How to Buy a Used Car in 20 Easy Steps

We just got to experience the joy and happiness of car shopping, so I thought I’d share what we learned in 20 easy steps:

  1. Figure out a general idea of what kind of vehicle you want (suv, minivan, sedan, truck, etc).
  2. Go to Carmax and look at every single one of those types of vehicles.  It’s the only place you can see so many year models and options in one place.  Note: salespeople just love this.
  3. While you are there, get a quote from them to buy your current car.  Try not to cry in the dealership when you find out your car’s value.
  4. Narrow down the make/models that you are interested in between 3-5 cars.  For me it was a Toyota Highlander, Lexus GX 460, Toyota 4Runner, and Toyota Land Cruiser.  
  5. Research the different options, trim levels, body styles and price points.  
  6. Go look at your short list of vehicles at the respective dealerships to see what they look like/drive like/cost if you were to buy brand new.  Try not to throw up when you see the price tags.
  7. Determine if you like the newest models or an older version.  For me, I did not like the new Highlanders and instead preferred the older body styles.
  8. Narrow down what you can buy in your price range- mainly the year, mileage and trim level.  
  9. Start searching for cars that check those boxes daily- and heck, twice a day if you want.  Search Carmax, carvana, auto trader, Craigslist*, and individual dealerships.
  10. If you see a car you like, check the Carfax (provided for free by most dealerships on their website).  This is when the fun starts. See if the car has been wrecked, where it’s been registered, and if the title is clean.  This is the most time consuming part of your searching. “Oh, that’s a good price… let me check the Carfax. Oh, it’s been wrecked three time and lived in New Jersey for 4 years.  Pass.” This step will help you weed out 85% of the cars in your search results.
  11. Send your partner/family/friends links to any car that passes step #10.  
  12. Call/text to see if the car is still available.  If so, haul your kid and husband to see it ASAP. If car shopping in June in Georgia, bring copious amounts of cold water and a well charged iPad.
  13. Climb through the car to see how many people you can fit in it, set up every possible seating arrangement you could possibly use, check all the buttons/gears, screens, windows, trunks, jacks, floor mats, DVD players, and look under the hood. If this passes, take it for a test drive.  If not, don’t waste your time.
  14. Ask the dealer what they did to the car after they bought it off trade, they should give you a list.  Double check the carfax report to be sure the VIN matches the VIN on the car.
  15. Try to negotiate on the price. Know that dealerships don’t have as much negotiation room as they used to.  Also, know that Carmax and Carvana do not negotiate so dealerships have gotten their advertised prices as low as possible to bring in buyers.  Keep in mind that many used cars only come with one key, if you need/want two, negotiate that in with the purchase.
  16. If you come up with an agreed price, take the car to your mechanic for review- along with a copy of carfax to be sure things are accurate- before buying.  
  17. If the car checks out, know that you can put up to $3,000 on a credit card at most dealerships.  If paying “cash”, they want the rest in a personal or certified check. They offer financing options but you can usually get a better rate at a credit union or bank.
  18. The dealership will do the paperwork to get the car registered before you leave but be sure to call your insurance company to have coverage on the new car before you drive it off the lot.
  19. If you car comes with any warranties, be sure to fully understand them before you leave the lot.  
  20. Drive off in your new-to-you car and try to keep your son from dumping pretzels all in it within the first hour of ownership!

*We had a scammy experience with potentially buying a car off Craigslist.  Don’t buy a car from anyone who has a POA to sign the title to you.  There is no way to be sure it’s legal.  Also, if the mileage seems to be too low- it probably is.

learn & laugh, brooke

Nashville Newbie on Broadway

Somehow, I made it 33 years without a visit to Nashville. (*I did attend a high school conference at the Opryland Hotel but this does not count.)

I knew there was a lot of live music in Nashville but I didn’t know there was a LOT of live music. At 10:45am, I was walking down Broadway and heard an extremely loud band playing in Nudie’s. No other bars had live music playing and it was especially exciting to hear as the weekend was quickly approaching. I was dressed in running shorts/shoes and I hesitated to enter, but I’m so glad I did. A five piece band was blaring tunes while folks cracked cold ones at the bar, kids danced and I swayed to the rock n roll.

Wait, it’s not even 11am, and I paid zero dollars to enter a bar with great live music. This is some kind of heaven. My first thought is, “we need to move here.” Followed by, “we need to retire here.” Then, “where can I go in Atlanta for live music before lunch time with my son?!” I was hooked and couldn’t wait to come back later that day after a lunch commitment.

Here is how it works (from what I can tell):

1. Bands play for tips at most of the bars on Broadway. They split the tips evenly among themselves.

2. They play their asses off to entertain and make as much in tips as possible. They don’t take breaks and often loop songs together to prevent lulls (aka giving people an opportunity to leave).

3. Twenty bucks buys you a song of your choice. Most bands have a huge playlist and many have phones/iPads strapped to their mics for lyrics when needed.

4. If you don’t like a song or band, then move along. We managed to hit ten bars in a 3 hour period.

5. If you like a band, tip them. I was in amazement of performers musical talent AND ability to also entertain.

6. Most bars play today’s country, but a few- especially Layla’s and Robert’s- play “authentic country”- think Merle Haggard. These are the best places to see a steel guitar at work.

7. Go early. The talent was great at 11am and got better throughout the day. The bars started getting crazy crowded around 10pm- think drunks and lots of body heat.

8. Wear whatever the heck you want. Everyone else does. Cut offs, flip flops, cowboy boots, jeans and dresses are everywhere. Don’t dress to impress. Dress for dancing your butt off and being sweaty.

9. It seemed that most bands played 4 hour sets. When they are done, they try to get the next band set up as quickly as possible so the bar doesn’t empty in search of other good music.

10. We only paid cover ($5) at one place- a dueling piano bar. There, your song choice and cash tip get lined up in order of amount paid. Want to hear something quickly? Ante up $20 or more and your request usually jumps to the top of the queue.

11. Bachelorette parties are everywhere. And they all have matching t-shirts or tank tops. Keep your distance.

12. The people watching is amazing. I’ll leave it at that.

That’s what I learned as a Nashville Newbie on Broadway. Can’t wait to go back!

The Idol in My Pocket

When I think of idols, a few things come to mind.  I’m reminded of the golden calf that was worshiped in the Old Testament.  Celebrities come to mind, especially Kim Kardashian, as she is the most commonly mentioned celebrity during plastic surgery consultations.  People want to manipulate their bodies to look like her.  I think of the tv show, American Idol, as many devote their weeknights to watching it, voting and buying music produced from it.  I also think of college football (as I wrote about here) and the amount of money and attention spent on football.  

Webster’s dictionary has 5 definitions of idol.  The one that resonates with me the most is “an object of extreme devotion”.

Sadly, I’m here to announce that I carry an idol in my pocket every day.  My iPhone.  

I am extremely devoted to it.  If it gets left at home, it is a source of frustration and feeling of nakedness.

It causes great distraction for me.  If someone is talking to me and I can’t hear them because I’m on the idol, then it’s hurtful to them.  I’m saying/showing through my actions that the distant person, thing, pictures, or whatever on the idol are more important than who is in my presence.

My devotion to my idol causes me to waste precious time that could be spent on solitude, time with friends, or time with God.  I get so caught up on it that I miss opportunities to help others.

My idol keeps me up later at night than it should.  It prevents me from getting more sleep and distracts my mind when I should be winding down.

It’s the first thing I think of many mornings.  I’ve made it a habit to reach for the idol, check email, texts and social media- all before even telling my husband good morning.  

It distracts me when I’m driving which is unsafe for me, my passengers, and everyone else around me.  

My idol weighs too much on my self worth.  Someone hasn’t texted me back- that must mean that they do not like me or I’m not important to them.  This photo only got 28 likes, it must not be cute enough.

My idol steals joy through comparison.  I’m at home in sweats with a sick kid while my friend is in Bermuda snorkeling with dolphins.  

My idol is a liar.  It tells me I’ll be more connected but it causes me to be more disconnected.  Even though it’s fast, it causes me to be more impatient when real life speed isn’t.  It wants to make me happy but it causes those around me to be less happy.

Do you have this idol in your pocket too?

brooke

DIY Shiplap Over Mantle

If I were a betting woman (I am not, I prefer to play roulette), then I’d predict that this will be my most popular post in 2017… especially once Pinterest gets it’s little DIY hands on it.

First, a word on shiplap.  This is a term that Joanna Gaines, from Fixer Upper on HGTV,  has made popular.   I believe that Joanna had a specific type of wood in mind.  One that was already covered up by sheetrock in the Texas homes they remodel.  America has expanded the definition to be any type of wood that you attach to a wall to make it decorative.  Since then, Joanna’s trend has led to thousands of trees being cut down and installed in people’s homes.  I digress…

But, if you want to get all technical, here is what Wikipedia has to say. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shiplap

Somehow, I managed to talk my husband into putting his tools (of the construction variety, to be clear) to use updating some walls in our 1957 ranch home.  I had complained about hauling these tools during three moves in three years and I finally figured out why we have them.  Because he knows how to use them.  Total shocker over here.  He has been holding this information from me for almost 10 years of marriage.  I’m betting he wished he had made it 25 years before I figured it out.

As you know, we had a very tight budget for our home.  Anything that we were able to do, we wanted to do and save the money to pay the pros to do what we could not.  I priced out buying the wood for the first project and it was under $60.  Ok, sold.  Let’s do it.

Here is our before pic:

Click here to see the post on whitewashing a fire place!

DIY Shiplap Recommended Tools:

  • Chop saw
  • Nail gun
  • Air Compressor
  • Small level
  • Large level
  • Finished nails to fit nail gun
  • Pencil
  • Stud finder
  • Caulk
  • Paint

Steps:

1. Measure the area where you are going to install the wood/ship lap.  You will need the height and the width.

img_3841-12. Determine which type of wood you’d like to use.  I chose a tongue and groove “knotty pine pattern” board.  The top of the board has a groove and the bottom has a lip.  When installed, the bottom lip slides into the groove of the previous board to make a solid joint and appears as a continuous board.

3. Do math.  Many of you know this isn’t my strong suit.  It’s also important to know that even though the board is advertised as 8 inches wide, it’s actually 7′.  There is probably a “that’s what she said” joke in this but it was lost on me because it messed up my math.  So, I guess the second part of this step is measure the width of the board you are using so your math will be accurate.

img_3859-14.  Purchase the wood.  Make sure you check for imperfections before checking out.  One of my selected boards had a long crack in the tongue portion that was causing it to break off.  The nice gentlemen at Home Depot helped me track down more inventory.  The wood for my two projects cost about $60.  Safely load the wood in your SUV/truck.

5. Decide what the “center” is of your project.  For ours, the center of the ceiling, mantle and fireplace were all a bit different.  We marked the center of each then went with a median line for our project.

6. Locate the studs behind the Sheetrock so you know where to install the nails.  An electric stud finder makes this very easy.  You can draw a line over each stud or mark with painters tape.  This will save you time later.  The blue tape on the front of the mantle is where our studs lined up on the wall above the mantle.

IMG_02607. Measure twice and cut once.  We started at the bottom of the wall and worked up.  Since I originally thought I needed 4 boards, I had Home Depot cut two of the 12ft boards in half for me, so we installed those first.  We needed one final board to finish.  The width had to be cut down to fit.  Also, our ceiling is a bit uneven- so we had to specialize the cut to be accurate.  ***Home Depot will cut wood for you.  The first two cuts were free and after that they are 25 cents each.  This seems really reasonable if you are sure of your math and don’t have a chop saw.

IMG_39168. Be sure to use a level for each board.  Being off just a little at the start can cause you to be way off by the end of installation.

9. Finish the edges.  It’s important to know that getting boards the exact same length is hard.  That’s why we did a trim piece on the sides to hide the imperfections.  The wider the trim piece is the more it will cover.

10. Finish the top.  The top is tricky and it’s up to you on your preference of how it should look.  You can tie it in to your current molding, trim it like the sides, or frame it out with it’s own crown molding over your current molding.  We opted to “tie it in” to our current crown molding buy bringing the shiplap right to the bottom of it.  I’m not 100% thrilled with this look- and we may do it’s own crown molding one day.

img_3926-111. Paint the wood.    I’d recommend priming first (kilz is your best friend) then doing a coat of paint.  Next, do some caulking to fill in the gaps.  This will make the look more cohesive.  Don’t forget to caulk between the mantle and wood, along the trim piece and ceiling.  Once the caulk dries, do one more coat of paint.  I recommend a satin or semi-gloss to give the finished product a bit of a sheen.  

We are very happy with the final product!

 


learn, brooke

Painting Shutters & My Front Door


Our new house has beautiful wooden shutters but man were they in need of a face lift!  I knew that I wanted to paint them but went back and forth on choosing a paint color for several days.  I wanted something lighter than black that would help update the exterior look without painting the brick.  I decided to go with grey but there are SO many shades of grey.  It’s super overwhelming.  After debating between five color swabs, i finally just decided to go for it with Benjamin Moore Chelsea Grey.  I went with a semi gloss finish in their exterior paint.  It was about $40 for a gallon but it was so worth it!  The paint goes on like a dream and the coverage after one coat was at 90%.  I highly recommend that paint!  Plus, since we did the labor, spending only $40 to update the exterior of our home was a great price!

After the tedious task of choosing a color, the next step was remove the shutters from the house.  Thankfully, two sets of our shutters are on working hinges and they just slide up and off. Only one set is screwed into the brick (aka slightly more difficult to remove). Peck took them all down for me.  I opted to remove them to paint on the ground in the shade of the carport instead of hanging off a ladder in the sun.


Next, I used our electric sander to smooth them out.  One shutter had English ivy attached to it so I used a Sheetrock knife to help scrape those remnants off.  I like to sand wood (especially old wood) before priming because I think the primer adheres much better and then the paint does too.

The next step was to prime them with a grey tinted kilz (leftover from kitchen cabinet painting).  I’m a big believer in primer.  If you do a really good first coat, it prevents extra coats of paint (which is more expensive than primer) later.  I had a fan running in the carport to keep me cool and help dry the primer more quickly so it only took about 2 hours to dry completely.

Next came the paint.  I was relieved to see the paint color and realize I wasn’t making a huge mistake.  I let them dry over night and did a second touch up coat the next day.  It was pretty easy once I got going.  I found that using a brush to hit the joints in the wood first and then using the roller was a good use of time.  I let them dry for about 3 hours and then they were ready to hang!

In hindsight, my only regret for the project was I wish I would have numbered them and marked which way was up.  This would have made rehanging them a bit easier.  Nonetheless, we figured it out with minor complaining from my tall husband.


You will notice that I also painted the front door the same color.  I mean, I had a whole gallon of paint- so why not?  I used wood putty to fill in holes, then sanded, primed and painted it.  I like how the door details stand out more prevalently now.  


learn, brooke

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