Blue 2017 Santa Fe Sport car parked in a driveway.
2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport

As I begin writing this post, I am mere hours away from paying off my 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport. Exactly 2 years and 17 days after signing the finance papers, I will fully own my car. Of course, I’ll have to wait a few weeks for the official title document, but that will be a mere formality.

I financed my “new” car in September 2020 after my formerly-reliable ’93 Nissan Maxima and I rode our last ride together. We had 18 glorious years together, but it was time to move on. I had been told for years from friends and family that I needed to buy a new vehicle, but most of those folks were also living paycheck to paycheck and dropping $400+/month so they could ride around in a depreciating asset. I tend to avoid financial advice from people broker and in more debt than me. Debt can be a tool at times, but for the most part, it shackles you to a never-ending system.

So, I didn’t upgrade my car until I was left with no alternative and made sure it was within a comfortable price range. I wasn’t a fan of taking on new debt, but I knew that I could manage the $291/month payment without it feeling like a burden.

A couple of weeks ago, my sister and I gave the interior a good cleaning. My four-year-old niece “helped” too. Then, I took the Santa Fe Sport in for it’s semi-annual checkup and oil change, finishing up with a pricey car wash (there was a BOGO offer, so not too pricey in the long term).

Santa Fe Sport car interior as seen while going through a car wash.
A relaxing ride through the car wash.

As I wrote in Buying My Freedom last month, I had grown tired of being normal, having normal bills, and normal debt. Over the past few months, I have been hustling to get most of my small debts paid off, along with one of my largest: the car. Assuming President Biden’s announcement last month on the $10K cancellation of student loans ($20K for Pell Grant recipients) goes through, I will have very little debt left after this final car payment. Just the mortgage and a small, 0%-interest loan for my Kubota mower.

Paying off the car will mean having the kind of freedom I’ve never had, at least when coupled with my jumps in salary over the last few years. It will provide me with the freedom to build a stronger emergency savings fund, saving up for other future expenses, and investing heavily (I’m aiming for 50% or more of my income).

While financing a car did help push my credit score higher (I’m on the verge of being in the 800+ club), it also created less financial freedom. It meant $291 each month was going toward a liability instead of building assets and securing my future.

But, I’ll be honest. I love my car. When you’ve been driving a beater for nearly two decades, anything feels like a step up. Now I sit here on a Monday morning after hitting the “Payoff Loan” button on my bank’s website, realizing she is all mine.

The event was somewhat unceremonious, anticlimactic even. Gone are the days where you strut into a bank, check in hand, and pass it over to the teller with a grin. Then, drive the family to your favorite diner in your paid-off car, a celebration of your newfound ownership. It’s all just ones and zeroes behind a computer screen now. Still, I can feel the weight of it gone. But, it’s just one leg of the long journey. Perhaps I’ll treat myself this weekend for this victory.