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Buying a car is a fun process, but it can be tough when you don’t have any money for one. Sure, you can get an auto loan, but you will still need some money for a down payment. However, if you save up more money, you can possibly even pay for a car in full. Here are a few tips on how to save money to buy a car or at least afford a sizeable down payment.

Calculate how much of a down payment you need

A customer inspects the Monroney sticker on a Ford vehicle at the Helfman Ford dealership
A dealership window sticker | Brandon Bell/Getty Images

If you plan to finance a new or used car, then you should first calculate how much of a down payment you will need. The folks at NerdWallet suggest that a good rule of thumb is “20% down for a new car and 10% down for a used car.” If you need help calculating how much of a car you can afford, there are many affordability calculators online to help you figure it out.

Budget for the car-related expenses using the 50/30/20 method

If you really want to get down to the nitty gritty of saving money for a car, then you can use the “50/30/20” method. The method involves allocating 50% of your monthly income to your needs, 30% of your monthly income to your wants, and the remaining 20% toward savings and debt repayment. It’s up to you on which part of that equation will be used toward saving up for a car, but it’s a good idea only to have car-related expenses be no more than 20% of your monthly income.

Set up a savings account and automate your savings

A person sitting doing a car deal, potentially car leasing.
A customer at a car dealership | Getty Images

Once you figure out how much you need to save and how to save it, the next step is to automate your savings, so you don’t need to think about it. One tip is to open up a separate savings account, so you’re not tempted to dip into your car savings. Then you can set up a direct deposit from your paycheck or an automatic transfer from your checking account to go into that savings account.

Sell or trade in your current car

If you have a car you intend to replace with a new one, you can consider selling it or trading it in for the newer one. Doing so will help you cover the cost of your new car or at least the down payment.

Increase your income

A customer checks out a used Corvette at a dealership.
A customer checks out a used Corvette at a dealership. | Getty Images

One of the best ways to save money for a car is to earn more money. Consider picking up another job or a side hustle to increase your current income.

Be realistic in your search

Lastly, remember to be realistic in your car search. For example, a used BMW can cost the same as a new Honda Civic, but that doesn’t mean buying one is the most financially responsible decision. Buying a used luxury car can cost you more in maintenance, repairs, and insurance, whereas a new Japanese car won’t cost nearly as much.

Also, while you may be able to stretch your dollar and afford a $500 monthly payment, but you know that a $300 payment is more comfortable, then go for the latter. You might not be able to afford as much of a car, but you can at least drive a cheaper car for a while and then buy a better one later.


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