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How I Became a Minivan Mom: A Practical Guide to Buying a Van

I like to think of myself as a non-conformist and a little bit hippy. I homeschool, eat mostly organic and only go through the Chick-fil-a drive thru a handful of times a year. I NEVER thought I would own a minivan. In fact, I despised the idea of driving a minivan. This is most likely due to the fact that my mom taught me to drive in a teal Ford Windstar that I was too cool for at the time. 

So when I found out I was pregnant with baby #3, it became evident that our small SUV would not accommodate another car seat. I went back and forth in my head about getting a minivan. Wouldn’t a Honda Pilot or Toyota Highlander be so much more ME? Isn’t getting a minivan kinda like wearing crocs, it just shows you have given up? And wouldn’t buying a minivan mean that I am defining myself as just a mom, living at mercy to my kids’ schedules, when obviously I am so much more than that. 

Photo for context: Me as a mom, all kinds of fabulous in Paris.

The more I thought about it though, the more I realized the benefits of having a van. The ease of having the kiddos climb in and buckle themselves is HUGE when also having a newborn. The fact that the doors don’t crash open into other cars (or onto your kids) is great. Did I mention the idea of having an entertainment system in the car for road trips (EEK!). After considering all of that, and the fact my best friends have minivans themselves, I was eventually turned on to buying one!

Please don’t get it confused though, just because I was going to own a van did not mean that I couldn’t do so in the coolest way possible. When I found out one supplier was releasing a hybrid minivan in 2017, I was pretty excited. The guy at the dealership was a total AHOLE though, so I hopped over to Honda, where I immediately sat in a brand new white pearl 2018 Odyssey. OMG.

It is a total smart car. Blind spot detection, safety doors, middle seats that slide into any configuration, it will stop before rear-ending anyone, it has lane detection and won’t let me swerve out of my lane, I can pause a movie and yell at my kids through their headphones with the click of a button, I am a wifi hotspot… (I am sure there are more cool features I haven’t even figured out yet too). After one swing around the block in the super comfy seats, I was sold. Maybe it was the butter soft leather, maybe it was that new car smell, but I wanted this new minivan and was envisioning many happy days toting my crew around in it.

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My little princesses in front of my new minivan!! No buyers remorse here!

Once I was decided on what I wanted came the fun part. Negotiating. I am actually pretty good at this. My background includes visiting over 25 countries and haggling for souvenirs in broken English, always bargain shopping, and I took and rocked an MBA class with my husband when he went to Northwestern University in Chicago, “Cross-Cultural Negotiations,” so I consider myself one of the best. I wanted to share an overview on how my minivan shopping trip went and some of my tips on how to shop for a minivan and get the BEST deal possible, in hopes of converting, even more, mommas to the dark side! 

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Game Plan

You HAVE to have a game plan. Crunch your numbers before you go, pour over the online inventory ad prices, know how much you can put down, what your highest monthly payment could be etc. You can even get pre-approved by your personal bank lender before you go, which could save you time or angle you better to make a negotiation on the van. If you go with your lender you can knock another $2k off the price. Also, figure their mark up is pretty high. I always assume they have $5-10k wiggle room. 

Time It!

I brought my kiddos with me due to just moving to the area and closest family is a few hours away. So I made sure we went right after a morning on the beach, baths and a filling lunch. I came prepared with snacks, toys, and charged screens. My little one napped in the stroller almost the whole time! 

Time of day is important, but the time of year and week is too. The last 2 cars I bought I have gotten great deals on. The first I bought up north on Valentine’s Day, right after a huge snow storm had hit. The dealership was begging me for my business. For the minivan, we went in on a Sunday, right after a hurricane and No One was there. End of the month is also good cause they are trying to meet quotas. An empty dealership is a good one. 

Protip Do NOT go shopping during a sale. They will be busy and less willing to negotiate. Instead, threaten that you can come back during a sale if they are not giving you what you want. 

Negotiate Until You Sign

I am not one to sit and do the back and forth. Once I knew I wanted the van, I wrote out what I was willing to do (and then took 30% off) and sent it back. They, of course, came back with this long, complicated paper. I told them this will not go back and forth more than three times. I wrote on their paper and then I asked him to give us a minute. After crossing things out and writing my new numbers (about 20% less than what I was ok with) I sent it back. A few more rounds of the back and forth game, we reached a deal. You know you are doing good when no one is smiling. 

Protip Once you think you have reached a deal, they come back with another paper with “FINAL” numbers a little bit higher than you had agreed upon. That is why it is so important to know the numbers you are ok with for what type of van, and to always offer less than what you are ok with. Chances are, you will reach the number you are good within the end. They always try to up it and sneak in things. They had me paying $3 a month over the signed and agreed upon amount, which they sneaked in last minute and I negotiated HARD.

Be Ready to Walk

Do not go over what you are comfortable with! Stay under or at the numbers you have already set. They will budge, or you can wait a week or 2 and try again. Chances are they will chase you down as you walk out the door, or call you tomorrow saying let’s make the deal. You are the one with the money (and POWER) don’t forget it! 

There that is how I became the proud owner of a minivan and joined a tribe of super content and pretty awesome parents. Hope this quick guide helps a few mommas on their new vehicle hunting experience. Remember, you are still cool if you drive a minivan. Just roll down the windows and blast those old school tunes!

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