Automotive Debt Finances & Money

Getting back to basics: Counseling others…and cars!

A few weeks ago, I flew down to TX (twice actually) for business, and on my last flight back to DC, I ended up on a tiny plane next to a young woman who was bumped from another cancelled flight. We got to chatting and I learned that she’s newly married to their child’s father (congrats!), but that they both of money issues of differing sorts. For him, he has a lot of debt and can’t really control his spending, mostly with credit cards. For her, well, it hit home given my relationship to cars.

A quick anecdote: This is one of my nightmares while flying. You get on a plane and don’t realize till you’ve landed that you’re in the wrong state. Well, that’s what happened with this woman! Her flight to DC (DCA – downtown Washington D.C.) was cancelled and they gave her the option of taking my flight or waiting till the next morning, all while saying “it’s a DC flight”. She had to get to DC for work, so she took my flight. What they didn’t tell her was my plane was headed to Virginia (IAD – Dulles, VA), which is about 20-30 miles from downtown DC, depending on your final destination. Not a bad thing, but it wasn’t until we were at the exit doors that I asked her if she was heading for a rental or had a ride, so I could help direct her (it was close to midnight at this time). Somewhere in her sentence, she said “DCA” and that threw up a red flag. In the end, she had a ride waiting at DCA who came out to pick her up (yes, I offered her a ride halfway…I’m not driving into DC at midnight. I had work the next day!) and I assume she got to where she needed to be in time. Always double-check the flight you’re boarding to be sure it’s headed to where you want to be (e.g. Rome, NY is different than Rome, Italy).

Anywho, I can take this story in a number of directions, but I’d like to tackle her car problem since it’s close to my heart.

You bought HOW MANY of the SAME CAR?

I thought I had a car problem, which I do (even though I’ve been able to keep the same truck for 7 years and 100k miles now), but this woman takes the cake. She is a lawyer’s assistant of some kind (not a paralegal) and I think makes decent income for where she lives, but we got chatting about cars and she spilled the beans about how she bought a 2012 Nissan Altima back in 2011 when they first came out. It was a base model, and then she decided she wanted the fully-loaded model. So she traded it in just a few months later, took a big hit on negative equity which was rolled into her new loan, but got the fully-loaded 2012 Altima sometime in 2012.

Here’s the kicker. Just a month later, the 2013 models came out. She said she was mad that the salesperson didn’t tell her the new models were coming out, but she went back to the dealership just one month later and ended up trading in her 2012 Altima on the exact same 2013 Altima! Same color, interior, etc., just maybe some small tweaks to the body and maybe some features to tell them apart. And she even told her husband, who was suspicious when he saw it, that it was still her old car. She didn’t say how long she lied to him, but in the end, one of her friends told on her and the truth was out.

Now, the main reason I don’t have a new Honda Ridgeline is simply because the truck hasn’t changed in the 7years it’s been out. They put some rubber on some knobs (get your mind out of the gutter), an MPG gauge to see how bad your fuel economy is, 2 extra tie downs in the bed and maybe 1 or 2 more features. Nothing to warrant a trade-in and at least a $20k new car note. Same with the MINI. The current model just isn’t different enough from my wife’s fully-loaded 2007 to make us want to “upgrade”.

But this woman went through 3 brand new Nissan Altimas in the course of less than a year, just so she could either get more features or get the latest model. It’s worse than those Apple “fanboys” who buy the iPad, then iPad 2 then iPad 3 (I don’t care if it’s actually “The New iPad”), then iPad Mini when there’s really not much different between any of them, except the Mini.

Don’t be dumb, please

I won’t belabor this point more. I just need to tell you all to stop being stupid about money. I’d like to change up what my Dad always says a bit from “What you want and what you get are two different things” to “What you want and what you NEED are two different things”. You may want the latest model, but you may only need the car that you have, and you NEED to pay off that car loan before you even think of getting a new car. You NEED to not hide financial stuff from your spouse, especially a $30,000+ purchase! You NEED to spend less than you earn, and send that extra towards your debt and/or savings.

In closing, I explained the “Snowball Method” of paying down debt, and how we used it to get out of $200,000 and counting of debt. I told her, though, that it doesn’t matter which debt she picks (highest interest, lowest balance), what matters is that she sticks to the plan of paying it off, with minimum payments to everything else, then roll what you were paying on that debt into the next selected debt. For me, I think I picked some credit cards first, and some student loans, then the bigger debts like car loans, our 2nd mortgage and now we’re down to our one main mortgage.

How about you? Any silly debt secrets/mistakes you’d like to share? Is it worse than buying virtually the same car 3 times in a year?

About the author

Clever Dude


  • Wow, that’s stupid. She probably could have gotten one much better car for the same amount of money she spent on the three new Altimas.

  • @James, I’d like to know your current situation. Of course it’s cheaper to not have a car…assuming you don’t leave the house or have complete access to everything you need within walking distance, public transport or your parents shutting you around. For those of us who commute between states (like my wife and I) or live in the suburbs or rural areas (like our families), you can’t live without a car.

  • Hmmm, no offense to the women as I am sure she is a good person. However, I think the fact she didn’t know what flight she was on is no surprise. Like most things in life, our attitudes carry over from one area to another. If she isn’t really paying attention to her financial decisions, she is probably very unaware in other areas of her life – like what flight she is getting on.

    I do feel bad for her, as I imagine there is probably a reason she is this way. Perhaps she can’t quite deal with reality in the moment. Either way, it’s a good lesson to be aware of everything we do in life. Once we stop being aware in one area of life, we often start doing it in others. Great article.

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