St. Louis native Kelly Stumpe grew up in the car business. Her grandpa started a used car lot in 1957, which her dad and his brother grew into a multilevel franchise with six locations. As "the third generation to enter into the automotive industry," Stumpe loved "all things retail automotive."
But when she first started sellling cars right out of college at the urging of her father, Stumpe realized she actually had a lot to learn—especially around the financial side of the business. "I was working a deal with a customer," she recalls. "They were complaining about the sales tax, and I was like, 'Oh my gosh, I didn't even realize you had to pay sales tax on a car.'"
She also had to learn the ins and outs of working a commission-based job. "The car business is crazy," says Stumpe. "They say some months you feast, in some months you famine. Your income could be very inconsistent, and it wasn't always a reflection of the kind of salesperson you were."
- RELATED: The Best Family Cars of 2021
So the experience meant she had to learn a lot about budgeting and forecasting profitable months over fruitless ones. "I think it taught me to have a more healthy relationship with money," she says.
She took those money lessons with her once she started a family. Stumpe married her high school sweetheart Tyler in 2017, and the same year, they bought a house together, saving up 20 percent for a down payment by setting aside a set amount out of Stumpe's commission checks. Once they had crossed that hurdle, they started trying for a baby, and right before getting pregnant, Stumpe decided to stop selling cars.
She traded 12-hour days on an asphalt lot for a job with an automotive CRM company, which is a customer management tool. But six months after giving birth to her son, she decided she wasn't going back.
"I found child care that I loved, but she was only available three days a week," says Stumpe. "And I felt lied to, because [my job] made it seem like there was going to be flexibility, like part-time work or work from home options available, and there weren't."
While pregnant with her second child, the pandemic hit, and Stumpe's friends inspired her to start sharing her knowledge online. "A lot of my friends were becoming moms and asking me what a good mom car was," she recalls. "I also was really sensitive to how hard it was to take your toddler anywhere during a pandemic. I didn't even want to take my son to the grocery store, and I couldn't fathom how women were taking their children to car dealerships to meet car salesmen."
She was also realizing she didn't want to leave the workforce. "I felt like I had so much to bring to the table, but I just felt so stuck like I'm sure a lot of women do when they just realize the cost of two kids going to child care," she notes.
That's when she thought, "What if I could help moms out, and give them a first look?" In June 2020, she started The Car Mom, initially on Instagram and now on YouTube, a website, and a Facebook page.
"I review cars from a mom's perspective, and we also do a lot of car buying tips," says Stumpe. "I'm very passionate about cars. I love cars. But I'm also very passionate about the car-buying process and families and mothers making smart decisions and feeling empowered to do so."
Her long-term goal for the Car Mom: "I really just want women to feel more confident in their car buying. And I want the car manufacturers to start marketing and building cars for real mothers in mind. And ultimately, more of an internal goal is I want to be able to provide other women part-time work from home opportunities, doing something that they love. If I have a team of moms, we'll get done way more than what a team of other people will."
Here, several of Stumpe's best money and car-buying tips for families.
Talk About What You Want and Need
A little conversation upfront can make a world of a difference in setting you up for a successful car-buying decision. "I encourage families to talk about what your wants are and what your needs are," says Stumpe. "I know you want heated seats, but what do you really need? Stripping out the car and looking at its functionality for your family is really the first step."
Avoid Extended Financing Terms
"Vehicles are so expensive, so to make them more affordable on a monthly basis, lenders offer things like extended financing terms, deferred payments, no money down, but when you do all of those things, you're not paying off that depreciating asset quick enough," says Stumpe. "So every month, it's worth less and less. If you don't pay the vehicle off as quickly as it depreciates, then you're in a very bad situation."
She says she's seen this happen to families time and again. "I've seen a lot of families be in situations where they ended up getting an older car with more miles because they can't afford the monthly payment because they have so much inequity from their last vehicle," says Stumpe.
That's why she recommends putting more money down and avoiding extended financing terms. "I also just feel like the vehicles are getting so much safer and more reliable and better every single year that I don't think you should get a car for 84 months," she says. "You should be getting out of it sooner than that."
Do Your Homework Before Negotiating
Even Stumpe herself says she hates negotiating, but in order to do it right, she recommends doing your research beforehand—and showing your work.
"If you want to make a lower offer, you have to be able to validate why you want to make that lower offer," advises Stumpe. A few things to consider: "Is there a car down the road that's a little bit less expensive? Is the Kelly Blue Book lower than what they have the vehicle price for? Do you feel like your trade's worth more?"
Avoid Bad Salespeople
All too often, Stumpe hears from moms who want car salespeople to take them seriously. They ask, "How do I get them to not talk to my husband? How do I get them to look me in the eye?"
Stumpe's response: "We're just not going to worry about those salespeople. We're not going to give them our business. There are so many good salespeople out there who want to work with you."
She recommends going on a site called DealerRater as well as Google reviews. "Find reviews about individual salespeople," says Stumpe. "Go on Google and notice a salesperson's name who gets mentioned over and over and over again. And then choose that salesperson to work with. Or go on [a dealership's] staff page, find a woman, and make an appointment with her."
And avoid rolling up to a dealership on a busy Saturday when you're more likely to find yourself "at the mercy of whatever salesperson's available."
For average to lower mileage drivers, leasing is a great option. "I think it's the best option," she says. "Essentially when you lease a car, you're paying for a percentage of the depreciation. So what that does is it makes your payments a lot lower actually than if you were to finance a car."
She continues, "So you get a newer car for less money per month, and you're never in an out of equity position at the end of that three-year lease. You can either have the option to buy or lease, or you can turn it back in and get something new."
Stumpe likes leasing for growing families in particular, noting, "You're getting a more reliable, safer newer vehicle every three years."
- How Downsizing Her Home Helped This Mom of 3 Live a Happier Life
- This Stay-at-Home Mom of Six Shares Her Best Money Tips for Big Families
- How This Millennial Mom is Securing Her Kids' Futures and Inspiring Other Parents to Live Their Best Financial Lives
- This Car-Loving Mom is Helping Families Get the Best Deal When Shopping for a New Ride