Driving For Dollars

How one man paid cash for a car thanks to his night job behind the wheel

Tom Nathaniel remembers the day his wife kicked him out of the house — just for a few hours a day. “I work at home, creating websites, and I get kind of cooped up,” he says. “I like being my own boss, but it’s all online; there’s no human interaction. My wife said I needed to do something outside the house.”

So began a series of events that eventually led him to buy a new car. What he definitely didn’t want were car payments — so he made a vow to save enough cash for the purchase.

Nathaniel, 35, who lives in Gilbert, Arizona, with his schoolteacher wife and their two small kids, took a night job delivering takeout orders for GrubHub.com, a national service that partners with local restaurants. Like rideshare services, GrubHub drivers use their own cars. But since they’re not carrying passengers, they don’t need anything fancy.

That suited Nathaniel just fine, as he owned a classic beater — a 2007 Toyota Corolla with close to 200,000 miles. But the odometer was spinning fast with all the driving he was now doing, so he knew he needed to plan ahead before the Corolla bit the dust. “I started a car fund and put 20% of my GrubHub earnings into it,” he says, averaging about $350 a month. After less than three years of working 10-25 hours a week, he had saved $13,000. “It didn’t even feel like a job, and I still had all this money.”

Nathaniel, who currently runs a website about thrifty lifestyles (lushdollar.com), knew that many people lease cars for three years, then return them; as a result, dealerships are overflowing with perfectly good late-model cars. So in the summer of 2018, he withdrew his nest egg and bought a 2014 Prius with fewer than 50,000 miles. Now he’s looking forward to many years of economical driving — with no car payments.

“I always treat savings like a bill,” he says. “I open a separate account and set up auto deposits from my paychecks. It’s out of sight, out of mind.”

Last summer, his family took the Prius on a 6,000-mile drive to visit relatives in Michigan. “We made stops all along the way,” he says. “It was a lot more fun than flying, and cheaper for four people.”

Today, Nathaniel is still delivering meals — and saving 20% for his next car, since his night job puts a lot of miles on the Prius.

Tom Nathaniel, lushdollar.com and GrubHub are not affiliated with Empower Retirement, LLC.

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