Monthly Archives: August 2016

A Cult Leader With All Wheel Drive

Subaru perennially enjoys one of the highest rates of owner loyalty, right up there with Ferrari. That is so sad! But anyway, Subaru, owned by Fuji Heavy Industries, is on fire. The company’s U.S. month-to-month sales have increased for seven years, practically the entire Obama administration. Year-over sales have were in double digits for four years ending in 2015 (582,625 units).

Subaru has nearly doubled capacity at its Lafayette, Ind., campus, but it’s like trying to catch a runaway kite.

The Outback, a midsize, all-wheel-drive crossover, is the company’s granola-y icon, of course. Or maybe its heroin. At one point this year the national supply of Outbacks dwindled to nearly nothing, a seven-day supply. “I’ve only got one Outback on the lot, and it’s sold,” a Colorado Subaru dealer pleaded with managers at a recent car show. “You’ve got to get me more cars!”

Colorado.

What is the laughing gas in Subaru owners’ balloon? How has this audience, this pecuniary relationship between buyer and bought, morphed into a tribe? Subaru does have a big-tent message, including a long-term commitment to the LGBT community. OK, that accounts for a certain percentage of buyers. But who are all these other people?

Subaru’s sales neatly track the rise of crossovers and the Outback gets credit for being the ur-crossover.

I go round and round on this. One year, I feel nearly smothered by the sameness, the adequacy of mass-market cars. I find my gall rising at every marketing message that says this car or that rises above commodity status. See past the code. Take the blue pill, Neo. They’re all the same!

Then after being thoroughly convinced it’s all finely curated horse manure, I start to think: No, it really is about product. It’s the marketing that’s all the same. The machinery begs to be appreciated on its own terms, its unique courtesies and capacities, and by its own value.

I have spent long minutes contemplating these mysteries from inside the 2017 Subaru Outback 2.5i Premium ($32,160, as tested). The Outback comes in six trim levels: four with the 2.5-liter flat four engine; and two with the 3.6-liter flat-six.

As a refreshing change for me, our tester was not pride of the fleet, but the 2.5i Premium, with the smaller engine (175 hp, 174 lb-ft of torque). That allowed me to more fully appreciate what you might call the Outback’s background level of accommodation.

Emergency Fund and Save Money

download-7Experts say everyone should have an emergency fund, a reserve of three to six months’ worth of living expenses. But many consumers struggle to save when trying to cut debt and cover all of life’s other expenses.

“Probably one of the most underused pieces of financial advice we give is to scrape together an emergency fund,” says JJ Montanaro, a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ at USAA. “If you don’t have any savings in the bank, you’re almost certain to end up in debt as a result of unexpected expenses.”

If you haven’t started saving, don’t panic. These six tips can help you get started:

  • Set a goal. Estimate how much you spend each month on essentials such as rent or a mortgage, utilities, food, car payment and insurance. Multiply that total by three — this is your minimum savings goal. If you have no savings, $1,000 is a reasonable start. Work gradually toward saving more, and don’t be intimidated by the numbers; the important thing is to start setting aside money regularly.
  • Track expenses. Using online banking,track your spending and break down your daily spending average. Identify nonessential purchases and trim them from your daily budget. Put the extra cash toward savings.
  • Automate savings. Set up an allotment or an automatic transfer from your checking account, maybe $25 or $50, into your savings account each payday. You can also automate additional contributions each week. Even small amounts add up — $20 a week for a year equals $1,040 in savings.
  • Round up. Round your debit card purchases to the nearest dollar, and move the difference into your savings account at the end of the week. For example, if you bought lunch for $8.36, round up to $9 and set aside the 64 cents for savings.
  • Save unexpected income. A tax refund or consumer rebate can contribute to a healthy savings account. So can a pay raise, bonus, cost-of-living adjustment or extra income from a part-time job or freelancing. Directing at least part of this money to your emergency fund will help you reach your goal sooner.
  • Make minimum payments. Paying off credit cards makes sense but not until you have a small emergency fund, at least $1,000, on hand. Having savings in place keeps you from having to use your credit card for emergencies.

How to Save Much Money

download-8No matter how you say it, it sounds good. Think about the sense of well-being that would come from knowing you had 10 crisp $100 bills tucked away in your wallet. Everyone should have that feeling.

Consider these five steps to help you get started:

  • Open a savings account. My oldest daughter once saved $800. On her way to deposit it in the bank, she took a detour by the mall and left her purse sitting on a clothes rack. That envelope with her $800? Gone in a flash. The lesson? Your hard-earned money is safer in a bank account than in your hands.
  • Automate. Does money burn a hole in your pocket? If it’s not there, you can’t easily spend it. The Defense Department’s myPay site and nearly all banks allow automatic transfers that can shift some of each paycheck from your checking to your savings account. Five percent is a good starting point, but more is obviously better. Just $84 a paycheck will get you to your $1,000 goal in six months if you are paid twice a month.
    • Cut back. You should be able to find areas where you can reduce spending. It may be on restaurants, coffee, sporting events or gaming. The idea is to rein these in a bit to free up some cash. There’s no need to go cold turkey — a few small changes can add up quickly.
    • Cut out. On the other hand, some spending needs to go. Eliminate casino trips, a tobacco habit or other types of unproductive expenditures to put yourself on the savings fast track.
    • Don’t give up. Stashing money in a change jar may not be the ideal way of saving $1,000, but if that’s all you can manage right now, then it’s an improvement. It may take time, but the key is to stay on track and avoid spending what you’ve worked hard to save.

    Once you reach your goal, celebrate — in a responsible way. But don’t stop with $1,000. Setting aside a grand is just a small step on the road to financial security.