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Can You Afford that New Car? Here's How to Decide

How much car can you afford? Knowing the limits of your budget can help you make a savvy decision when you head to the dealership.

By
Jim Wang
3-minute read

Are you in the market for a new or new-to-you car? If so, you’ve probably wondered “How much car can I afford?”

While your local car dealership might be happy to tell you the sky’s the limit regarding your car purchase, your personal budget might be telling you a different story. Spending more than you can afford on a car turns that car from a blessing into a burden.

How much should I spend on a car?

Deciding how much to spend on a car starts with knowing your current financial numbers. You'll need to know your current income, expenses, and savings amounts.

Know your numbers

There are several financial factors that can influence how much you should spend on a car. The amount of money you earn, of course, needs to be taken into account.

When determining how much you earn, always use your net take-home pay to start with. From there, factor in the other financial obligations you have.

In other words, look at your budget. If you don’t normally use one, now is a good time to start. Having a clear view of all other monthly financial obligations will help you better determine how much you can afford.

The 50-30-20 budget plan can be helpful. In short, the 50-30-20 budget plan works like this:

  • 50 percent of your budget goes toward must-have and must-do obligations, such as housing expenses and child care
  • 30 percent of your budget goes toward savings and debt obligations
  • 20 percent of your budget covers unnecessary expenses and “fun” money

There are many ways to design a budget, but the 50-30-20 budget gives you a good place to start. It will certainly point out of there are any areas that are totally out of whack.

What do you have in savings?

Having a healthy savings account balance is important when making a car purchase as well. If you don’t have an emergency fund with a balance equal to three to six months’ worth of expenses, building that emergency fund up should be a priority.

If you don’t have an emergency fund with a balance equal to three to six months’ worth of expenses, building that emergency fund up should be a priority.

With an added car payment, having a plush savings balance will help you ensure you can cover the new payment even if you hit a financial bump. Or, for instance, if the car needs repairs.

Determine the total cost of the car

Once you have looked at your budget and determined the amount of money per month you are comfortable spending on a car you'll want to be clear on the total car costs before you make your purchase. Affording a new car isn’t simply about the payment.

There are several other costs associated with car ownership, such as:

  • Insurance policy costs
  • Fuel and parking costs
  • Maintenance and repair costs

You can call your insurance company ahead of time and get a quote for the new vehicle you're considering. If you are still trying to narrow down what type of car you want, check out this list of the most and the least expensive cars to insure.

Call your insurance company ahead of time and get a quote for the new vehicle you're considering.

Fuel costs are fairly easy to determine. A Google search will give you the MPGs of any car you could think of. Compare that to your current car to see if your costs will change.

Maintenance and repair costs can be harder to determine but you can get an idea by using averages across a brand. Here's an article from Autowise that displays the cheapest and most expensive cars to maintain.

Be sure to factor in an accurate estimate of these additional car ownership costs as you determine a purchase price and payment amount you’re comfortable with.

Get the right kind of car loan

Doing your due diligence as you shop for a car loan is important as well. You do not have to get financing through the dealership. You will likely do better getting a loan yourself through your bank. At the very least, have an understanding of what rate you would qualify for before heading into the dealership so you know if they are offering you a fair rate.

Continue reading on Wallet Hacks.

About the Author

Jim Wang

Jim Wang has been writing about money for over 15 years, most recently at WalletHacks.com. His software engineering background has given him the skills to distill complex financial concepts into easier-to-understand ideas people can use to take control of their lives and build wealth.