All the Single Ladies–Buying Cars

This post is part of the Short and Feisty Finance Series.

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This is an actual meme on the internet–

I’m writing this post at 8:00pm on a Monday night–after working a twelve hour shift in less than ideal conditions.

BUT STILL, I’m alive and I’m getting paid for it, so I’ll save the griping for another post and get down to why I actually opened up the laptop tonight.

Buying a car when you’re a damsel in distress strong independent lady.

So here’s the deal: I wish that I could say that salesmen aren’t biased when they see a woman shopping for a car on her own. I wish that I could say that the Toyota dealership in Santa Monica didn’t try to take advantage of me based on stereotypes and assumptions. I also wish I could say that I won the lottery this morning so I never have to work another day in my life so GOODBYE SIX YOUR OLD THAT CAN’T WIPE HIS OWN BUTT.

But if I said any of those things, I would be lying to you and then I would have to take time out of my 12-14 hour workdays to go to confession. Which actually might be nice…SO IT’S ALL TRUE.

Before I dive deeper into the topic of buying a car as a single lady, you should know that I am a firm believer in “buy used and save the difference” when it comes to automobiles. Those suckers depreciate the minute you drive them off of the lot so, unless you’re rich as hell, there’s no need to buy brand spanking new.

About a year and a half ago, I was in the market for a new car. I’d been driving a Sebring for about 4 years and I LOVED that car but knew I wanted a hybrid. Something about drinking the water in Los Angeles (sparingly drinking, there IS a 4 year drought, people) that made me want a Prius in particular. I purchased my Sebring at Carmax and was intending to go back but wanted to give a traditional dealership a chance.

BIG MISTAKE.

We’ll start with the similarities, move on to my CarMax experience (by the way, I was not paid to post this. This is just my experience), and then head to the dealership.

Similarities

  • There is a LOT of waiting–either on the front end with the traditional dealership and waiting to see what they can “offer you” or with Carmax when dealing with settling up the loan.
  • There are cars at both (ha!) but Carmax has a bigger selection from a lot of different makes and models.

Carmax

  • Walk into the door–a single salesman approaches you and tells you they can help if you need them OR you can look around the lot on your own and find them when you’d like more help.
    • Carmax has a NO HAGGLE policy–the price you see is the price EVERYONE gets, regardless of age/race/gender, etc.
  • I found the cars I liked and wanted to test drive, so the salesmen took me out in ALL of them. It had to be 5+ cars, but he was very patient and didn’t rush me.
  • When I picked my car, they didn’t attempt to dissuade me from getting it or try to get me to buy a car that I couldn’t afford. That was MY CAR. And with all of the bells and whistles, I was paying a really fair price under Kelly Blue Book value.
  • They offered me a fair trade-in value for my Sebring.
  • I could contact my bank over the phone and have the loan-junk handled that way–I already knew the price and didn’t have to wait for someone in the “back room” to crunch the numbers

Dealership

  • I walk up and several salesmen pounce–I end up with a middle aged dude with an incredibly heavy accent.
  • I tell them the model and features that I wanted in a Prius–instead, they showed me a bunch of things I didn’t ask for.
    • Things that were either well above my budget OR they showed me Prius cars with ZERO bells and whistles, cars older than the ones at Carmax with less features for $5k-$8k more than what Carmax was offering me.
  • They offered me less-than-jack-sh*t for my Sebring to trade-in (I was personally offended since I took great care of it and it was less than 6 years old).
    • When I mentioned that CarMax had offered $6,000 more for my trade in, he suggested I sell my car to Carmax and buy my Prius with them (ha!).
  • The salesman zeros in on ONE CAR he thinks will be “perfect” for me–that one without the bells and whistles but with the high price tag. It’s as if there are no other cars on the lot and he immediately goes in to “run the numbers” like I was the one that settled on that car.
  • The sales person kept taking his time and mozying to the “back room” to get the guy to see what was the “best he could do for me” which was still next to nothing.
    • The price for this used bland-mobile was MORE expensive than a brand new Prius C (a smaller version of the Prius).
    • When he came back with the numbers breakdown, there was the price of the car and then a ton of hidden fees that jacked the rate up even more.
  • When I told him several times that that wasn’t going to work for me, that the standard model of the used Prius should not be MORE expensive than its most tricked out version 2 years younger (the Carmax car), all he could say was that the dealership had better cars than the ones at Carmax and that I would be making a mistake buying from them.

NOW. Can I prove that the reason the salesman was so obtuse and underhanded with me was because I was a woman shopping for a car alone? Nope, I can’t do that. But when I saw DUDES on the lot helping other DUDES, and eavesdropped on conversations in the salesroom, I felt as if this guy was attempting to make decisions for me rather than listen to what I had to say because I was a lady. When I tried to take charge of everything, he talked down to me rather than talking WITH me.

After reading all that, I bet you can guess which one I went with–

The Dealership.

PSYCHE! I left Carmax happy with my purchase, secure knowing that I paid the same price any other person would’ve paid, and also knowing that I got a great deal on a really great car.

In summary:

  • Buy used, save the difference.
  • Go to Carmax, unless you’re really good at haggling or being obnoxiously assertive and calling chauvinists out on their bullhockey.
  • This crap happens all the time (see the above meme!) so don’t take anyone’s nonsense. Also don’t feel like you HAVE to drag your guy-pal to the dealership to be treated fairly. Either they respect you OR you don’t buy from them.
  • Do your research before you shop. Know what kind of prices you should be quoted for the make, model, year, and mileage on a car.
  • Again: Don’t take anyone’s baloney!

Traveling Solo (Locally) and on a Budget

I promised in my original post for the Short and Feisty Finance Series to give you some tids and bits on traveling solo on a budget. So when I had the inspiration to pick up my act and head out to the Sequoia National Forest two days ago, I rejoiced at the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. Not only would I have the chance to get some fresh mountain air flowing through my bloodstream, but I would be able to make good on a blog promise.

SO. PRODUCTIVE. Y’ALL.

This’ll end up being a multi-part post to get to every Big Moment Detail on this trip–Sequoia National Park is huge and I only saw a tiny bit, but that’s actually a lot!

For this first post, we’ll stick to the financial aspects so I can redeem the radio silence I’ve permitted to pervade this blog:

Now the number one rule you need to know when starting this single travel endeavor is: planning is everything.

I kind of spontaneously decided last Friday that I’d be making this trek the following Tuesday. That is so unlike me (actually, it’s really like me). So, I did, indeed, break the cardinal rule. I work Saturday-Monday evening, with tiny little people that suck out my energy and focus like whiny, sadistic, mosquitos–so intense planning went by the wayside.

I did map out my route on the Google Maps app on my phone and determined that the mileage would equate to about a tank of gas in my Prius (7 hours round trip!). I enjoy driving, so the length of time didn’t deter me. I did NOT consider the fact that mountain driving, climbing to more than 7,000 feet, would probably take a harder toll on that gasoline estimate. It ended up being a little over a tank–$35.

Remember when I said that I didn’t put a lot of forethought into this trip? Well, this translated to neglecting a stratagem for obtaining victuals. There was a Starbucks not far from the entrance to the park that served as my “brunch” spot, and I was so put off by all the bear warnings (you can’t even leave it in your car because bears are smart and know what food looks like!) that I didn’t even bother to search for food in or near the park. I did drink plenty of the free water from the park re-fill stations. On the way back onto the highway, I revisited my friendly Starbucks and came to $16 total for all food and beverages. If you eat cheaply, you save so so much money. Skip the sit down restaurants and keep it moving.

Most of the National Parks have a “per car” entry fee–Sequoia’s fee is $20 per non-commercial vehicle. I plan to make a habit out of visiting as many National Parks as I can within the next year, so I sprung for the “America the Beautiful” Annual Pass which allows me to visit more than 2,000 federal recreation sites (that’s not even counting the many sites that don’t have an entry fee). That totals $80 for the pass. This is expensive up front but will end up saving a lot in entry fees if I use it like I’m planning to!

So for a full day of discovery and exploration, I cost my bank account: $131 (would’ve been $71 total without the pass).

That’s well worth the money for an awesome staycation visiting one of America’s most well-known and loved landmarks.

So:

  • Don’t follow my example and make sure to PLAN
  • Drive if the distance is reasonable and save on travel–
  • Skip the sit down meals and go for either grocery store gatherings or safely consumable fast food–
  • Find a place with little or NO entry fee OR find a pass that’ll allow for savings in the long run–

Over the next few days (more realistically, weeks) I’ll divulge all of the awesome-tastic-Sequoian details. There may or may not have been bears.

Neogtiating One’s Rent Like a Boss.

*This post is part of the Short and Feisty Finance Series*

I knew that moving from a small city on the east coast to Los Angeles would squeeze my wallet until it was contorted into an almost unrecognizable shape.

I knew that my $1,050 rent for an incredibly spacious 2 bedroom duplex with 2 sun rooms, a living room, formal dining room, a screened-in back porch, and 1.5 bathrooms (sigh) would just be a distant memory of a life once lived.

But HOLY CRAP–it’s expensive to live here! And not just in the city–the suburbs are just as bad (if not worse–I’m looking at you, Manhattan Beach and Burbank)!

I knew less than 5 people in Los Angeles when I made the trek West. One of my best friend’s aunts lived in the OC, but I only really knew one friend within the city limits (hi, Amy!) and we’d never spent a significant amount of one-on-one time together. She was sweet enough to let me stay with her for two weeks, rent free, after landing here off of the 10 freeway (that’s another thing–in LA, they aren’t “interstates” or “highways”–they’re “freeways”).

It just so happened that a unit in her rent-controlled building opened up. Though my rent for this one bedroom was more expensive than my 2 bedroom apartment back home (sigh, again), I also had a friend moving to LA the following month that would move-in and split it with me.

Fast-forward nearly three years. Because of the rent control, my rent had only been raised twice and only by $100 total. I had gone from an “ok” paying job, to a high paying nanny job, to a high-ish paying nanny job within that time span. I was also living in the apartment solo as my roommate relocated to NYC.

Now that my hours are lower with my current nanny family (on account of only working 3 solid days a week), I was feeling the squeeze on my wallet again. My rent was due to be raised at the beginning of September by another $50 and I was starting to sweat.

To State the Obvious: I have deduced that moving into a shared space situation, though seemingly more economical, isn’t so much for me. The cost of my rent-controlled one bedroom is evening out with the cost of a two bedroom share in the neighborhoods I feel comfortable living in (as in, I’m not AS afraid to walk home alone from my car in the dark). The price of renting has skyrocketed in the last three years and if the rent is dirt cheap in Los Angeles, chances are, you’re safety isn’t guaranteed.

Back to my dilemma: the rent is too damn high.

I knew that a rent increase wouldn’t completely kill my budget, but I wanted to do anything possible to keep it from happening. I also knew that one of the most basic principles of negotiation was to start at either extreme (really low or really high) and negotiate your way to the middle.

So, one week ago, instead of asking them to freeze my rent, I straight up asked them to lower it.

In an email I sent through my building manager, I laid out several facts:

  • I have faithfully paid my rent in-full and on-time for nearly three years,
  • I am single, no kids, and no pets (which is a hot commodity on the rental market!),
  • I have always followed the noise guidelines outlined in my contract (unlike other tenants in my building),
  • I reminded them that I wrote an awesome YELP! review for my rental company back in January,
  • I praised the property (it really is lovely) and pointed out several tenants that had been in the building for 10+ years and how much I wanted to live there as long as possible.

A few days passed before I got any sort of response and there were several “Doubting Thomases(or Doubting Evans, ahem)” in my acquaintance who thought I wouldn’t get any sort of break from my building owners.

Three days later, my apartment manager emailed back–the long and short of it is that they just rented a unit in my building for $295/mo more than I am currently paying (a quick zillow search confirmed. Zillow is my bff). BUT, she put in a good word for me, and since I gave them some valid points, they’re going to freeze my rent for the next year.

HUZZAH and Hallelujah.

Short and Feisty Finances

Now that I’ve come to grips with the fact that my career in the entertainment industry isn’t entirely in my own hands, I’ve decided to switch my obsessive-control-focus to something I DO have a larger say in: my finances.

And because I love to share (read: overshare), I’m going to document the steps I’m taking to live debt-free here on my blog.

I know, I know.

A FINANCE SERIES?! REALLY?!

I fully realize that some of you come here for fun and entertaining content. Sometimes to laugh with me, but most of the time to laugh AT me–and I’m 100% ok with that.

But I promise to spice these topics up! You’ll hear about my high-highs, and my low-really-low-lows. There will be plenty of opportunity to guffaw at my missteps and mentally applaud my successes (because if you’re actually applauding while reading my blog, you’re going to look kind of funny).

I also realize that there are a-million-and-one people blogging and writing about finance on the interwebs. Some of them even have extensive knowledge and education on the subject (imagine!). What I think will make my blogging here more unique is the fact that I’m doing it entirely on a single income, without much mathematical knowledge beyond basic arithmetic, without parental financial assistance, and in a pretty expensive major metropolitan city (whaddup, LA?!).

I’ve already gotten a jump start to securing a better financial future by paying off both my student loans and credit card debt. I promised several people I would document how I did this within my 4.5 years out of undergrad, and I intend to do that within the next few weeks. Stay tuned!

Here is a list of topics I hope to cover (hold me to them!). Get excited, my friends:

GET EXCITED, my friends.