How We Paid Cash for a 2008 Toyota Sienna Mini-Van

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We paid cash for a new-to-us 2008 Toyota Sienna last month. The thrill of seeing that the check cleared the bank was second only to writing the check that paid off our last non-mortgage debt. In less than four years we went from being $50,000 in debt to paying cash for mini-van. No rich uncle died and left an inheritance. No one miraculously cancelled all our debt. No one in our family got a second job. Let me tell you what did happen to position use to pay cash.

4 Keys to Financial Transformation

To get to the place where we paid cash we radically changed our attitude and relationship to money.

We set our eyes on life goals that we’d give up if we remained in debt. I share Michael Beer’s formula for change and establishing a clear vision is key. No one is motivated by focusing on what they are giving up. We are motivated when we focus on what we gain as we change our habits.

We got organized in our finances. We had not been including our non-routine expenses in our monthly budget, because frankly, those were the things that made it look like we didn’t have enough, just like I discuss here. When we quit denying that life would happen to us and around us, and instead began to prepare by setting aside monthly for things like car repair and Christmas gifts, we started to get ahead. We tracked our expense for all the reasons I talk about here.

We started saving. It wasn’t until we committed to get out and stay out of debt that we got serious about saving money. If we were going to avoid debt in the future, then we needed to have an emergency fund to rely on instead of the credit card. We began to save 10% of our net income and over time increased it to 10% of our gross income.

We can be tempted to put every extra penny toward paying down debt, but that’s foolish. Something is going to happen that requires a financial investment and if you haven’t already set aside for that unexpected emergency, then you’ll run back to your credit card. There’s nothing better to destroy morale than a relapse back to the credit card after working hard to pay off debt.

We outsmarted financial temptation. If we’re honest, we all have weaknesses and if we’re in debt, we have some kind of financial-related weakness. Marco and I decided to face the facts about these and make a proactive plan to outsmart them. For me, it was saving money. I could not do it. Every time I set money aside, I would take it right back out on something that seemed like an emergency. I outsmarted that by opening some new accounts, setting up auto transfers into them from my primary checking and making it generally difficult and painful for me to gain access to the money. No more savings accounts attached to my primary checking. I’d tried that too many times and failed. New accounts, in new banks, with very limited access to get the money back out.

Time to Buy

Marco signing the title at our kitchen table

These same principles we used to rapidly pay down our debt are the same ones we used to save for and pay cash for our van. After making the last debt payment we knew that we’d need to replace our older vehicle at some point. Our trusty 1996 Toyota Camry would not run forever, no matter how much we wanted to believe otherwise. We took a proactive approach and saved money in advance, long before the car died.

We saved. And we saved. And we saved. Money didn’t fall out of the sky. We made car payments to ourselves and set the money aside in the bank. We were determined to be ready, with cash in hand, when we needed a new vehicle.

The time to buy snuck up on us. We expected to wait until our Camry quit running, but when Toyota prices started to drop earlier this year, we knew we had to jump. Looking for a car can be overwhelming, which is why we asked for help.

Someone to Help

My husband loves cars and has watched prices on mini-vans for years, but he is a busy stay-at-home dad and grad school student. Shopping for a great value on a van would be labor-intensive, right? Make phone calls. Set appointments. Test drive. Repeat. Find one to buy. Negotiate. Sign paperwork. I’m tired just thinking of it. We used an auto broker to do all that legwork for us.

In steps Lemire Consulting. Dennis Lemire shops for your car for you, sort of like a real estate agent does a lot of the house shopping work for you. It’s a free service for consumers and a huge timesaver and headache-reliever. Dennis checked with all the local dealers, went to auctions, and he’ll even check out private party sales, all to find your perfect vehicle. Our vehicle was delivered to our house for a test drive and we bought that first one. Not only did we test drive it from home, the dealer delivered it here and we signed the paperwork here. Can you say convenience? Can you tell I’d recommend Dennis? He’s great! (Dennis also negotiated a small repainting job into our deal and the Abra Auto Body in Forest Lake, MN did a fanta-bulous job. I’d recommend them if you need repair work done)

Carrie paid cash to the car dealer for min-van with a personal check (I didn’t get a picture with Dennis. Whoops!)

With cash in hand, we wrote a check to the dealer from whom we bought it. We saved about 25% off the blue book value because we bought at a strategic time. Marco and I also noticed that we were less tempted by fancy upgrades because they all cost money. Paying with cash is a great deterrent for overspending!

Next time you see you me, I might be tooling around in my swanky, paid-for Toyota Sienna or maybe I’ll be in our other paid-for vehicle. Set your sights to do the same thing and avoid car payments to the bank forever. Make them to yourself in advance, instead. If we could go from 0% down on the car we bought in 2004 to 100% down in 2010, you can do the same.

Your turn: Maybe it’s not a mini-van or a vehicle, but what is the next thing you are aiming to pay cash for instead of borrowing like you’ve done in times past?


  1. Alison says

    Congrats Carrie – We just got a 07 Sienna (pre-owned) about a year and a half ago (when we were expecting our 3rd child and LOVE the Sienna. I'm sure you're going to love the space, the versatility of it, the big tailgate/trunk – it's great for groceries.

  2. Cara says

    If the consulting service is free to consumers, how do they make money?

    This sounds like a great service but I'm concerned that they would be looking for us to buy a more expensive car than we want because they get a cut of the final purchase price, like a real estate agent.

    • says

      Cara – Dennis can answer himself (I bet he reads this), but it's like a real estate agent that gets paid a commission at the time of sale. Ethical agents don't push you into higher-priced homes just to get a bigger cut, but unethical ones may. Dennis's first commitment is to have satisfied customers and I don't think he'd push someone into something more than what they want to spend. In fact, we told him how much we wanted to pay (having done our own research) and he brought us something priced less than that.

  3. Gin says

    Next bigger-ticket item on my list is a dishwasher. I already have the cash on hand, I just need to find the model I want! (After that, I have to do a bit of saving, and we'll be looking at pre-owned cars.)

  4. Valerie H says

    Congratulations on paying cash for your new Mini Van. Stories like these give me hope that I can also do it one day. Keep up the good work.

  5. Theresa K. says

    Great deal, Carrie! That is the way to do it!!!

    We also own all our cars and do not typically have any car loans. I do know an even cheaper way to get great cars, but its not for everyone: we buy salvaged cars and restore them. We are driving 100% paid for vehicles, which are low-mileage and only 1 or 2 years old. Most of these cars were fleet cars and well-cared for. Most are purchased for under $2,000, with another $1,500 or so in repairs (mostly body work). My husband and my father-in-law are both knowledgeable in car repair (amateurs, not pros). My father-in-law is also a retired teacher and loves to tinker in the garage, plus help his family. So, once or twice a year he buys a salvage car (keeps to specific guidelines for safety, their own knowledge, and ease of repair), and restores it. He then gives it to one of his children or grandchildren (or maybe sells at low-cost if it is a higher value car). He has given every one of his grandchildren a late-model, but very safe, car for a 16th birthday present. (any needed replacements are not free, however!) So, not only is it a great gift for the kids, but also for the parents. If this sounds ridiculous to anyone, I understand. But maybe you have a relative who is a mechanic and would barter for services.

    My other point in mentioning this is that basic manual repair skills have been neglected by parents and schools recently. When my FIL and husband were growing up, most people (ok, men) knew how to repair cars. Now, few know. It's a great trade for students to go into, though you may not ever live in a McMansion. I've read recently that mechanics are experiencing a real boom due to slow car sales and older cars needing repairs.

  6. says

    First off thank you very much for the endorsement in your article Carrie. I had a great time working with you and Marco on your van. If Marco and I could have stayed focused and not chatted about non-van related things all the time, I'm sure we could have gotten more accomplished!

    To Cara's point- You are absolutely right in being skeptical of services like this. LeMire Consulting is working towards changing the way the people we work with purchase vehicles as a whole. We do not believe you should have to fear a dealer is trying to get as much of your money as possible in any given situation. We also understand the dealers or sellers need to stay in business, so making some profit is acceptable. As the owner, I believe LC can be profitable as well as help people in saving time, money and stress.

    My company does not get paid a commission on the dollar amount our clients spend. We get paid a flat fee from the dealers we work with. The fee is based on many factors, the greatest one being the amount of business we generate. The way we structure our process leaves little room for us to try and push you into anything you do not want to buy. We work with all price ranges, right now I have a client that is looking for a $1800 car to deliver pizzas in, and another that is buying a Porche Cayenne.

    In the end, our goal as a company is not to help one person pay way to much for their vehicle, but to help A LOT of people actually enjoy their purchase experience. I am happy to answer any other questions people may have about our service, as Carrie said, I am an avid reader of this site!

  7. Melissa says

    We are two payments away from paying off our mini van, our other car is already paid for. Just curious how long it took you to save up for it? Also, how much are you saving on interest? I like the idea of paying for cash, but it scares me because I would feel better having a lump sum of cash for emergencies.

    • says

      Melissa – Good question about the interest. I have no idea. A point of clarification – we still have a 3-6 month emergency fund cash on hand that was/is totally separate from what we used to buy this van.

  8. tabby says

    Our loans we have for our cars we have had 0% interest, this way we can pay more on our mortgage each month, and have extra cash for those times when we are in need, layoffs, sickness, etc…I am all for saving for big ticket items but I still like some cash ready to use.

  9. says

    Our big goal this year is to pay off our mortgage–our last outstanding debt! My hubby's car is almost dead, too, so we already have savings for that so that we can pay for a "new" (used) car for him with cash.

    I'm intrigued about the auto broker idea….I've never heard of that before, and like you, just thinking about searching for a car stresses us both out! My dad is also seaching for a used car, and he just called me an hour ago about at the end of his rope! I'm hoping there are free auto brokers in other states–do you know?

    And what's the catch–they'll shop for you for free? They must get a commission from somewhere?

    • says

      There are very few auto brokers who operate the way we do, so it doesn't surprise me that you have not heard of a service like ours before. There really is no catch. The dealers we work with pay us a fee for the business we bring them. I am not sure about other states having a company like ours. My wife and I have a very unique approach with LeMire Consulting and how we do business. Even in MN there are not many companies like ours.

      • says

        I really think a real estate or insurance broker is the closest example, except Dennis said he gets a flat fee versus a commission. His business succeeds when customers, like the Rocha family, are happy and tell other folks. There is no gimmick in it. And, by the way, he isn't paying me to say this :)

  10. says

    Interest on a 5 year loan for this van at 5.9% would be about $2600 over the course of the loan (rough math).

    0% loans offered on some new cars are a good option as Tabby said, if you are not passing up a rebate that is higher than the amount of interest you are saving. In Carrie and Marco's case, they saved way more by us finding them a two year old van, than they would have by getting a 0% loan on a new one.

  11. shawnee says

    Congrats Carrie!

    Dennis, i see that you are located in Minnesota–are there similar services in other states?


    • says

      Honestly I don't know. Our business was really conceived from a need and not patterned after previous business models. I would be happy to do what I can to help you any way I can from here.

  12. Sara says

    Carrie –

    What an awesome and inspiring story! My husband and I are currently working on paying off our debts and saving, saving, saving! It's a great feeling seeing our debts get smaller and our savings bigger! I'm hoping the next time we're in the market for a new vehicle, we'll be able to pay cash also – I now know it's possible. :)

    Thanks for all you do – I love this site!!

  13. Sarah says

    Way to go Rocha's!

    We are two payments away from paying off our '07 Sienna – we are going to pay it off 3 years early and are going to pay cash for our next vehicle – which is hopefully in 2 years.

    Thanks for the info on the auto broker. Glad to hear you had a great experience in buying.

  14. Angie says

    Thank you for writing your story about this! Inspirational. I want to ask about your initial start to savings. I too, have trouble saving by having savings attached to checking. So where did you start stashing the savings? In another bank, you mentioned, but was it a savings account? If you have this story archived somewhere, please direct me there and I can read for myself:)

  15. Sarah Anderson says

    I just wanted to say that I find your blog and your story about getting out of debt inspiring. My parents have always been a good example of fiscal responsibility for me (investing, never taking on debt beyond their mortgage and paying that off early on) but it's encouraging to know that families like yours have moved on from debt succesfully. I rely on your blog all the time and appreciate all you do!

  16. Sharon says

    Way to go! It's funny because we sold our 2008 Toyota Sienna on Craigslist the same weekend that you bought yours. I even had my husband look to see if it was your name on the bill of sale. It wasn't, of course, but for a moment there I thought we might be "famous!"

  17. fusilli says


    Congrats! We, too, like to save and pay for everything with cash. Our motto is: If we don't have the cash, we don't spend. In the 14 years we've been married, we've bought three brand new vehicles and paid for them all with cash. It's a wonderful feeling to walk into a car dealer, pick out the car we like, take it for a test drive, pay for it with cash, and drive home at the end of the day without worrying about car payments.


    Your company sounds very interesting and I wish I had known about it when we purchased our car last year. How long has your business been around? Do your services include new vehicles as well?

    • says

      Thank you. I formed the company in 2009 after listening to a lot of people talk about how much they hated buying cars. We have services for buying new and used cars, motorcycles and campers as well as services to help people sell their vehicles.

  18. says

    We to do not have car payments, but we did get an inheritance to buy our van ;( So I am always inspired by your stories, but I am always left wondering too. How much does your husband make a month and do you include the income you make? I am sure this is none of my business and you have every right to tell me so. The reason why i ask is because my husband pay was cut 20k and we now have 115k in business debt that our last partner is not paying is half, so we are left paying everything. I don't really see light, but regardless I know that God is in control so i don't fear anything, I am just racking my brain trying to see how we can pay stuff down.

    • says

      Amber – I won't give you specifics, but we were two regular middle-Americans working middle-America jobs, then we went to one income (my husband became a stay-at-home dad), then I was laid off in January of this year and Pocket Your Dollars and related sources are our family's income. No funny money or funny counting happening here :)

  19. BEP says

    Melissa, as Dennis mentioned, you'd be saving close to $2,600 in interest on the terms he mentioned. But also consider that if you are making a car payment to yourself every month, into a savings account, you'll be earning interest. It may not be much, depending on how much of a payment you can put into your savings account each month and what interest rate your savings account earns, but earning even $100 of interest over 5 years of saving up for a new vehicle for which you can pay cash, coupled with the interest you're not paying on a 5 year loan, just makes it that much sweeter of a deal, if you ask me!

  20. says

    Good for you and your hubby paying cash for your car. We are working at saving our first thousand dollars. Hard to get by on retirement and part time work. for family and our eBay business. I am working at building up my blog site. You are an inspiration to the young and the old.

  21. says

    After getting our tax return this year, we paid off both of our cars in which we would have been paying out $700 a month for another 9 months. I told my husband that I never want car payments again! Now that we have 3 children, we need to get a van, but we are waiting for a great deal to come along. With this extra money that we now have each month, we will be able to payoff our credit debt before the year is over!

  22. Laura says

    I'm just reading this article, very interesting!! One comment, when I visited the broker's website, my understanding was not that it is a free service. It is free IF you buy a new car, for a used car there is a fee paid by the consumer. Did I misunderstand that? That's what it looked like to me. Thoughts?

    • says

      Sorry for the confusion. Right now we are offering our broker services free of charge if the vehicle is purchased at a dealership, be it new or used. If we are shopping for a private party vehicle for you, there is a fee associated with that. Shopping private party vehicles is very time intensive. We also provide free Carfax vehicle history reports, mechanical inspections, and cleanings on private party vehicles, in order to help you make the right choice. Our past clients will tell you they would have paid much more to save themselves the time, money and stress after having used our services!

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