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Car Trouble and Tightening My Belt


Car Repairs and Budgeting

Have you ever had car trouble in a rural area where Uber doesn’t exist? I just did a few weeks ago, and it was an extremely stressful and expensive experience! 

A Very Expensive Day

My spouse and I were driving into town to get some groceries at Meijer and food at Burger King, our guilty pleasure. We were about to get back on the highway to go home when the car’s temperature warning light came on. Luckily my spouse had the good sense to pull off into a parking lot, because the serpentine belt had completely snapped and driving the car would’ve destroyed the engine (sadly that happened to my sister a few years ago). 

We called AAA to get towed and were quoted $150 to bring it to our preferred mechanic that’s within walking distance of our house, so we bit the bullet and paid the fee. Then we had to figure out how to get home to our tiny village from the larger town we were stranded in over 30 miles away. Back when we lived in Massachusetts, we would’ve just called an Uber, but where we live there are no rideshare services. 

We called around to a few taxi places and the cheapest fare we were able to secure was an eye-popping $200. We were without our car for two days, so my spouse had to call off work. The repairs ended up costing $220, for a grand total of nearly $600. This is after we spent $1,300 on car repairs less than a month ago! 

A Much-Needed Wake-Up Call

This incident was a much-needed wake-up call that we need to tighten our belts, pun intended. We haven’t been saving enough for unexpected auto repairs or a more reliable vehicle. Our Ford Fiesta has over 130,000 miles on it and has given us nothing but problems. The car doesn’t recognize the key frequently and won’t start until the wheel is jiggled just so, among other issues. With how much my spouse drives, we’re only expecting the car to last another 5 years, so we have to get serious about saving up for a new one. 

Although we’ve been saving $2,000 per month, we’ve had to make so many car and home repairs that it feels like the money exits our savings account as soon as it enters! So I’ve tried to rejig our budget and cut down some of our expenses to enable us to save more and finally make progress on our mortgage. Here’s a rundown of our new budget – I’ll let you know in the coming months how well we stick to it!

Budget Rundown

  • Mortgage – $1350 per month
  • Utilities – about $200 per month; less in summer and more in winter (we may use our wood-burning furnace and heat with wood from our land this winter to lower this cost)
  • Groceries – $80 or less per week (used to be $100 per week)
  • Eating out – $80 per month
  • Gas – $80 per week (used to be $125 a week; we’re reducing it through a combination of lower gas prices and less recreational driving)
  • Internet – $100 per month
  • Phones – $150 a month (looking into switching to lower this)
  • Car insurance – $85 per month (just switched for lower rate)
  • Health insurance – about $120 per month through my spouse’s work, plus $60 per quarter for my spouse’s medications and $135 per month for mine
  • Discretionary (streaming services, entertainment, household items, clothing, pet supplies, etc.) – $400 per month

Savings Goals

Discretionary is the biggest category that has changed. I was shocked when I reviewed our spending and realized we were spending over $1,000 per month on discretionary purchases like eating out, hardware store trips, and home decor. I couldn’t believe how much my spouse and I allowed our lifestyle to creep up since we got married and combined finances!

By reducing our discretionary spending to $400 per month and our eating out budget to $80, we’ll be able to save an additional $1,200 per month. That brings our total non-retirement savings up to $3,200 per month or more (depending on how well my freelance writing business performs and how high my spouse’s bonuses are). That extra $1,200+ per month in savings will be split between a few different sinking funds – our auto repair fund, car replacement account, emergency pet savings, and home repair fund. Hopefully now that we’re putting more money in these sinking funds on a regular basis, we won’t have to pause our mortgage payoff to fill up these accounts ever again!

So Far, So Good

It’s been a few weeks since we implemented these changes and it’s going well so far. We haven’t had a hard time sticking to our budget yet. But I’m curious to see if it gets harder to adhere to as time goes on.

If you have any budgeting tips or wisdom for couples, share them in the comments section below. I could use your advice!

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  • Reply Emily N. |

    Personally, I would focus on having a fully funded car replacement fund before putting anything extra towards the mortgage.

    • Reply Vicky Monroe |

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, I’ll take that into consideration! Definitely don’t want the car to break down before we’re ready to purchase a new one and end up with a car loan.

  • Reply Gayla |

    How do you intend to handle gifts? Do you plan to travel to visit relatives for the holidays?

    • Reply Vicky Monroe |

      This may make me sound like Scrooge, but I don’t really give gifts and neither does my partner! We both have really small families that haven’t exchanged gifts since we were kids. So far we don’t have any close friends in our new area that we would be on a gift-giving level with. So I don’t really have a budget for it because I don’t need it – that may change in the future. So far there are no plans to visit family for the holidays either. My partner’s single mom usually comes to visit us here in Michigan. So does my only sister, she prefers to come visit us because we live in a touristy area and she views it as a vacation. She’s coming next week in fact. My parents are still really concerned about COVID, so I don’t think visiting them is in the cards this year. We’ll drive instead of fly when we eventually go visit them, so luckily the travel budget won’t need to be very big. Other than hopefully visiting my parents whenever they feel more comfortable, we don’t plan to travel at all, we just really don’t enjoy travel.

    • Reply Vicky Monroe |

      It’s something new we’re implementing so we’ll see how it goes! So far so good, we’ve been eating at Burger King or Subway once a week and ordering about $12 worth of food. So then we have some wiggle room to have one nicer meal per month, which usually costs us $30 or $40 in our area. We’re lucky that food is cheap around here!

  • Reply Blissfully in the shadows |


    I am having a flash back to my car that I owned from 98 to 2020. Those last 4 years were downright horrid while I was trying to pay off debt. I think saving for a new to you car would be best. if I had it to do all over, I think I would have bought a new to me car or down payment ’cause each repair wasn’t something small like $100. Instead each one starting in 2016 was in the four figures. You have to do what is best for you, but you would get that car amount completed faster then paying a mortgage off. You can’t use a house to get to work or get from A to B.

  • Reply Walnut |

    I feel like I can hear “you” in this post – love it! Car trouble seriously is the worst. My suggestion is to find an MVNO in your area to cut your phone bill. Frugalwoods and Six Figures Under both have good comparison charts on their blogs.

    Keep us updated in how it goes! Tightening up my discretionary spend is always such a challenge. We’ve had a great month thus far, so I need to do a couple returns and get creative in the pantry to keep up the momentum.

  • Reply Jennifer |

    We have AAA and unfortunately have used the tow services multiple times. Why didn’t you jump in the tow truck and walk home from the auto repair shop ?

  • Reply Kerry |

    Unfortunately that’s one of the hidden costs of rural living—you really need a strong community to trade favors with because you are so car dependent. That stereotype of a bunch of half working cars on the property has some basis in truth! You want to keep an extra car that runs in case your main ride breaks down.

So, what do you think ?