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Do you know the three biggest expenses most families have?

It's housing, food, and transportation. Or at least for most of America, cars.

Yep, cars. Right now the average car payments for a new one is around $530 and $381 for used cars.

If both of you have car loans, that's an even bigger chunk out of your monthly budget.

What's even more frustrating is that your cars depreciate in value. I can't tell you how many people have told me they're upside down on their car loan.

Buying reliable used cars is the financially savvy thing to do, but many couples hold back because they're worried about getting hit with huge car expenses.

I understand, but if you look at total costs, you can really win with used cars. (If you're looking for some help on buying a reliable used car, here are my best tips.)

After paying our car loan off early, we've gone this route and have been extremely happy.

We now buy our cars outright and so far they have been really reliable and affordable!

Keeping Your Cars Affordable

For couples looking at paying down debt, investing more for their future, or saving up for a paid for vacation, it can be incredibly frustrating to see huge expenses come up with their cars.

So, the good news first – many big car expenses aren't emergencies per se.

Bad news, they're scheduled repairs that weren't budgeted for (or done on time and snowballed into something bigger).

Better good news (is that a phrase?!) is that means you can lower your overall car expenses in many cases.


By making sure you budget and schedule the needed maintenance for your cars.

What Your Car Needs to Last for Years

Are your cars keeping you broke? Learn how you can save money on your cars without getting a car loan! #family #money #debtfree

While you can definitely minimize many big repairs, you still have to spend money to keep your car running, especially if you plan on driving it for many years.

Besides oil changes and tune ups, here are other common car maintenance care services you'll probably need as a car owner at some point:

  • Rotate and balance wheels and tires
  • Replace windshield wiper insert(s)
  • Replace air conditioning filter
  • Inspect A/C and heater operation
  • Replace oil drain plug, gasket
  • Inspect shocks and struts
  • Inspect and adjust drive belts

Some of best resources besides your car's owner's manual are those Haynes manuals for cars as well as forums for your particular model.

My husband and I have saved a ton of time and got some estimates for possible car issues by searching through threads.

Becoming more familiar with your car, including those quirks, will give you a leg up when talking with your mechanic.

By the way, a good mechanic will walk you through what they did and why you did.

Putting Your Cars In Your Budget

Are your cars keeping you broke? Learn how you can save money on your cars without getting a car loan! #family #money #debtfree

To show you how to plan ahead for your next appointment and keep your budget in tact, I'll use the example of having your timing belt replaced.

For some vehicles timing belts are replaced around 90,000 miles.

When I checked repair shops in my area a few years ago, I had found estimates of $550-$650 for everything.

Knowing that, we saved up for it beforehand. It was a relatively small amount on a monthly level ($55), but when I needed to schedule it, the money was already there.

No huge hit to the budget and my car continued running for years.

Thoughts on Keeping a Car Budget

That's how we handle our car expenses. I'd love to hear from you about your take.

How have you been doing with staying on budget with your cars? How much do you two spend on your cars each year?

This episode was originally released in May 2013. It's been updated January 2019.

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my full disclosure for more info.

About Elle Martinez

Elle Martinez helps families at Couple Money achieve financial freedom by sharing tips for reducing debt, increase income, and building net worth. Learn how to live on one income and have fun with the second..

5 comments add your comment

  1. Well, my car budget is high, but that is because it is also my hobby. I have a project vehicle that consumes most of my budget. If you spend the money, you will most likely be rewarded with a long lasting vehicle.

    • How did you get into cars as a hobby Grayson? Are you mechanic by trade or have you’ve been working with cars as strictly a hobby?

      • My older brother is a really good mechanic that got started in our garage. I learned by watching and then when I got my own car, I learned by doing. I got fascinated with it and have had project cars for the last 7 years.

  2. I just passed 80,000 miles, so I’m thinking of getting the belts replaced. If they last for 90,000 miles, why not have them replaced at 80,000? I do not expect this car to last another 80,000 (thought that would be fantastic).

    I’ve included the cost in my monthly budget, expecting to find something wrong at some point, so while I am not putting it into a separate savings account, I’ve been mentally preparing myself for awhile now.

    • Glad you’re planning Daniel with your upcoming car expenses. It definitely makes things easier on the budget. My last few cars lasted 146k and 189k miles before I sold them.