Mary Hunt: Help! What do I need to know to purchase a new vehicle?
DEAR MARY: I'm a single mom on a tight budget. Unfortunately, my 15-year-old car just died, and repairing it wouldn't be worth the cost. I've already decided to buy a car, but I'm a little nervous about negotiating with the salesperson. I know absolutely nothing about cars, and I'm worried I'm going to get taken for a ride (no pun intended!). What should I look out for before signing on the dotted line? — GRETCHEN, OHIO
DEAR GRETCHEN: Before doing anything like falling in love with a car you cannot afford, I suggest you get pre-qualified. Go to your bank or credit union — or even online to an auto finance company like CapitalOneAuto.com — and get an auto loan commitment. Based on your credit history, current income and expenses, a lender will commit to a specific amount and explain the loan conditions like interest rate, monthly payment and number of months. You'll take this information with you when you visit the dealer.
Next, you need to do some serious homework. Should you buy a used or a new car? Foreign or domestic? Size and type? If you spend a few hours at information-packed websites like ConsumerReports.org, Edmunds.com and KBB.com, you will walk away feeling like an expert at buying a car. After you've selected the type of car you want, start visiting dealers' websites in your area to look through their inventory and schedule test drives.
Hint: If you decide to buy a good used car, arrange to have a qualified mechanic give it a clean bill of health before you make that final decision.
DEAR MARY: I've always been very generous with my family, thinking nothing of picking up the tab for dinner with everyone or treating my favorite niece to a shopping spree if she does well in school.
My husband gets along well with my family, but he does think some of them take advantage of my generosity. We're expecting our first child in a few months, and he thinks my priorities should be elsewhere right now. I make plenty of money — in fact, my salary is more than his. Who's right? — DENISE, NEW JERSEY
DEAR DENISE: Money is probably the most difficult issue in marriage. But you can make it a lot easier when you start thinking as you would in a business partnership. Successful business partners don't keep score; they bring their particular strengths and abilities to the business and pool the income and the profits. They make joint decisions on spending.
The fastest way I know for a partnership to fail is for one partner to go off in a huff and make independent decisions without regard for the other.
I suggest that you need to see your marriage as the most important "business" in your life. Together, you and your husband need to negotiate and compromise when it comes to giving and "gifting." And the sooner you begin to think of everything in your marriage as "ours" rather than "yours" and "mine," the sooner you will find emotional intimacy and financial harmony.