Budgeting Questions

Budgeting Questions: Should You Spend on Your Car or Your Home?

For some people, the budgeting question of whether to spend money on a home, or a car, is a simple one. While a home is your castle, and your opportunity to feel safe and comfortable with your family, a car can simply be a convenient way of getting around.

However, in some circumstances, a car is crucial to a family ensuring that the bread-winners can get to work every day, and continue earning the money required to pay the mortgage, utilities and other living expenses.

Some will argue that both your home and car are equally important assets. However, the real question is not which one is more important, but rather how and where you budget your money to manage both.

If you’re wondering whether you should invest your money in your home, or your car, the following information should help you to make a more informed decision.

Choosing Home Improvements over Car Improvements

For many home owners, their property will always come first. A home is the single biggest investment most people will make in their lifetime.

However, most importantly a home is an appreciable asset. Appreciable from the perspective that over time most homes will increase in value, providing the home owner with equity and increasing their overall networth.

From a budgeting perspective there are two ways to approach spending money on your home.

  1. Maintenance – If a home will be your greatest investment maintaining it properly so it doesn’t lose value is an important aspect of home ownership. From new paint, minor roof repairs, to updated landscaping keeping your home in great shape assures it consistently increases in value over time.
  2. Major Improvements – The best part of home ownership and probably why you purchased your home in the first place was because you wanted to make it your own. Major improvements to your home beyond your own personal desires is the fact that major home improvements can dramatically increase the value of your home quickly. The top five ways to increase the value of your home through major improvements are:
  • Bathroom remodel or upgrade
  • Kitchen remodel
  • Landscaping
  • Exterior Improvements – new siding, exterior doors and new windows
  • Adding an additional room like remodeling an attic or basement.

Read more at HGTV – 30 Tips For Increasing Your Homes Values.

The most cost effect means of paying for maintenance or major upgrades is by taking the time to save money to make the improvements.  However, depending on your budget and circumstances your financial institution may provide a host of home equity loans that will allow you to make those improvements sooner.

There are even home improvement solutions that can help you to keep your finances in place over the long-term. For instance, you might look into loans that allow you to invest in solar powered panels for your home. That way you can reduce your energy costs over the long-term, and even earn a little bit of cash back by contributing to the energy grid. Or energy saving rebates from your local electrical company for the installation of energy efficient appliances like a new water heater or heating system.

Choosing Car Improvements over Home Improvements

Generally, car improvements will often come second to home improvements when it comes to deciding where you should allocate your budget. However, it’s hard to discount the importance of vehicle improvements if you need your car to get to work, take the kids to school, or run the kids to soccer practice.

The most important aspect of owning a vehicle and how it relates to your budget and spending is that unlike your home which will typically increase in value over time, your vehicle will depreciate (lose value).  In fact, if you purchase a new car, on average your new car will lose 50% of its value in the first five years – regardless of how well you maintain it.

So does that mean you shouldn’t budget any money for your vehicle?

The answer is no.

You should budget for proactive maintenance to extend the life of the vehicle as long as you possibly can.  The perspective is that if your vehicle is going to depreciate anyways, you want to have it “work” for you as long as you possibly can. (My motto has always been, the best way to maximize the value of your vehicle is to drive it until it dies.)

When maintaining your vehicle, what shouldn’t you budget for? Fancy seat covers, a new stereo system, a shiny new paint job are all no-no’s – regardless of how much you spend to make your vehicle look great it will lose value anyway.

You should budget for:Budgeting Questions

  • Regular oil changes & air filters – regular oil changes extend the life of your engine and how long your vehicle will last. Dirty air filters decrease the fuel efficiency of the vehicle. (What to budget for: @$20-$75)
  • Tires – driving habits will dictate how often you need new tires but on average and under normal driving conditions you will need to budget for new tires every four years. (What to budget for: $525-$725 – four tires)
  • Brake Pads – stopping is a good thing. Again driving habits will affect how often you will need new brakes, but in general every 3-4 years – or when needed based on your driving habits. (What to budget for: $200-$500 unless you can do them yourself. Installing your own brake pads will easily save you $200 in expenses)
  • Incidentals – transmission fluid, brake fluid… the list can go on and on. Excluding major repairs, you probably won’t leave the repair shop for under $350. In my experience you should budget for these types of maintenance issues every three years, although the age of your vehicle will dictate how often.

The most important thing you can do to manage your vehicles maintenance budget is that when the time comes to have your car serviced, be sure to shop around, prices can vary dramatically depending on what you need done.

Related Post: How to Buy a Car With Cash.

When deciding whether to improve your car over your home make sure that you don’t overlook important needs within your home, just to make your car more aesthetically appealing. Although many people consider their car to be something of a status symbol, a beautiful car won’t do much for you if you can’t afford to pay your utility bills, because you’re constantly fighting with the poor insulation factors of old drafty windows.

What If You Need Both?

Budgeting and prioritizing home and auto expenses is a fact of life. If you find yourself struggling with home and car requirements at the same time, then you’re going to need to think carefully about your options.

The best way to manage any of these situations is to proactively plan, and the best way to do that is to successfully manage your budget and save money in anticipation for these types of expenses.

How do you manage your budget in relationship to home and auto expenses?

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Kevin is the owner of FTP and an author of the personal finance book series Filling The Pig. He uses his own past successes with debt, saving cash, investing and running his own home based businesses to teach others about Creating a Lifestyle of Opportunities.

4 thoughts on “Budgeting Questions: Should You Spend on Your Car or Your Home?

  1. Interesting perspective. I actually lease my car, although I admit that it’s not the most cost-effective option. Mainly, I do it because (a) it’s always under warranty; (b) I get a new car, with the latest technology (including safety technology), every three years; and (c) it feels safer, because it seems that a new car is unlikely to break down.

    Just another way of thinking about car costs, though I acknowledge that you are correct in that buying and keeping for a long time is the way to get the most from your money.

    • Thanks Miguel for the feedback. Everyone’s circumstances are different when i was younger i took out loans to finance my car so i understand the need to do that. My hope is that i can eventually convince everyone – as their circumstances change, to buy with cash and avoid the monthly payments/expense – thanks again.

  2. I’m a huge Dave Ramsey fan so I disagree with using any credit for any reason. But other then that great article.

    I’ve found that I budget $500/mo. for two cars. About half of that covers maintenance and the other half is saved for when I need to replace one of them. If you’re looking to buy a “new” car, I recommend looking for a car that’s a few years old with low miles. Google cars that often go over 200k and try to get one of those. (Another benefit of buying used, there’s a track record of how reliable they are in general)

    Some people will argue that if you never know what a used car has been through and therefore might be unreliable. I counter that with the simple math. For the 50% lose in value of a new car, you could replace the whole engine and transmission in a used car.

    I also budget $500 for home improvements, small or large, that also just get put in it’s “envelope” to cover whatever expenses crop up with my home.

    • Alan, thank you for your feedback. I am a firm believer that buying a used car with cash is the only way to go. I have not had a car payment in over 20 years. I think their is a real misconception about buying used which is what forces many people down the road of buying new. Your budgeting advice is great. Again, thanks for the feedback and stop back often, I like your perspective.

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