Full confession: I like spreadsheets. As in, I really love spreadsheets. Math can be hit or miss, but when I can create a formula that does the work for me every time, the three of us get along like PB&J.

Having said this, it was some time ago that I was shopping for a vehicle. (You can estimate this time by the consideration of a VW diesel.) I was considering everything: Buy, lease, new, or used. Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Subaru, even a Fiat. Compact, Sedan, Crossover, Hatch. Total monthly ownership was a huge factor- I was on a really tight budget at the time. I needed something reasonable and functional that wouldn’t break the bank.

Maintenance on a used vehicle could be a total wildcard- based on so many factors ranging from make/model, PO care and maintenance, region, and even certain model years of the same vehicle. It’s possible to purchase two identical vehicles of the same make, model, and MY while spending 2-5x maintenance on one. Because of this, I only considered new cars. This essentially guaranteed minimal maintenance and additional costs for the initial warranty period (usually 36 months, sometimes longer.)

It was becoming quite a bit to keep tabs on, so I made this spreadsheet to keep my sanity and try to have some sort of baseline for comparing expenses of these. Surely, based on some amount of visible/hidden/hard to access data on the manufacturer’s website, I could determine what a given vehicle would cost, right? Realizing that these problems probably aren’t unique to me, I thought I’d post up and present the spreadsheet that really helped narrow down my vehicle choices.

Sheet 1: A(mostly) total cost of ownership, sans TTL, Insurance, and a few other tidbits.
  • Columns A-J are required data. K-P are calculated based on the info provided in A-J.
  • K: “Total Cost” includes Security, Down, and monthly payments for the duration of the lease.
  • L: Averages the Column K “Total Cost” over the lease duration.
  • M and N: Averages MPG’s from Columns E and F and divides this by my estimated mileage per year (7,000 at that time)
  • O: “Total/Mo” is the cost of ownership for the vehicle plus fuel expenses.

So, you can see that this is much more in-depth than the low-ball numbers that automakers throw at you. This whole “Lease an XX for $199/mo!” never really works out. Granted, this doesn’t include tax, title, insurance, and licensing fees which can vary greatly by state, vehicle, and your driving record/ insurance premiums. You’ll have to do that on your own.

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Cool, so now that I’d gotten a nice singular number to compare a lease, the next (and everyone’s favorite) question arose: Lease or buy?

Lease or Buy? In some really basic terms, of course.

Columns A-D are data pulled from the previous sheet- Make, model, and total cost from column K. The only changes here are Column E: MSRP of a new vehicle, or close to what one would cost. Column F just compares the lease to buy expense.

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For example, leasing a Subaru Crosstrek would have cost $11,113. This is over 50% of the cost to purchase a new one at the time. After those 36 months, do you think you could resell it for more than $10,482? If so, then it’s probably more financially reasonable to purchase this vehicle.

Likewise, Leasing a Corolla would have cost $5,056, just 24% of the original MSRP. Think you could resell a 2 year old Corolla for more than $15,900? No? Thought not. Better lease that one.

This is by no means a complete financial comparison, and I’m not seeking to advise you on paint codes or other automotive BS. It’s complete to the level which I needed to make a sound, well-investigated financial decision looking 3 years into the future. Feel free to edit and modify, enter your own info and share. If you determine some significant improvements, please share!

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Most importantly, I hope this helps you make a responsible and informed financial decision too.