We said good-bye to our ’99 Dodge Caravan this week. 

  • DH = dear husband
  • DD1 = dear first daughter

Symbol of our commitment to debt-freedom

Early in the afternoon on Thursday, which happened to be my birthday, I got a call at work from DH. He had just managed to pull off the road and into a parking lot; the van had died. “I’ve called a tow truck,” he said. “I’ll get it assessed, but I don’t know if it’ll be worth it to have it fixed again.”

Our van owes us nothing. We bought it in 1999 when I was expecting our third child and we were entering the intensive mini-van stage of life. 19 and a half years later, we’ve all long since aged out of that era, and our 19-year-old daughter and her 2 older sisters have been embarrassed by our ancient van for close to a decade. Their parents, on the other hand, have been very proud of it.

For over 6 years now, DH and I have been on a mission to pay off all personal debt.  Our ’99 Dodge Caravan, already an uncool 13-year-old vehicle when we started this journey in 2012, has been an ever-present, visible symbol of our commitment to debt-freedom. And it almost saw us to the finish line. In 2 months from now, we’ll be putting the last payment against our mortgage.

Car mentality: DH’s progress

When I first met DH, he drove a spiffy Toyota Celica. Over the winter months, he paid to keep it in a garage as a protection against the harsh northern elements, and from spring to fall, he lovingly washed and waxed each week. He had bought it new 3 years earlier – and was still paying $750 per month for it.

Over the years, DH has drooled over certain vehicles – especially Porsches. And though he gave way to the mini-van era with good grace, “Some day …” was his well established dream for a long time.

But his attitude has undergone a significant turn-around over our debt-reduction years. He has looked back upon the money sink-hole of his Celica payments and expenses with increasing horror as he experienced and valued a gradually lighter and lighter burden of debt. He has sung the praises of our ’99 Dodge Caravan – so reliable, so convenient, so remarkable in its functioning year after year after year … The lure of “spiffy car” no longer has power over him.

A lifetime first: our new-to-us car – paid in full

We’ve known for the last few years that our van might die at any time, and DH has been keeping his eye on Dodge Journeys – to be ready when the inevitable happened. 2 years ago, when we had broken the 6-figure milestone of our debt and DH was still in the process of shedding the last bits of his old weakness for new, shiny cars, he pulled up in our driveway in a brand new 2016 Dodge Journey. “It’s just a test drive,” he said. “It’s just for fun.” I didn’t think it was so fun, and only a year later did DH admit, “That was a close call.”

4 months ago, DH noticed a gently used 2016 Dodge Journey for sale. We seriously considered buying it since it had low mileage, some worthwhile upgrades, and was 40% off the price for new. By that point, we were in a position to pay for it outright and still meet our debt-freedom date of September 2018. But we decided to keep on driving the van – because it was still running.

After we’d made the decision not to try fixing the van this week – a starting quote of $1,300 with a strong possibility of more to follow – we looked for used Dodge Journeys. At a dealership very close to home, we found a 2013 model – fully loaded – at 65% off the price for new.

Adjusting to new(-to-us)

As I walked around the used car lot, I wondered why I had never bought used before. There was a 2018 vehicle in the mix, along with cars from pre-2010. They looked fine! They were being sold with certain guarantees, and the used-car-salesman image just wasn’t happening. The business seemed to be family run, and our salesperson was a woman about my age who knew every detail of every vehicle. She spoke in a straightforward, low-key way. Nothing to mistrust. No sleaze.

We are really, really happy with our new-to-us car. Most significantly, it has a functioning air-conditioner! Our van’s ac hadn’t worked for years, and the ac on our other vehicle (2011 Ford Focus) died 2 years ago. We just happen to be going through a record-breaking heat wave right now, and the Dodge Journey’s ac is SO welcome!

“I feel guilty driving this,” DH said to me yesterday, and I understood because I had been thinking the same thing. Of course there’s nothing to feel guilty about. It’s a 5-year-old car! It doesn’t come close to ranking among the “spiffy” options out there. It wasn’t expensive, and we paid for it with money on hand. Nothing decadent about this purchase at all! But it’s such an upgrade from what we’ve been driving. “It’s the nicest car I’ve ever driven,” I said to DD1 on a recent phone call. “That’s not hard, Mom,” she said. “You haven’t been driving nice cars.”

A hint of things to come?

I can’t help but think that there will be more of this adjustment ahead. We’ve got so many old, worn-out things – bikes, carpeting, furniture, the paint on our walls … In the months and years ahead, we’ll have the freedom to replace them when we choose to. I hope that we won’t get swept away by the siren song of materialism – that we’ll stay on the look-out for the lies and false forces of marketing. But I also hope that we live the freedom we’ve been working towards – and that we’ll stay on the look-out for the lies of false guilt too.

DH and I both felt a bit weepy as we watched the tow truck carry away our ’99 Dodge Caravan. It’s seen us through countless family camping vacations, trips to soccer games, swim meets, track practices … And more recently, it’s been a steadfast companion through our years of debt-reduction, a constant symbol of the better way we have chosen.

Do you buy new or used vehicles? Have you or your loved ones ever felt embarrassed by an old car? Have you ever felt a false guilt when buying something? Your comments are welcome.


Join the Conversation


  1. First, Happy Birthday! Congrats on the new to you car. My latest car was purchased in 2014 and was is 2011 with cash. I’m a big fan of the gently used car purchase. Such a big saving over buying new. My previous car had no AC, and no real feature either. It felt like an amazing upgrade and still does today. Congrats again, just an amazing, well deserved next step on your debt freedom journey.

    1. Thank you, Brian! I’m glad that the car you bought in 2014 still feels “like an amazing upgrade” today 🙂 DH and I were wondering if we’d eventually take this new-to-us car for granted – but maybe not!

  2. Happy belated birthday, Ruth! Only one more year until freedom 56 :).

    We had a “99 Ford Windstar van that we purchased when it was three years old with low mileage, and that lasted until 2014 when the transmission bit the dust while I was driving it – just had time to pull into a parking lot as well …

    We then used cash to purchase a 2009 (five year old) Hyundai Tucson with extremely low mileage that we still drive four years later and the mileage is still under 100,000 miles.

    Since becoming debt free in August 2015 we have saved enough money to buy a newer used car with cash when the time comes.

    Living debt free is the best!!

    Enjoy your summer driving your new car – you’ve earned the right.

    1. Thank you, Nancy. It’s great to hear that the 5-year-old car you purchased 4 years ago is still serving you well. I’m glad that you plan to buy a newer used car instead of a new car – even though you could probably pay for a new one outright before too long – when the time comes. Ramsey is a multi-millionaire, and he still does too 🙂

  3. Happy b-day, Ruth! Sorry to hear about the demise of your beloved Dodge Caravan, but you should feel good about your new-to-you purchase.

    My wife and I bought a brand new Honda Civic a few years ago (our only vehicle), and we mainly bought new because of some of the tech features (that back-up camera is a lifesaver for a small car parked between big vehicles). We financed it at 0.9% and we are just about to make the final payment on it. We plan to keep it until the wheels fall off, and then to purchase used with cash. I don’t regret purchasing the new vehicle, but there’s a better way and we’re going to take it next time.

    1. Thanks, Gary. How great that you’re about to put your last payment against that Civic! Good plan to drive it until the wheels fall off 🙂 Are you planning to just keep putting aside what you have been spending in car payments? That seems like a painless way to save up to pay with cash.

  4. Well that was a good long run! I think I would welcome the AC at that point too! It’s really one of my only criteria for a car. Hope you enjoy the new ride. BTW, my mom bought a brand new Chevy Equinox with cash and it’s really nice and it’s a “smart car.” It’s funny because I drove it when I was in Detroit and then I came home and had to drive my “dumb car.” Oh well, it’s paid for…and has AC! 🙂

    1. Oooh, it can be dangerous to get a taste of “spiffy”! I hope you weren’t too tempted by your mom’s new car. I’ve never driven a smart car – or an electric car. I think our next one will at least be a hybrid. But for now, “smart” is “paid-for” – and we both have that 🙂

  5. All our cars are 12-14 years old, we buy them used and old 😀

    When we get around to getting another new to us car, I don’t know what or when that’ll be, but part of me wants to hold out until we can get an electric (or at least hybrid) minivan for NOT majillions of dollars. That might be five or ten years from now, realistically, so it’s possible I’ll have to settle for something less environmentally hopeful but a girl can dream!

    I’ve always felt guilty about buying things, even when we started being able to afford it, but I don’t let that overrule me so much anymore. I just try to take a more measured and reasonable approach to spending instead of spending in spurts.

    1. Revanche, I’m not surprised that you buy old and used – you’ve been money-smart for a very long time 🙂 I’m not surprised that you feel guilty about buying things either – since so much of your money-IQ developed in circumstances of oppressive difficulty that put you in the role of rescuer. I’m really, really glad that you’re evolving out of that role, and that you’re not letting the guilt of buying “overrule” you. The “measured and reasonable approach to spending” is what I need to come to as well – though from a completely different starting point. Like you, I’m getting there 🙂

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