How We Saved $15,000 on a Bigger Minivan

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Car seats cramping your style — and your car? Thinking that another baby requires you to buy a bigger vehicle? If you have multiple young children, then you know what it can be like to pack several carseats into the backseat of a car or van.

We upgraded from a car to a minivan when our third child was born. It was a sweet ride with all leather seats and captain’s chairs in the middle section. We even removed one of the captain’s chairs for a time as it was easier to load and unload children and it added to our cargo space. We were rich in leg room.

A group of boys sitting in a car posing for the camera with goofy faces.

With the second captain’s chair back in its place, four children fit comfortably, five was a maxed-out squeeze. With three in the back and two in the middle, we were convinced that we had officially outgrown our 7-seater minivan. Yet, the idea of another car payment was daunting, so we sat tight.


When I became pregnant with FishBaby a few years ago, we were in the midst of trying to get out of debt. I wasn’t worried about having a sixth child, but I despaired over the idea of buying a larger vehicle which at the time would have required taking a loan, something we were adamantly opposed to doing.

We had just kissed credit cards goodbye and paid off our truck. The last thing I wanted was a car payment. And the minivan that was big enough to hold us all was easily going to cost us $15,000 used.

One day while searching the internet for the 8-seater minivans, I read an amazing fact. Many 7 seater minivans can be converted to 8 seaters. Who knew?

FishPapa started doing some research. Yes, indeed, our model van could support 8 seats. How? We bought another “back seat.” We tested it first by yanking the captain’s chairs and moving the back seat to the middle. Yes, indeed, all the components fit well and safely together. It was entirely safe and even pregnant me could slip into the back seat — just barely.

After trolling Ebay and Craigslist, we were able to secure a pair of bench seats for about $200. We didn’t need another “middle seat,” but they didn’t want to sell just one. We ended up giving the extra bench away before we left Kansas City.

We successfully upgraded our minivan, increased our seating, and saved ourselves thousands or dollars. It pays to be weird and to think outside the box.

How are you being weird this week?

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  1. My really weird tip is to cut the ends off of tubes to get to the last drop. When I cut open the toothpaste, I usually can get several more days worth of paste! So now I cut off all tubes to use the last dab – makeup, moisturizer, shampoo… you name it. I figure if I get another weeks worth, that is saving me from buying more. I cut open the bottom and as I use it up, I slice off another inch. Try it – it works!

  2. My husband purchased a second bench seat for our older caravan. He found it at a junkyard for $100. There were many Caravans there and he matched our interior for very little money.

  3. Good to know! I’m interested in knowing what combinations of carseats and boosters you’ve been able to fit 3-across in your van.

    1. I don’t think we ever did three across. The most we’ve had in seats/boosters was 4 at a time, so we did 2 in back and 2 in middle

  4. We did something similar. We had captains chairs in the middle, but it was so tight for my third child to go into the back seat and anytime my mother-in-law was visiting, one of us had to squeeze in the back seat as well since both captain’s chairs had carseats on them. My friend had the same minivan that we did and the bench seat in the middle made for so much more room. So we, too, trolled Craigslist and bought a middle bench seat for $75! Our captains chairs are still in our garage. We might use them again or try to sell them on CL if we decide we don’t need them. I LOVE Craigslist!

  5. We’re thinking of planting a bigger garden this year. I kind of dread it, but it’s a good project for the kids, it decreases the food bill by a good lot, and it’s food that I trust. Like anything else, you just have to get into the habit.

  6. What a fabulous idea with the van! We got our Dodge Grand Caravan used after having our third baby last year (we realized after bringing her home that we might need to get a second car since our only car was a Civic – technically possible to wedge three seats in there, but not very safe, possibly also illegal…) and now we realize that our back seat slopes on the sides, so we’re not sure we can fit a 4th carseat in there. Maybe the solution is to just buy a flatter version of the backseat! I’ll have to look into it. Thanks so much for the tip!

  7. Also unable to link today, but I’m sharing a tip from a friend. “Seeds” Scripture cds include two cds and cases every time you buy one! Plus their website is full of free resources. Head on over to Of Such is the Kingdom for the full write-up. (

  8. With a growing family and a mini-van, that is a great tip. Thank you! We just posted our first Frugal Friday tip on our blog It’ll be fun to share with others through your site. Thanks.

  9. My sister and brother in law did this with their suburban when they found out they were having baby # 6 a few years ago. They were able to buy the whole interior of a suburban on ebay for a few hundred dollars and use the bench seat to make it seat 8. It was much cheaper that way since the youngest is 2 and the oldest is almost 17. Why buy another vehicle when really, their situation (having to haul 6 kids around) was a fairly temporary thing?

  10. Just curious which kinds of vans this will work for. I don’t think it would work in ours (Caravan), and since we are thinking about trading in for a new one soon, I would really like to look into this… especially as we are hoping to have a few more kids. Thanks!

    1. @Emily, it depends on the year. But, I know it will work with some Caravans. Just move your backseat to the middle and see if it works.

  11. Somehow I got the link tool to work too well – sorry for the double link 🙂

    I’m fascinated by the idea of expanding the van rather than replacing it. It would never have even occurred to me to do that. Even for those of us not trying to make space in a van go further, just the general idea of thinking differently about a problem is a good reminder that money isn’t always the only solution to a problem.

    Thanks for hosting this great exchange of ideas!

  12. What a great idea!

    A few things I do to save money is bake/make just about everything from scratch.

    I make my own laundry detergent that costs me 2 cents per load. It is great for our super sensitive skin in this house, we can’t use most comercial detergents without hives, so this saves us a bundle!

    I have also converted to an all cloth kitchen. No paper towels or napkins. I am working on using up my disposable cleaning wipes then I will be converting to the spray bottle and cloth with homemade solutions. I have also made cloth tissues and after we use up the last box, I will not be purchasing anymore. These items are all small, so they just get tossed in with towels or sheets or clothes that I am already washing. That means no increase in laundry loads either!

      1. @In the Bag,

        Recipe I have
        “for less than $5 you can have 5gallon laundry soap that’ll last for months.

        based on Walmart prices in the IN area
        1 Fels Naptha Soap Bar grated (.98)
        1 cup washing soda (Great Value BK soda) .50
        1/2 cup borax $2.98

        Grade soap bar into a small sauce pan. Cover with hot water. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring continually, until the soap completely disolves.
        Put washing soda and borax into a 5gallon bucket. Pour in the hot, melted soap mixture. Stir well, until all the powder is disolved. Fill the bucket to the top with more hot tap water. Stir, cover securely, and let set overnight. The next morning, stir the mixture. Mix equal amount of soap concentrate and water in a smaller laundry-detergent container/dispenser. Shake before using.

        For top loading machines: use one cup of the soap mixture per load
        For front lading machines: use 1/2 cup per load.

  13. I love it! Who knew indeed? I bet there are lots of folks who do not know about this.
    I hope you feel good knowing how many people you inspire!


  14. Some friends of ours did that with their van too (for the same reasons) and it worked well. Now they have another child and are trying to find an economical bigger van because they just couldn’t get another seat in there!

  15. I’m going to tuck that bit of info away. What a blessing!

    I wasn’t able to get the Simply Linked to work for me today on your blog.

    I started a link up today on my own blog and panicked b/c Mr. Linky and Simply Linked wouldn’t work for me. I finally found success with Mck Linky who is free as well. I enjoyed visiting the other linkers though.

  16. Your title was SO clever…it took me a few minutes to figure out how you could SAVE that much money on buying a bigger van. Great pull-in!

    Great ideas. Thanks for hosting.

  17. I’ve heard that before -that a bench seat can be used instead of captains chairs but haven’t seen it in person. I think your idea is awesome! We haven’t had a car payment for years and I know I’d hate the thought of having to add that into the budget myself.