How to Save Money for Your First Car

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Buying your first car is a major milestone in life. It’s hard to describe the feeling of satisfaction you get when you turn the key in the ignition and drive off for the first time in a car you bought yourself through hard work and saving.

If you currently don’t own a vehicle, you may be wondering how to save money for your first car. What are some things you can do to become a car owner?

While it’s common for most people to finance the majority of their vehicle purchases, it’s still a good idea to save up some money for a down payment. There are also some circumstances where people may want to purchase a car without financing – like when they don’t have good credit.

There are two ways you can go about saving money for your first car. You can either cut your expenses or you can earn more money – or do both. We’ll take a look at both strategies.

Let’s go ahead and take a look at how to save money for your first car.

1. Consider Buying a Quality Used Vehicle

It’s a lot easier to save money for a car if you buy a used vehicle instead of one that is brand new. New cars are expensive (in case you haven’t noticed). Not only that, but new vehicles tend to go down in value very quickly in their first 2-3 years.

You may be able to save a lot on the purchase of your first car by buying one that is used with relatively low miles. Be sure you do your homework before buying one so that you will know which brands are considered the most reliable.

Also, before you buy any used vehicle, be sure to have a mechanic check it out first. Yes, you’ll have to spend some money to do this, but this small expenditure may end up saving you money in the long-run by identifying any problems the car may have before you purchase it.

If you purchase a used car made by a company that is known for quality, you may end up with a car that still has the majority of its useful life left in it. Many people have purchased good quality used cars and driven them for years before trading them for other vehicles.

2. Create a Budget

One of the most important things you can do to save money for your first car is to create a budget.

What’s a budget, and what’s so great about having one?

A budget is a written plan that you create where you allocate certain amounts of your income each month to your expenses. The idea is to live within the budget you create to keep you from overspending.

Budgets are highly personalized for each individual. Your budget is going to look very different from other people’s budgets. Also, budgets don’t have to be fancy – you can create one on a scrap piece of paper.

When creating a budget, be sure to write down all of your monthly expenses. You then take your monthly income and divide it among your expenses.

If you are trying to save money for your first car, it’s important to allocate a certain amount of your income to your savings. This will help you save money and not spend it on other things so you can reach your goal of being a car owner.

3. Track Your Spending

Another way to save money for your first car is to track your spending for a month to see if you can identify anything you can cut back on.

Many people buy things they don’t need all the time. They justify the purchases by telling themselves that “it’s just a few dollars.” A small purchase here and there may not seem like much, but it can really add up to a lot of money if you aren’t careful. This is money that you could be saving for your car.

To see if you can identify anything you can cut back on, write down everything you buy for one month in a small notebook you keep with you. No purchase is too small to record, even if it’s just a cup of coffee or a pack of chewing gum. It all counts.

At the end of the month, take some time to review your purchases to see if all of them were necessary. For those purchases you deem unnecessary, add up the total to see how much you spent.

The results can be shocking.

You can then try to come up with some ways to reduce your spending on unnecessary purchases. For example, instead of buying a cup of coffee when you are traveling, consider brewing some coffee at home and taking it with you in a thermos.

4. Switch to a More Affordable Cell Phone Plan

Cell phone companies occasionally come out with new plans. If you haven’t updated your plan in a while, check and see if your cell phone service provider has any new plans that are more affordable. Also, check with other companies to see if they can give you a better deal.

It’s also a good idea to check with discount cell phone service providers. Many of these companies offer cell phone service that is just as good as the big-name carriers, but for a lot less.

Something to watch out for if you are thinking about switching your cell phone plan is an early termination fee if you are locked into a contract. Many cell phone providers require you to agree to a lengthy contract when you sign up for service with them.

If you are currently in a contract with a cell phone service provider, it may be best to wait until the contract is over before you switch to a new plan.

5. Use a Water Bottle

Do you drink a lot of bottled water? If so, you may be able to save money for your first car by buying a water bottle and filling it up with water from home instead.

The markup on bottled water is incredible. And many people are often surprised to learn that the source of the bottled water they buy and drink is a municipal water supply. The water is usually filtered through a reverse osmosis filter, but it usually doesn’t come from any place special.

Some people don’t like to drink the water from their faucets because they think it has an odd taste. You may be able to eliminate a lot of the bad taste by filtering it first. Water filters are available at most big box stores. You can also find them online.

6. Cut Back on Expensive Entertainment

Do you enjoy going out with friends or family to see a movie, eat at a nice restaurant, or to do something else that’s fun? If so, you may be able to save money for your first car by either cutting back on expensive entertainment or completely eliminating it until you have reached your savings goal.

Cutting back on entertainment spending doesn’t mean you have to stay home and not do anything. You may still be able to find some things to do in your community that don’t cost anything. Instead of going to a movie, for example, consider going to a park or to a free community event.

There are also plenty of fun things that you can do at home. Why not invite some friends over and watch a movie? Perhaps you could pop some popcorn or make some other snacks and have an enjoyable evening hanging out with your friends.

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7. Cancel Unused Memberships

Do you have memberships or subscriptions that you are no longer using? Maybe you subscribe to a few magazines you no longer read or you have a gym membership that is collecting dust. If so, you may be able to save money for your first car by canceling those things.

If you do decide to cancel a gym membership, make sure you aren’t locked into a contract before you do so. Many contracts have expensive early termination fees you will have to pay if you exit the contract early. In some cases, it may be more affordable to stay in the contract until the specified term is over and then cancel.

8. Buy Used Whenever Possible

A great way to save money for your first car is to purchase things that are used whenever possible. Many people sell used items that are still in great shape for much less than they cost new. You may be able to take advantage of this to get a great deal on something you need.

Thanks to online marketplaces like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and OfferUp, it’s never been easier to shop for used items. Online marketplaces make it very easy to search listings to see if someone is selling the item you need.

If you can’t find what you are looking for, you can always mention on a local Facebook group that you are looking for that item. Someone may have it and be willing to sell it. And if they don’t, they may know someone who does.

9. Sell Stuff You No Longer Use

Do you have a lot of stuff stored away that you are no longer using and don’t need anymore? If so, you may be able to get some money that you can go towards your first car by selling them.

Many people are often surprised by how much clutter they’ve accumulated over the years once they start cleaning out their closets, basements, and other storage areas. Many things that you consider junk may be worth something to someone else.

Selling used things is now very easy. You don’t even have to have a garage sale – although you can do that if you want. You can very easily list your used things for sale online on Craigslist, OfferUp, Facebook Marketplace, and other online marketplaces. Don’t forget to list them on a local buy and sell Facebook group for extra exposure.

Also, don’t forget to check and see if you have any old collectible items that you may be able to sell. Things like old toys, comic books, sports memorabilia, and other collectibles may be worth something. Be sure to research market prices before you list these items for sale.

10. Automate Your Savings

For those who are wondering how to save money for your first car, a great way to save money is to automate it. To make this work, you’ll need to be paid by your employer through direct deposit.

The idea behind automating your savings is simple. If you are on direct deposit, you can talk to your employer or someone in human resources to see if they can send a portion of your payments to a savings account. The savings happen on autopilot – there’s nothing you have to do to make it happen.

11. Ditch Cable TV

If you currently have an expensive cable TV package that you are paying for, ditching cable may be another way you can save money for your first car.

Cable TV these days is very expensive. Cable TV bundles often contain many channels that people rarely or never watch. There are now affordable options to consider.

One option is to make use of your local public library. Seriously. Catch up on your reading. Many libraries also have great selections of movies and TV series on video you can borrow.

Another option to consider if you live in a large metro area is to purchase a high-definition TV antenna and watch free channels. Over-the-air TV has come a long way, and in many areas of the country you can get several TV channels with an antenna at no cost.

Yet another option to consider is to stream TV channels over the internet. There are now several great streaming services that are much more affordable than paying for an expensive cable TV bundle. It’s also possible to stream many channels for free.

Finally, if you are considering ditching cable TV, consider combining options. You can borrow things from your local public library, get free channels with an antenna, and stream video content either for free or with a paid subscription. By combining entertainment resources, you may be able to save money over expensive cable TV bundles.

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12. Use Coupons

If you are thinking about buying something, regardless of whether it’s a large or small item, see if there’s a coupon available before you make the purchase. Even if a coupon only saves you a small amount of money, it’s still worth using it to help you save for your first car.

Money doesn’t grow on trees, after all. The less you spend, the more you have.

It’s now very easy to find coupons for things you want to buy. All you have to do is search the internet for the item plus “coupon” to see if anything is available. Manufacturers and stores both offer coupons. There may not always be a coupon available for something you want or need, but you’ll never know unless you check.

13. Wait to Make Big Purchases

If you want to buy something, a strategy that some people use to save money is to wait a while to make the purchase. In other words, put yourself in time-out.

How long you wait is up to you. It could be a few days, a week, or a month. Of course, if it’s something you really need, then you definitely want to go ahead and purchase it. This strategy is for those shiny objects that catch your attention that cause you to make impulse purchases.

The idea behind waiting to make big purchases is to give yourself time to think about it. Do you really need it, or is it just something you want? Will it make your life better, or will you regret buying it a few days later?

An interesting thing about waiting to make big purchases is that some people completely forget about the thing they wanted to buy after a few days or weeks.

14. Have a Staycation

Going on a trip somewhere is fun. Seeing new things and having new experiences can be exciting and adventurous. According to a scientific study, people derive much more happiness from experiences than they do from buying stuff.

But vacations cost money.

Traveling can be very expensive. If you fly to your destination, airfare can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. There is also the cost of hotels, restaurants, and other things to consider.

If you are trying to save money for your first vehicle, consider having a “staycation” instead. A staycation is when you stay home during your vacation instead of traveling somewhere. You could use the time to relax and recharge your batteries instead of constantly being on-the-go.

You’ll also save some money.

15. Buy Generic

how to save money for your first car

If you are wondering how to save money for your first car, another way you may be able to cut your expenses is to buy generic products instead of name brands. Generic products are often just as good as the more expensive brands, but at a fraction of the cost.

If you need a new notebook for school, for example, consider buying the store brand instead of a name brand. Just a few things you may be able to save money on by buying generic include:

  • Snacks and sweets
  • Fruit juices and other drinks
  • Technology and media
  • Makeup and personal care products

16. Work More Hours

One of the simplest things you can do to earn more money for your first car is to work more hours at your job. This may not always be possible, of course, but it never hurts to ask.

If you currently work a part-time job, for example, check with your boss to see if it’s possible to work an extra shift. This may be difficult to do if you are busy with school and other activities.

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17. Work a Second Job

If it’s not possible to work more hours in your current job and you are wondering how to save money for your first car, another option to consider is to work a second job. There are many fast food and retail establishments that need extra help. No guarantees that you’ll land a job, of course, but it never hurts to apply.

The main downside to working a second job is that you have to coordinate your hours with your first job. If one of your jobs wants you to work on a day that you are scheduled to work at your other job and they won’t budge, you may end up in a situation where you have to choose one job over the other.

18. Pet Sit

Another way that you may be able to earn some extra money to help you save for your first car is to pet sit for people. Many people need someone to take care of their dogs, cats, or other animals while they are away for a while. They need someone to feed and water their pets, give them attention, and make sure they get plenty of exercise.

Pet sitting is something you can do for a few hours or a few days. If you keep an animal overnight, it’s important that you have a place with plenty of room for the animal. This strategy may not work, for example, if you live in a small place without a yard and a lot of neighbors living nearby.

Another option to consider that is related to pet sitting is walking dogs. Many people need someone to walk their dogs for them during the day and other times while they are at work or away from home for a while. Dogs need to be walked several times a day to, um, do their business.

Walking dogs is something that is best for those who live in large urban areas where many dog owners lead busy lives with their careers and other things. It may also be possible to walk several dogs at once to earn more money.

19. Mow Lawns

Many people mow lawns for people in their communities when the weather is warm to earn extra money. It’s easy to see why it’s so popular. It often pays very well.

Mowing lawns can be difficult work if you have a push mower, but depending on where you live, it may pay more than minimum wage.

If you have a mower and a way to transport it, you may be able to contact people who live in your community to see if they need someone to mow their lawns for them. Many people will gladly hire someone to mow their lawns to free up some of their time for other things.

In addition to mowing lawns, you could also offer to do other yard work for people including trimming bushes, pulling weeds, landscaping, and other things.

20. House Sit

Another way you may be able to earn some money for your first car is to house sit for people. Many people need someone to stay in their homes while they are away on a trip for a couple of days or longer to take care of a few things.

As a house sitter, you may be required to check the mail, for example, or do some light housework. Many people also like to have someone staying in their homes while they are away as a theft deterrent.

A variation of house sitting to consider is farm sitting. Farm sitting is very similar to house sitting, except with extra duties. You will most likely have to make sure all of the animals on the farm are fed and watered every day. There may be other things on the farm you have to take care of, too.

How to Save Money on Your First Car – Final Thoughts

If you are wondering how to save money for your first car, there are many things you can do to make it happen. It will take hard work and self-discipline to reach your goal, however. Some of the best things in life are worth the effort.

How much you will need to save will depend on a variety of factors. The most important are how expensive the car is you are interested in buying and whether you want to pay cash for your vehicle or make a down payment and finance the rest.

Before you purchase a car, definitely take the time to learn about different brands to find out which companies make the most reliable vehicles. Not all car companies are the same.

The same thing goes for car insurance. It’s worth getting quotes from several car insurance companies to see which ones will give you the most coverage for the best price.

Buying your first car is a major milestone in life. It’s a worthy goal to pursue. Having your own vehicle can free you from having to rely on others to get you where you need to go. If you work hard to earn extra money and cut expenses, it’s definitely possible to achieve your goal of car ownership.

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Cyrus Vanover

Cyrus Vanover, MBA, is a financial copywriter who has written for companies of all sizes. He is also the author of the personal finance book, "Earn A Debt-Free College Degree." His goal is to help families save money, make more money, and achieve financial independence. Based in the mountains of Virginia, he enjoys hiking the local trails, listening to 80s music, and reading books on military history in his spare time. Read more.

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