Trim the Fat Tuesday: The Car Maintenance

What's the worst part about owning a car? The maintenance. It's expensive. It's unpredictable. It's un-fun. So for me, the very best part of getting rid of our second vehicle is

Adjusting the car maintenance budget to reflect actual spending in this area.

Because actual spending is gonna be a whole lot less.

I should note that this is the time of year I go through every line item on our budget (because of course we have a budget, and you definitely should, too) and use data from the previous year to inform our projected spending for the coming year. In our house, the fiscal year aligns with the new school year, because that's when we get our raises (you know, if our contracts have actually been negotiated on time and raises are a thing that year). So in September we use our new paycheck numbers to tally actual income, and we go through our previous year's actual spending to make the most educated guess on each budget line item for the coming year's spending. 

This is easily done with any type of banking software. We happen to use Quicken because it was free, but there are other choices, including probably your credit card or your bank's online system. Anyway, Quicken lets us pull reports of spending by category for a given time frame. Here's a shot of our 2013 spending on the cars:

Now, I don't actually categorize our car spending as well as I could: gas, registration fees, and repairs are all tagged the same way. So at budget time, I do have to go down the list and pick out the repairs from the gas. You can easily tell them apart, though, because they are the lines that are for a lot more than thirty or forty bucks a pop.

For us, it's pretty easy to see that most of our car maintenance dollars went into the 15-year-old Focus, so we are expecting some big savings in that area of the budget in the coming year. I'm padding an estimate for the future by allowing $1,000 for my car (which is almost twice the amount that we actually spent on my car this past year, but I've always been kind of unlucky with cars — this will put us on the safe side). We'll also allow another $200 for the year on bicycle maintenance and repair, as they are about to get a lot more use. 

Even if you're not getting rid of a car (though maybe these posts will convince you to give it a go?), you might still have some potential savings in your budget if you didn't actually spend what you thought you would on your car (or in any area of your life, really). The trick is to keep track of the money, and then catch those savings when they pop up. For example, even if we kept our other car, but I noticed that we spent $300 less per year on maintaining it, I could scoop up that extra money and slide it toward our savings pile (to the tune of an extra $25 each month). That would feel pretty painless, and it would keep that money in the savings column instead of allowing it to sit in our checking account, where we might otherwise fritter it away on ice cream cones. Data is our friend, and tracking spending is really easy. If you're not doing it, give it a try.

Anyway, in our case, last year's budget for car repair and maintenance called for $232.50 per month. We're dropping that back to just $100 per month ($1000 for my car plus $200 for the bikes per year). If that ends up not being enough, we can always take it back out of our savings, but the past year's numbers point to that being the right amount. And it's a lot!

Savings per month: $132.50


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