little joint to the Happiest Place on Earth will be costing Yours Truly about  three grand altogether.

The bright spot is that I have four days on my own where I can eat whatever I want, watch whatever I want on TV, and do not even have to wear pants if I do not feel like wearing them.  Well, after work that is.

So I began yesterday by purchasing a OneVanilla prepaid card for our daughter at Walgreens.  I was originally going to put $200 on it, but made it $220 because I wanted her to test out using it a bit before she embarked on the trip.  She was going shopping with one of her friends yesterday, and I urged her to use it for her lunch.

I put $220 on a OneVanilla card for our daughter yesterday.

Her lunch ended up being a BOGO deal at Subway, so she and her friend each chipped in a few dollars for lunch.  No need to charge it, but I wanted her to make her first purchase with plastic anyway.  Incidentally, I will give her at least a hundred in cash, too, so I will be sending her on her week-long trip with a majority of her meals already covered with about $300.  We already paid nearly two grand for her to go on the trip, and she will be going again with the poms team in February.

So there I was earlier yesterday morning thinking that the $226 purchase would be the focal point of the weekend’s spending, after the same amount on groceries to get us through (ironically, I did buy Jewish food of bagels and smoked salmon this weekend) and the $300 that I Paid Myself First on Wednesday.

The almost-$12,000 that was in our account four short days ago is down over $4,000 already, with a similar amount going out of the account again in the next ten days.

As the old saying goes, Easy Come, Easy Go, although the money does not really come easily for us.

Speaking of making money, our family’s Thanksgiving gathering is held at my wealthy aunt and uncle’s home.  The uncle that I am closest to is retired from his job as a finance executive for a software firm and now teaches two accounting classes at a local community college “for fun.”  He is also a proficient guitarist and jams regularly with some other retired executive types.

Part of the Thanksgiving feast at my aunt and uncle’s house.

By the way, my uncle bought a 2017 Subaru Outback for my aunt last year, and she loves it.

My brother is doing well financially, having recently settled a small class action suit for a bigger payoff than I make in a year.  He has a bigger class action that he recently filed and was sought out for after the client read about the first settlement.  He also purchased a new house last week, but that is a story for some other time.  I regret that we did not have a chance to visit him at the mansion that he rented for the past year-and-a-half, but I am basically a working stiff and have not taken much time off since then.

A home in my sister’s Uptown New Orleans neighborhood.

Our sister travels extensively and is doing very well.  She and her husband purchased a lovely house in the Uptown neighborhood of New Orleans a year after Katrina.  We all thought they were crazy at the time, but they both moved there to help build up the charter school system that has grown immensely since that time.  The house that they purchased for under $300,000 has recently appraised at over twice that amount.

Although gentrification can be a dirty word and is not always embraced, especially in NOLA, people have been purchasing homes in their neighborhood, even right on their block, for over $500,000 and some go for over $600,000.  Their block is lined with Mercedes, Bimmers, Land Rovers and the like.  With their Prius and Pilot, my sister and her husband probably have the most humble cars in their neighborhood.

My brother-in-law recently landed a new position as an educational software consultant and is doing so well that he, too, will soon be joining the millionaire club.  I say good for him, good for my sister and good for their two daughters.  He is a hard working and industrious person who recently obtained his MBA from Tulane in addition to his master’s in education and BA from Northwestern, where he and my sister met.  He is a prime example of someone who worked himself up from a decidedly working class Louisiana family to a successful man through the pursuit of higher education.

Three last things to share for today:

  1. I had started off writing a ton for NaNoWriMo, using the organization to help me put together a 50,000 word book based upon this blog.  I started off with a bang, slowed down and have stalled at about 38,000 words for the past week.  Including today, there are only five days left in the month.  I think that I will get to the 50,000 words, mostly just by coping and pasting blog posts related to New Year’s resolutions, but even that seems too onerous to me now.  I have lost steam for sure, but I will try to make that number even though all the words will not be as great as I would want them to be.
  2. My wife is going to make a quasi-Thanksgiving dinner for us tonight including a turkey breast that she is about to get into the oven.  We are going to have cranberries, stuffing and I will make some veggies.  Tonight will conclude our five days of non-stop eating and then one of us will return our son to his college tonight in the new Subaru.
  3. I acknowledge that the Bears and Bulls both suck.  Because our family will not be together at Hanukkah this year, we did a gift exchange among the seven cousins at a family party on Black Friday.  Some family friends who recently celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary were there, and they always come bearing gifts for children when we invite them to family gatherings.  They gave my son some Bears socks, not realizing that he does not give a crap about the Bears, the Bulls or the Cubs.  Thus, I am now the proud owner of some Bears socks, which I will be putting on shortly to watch them get crushed by the Eagles.  I am predicting a seventeen point loss.  The Bulls are also scheduled to lose this afternoon, to the Heat.  They lost by nearly fifty points a few nights ago and I subjected myself to watching much of the game.  There’s not much more to say about the Bulls than that.

Thanks for reading and enjoy the last week of November!




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