Over the weekend, I (Dawn) went to the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, something I like to do every year. It’s a great show for auto enthusiasts, people who are shopping for a new car, and those who just like looking at all the fancy, expensive cars up close (me).


It was a reminder to me how overboard people can go while buying a car. The show cars are gorgeous and have all the features you could want. It’s very easy to look around and start to dream about how amazing it would be to have a car like one of these.


If you are in the market for a new car or will be soon, this can also apply when you’re shopping around, especially if you’re looking at a dealership. It’s easy to get caught up in the features and perks, and then rationalize why you should spend that extra money. It’s an easy way to end up with buyer’s remorse.


So, to avoid this from happening to you, here are some tips for planning your purchase:


  • Shop online first – The web has great resources when deciding on the car for you. You can find anything form reviews, safety ratings, features, to seeing the actual car you may be buying. Use those recourses extensively before you even leave the house. Decide on what car you want and what features you can’t live without (and those you can), so you won’t be as tempted by the cars you may see in the dealership lot. One of our favorite resource sites is autotrader.com.


  • Decide on your maximum price – If you decide what you are willing (and able) to spend first, it will help you decide on the type of car and features you can afford. For many people, maximum price will be based on the monthly payment, but for those paying cash for a car, this decision is just as important. If you are financing, we always recommend doing so for no more than 3 years (which will have a higher monthly payment then the more popular 5-7 year loans).


  • Decide if you’re buying new, used, or leasing – Again, you can find tools to help you with this decision online. Many sites have calculators to estimate what your payment might look like. Leasing is more difficult because you often have to go to the dealership to even find out the pricing. But knowing beforehand what you want to do will help you when it comes time to sign the contract.


While these tips are probably most important while buying from a dealership, they also can be used if you’re buying from a private seller. However, another note to add if you are buying used, make sure you know the full history of the car. There are a lot of used cars that look great on the surface, but may have hidden issues.


There is nothing wrong with wanting a nice car to drive, but it’s so easy to get caught up with everything that’s available while picking one out. Remember that you’re buying (or leasing) a car, not investing in one, so be careful how you spend your money.


Do you have any tips on how to shop for a car?