Just buy the minivan.
Look, I get it. Minivans are not “cool.” They don’t zip around like a fun sports car and they don’t have the power of a big Dodge Ram truck. They tend to be used by “soccer moms,” toting their 5+ kids around to activities. And they are a sad reminder that we are no longer in our early 20’s and now have adult responsibilities, like a family, to prioritize.
That’s probably the biggest reason why we fight the minivan from entering our garages—they are the ultimate symbol of growing up, maturing, and taking convenience/practicality over our wants/ideals. No one likes to admit they are getting older and more conscientious, thinking more about budgets and family-growth space than excitement and sleekness. And when there are other M.A.V. (Minivan Avoidance Vehicles) on the market, like the Toyota Highlander, Buick Enclave, or Chevy Traverse, why bother with a van, right?
My husband and I both fought the dreaded “mom van” for years and honestly, I totally regret it. We should’ve bought a van years ago when we had the chance, instead of a more expensive compact SUV that wouldn’t fit our growing family. We had been so sure that we could eventually afford a 3-row SUV vehicle, complete with 4WD and all the fancy creature comforts, when the time came to grow our family out of that 5-seater Chevy Captiva.
But what we couldn’t swallow was the price of an SUV. The time came for us to grow our family beyond our current car’s capacity and we were in no responsible place to buy or trade for an SUV like that. So out of necessity, we began to accept the minivan for some pretty sensible reasons.
The thing that got our foot in the door for tolerating a minivan is the price comparison of a van verses an SUV. To give an example, a 2017 GMC Acadia SUV can run you anywhere from $29,000 – $45,000+, depending on the package and features you choose. Whereas, a 2017 Toyota Sienna (which can come with the 4WD option, btw) runs anywhere from $29,000 – $36,000+, again, depending on the package you choose.
Similarly priced, right? But if you look at used cars (which is what most of us with young kids and small budgets tend to do), especially if you go back a few years, the SUV will still be priced higher than a van. So we just had to swallow the fact that we can’t always have what we want. Our used 2011 Nissan Quest was $11,500, a difference of at least $10,000 from the cheapest SUV we would’ve wanted. We chose less debt by choosing a van.
The next feature that sold us was the sliding doors! At first, I didn’t think this difference mattered but since buying our van, I’ve learned the true beauty of the sliding side doors. When you’ve got kids to buckle into seat belts and are parked in a cramped spot, it sucks having to open a door wide enough to fit the kid into the car and then yourself, to strap him in. The sliding doors open along the car, taking up minimal space but allow a large opening for kids to climb in and get buckled. It’s so nice not worrying about dinging the car next to me every time I, or my toddler, opens the doors now!
Another thing that helped us transition to a minivan was realizing this wouldn’t be forever. I chose to have kids. I chose to put them into activities that require space and convenience as I haul them around and do errands. I chose a cheaper vehicle to minimize our car debt and monthly payments. For this time of my life, I’ll deal with having the type of car I don’t want to drive.
Because I know that all too soon, my kids will be grown, our saving and being frugal will mean financial security, and I won’t need to have a completely practical car. One day, our van will crap out and I can replace it with the car I’d rather own. And I’m not the only one having this realization. I’m in good company with many other parents who are just sucking it up for now and are still cool people, despite the mom van in the garage.
We chose a minivan over our dream SUV but it’s actually been pretty great. Vans aren’t what they used to be when I was growing up—they aren’t all still dingy in color with rough, fabric seats and a “sad dad” look to them:
Our Nissan Quest is a 2011, so 6 years old, and yet it still has leather, heated seats, two sun roofs, power doors, back up camera assistance and more. The body shape is more sharp than other models so it “tricks” my husband into thinking he has a manlier car than what most minivans look like. It’s still totally possible to trick out a van and make it something you’d be proud to drive.
So the best advice I can give if you’re facing the can’t-afford-an-SUV-but-hate-the-minivan dilemma is this: Don’t overthink it and do appreciate what the minivan DOES do for you! There are enough people who have succumbed to the minivan and who have actually learned to love/prefer it to demonstrate to you that no-one is judging you for owning one. Minivans like the Toyota Sienna, Dodge Grand Caravan, Honda Odyssey, and Nissan Quest are great options to begin exploring. If you’re willing to go used (which I would recommend verses buying brand new), you’ll save yourself a lot of money while still grabbing a sleek car.
Well, as sleek as a minivan can get, that is.