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Land Rover Discovery IIIt’s been a year now since I bought the Land Rover that’s been sucking down gas each and every month.

The main reason for the purchase was because we’d be becoming a family of four within weeks and we needed another car that we could all fit in for a family vacation…and I’d always wanted one.

Was it worth it?

Well, it has certainly lived up to Land Rover’s well documented reputation as an often-in-the-shop money pit.

There was that $1100 “incident” in March followed by the $1200 accident in June.

And how could I forget that $1675 oil change in August!?

Wow…

That’s a lot of maintenance in a six month period…

But time heals all wounds and, thankfully (or surprisingly), it’s been smooth sailing every since.

So, while I don’t feel as if it was a wise investment yet — I never expected it to run forever — I’m still glad that I bought it.

It’s just eclipsed the 60k mile mark so it “should” have some life left and if I get another 20-40k out of it with minimal maintenance, well, it’ll have been a steal!

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Land RoverSo remember how when I bought the Land Rover a few months ago, I said that I was well aware that they have a reputation that comes along with them.

A bad reputation.

Lemons.

Always in the shop.

And, making matters worse, they’re super expensive to fix.

Well, since purchasing it, I had that serpentine belt and thermostat problem that set me back $1200.

Then there was that fender bender (not really the car’s fault) that cost me another $1200 out of pocket.

And have I mentioned that the “Check Engine Soon” light has been on for a couple of months?

If not, well, a couple of weeks ago I took it in to the nearest Land Rover dealership for an oil change.

Actually, I really only took it to the dealership so as to get it looked over prior to our 2000 mile road trip.

Off hand, I also asked them to take a look at the check engine light issue even though the car was driving just fine.

I dropped it off on Wednesday, July 27th, expecting to pick it up on Thursday evening — one day later.

No call came while I was at work on Thursday — so I called them and they said that I needed a new oxygen sensor to make the light turn off and that they wouldn’t have the part until tomorrow.

Fine.

Inconvenient, sure, but we’ve got four cars. We’ll live.

Friday comes and, again, no call.

I call them.

Now they say they need to replace another oxygen sensor and they’ll have it ready for me on Monday.

Hmmmm… I’m not liking how this is going…

I agree to it, disparagingly, while thinking in my head — they’re just throwing new parts at the problem that probably isn’t even a problem at all.

On Monday evening, my wife drives me out there to pick it up and it’s still up on the lift.

It’s not done.

They never called. What’s up with that?

Don’t they realize the crazy daycare preparations we had to make (not to mention, we both had to leave work early) to make this trip? Grrrr…

On Tuesday, I call them again asking if it’s ready. This time they say some sort of gasket needs to be replaced cause it’s all gummed up with oil or something is leaking — I dunno, I stopped listening — but I agreed to have them replace it because he claimed that the car wasn’t running well.

Weird, my car ran fine when I took it in for an oil change and now it doesn’t run well.

I’m really not liking how this is going.

On Wednesday, an entire week after I’d originally dropped it off, the dealership FINALLY calls me to tell me that the engine light is still on and that I need a new “engine harness” to correct the problem.

I let him do his gear-head schtick for awhile before asking how much that would cost to replace.

“Well, they’re made to order so we wouldn’t be able to do it for two or three weeks but the cost with labor would be around $2400.”

Staying calm (and thinking about my looming vacation in a matter of days), I asked, “What’s my bill up to so far?”

“$1675 after a $25 off special.”

I could not BELIEVE he mentioned $25 off on a $1700 bill like it was some sort of gift…

“Um, okay, does it run right now?”

“Yep, it’s running great.”

“Okay, then I’m coming to pick it up… now.”

So I get a ride out there and the whole time I’m thinking — did they really just try to hit me up for over $4000 on an oil change? For real? Is this really happening?

So I get to the dealership just as they’re about to close, charge my $1675 fee, flash a few dirty looks and get in the car.

Yep, check engine light is still on.

Did I just go without a car for an entire week for a simple oil change?

Yep.

And I’m $1675 poorer for nothing?!

Holy crap!?

When I get home, I hop out, and click the key to lock the car.

Nothing.

I try it again.

Nothing.

Are you kidding me?

They broke the keyless entry.

So now I’ve been down a vehicle for a week, I’m $1675 poorer, my car is in worse shape that it was a week ago, and I’m going on a 2000-mile road trip in two days.

Wonderful.

So, on Friday, August 5th, just before we embarked on our vacation, my wife took it back to the dealership to get the keyless entry fixed.

After being treated like a moron at first by being told her key’s battery was dead (and mine just happened to die at the exact same time? Suuuuuure.), and some denial that they did anything that would affect the keyless entry, they tried to “reset” things — for two hours while my wife sat there.

And they were unsuccessful.

Great dealership, huh?

Keyless Entry on a Land Rover Discovery II

So, I don’t blame Land Rover — I still don’t think it’s a lemon and I don’t think that their cars suck.

I do, however, think that Land Rover of Farmington Valley is a complete joke. We will NEVER again take the car there.

And while the lack of keyless entry is a real pain (you try carring two kids and having to walk to the driver’s side door to unlock the car when it’s pouring rain), it’s not the end of the world.

I’ve chalked it up as a $1675 mistake.

But on the bright side, 1800 miles into our road trip when, for no reason at all, the check engine light turned off, I smiled a little on the inside.

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Car LeaseIn the past I’ve gone on and on about how leasing a car is a terrible idea from a financial point of view.

I made the mistake, once, almost 20 years ago now.

I went so far over the mileage limit (auto leases usually put a limitation on the number of miles you can put on the vehicle each year), I had no choice but to purchase the car as the lease was expiring.

In the end, it worked out for me as I probably should have bought the car right from the get-go but didn’t have the funds for that to happen (or the credit history — requiring my dad to co-sign)…which is why I went with the lease option.

Fast forward to today and, well, things have drastically changed.

I have the funds available to purchase pretty much any vehicle I’d like — all the way up to an entry level Lamborghini.

So here I am, in the final days (yes, days), of my most recent auto loan — and I’m looking at my currently daily driver (a 2005 Scion xA) and thinking, hmmmmm, will I get through another winter with this thing?

I’m not certain.

While it hasn’t let me know…yet…it also fails to give me that “reliable transportation” feeling lately. I’m often quite prepared for it to just, you know, die at the next stop light.

Another shortcoming, and really the biggest of them all, is that in 2005 I was a single guy. Now I have a family of five…and a car that can only seat four comfortably.

With that forcing my hand, I need a bigger and more reliable ride…sooner rather than later.

And that brings my back to my finances…

With it still fresh in my mind (from the loan I’m eliminating now) that a roughly $25k loan equates to a $450 payment and my complete disdain to, you know, continue making $450 payments (weekly, no less) seemingly indefinitely AND the fact that, deep in my heart, I know this next vehicle will simply be a stop-gap until I can get the car I’d really like, well, the lease offers out there are really, really, enticing.

New car with a smaller payment than what I’m paying now and…no huge new debt taken on.

Financially, today, for me, that sounds pretty great.

Hang with me here, I’m trying to convince myself that it’s okay to lease…

Now, about those mileage limitations…well, I don’t foresee those being an issue.

See, when I was in my early 20’s, it wasn’t out of the ordinary to, you know, drive to Ohio for lunch or whatever.

In the last decade, I haven’t driven 500 miles for lunch…yet.

Further, I now live less than 2 miles from the places I visit most often (work, elementary school, and daycare) so clocking under the mileage limit shouldn’t be an issue. And…I have two other vehicles that I OWN should I start getting close to making it cost prohibitive.

So, here’s what I’m thinking off of the top of my head right now.

The “new” car has to be reliable. Duh.

It has to fit my entire family and an assortment of hockey equipment comfortably.

And it has to cost me less than the Swagger Wagon has been costing me.

Notice that I did not say it had to look cool. Or fit in the new garage I’ll be having built. Or last a long time.

Stop-gap, remember? Once this thing is gone and my kids are out of their enormous car seats, I can go back and get another Land Rover like I really want.

For now, though, I’m leaning towards the Ford Transit.

A what?

Sure, you’ve never heard of it but, trust me, you’ve seen them. They look like delivery trucks. Plumbers and electricians use them. Florists. Kind of like the modern day version of a panel cargo van — somewhere between a regular old school van and a full blown box truck.

But here’s the thing — you can also get them with windows and seats in the back making them look more like handicapped vans or shuttle buses.

Ford Transit Titanium

Hardly cool — for real, it’s another Swagger Wagon — but way, way, practical.

And amazingly affordable too…

Hmmmmm….

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May 2015 Net WorthWould’ve been neat to see my progress during the past couple of years when I was essentially “ignoring” my finances.

‘Ignoring’ is too strong of a word. Let’s just say…I didn’t have any direction. Now, hopefully, I’m back at it.

So, unlike when I previously did this, I’m going to ignore assets like the house and the cars.

Mostly because it was such a hassle to calculate their values but also because the values I came up with could so easily be questioned.

I mean, that Land Rover valued at $4500 only really got me $1500 as a trade-in. Kelley Blue Book – you’re dead to me.

Honestly, though, I’m also leaving them off because I know I’m currently in the black without them… No need to “pad” the numbers.

Hooray for getting older and wiser, err, wealthy!

(pretty sure everyone gets wealthier as they get older… if only I could’ve been where I am now when I started this place 8+ years ago…)

Here’s the breakdown:

Checking
My day-to-day cash lives here. It’s also where I deposit my paychecks. Basically, I just try to keep this above $1500 at all times since that’s the threshhold where BoA will start charging me maintenance fees. Most months, I come within a couple hundred bucks of getting charged.

Savings
This looks awesome, doesn’t it? Well, truth be told, a vast majority of it is money I owe on a home equity loan so it kinda cancels itself out on the liability side of things. The plan is to use all of this (and then some) to finance building a HUGE addition on our home.

401k
Considering I barely contribute to this (as there hasn’t been a match for years now), I sure am glad that I got as much in there as I did when I was still in my 20’s. Really, this is a testament to starting early on a nest egg. Not necessarily continuing (as I have not), but starting early.

Stock
Not sure why I still have this paltry amount sitting in a Sharebuilder account. While I’d love to brag about how much money I made selling my Tesla, Chipotle, Lululemon, and SolarCity stock, well, those earnings may as well be ancient history at this point…

Auto Loan
Primary target here — this thing is dropping fast. While I’m barely a week into my aggressive payment plan, this 5-figure sum will be reduced to nothing before the summer is over.

BoA Credit Card
This is a business card that I use as a business owner mostly to make tracking my business expenses super simple since they’re all on one statement. Thankfully, I’ve gotten to a place where I pay this one in full each month — that is, if my clients pay their invoices promptly.

Chase Credit Card
My card of choice lately which is why it’s carrying a balance. It doesn’t have the lowest rate or the best rewards program but they sure do make it easy to pay them back and, often times, they have the best “transer your balance” offers. As a result, I’ve had this account open since I was 21 years old. For those counting, that’s 17 years ago.

Citi Credit Card
This is my other go-to card. It has a pretty sweet rewards program but the interest rate is ludicrous compared to my other accounts. As such, since I’ll be carrying a balance for a few months, this card doesn’t venture out of my wallet much these days.

Mortgage 1
My primary mortgage, the one that, post-refi, has a $498/month payment. Staying the course on this one as I’m sure that in 10 more years, a trip to the grocery store will be comparable in price. *So* thankful I refinanced when I did.

Mortgage 2
This is what’s left to payback on the Home Equity loan we secured back in December of 2013. We still haven’t used the money so, in theory, I could pay it back tomorrow.

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Okay, so it’s been a bit…and for that I apologize but I’m getting excited about paying down debt again.

Seems that once I reached my goal of being debt free, well, the excitement my finances brought kinda waned.

Hey, I’ve never wavered from the fact that I’m a lot more skilled at paying down debt than growing savings

Anyway, as you may have already guessed, I’m carrying a considerable amount of debt again so it’s time to put my head down and eliminate it…again.

Let’s get down to business.

Briefly, a rundown of my current debt situation is this:

  • $3k in credit card debt at 12.9%
  • $11k in an auto loan debt at 2.9%
  • $154k across two mortgages both below 5.5%

And here’s the plan…

Though the credit card has the lowest balance (which would take almost no time to eliminate) and the highest rate (which means it’s costing me the most to carry), it’s not my primary target.

Reason being, its minimum monthly payment is tiny so it has almost zero effect on my budget.

Yeah, it sucks paying finance charges each month but I can totally handle an extra $26 or so tacked on to my balance each month.

Sure beats the old days when I was dropping over $400/month in finance charges across multiple cards…

The mortgages are what they are.

Did you remember that my primary mortgage payment comes in at under $500 per month? Yep — my housing payment is amazingly low for a four bedroom house.

So low, in fact, that during my blogging hiatus, I took out a home equity loan to help finance that garage I’ve been talking about for so many years.

It’s not built yet…but most of the money to get it done is already in place.

So, as I’ve repeatedly stated in the past, there is ZERO benefit for me in paying down the primary mortgage at an advanced pace and the second mortgage balance doesn’t cause me sleepless nights either though that’s likely due to the fact that I still have the entire balance sitting in a savings account (so it really doesn’t feel like debt…yet).

So that leaves the auto loan…

Remaining balance on the loan is $11099 and the monthly payment is $444.15. Interest rate is 2.9% which, unfortunately, is the highest interest rate I’ve ever had on an auto loan.

This loan originated back in April of 2013 when we bought the Swagger Wagon to replace my beloved (in a nostalgic sort of way) Land Rover Discovery. Original balance was $24k.

Having never lost my love for paying down debt quickly, I’m so far ahead on this loan that I don’t actually have to make another payment on it until April 2016. Yeah, an entire year.

That said, it’s minimum payment (not that I need to pay it or anything) is pretty chunky in my opinion.

Sorry — paying almost $450 per month for a $12k balance just rubs me the wrong way…so I want it GONE.

Ready for this? My plan is to have it PAID OFF in four months.

The method of attack is tried and true for me — every last dollar goes to paying this off.

EVERY. LAST. DOLLAR.

Extra payments to the mortgage(s) are halted. Credit card payments are just covering my current purchase expenses plus the minimum payment — essentially keeping the current balance relatively level.

And that’s okay because once the auto loan is paid in full, the credit cards are next and within striking distance of a full payoff the following month leaving just the mortgages.

Let’s do this.

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When it became apparent that a new car purchase was imminent, my wife and I initiated a bunch of transfers from savings to checking in anticipation of, well, emptying the coffers to make a down payment.

It’s crazy how we can come up with money fast when we need it — I mean, we practically live paycheck-to-paycheck it seems and each subsequent daycare payment drops us even lower but, when push comes to shove, we were able to scramble together nearly $7k in cash in the span of 36 hours.

Weird how that happens.

Anyway, upon inspection of the Land Rover, we were given the dire news that we were already completely aware of — it’s a 4500 pound paperweight with an original sticker price of $50k.

Trade-in value…$1500.

Ouch.

Not what I’d hoped for but what are you going to do, right? It was just a month ago that we finally trimmed our automotive fleet down to 3 vehicles — I wasn’t about to jump back up to four.

Fifteen hundred bucks to take it off of our hands was a deal I was willing to make.

Following that, they asked if we were going to write a check as an additional down payment — as if they didn’t think we’d intended to.

Now, we’ve been in this situation before. The most recent occurance that I can remember was our big interior renovation project. We’d saved up a bunch of money and paid it *all* out at the onset only to find ourselves cash strapped for what seemed like forever.

Sure, it gave us a huge jump on paying for the whole thing but…well, it wasn’t a great idea.

It sucked actually.

Being a lot wiser now, I realized that writing a $7000 check right then and there would only alter my monthly payment by maybe $100.

A hundred bucks is nothing compared to $7k in the bank.

In my eyes, anyway.

My wife and I looked at each other, shrugged, and decided, “Yeah, okay, we’ll toss another $1000 in towards the down payment.”

So I wrote a check for $1000. No rhyme or reason to that sum.

But that’s it — a $1500 trade-in and a $1000 check for the car and the rest went right back into savings.

So, along with a $444/month payment, we still have money to fall back on *and* a new car.

Yeah, while that payment kinda sucks, it’s still a much more comfortable setting than a new car, a $344/month payment, and an empty piggy bank…for months.

Always a better move to use other people’s money — especially when they’re practically giving it away for free…

If only construction loans could be had as easily as auto loans…

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So, as expected, last night we bought a Swagger Wagon.

Nothing notable about the experience from my perspective but people at work were horrified when I mentioned that we hadn’t even taken it for a test drive.

In a nut shell, we emailed the guy who sold us the Scion in 2005 and completed the entire transaction via email.

Last night was just to sign a few forms, drop off the Land Rover, and pick up the Swagger Wagon which, until last night, we’d only seen in pictures.

Whole thing took an hour — 25 minutes of which were spent waiting around while the finance folks finished up with other (slower) customers.

It was a darn near perfect transaction and just the way I like it.

No negotiations over floor mats, no back and forth over price, no closed door visits to the manager, no pointless test drive (more on that inna sec), and no sleazy sales pitches — though the finance guy did talk up a number of “warranty” offers which we obviously declined. Thankfully, he wasn’t pushy.

Once we had the keys, there weren’t demos on how to move the seats around or turn on the radio or use the keyless entry as if the entire concept of operating an automobile was foreign to me.

I’m not an idiot.

Apparently a lot of folks are, though… Really, the family next to us was getting schooled on stuff like power windows, glove compartments, where the turn signal was located, and which corresponding lights would light up.

“This is called the brake pedal. When you push it down with your foot, the red lights on the back turn on!”

Really?

Seriously, power windows have been around for 30 years. If you don’t know how they work, well, I’m not sure you should be allowed to buy or operate a car.

Now, yes, it’s true that we purchased a car sight unseen.

In fact, when I first saw it 5 minutes before owning it, I wasn’t real keen on the colour. It wasn’t exactly what I expected or how it looked in the picture online but that certainly wasn’t a deal breaker.

And a test drive? They offered, of course, but we turned them down. Complete waste of time, in my opinion, when you’re buying from a major dealership.

As you’ve probably guessed, I can’t be sold a car. I know what I want.

If I were to go in thinking that I wanted a Nissan and they had me test drive a Honda, a Toyota, a Volkswagen, and a Subaru all of roughly the same value, guess what? Regardless of the “ride”, I’d still be purchasing a Nissan.

If they had a green Nissan and a white Nissan of the same model, I wouldn’t take both out for a test drive to see which “felt” better. White cars look like storm troopers to me — I’ll take the green, thanks.

(Side note — I’ve driven Nissan rental cars twice in the past — a Sentra and an Altima — and can confidently say that I’ll never purchase a Nissan.)

So driving around the block in a bunch of different cars, to me, is an utter waste of time. I wanted a Toyota Sienna. It couldn’t be white. It couldn’t be red. Oh, you have a blue one? I’ll take it.

If it craps out on the ride home or even next week, I’ll be back. Big dealerships aren’t in the business of screwing people on the sales end of things.

Now, if I were purchasing from a small used car lot or a private party, well, that’s a different story. The Land Rover came from a small business — guess how many cars I took out for a test drive that time?

Yep, one. The one I purchased the next day.

The entire “idea” of the iconic car salesman and purchase process is very old fashioned to me. No one can tell me what I want — I’ve done the research and I already know.

Now, for the one percent thing referenced in the title of this post…

During the finance portion of the evening, the guy ran our credit scores and, I feel, went of of his way to mention that we have great credit.

My score was 857.

I’m not certain what that means since the last time I looked into stuff like this the highest a score could go was 850 but whatever… Different scale, I guess…

But underneath the score, where the “explanation” was, it said that my credit was better than 99% of the population so I now officially consider myself among the one percent and will shake my fist defiantly/triumphantly at the Occupy Wall Street welfare camp that I think might still exist in tatters in downtown Hartford as I drive by in my Swagger Wagon.

Rebel scum.

(If you’re under 25, that’s just another Star Wars reference…)

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Well, just as we hemmed and hawed over which car to trade in, the decision was essentially made for us.

The dreaded “Service Engine Soon” light illuminated on the dashboard of the Land Rover. Again.

Shoulda traded it in last week…

We took it to our local garage to see if, by chance, it was an easy, err, inexpensive fix but, not surprisingly, the repair costs very clearly dwarf nay possible trade-in value.

Something about some gaskets and solenoids — doesn’t really matter…

We need to trade the Land Rover in…NOW!

It’s kind of bittersweet.

Land RoverWhile I won’t miss having to worry about hitting the ceiling in parking garages or having $90+ fill-ups as the gas station every week, I will definitely miss driving one of the few cars I’d always wanted.

Hey, at least I can say that I owned one.

And hopefully Duncan is old enough to remember that we owned one too.

On that note, before I was born, my parents drove a BMW Isetta. Wicked cool car. Look it up.

Of course, the first car I remember having was a Chevy Malibu which we traded in for a Ford Crown Victoria station wagon (with the fake wood on the side). Yeah, really cool memories… Sigh…

Anwway, before getting rid of the Isetta, my dad removed the headlights and the taillights and pretty much everything else that could be removed — I still have them in my attic along with the owners manual.

Following suit, I’m likely going to take the tire cover with the rhinoceros off of the Land Rover tonight as a souvenir (and proof) of my formerly cool self.

On the bright side, I think I’ll really enjoy taking the Scion xA back from my wife as a daily driver. I know I’ll enjoy the $30 fill-ups that last nearly two weeks.

So, barring any unexpected circumstances, the Land Rover will be traded in tomorrow night for some measly sum on the edges of unfair and we’ll drive away in a nice new (to us) Toyota Sienna.

Regarding the entire Land Rover ownership experience — well, it was, hmmmmm… I’m not sure I can sum it up in one word.

We purchased it (used) a little over two years ago just before the birth of Henrik because it was essential that we have two cars that could fit two adults and two HUGE car seats.

It wasn’t a luxury — it was a necessity (says the guy who already had 3 cars at the time…)

While it had a few mechanical problems along the way, and a few fender benders as well, it got the job done and it lasted just as long as it needed to.

It survived two major road trips which was one more than I’d expected it to.

Sure, I wish I could have squeezed another year out of it but, in the end, this is the right decision.

Comparatively, the Scion has a lot more life left in it.

And I can honestly say that I feel I got my money’s worth out of the Land Rover.

I don’t regret the experience one bit and, if they ever have a great looking body style again in the future (they currently do not), I’d love to buy another one at some point down the road when we’re done with the minivan stage of life.

It’s swagger wagon time.

Can You Dig It?

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