The 1/10th Rule For Car Buying Everyone Must Follow

Old Car In EstoniaAfter introducing the 1/10th rule for car buying in 2009, some people changed the way they went about purchasing a car. Meanwhile, many more complained my rule was too onerous for the typical income earner.

I watched in horror as a total of 690,000 new vehicles averaging $24,000 each were sold under the Cash For Clunkers program in 2009. The government’s $4,000 rebate for trading in your car ended up hurting hundred of thousands of people’s finances instead! Your $20,000 invested in 2009 in the S&P 500 index would now be worth over $50,000 today given the stock markets are now at record highs!

Buying too much car is one of the easiest and biggest financial mistakes someone can make. Besides the purchase price of a car, you’ve got to also pay car insurance, maintenance, parking tickets, and traffic tickets. When you add everything up, I’m pretty sure you’ll be shocked at how much it really costs to own a car and barf!

The 1/10th rule for car buying is simple. Spend no more than 1/10th your gross annual income on the purchase price of a car. If you make the median per capita income of ~$42,000 a year, limit your vehicle purchase price to $4,200 if you must buy one. Absolutely do not go and spend the median car price of $24,000!

A median income earner buying the median priced car that now costs $32,000 in 2015 is financially absurd. Who spends ~72% of their gross salary on the purchase price of a car? Worse yet, after you pay a 20% effective tax rate on your median $42,000 gross income, you’re now spending around 95% of your net income on a car! That’s crazy and a sure path to financial mediocrity. Don’t expect the government or your rich Uncle to bail you out.


1) Maintenance costs: We’ve got auto insurance, maintenance, parking tickets, and traffic tickets. Furthermore, the thrill of owning a new or new used car lasts for only several months, but the pain of paying the same car payment lasts for years.

2) Opportunity cost. When you buy a car you lose the opportunity of investing your money in assets that will likely grow and pay you dividends in the future. Everybody knows to save early and often to allow for the effects of compounding. Buying too much car is like negative compounding! Imagine how much money you would have accumulated if you invested $300-$500 a month in the stock market over the past three years instead of paying for a car? Probably around $15,000-$30,000!

3) Stress. When you pay more than 1/10th your income for a car, you will become more stressed. The stress you feel from not wanting to park your car in a crowded lot is completely because you cannot afford your car! If you are within 1/10th of your income, you drive and park stress free. You stop caring about door dings, bumper scrapes, even break ins. Stress kills folks.

4) Makes you want more. The nicer your car, the nicer your other things. You start thinking stupid thoughts like: I’ve got to buy a matching chronometer watch, driving shoes, and outfit. You start paying $20 for valet because you want people to see you come out of your car instead of park for free. Having nice things makes you want to have nice everything!

5) Makes you feel stupid. Deep down, you know that if you can’t pay cash for your car and have money left over, you can’t afford the car. Each payment you make is a reminder how foolish you are with your money. Why would you want to be reminded every single month of being dumb?


Look, everybody makes dumb financial moves all the time. The important thing is to recognize your mistake, stop, and fix it! Here are some things you can do if you’ve bought too much car already.

1) Own your car until it becomes worth 10% of your income or less. This is the simplest solution if you’ve spent too much. Drive your car for as long as possible until the market value is worth less than 10% of your gross annual income.

2) Bite the bullet and sell your car. If you’ve spent anything more than 1/5th your gross annual income on a car, I’d sell it. It’s making you poor. Even if you have to take a little bit of a hit, I think it’s worth getting rid of your vehicle. Don’t trade it into the dealer because you’ll get railroaded. Instead, try negotiating via Craigslist.

3) Punish yourself. If you don’t punish yourself, then you will repeat your mistake and feel fine with what you have now. For the life of your car loan, take away a food you love to eat such as chocolate. If you are a coffee addict, swear never to drink that stuff again! Save more of your income after taxes and feel the squeeze so that you realize how ridiculous your car spending is.


1/10th Rule Car Buying Chart Recommendation For 2015

Cars built in the 1990’s and beyond are so much more reliable than those built prior. If you are serious about improving your finances, consider buying a car with less options, and less electronics to deal with. The more you have loaded in your car, the more maintenance headaches you will have in the future.

Financial Status Based On Your Car Spending Habit Chart


Treat the 1/10th rule of car buying like a game. You will be surprised to find how many different type of cars you can buy with 1/10th your income if you make over $25,000 a year.

If you want a $30,000 car, get motivated by the 1/10th rule to figure out a way to make $300,000 a year. If you can’t get motivated, then fine. Just don’t think you can afford much more. Think about your future and the future of your family. A car is simply there to take you reliably from point A to point B. If you’re thinking about prestige and impressing others, don’t be silly. Owning a nice property is way more impressive because at least you can potentially make some money from the asset!

One of the worst combos is owning a car that you purchased for much more than 1/10th your gross income and renting. You now have two of your largest expenses sucking money away from you every single month. Think about all the wealthy people you know, or the millionaires next door. Chances are, the majority of them own their homes and drive used cars that don’t come close to 50% of their gross income.

If you want to achieve financial independence and not have to worry about material things stressing you out, follow my rule. If you want to detonate your finances and end up working longer than you want for the sake of a nicer ride, then go spend more than you can afford. One life to live right? All is good!

Recommendations To Protect And Grow Your Wealth

Manage Your Finances In One Place: The best way to become financially independent is to get a handle on your finances by signing up with Personal Capital. They are a free online platform which aggregates all your financial accounts in one place so you can see where you can optimize. Before Personal Capital, I had to log into eight different systems to track 25+ difference accounts (brokerage, multiple banks, 401K, etc) to manage my finances. Now, I can just log into Personal Capital to see how my stock accounts are doing and how my net worth is progressing. I can also see how much I’m spending every month. An excellent feature is their 401k Fee Analyzer which highlighted $1,700 a year in fees I had no idea I was paying. There is no better financial tool online that has helped me more to achieve financial freedom.

Check for lower insurance rates. Auto insurance is the second biggest expense to owning your car. Esurance is the leading online market place to help you find the most affordable and reliable auto insurance. They get you comparison quotes to make sure you’re getting the best deal. You can easily purchase auto insurance straight from their website if you like what you see. It is very important that everyone gets at least basic liability car insurance. You can total your car and be fine. But if you total someone else’s car and injure them, they can go after you for ALL your assets and wipe you out! Check for a better auto insurance quote via Esurance today.

Updated on 2/26/2015 to include all the latest and greatest cars out there. I recently got a 2015 Honda Fit and love it as a city resident with limited parking. In three years, I’m looking to take down the latest Range Rover Sport if gas prices stay depressed.



Sam started Financial Samurai in 2009 during the depths of the financial crisis as a way to make sense of chaos. After 13 years working on Wall Street, Sam decided to retire in 2012 to utilize everything he learned in business school to focus on online entrepreneurship. Sam focuses on helping readers build more income in real estate, investing, entrepreneurship, and alternative investments in order to achieve financial independence sooner, rather than later.

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  1. Tony says

    If your overly conservative this a great approach. Maybe for people who lack ambition in life?

    Why would I want to drive around in a busted 15 yr old Lexus or drive a generic box on wheels? In life you are supposed to enjoy the things you work hard for. If your only making $40-50k per year your not going to get rich or be rich.

    To say your going to risk $10-20k on stocks is also a risk and some would say a bigger risk than buying a reasonable car. I think when people fail it’s when they make $40-50k and they want to buy something beyond their means. Nobody that make $200-300k is going to drive a $20-30k vehicle very rare and I think if they are making enough they are smart enough to continue to earn at the level or earn more (because they are already doing it).

    The best way is to buy a car 2-4 yrs old with low miles you get a deep discount and the car is still new. It’s also not smart to put 20% down into something that depreciates. Put little to no money down and BUDGET your money accordingly before you make a purchase.

    Be realistic but don’t be a penny pincher all the time you will get no where in life. Some would if your a hard work, smart and ambitious having a few “more expensive” items will make you work harder and hustle…..

    • janet says

      Don’t forget. When you make $45,000 a year, and purchase a $4500. car, you will definitely be putting a lot of money into the car when things go wrong with the working parts. And for $4500 purchase, DO expect break downs.

    • Idon says

      “It’s also not smart to put 20% down into something that depreciates.”

      Disagree. In my opinion, the fact that it depreciates has absolutely nothing to do with your down payment. The down payment is about borrowing less and paying less interest. The fact that it depreciates is MORE reason to pay as much as you can out of pocket. Otherwise, you are losing financially on both the vehicle’s value and in interest.

      To take your line of thinking to the extreme, it’s like saying that even if you have the money, you should never pay cash for something that depreciates, that a car should always be financed.

      Is there something I am missing here?

      • Benji says

        Well, typically you can get an auto loan with an interest rate 1.9% or less. It’s fairly easy to earn more interest than that on the market.

        With that in mind, the less money put down the better, as long as you do something smart with your left over savings.

        Personally, I put down just enough to never be upside down. If I have a financed vehicle I try to make the loan so that I could drive down to CarMax at anytime and dump my vehicle on them. This way if I run into financial troubles I won’t be stuck with a car payment.

        • idon says

          I see what you’re saying, but an interest rate of 1.9% or better is usually a special financing offer, and only available on new cars. By using the 10% rule, you would have to be earning somewhere above $150k to find a new car that falls in line with both criteria.

 says that the current interest rate on new cars is closer to 4.5%, and that a 36-month used car loan is coming in above 5%.

          • Benji says

            Yeah… I have 1.9 on both of my cars through my credit union.

            I don’t really abide by the 1/10th rule myself. It doesn’t accomplish anything for me. My car cost about 30% of my annual income, but if you were to add my motorcycle collection on top of the cost of my car my “transportation” expenses go well beyond 50% of my annual income.

            I make a pretty decent living, put away 15% of every check for retirement, spend maybe $300/yr on clothes, I don’t go out to eat, don’t have cable, my vacations consist of camping or track days, etc, etc.

            I guess what I’m getting at is there are many ways to live frugally, it’s just important to pick the areas that you don’t care about so much and cut costs there.

            Me, I really enjoy machines, so that’s where most of my money goes. I could care less about fancy dinners, clothes, and other status symbols.

            Luckily for us, in the United States we have such a vast system of National Parks that are easily accessible by car. Makes vacations dirt cheap, a one week vacation to Yellowstone for my girlfriend and I could be done for about $300. Not bad if you ask me.

            I love exploring our country and having a awesome car or motorcycle just makes the whole experience that much better.

  2. says

    While some of your points are valid and I respect the concept behind your rule, it is a bit extreme even for most penny-pinching or otherwise conservative folks. Sure, your car’s price alone may be a significant % when compared directly to your gross salary. But a 35k dollar car on a 35k dollar net profit on salary after taxes is not a true 100% utilization of income. Unless you’re buying the car up front and in full with cash, which of course is stupid, you won’t necessarily be overburdening yourself. Financing or leasing are common and while they yield no equity or return of any monetary kind, these options may yield great personal enjoyment through the intangible. Happiness derived from car ownership is a valid justification for spending more than 10%, especially if the payments are affordable and made over a 3-5 year period of time. While the opportunity cost of leasing a car is obviously the returns from investing instead, this can’t be used as evidence supporting your theory by itself. Next, if you make 25k and buy a 2500 dollar car as a result of your theory, your maintenance cost will likely be substantial. Cheap, high-mileage used cars need parts and service and are likely not under warranty. Additionally, you can’t include parking ticket or traffic ticket costs as a likely expense if it isn’t guaranteed or consistent, even. I haven’t had a fine in 5 years. This isn’t a guaranteed expense and shouldn’t be used in support or opposition of a vehicle purchase. Only take into account the known or statistically significant variables.

    I must note that while your articles are mostly excellent and validated by fact and experience, this article and theory was poorly supported in my opinion. Point 1 on maintenance was dubious as an expensive car may require none and/or have maintenance covered by the warranty. Point 2 on opportunity cost is totally valid and on point. Number 3, less stress? A cheaper car is less stressful? I think you’re reaching on that. It’s an opinion and subjective by nature, but it isn’t even well supported. 4, makes you want other nice things? What evidence can you cite? Maybe someone just wants a nice car but is content with a cheap watch or basic clothing. Having a nice car and living lavishly are not mutually exclusive. But worst of all, point 5. Makes you feel stupid? Why would I feel stupid about a decision I made that required a great deal of thought and budgeting before the paperwork was signed. Not everyone values investing or returns or cash flow streams or savings plans as singularly as another might and one may value the expensive car for its pleasurable qualities more singularly than you, since you are content with a Honda. Opinions and tastes vary, but these differences are not indicative of intelligence. Only preference. To call someone stupid for passing on a POSSIBLE investment return in order to enjoy a vehicle which is a just as much a purchase out of necessity as it is out of intangible personal benefit. A smile on my face is important to me, maybe even more so than a non-guaranteed return on a small investment. If that investment ends up losing, the better choice is clearly the one improving my life and happiness.

    I love your work and admire what you’ve accomplished, but I can’t agree with your 1/10th theory and I think your points of support could use a bit more substance and objectivity rather than just personal opinion or anecdotal speculations.

    • P8 says

      Bravo and well said. A bit too opinionated/subjective of a theory, and in some instances straight-up unrealistic. How many people out there who earn $100K have purchased their vehicles for $10K or less? Hmmmm… let’s just say it’s probably 1/10th of 1/10th of 1/10th of the population. Being fiscally responsible is one thing (and a good thing), but 1/10th of one year’s salary is fairy-tale-like in nature. If this is how people actually lived almost everyone would be taking transit. Spending 10% or less of one’s income per year is probably more realistic.

      • Shawn says

        I’m near six figures and I’m driving a car less than 1/10th my income. I did recently spend $500 to replace brake and rotors but besides that much less stress than my “enjoyable” performance car that was 1/10th of my take home pay. There’s a huge difference between worrying about someone hitting my car then and now. I estimate that it would of cost me $1500 to replace the Brembo rotors and pads on my performance car.

        Within the next 3 months I’ll be car-less and no longer a home owner after I move locations; even less stress. Don’t get me wrong I plan on buying a fun car again but not until I can pay cash for it without thinking about it along with only using it as a weekend warrior.

      • Brenda says

        I make in the $100k range, and have never bought a new car. Never. The last used car I bought was well below the $10K range.

  3. Leon says

    Even though a new car say 26K and you are earning 60K, by the time you are done paying it you would have paid 35K in 5-6 years. If you drive 30K a year by the time its 3 years you will need to pay for your own repairs before then.

    What I did when I was earning 60K was I bought a 5K car cash and earmarked about 2K for repairs for one year. I spend 1K of tha in one year. The car was 10 years old but I kept it for another 6 and spent on tires and repairs about 3K for that period. And I drove it for about 60K miles in 6 years with nothing major

    Its better than buying that new car and costing me 6K in payments every year plus 800 more in insurance.

    When I buy a used car I make sure it has the timing belt changed and clutch if it is manual. If not I use that as a bargaining chip.

    A car is a tool and it is ridiculous that it would cost you so much per year. If you are paying 800 in payment a month and your take home is about 4K then something is very wrong

  4. Glenna says

    You can also look up your local tax incentives to
    see which option pays more in the long run. You can expect to get paid for your vehicle
    in some cases on the spot during pickup or, in some cases, no later than 14 days via check.
    Another question to ask is whether you need to deliver the junk car or if
    they will pick it up.

  5. says

    I appreciate your thoughts as always, my man.

    This post comes at a good time. We were in a car accident that cause $8k of damage to our $13k-ish valued 2007 Honda Pilot EX-L with 107k miles on it. (Couldn’t convince them to just total it. Yes, we will be seeking reimbursement for the diminished value of the vehicle, too).

    With that much damage, I’m concerned about it’s integrity as a family vehicle — and I’m especially concerned about it “croaking” from some hidden damage 6 months down the road when I still have a lot of loan left on it.

    So I actually found myself looking at Certified Pre-Owned Replacements. I love the fact that we will have lower repairs (the previous car averaged almost $200/month in maintenance) and that if something serious goes wrong, we will have a powertrain warranty.

    But the ones I like will put us at the 27.5% mark. So. Whaa.

    Anyhow, the one thing I wanted to mention is that the Cash For Clunkers program has really, really hurt the little guy. Until 2 years ago I only bought in the $1k-ish range. Prior to the 2009 program, you could get a lot of car for $1k. After they snatched up all those cars, the used car market has become really pricey, and I think we will continue to see those effects for another 2-3 years.

    It’s a side effect that has really hurt, and one that is often overlooked.

  6. Kale says

    I have read this article a number of times to digest. The first time I was appalled. After revisiting it again, I decided to trade in my Infiniti with a $480 payment for a used Civic (4k miles) for a $250 payment. Between consulting and my main job I make about $210k per year. Even though it was not a stretch on finances I relish in not having to pay for $80-$100 oil changes and $60 fillups with premium gas. Not to mention there is a certain satisfaction of driving up in your $13k car and making a decent living. I am 28, owned 10 vehicles in my lifetime, love cars, love trucks, and anything that goes fast. I get my fix when I travel and get a rental car. I’ll pay the additional $20 for the Challenger. It is fun but then I think about how it would cost $400 a month more in a car payment, $200 more per month in gas, and $100 more per month in maintenance and insurance. I ask myself, is this something that is worth $700 more per month or would I rather take my wife on two vacations to Sandals that year. Yep, i’ll drive the Civic.

    • says

      Nice job! Save and invest the extra money over the years and you’ll be surprised at how much more wealth you’ll be able to accumulate.

      The joy of getting to point B, but much cheaper is great. Less stress involved with a cheaper car too.

  7. Benji says


    1) Maintenance costs:
    Simple, don’t get parking tickets or traffic tickets. Insurance on a new vehicle is more, but still not that bad. Maintenance is certainly cheaper on a more expensive car (to a degree).

    2) Opportunity cost.
    Oh… watching assets grow, fun! Not really, now driving a car one really enjoys, that’s fun! Anyways, what’s the point of having money if your not going to spend it?

    3) Stress. Paying more than 1/10th of your income for a car doesn’t make one stressed, it simply means one purchased the WRONG car.

    4) Makes you want more. On the contrary, have you seen how Jay Leno dresses?

    5) Makes you feel stupid. Not really, nothing beats taking a hard corner at nearly 1g and accelerating out full throttle with not the slightest concern that your vehicle is going to explode.

    • bmwdude26 says

      Attention author of the blog and all readers of the blog. You both are taking the 1/10 ratio wrong!! You can spend 10% of your annual salary on a car and have a brand new or even a pre-owned luxury car.
      Take the average annual income of $50,000. 10% of that is $5,000, divided into 12 months and that’s a $500 monthly car note. Do less of an amount, if you don’t want anything that extravagant.
      You’ll repeat steps 1 & 2 next year. Get it?! Why does it work, you ask? Because you are only spending 10% of your annual salary, key word annual!!!
      Author please do a fact check on advises, before blogging incorrectly.
      Readers use your minds once in a while. Go ahead and get that 10% annual car note. :)

      • James says

        This doesn’t seem like solid advice. Not sure if you’re trolling or what but 10% annually is too much. I would be in a 2015 Corvette Z06(I love corvettes) if I was unwise enough to spend 10% of my annual income on a car note… Let me guess, I need to spend 40% of my income on house payments as well?

  8. James says

    People claiming they can’t get a fun car for their budget aren’t being honest just have a very narrow view on how to have fun driving. If you’re looking for a cheap sports car the answer is always Miata. You can get a running project car for around $1000 in my area or buy a solid one for $3000. You could afford have one of the best driver’s cars on a $30,000 salary. Make more money get something newer. 350z start around $6000, C5 corvette around $10,000… The list goes on. Not many legitimate excuses for overspending on transportation.

    • Benji says

      Oh yeah, the Miata is an awesome car! I’d love to own one, unfortunately even at $3,000 that’s too much for a second vehicle for me. I drive 30,000 miles/yr for business in my 2014 Focus ST. Sure I could have got a higher performance, higher mileage car for less money, but the reliability factor just wouldn’t be there.

      Anything that doesn’t have to get me to clients I tend to spend less money on. For example I have three motorcycles (2009 Yamaha FZ6, 2008 Yamaha R6, 2009 Honda CRF230l) that I have acquired over the last few years, each one has been less than 1/10th my income and was paid for in cash.

      Sure I could cut a lot of money out of my vehicle budget, but the thing that I always come back to is rather simple.

      I’m not sure what I would do with the extra money, I honestly can’t think of a better way to spend my money. I could save 30% of my income for retirement rather than 15%, but I’m not sure that would actually bring me happiness.

      Money doesn’t buy happiness, but adrenaline sure does.

      • James says

        It’s definitely good that you’re saving 15% for retirement. Nothing wrong with with being an adrenaline junkie ether… I just think it limits you future wealth by too much when you buy a brand new vehicle like that. The Focus ST is a pretty cool car but like you said the performance bargains found on the used market make it almost a no brainer buying used. As far a reliability goes cars like the Miata and Corvette are known for being bulletproof and lasting hundreds of thousands of miles. It’s not like you can’t have fun while being cheap as well. Instead of buying a 20k Polaris RZR like some of my coworkers I have a 2001 Honda 400EX and a 2002 CRF 450R for when I have fun in the dirt. On the street I ride 2007 Ninja 650R. All those toys were had for less than $4000.

        • Benji says

          True, the Corvette and Miata just wouldn’t work out for me, but there’s other options. I suppose I could have picked up a used Mazdaspeed3 or GTI instead of the Focus. I think next time around I’ll go that route, but for now I’m going to drive the Focus another 200,000 miles hopefully.

          Next time I get a car it’ll be used for sure, but probably will still be about 20% of my income. A nice three year old MS3 with 45,000 miles on it really wouldn’t be so bad.

          The thing that I always come back to though is that I put 2.5x times more miles on my car than the average driver every year. So I don’t necessarily like higher mileage vehicles.

          For instance with my Focus I paid 23,000 OTD, with the 15,000 MS3 I would pay about 16-17,000 OTD. If you assume the Speed3 had 45,000 miles on it and both cars made it to 200,000 miles the price difference ends up being about 1 cent per mile. If you multiply 200,000 by 1 cent I would actually only save about $2,000 (by going with the MS3) over the course of 200,000 miles by going used, rather than the $6,000-7,000 initial price difference.

          I guess what I’m getting at is that it’s important to take into consideration mileage with a used vehicle when you consider it’s total cost.

          Toys are definitely an area where it’s easy to cut costs though, as there is about a million low mileage cheap motorcycles out there. I’m sure the Ninja 650 is a blast, that bike is very similar to my FZ6. Cheap to buy, cheap to maintain, and every bit as fun as a $20,000 motorcycle on the street. I ran into issues once I started doing track days with my FZ6 though, hence why I bought ended up with an R6 also.

          Sorry if I’m rambling a lot.

  9. Jonathan says

    Without looking at all the replys, I would like to suggest that there are times when this rule should not be followed…

    My car (bought used, paid cash for) broke down last year in January. I had to decide real fast if I wanted to spend the money and labor (I do my own auto work) to fix it, or if it was time to get something that wouldn’t break down for a while. While I was sitting on the side of the road waiting for a tow, I was scouring the internet, and found that I could lease a Nissan Leaf for $169 a month (with $3k down). This was interesting because I was currently spending an average of about $300 a month on gasoline in my current car… which would equate to my lease payment being half as much as I was previously paying for gas.

    I did some more searching, and eventually ended up picking out the Chevy Spark EV. I put a minimal down payment, and got a lease of $288 a month. Now, my car payment is less than I was paying for gas, and I average about a buck and a half a day on electricity when I charge at home, and less when I charge at the many free charging stations around town. So lets say that $288+$45 ~ $333 minus public charging = a little more than I was paying for gas.

    This doesn’t even factor in the cost of oil changes, which most people have to do every 3 months/3000 miles (if you listen to the lube shop) or 6 months/6000 miles (if you actually read your owners manual and don’t drive in the dust and dirt all the time). There are no oil changes for the Spark EV, or any EV for that matter… so while it cost more than a comparably equipped gasoline powered car, my costs are actually about the same as they were before I had a car payment, and now I have a car that has FAR less moving parts to worry about breaking down. There’s no transmission (and no transmission fluid to change), no belts to change (especially no timing belt…), no spark plugs to change, no air filter to clean or replace, and did I mention; I get to drive around in a quiet, comfortable, and brand new car?


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