Most of us handle our finances on a month-to-month basis, balancing the bills for such necessities as rent, utilities and smartphones. As a result, we have a general idea of what we can afford as long as it's in the form of a monthly bill. But when it's time to buy a car, it can be tough to translate that big-ticket number into a monthly payment.

The monthly payment is the best indicator of how the car loan will impact your budget. It can give you a reality check on whether you can afford the vehicle or not. And though this figure is the easiest for us to understand, it isn't the only number to watch.  Here are a four ways to get a monthly payment on a car without losing sight of the other aspects of the deal.

1. Get a Preapproved Loan

Edmunds recommends getting a preapproved car loan as part of the buying process for a number of sound reasons. That process also has the benefit of showing you what your monthly payments would look like. Check with your bank or credit union to see which is offering better interest rates. In some cases, you may have you know which vehicle you want, so make sure you've done that research in advance.

2. Let Calculators Do the Work for You

Getting to a monthly payment involves some math, but the good news is that we have calculators to do the heavy lifting. Let's say you have your eye on a midsize SUV. Choose the make and model your want, or enter the SUV's price into the auto loan calculator. It will ask for a few other details such as down payment, expected value of a trade-in, and interest rate. After that, it will calculate the compound interest, estimate tax and title fees, and display the monthly payment. 

If you have a monthly payment in mind but you're not sure what it will buy you, the affordability calculator is perfect for you. You start with a monthly payment, and after a few questions, the calculator will give you an estimated price range, along with a number of vehicles that fit that criteria.

If you're using the Edmunds app, there is an option to estimate payments when you're browsing any vehicle in which you're interested.

3. Start With a Lease Price Quote

If you're interested in leasing, automakers advertise lease specials that prominently feature the monthly payment. You have to qualify for those deals, of course. Make sure you read the fine print, paying extra attention to the annual mileage, lease term and cash due at signing, because these offers may not always be the best deal. For example, many require big chunks of money at signing, which isn't a great idea. But the offers can be a good starting point to help get a ballpark monthly payment figure for a lease. Each month, Edmunds highlights carmaker lease specials with payments of $199 or less.

Another option is to take advantage of the special lease offers on Edmunds. If you're looking at the inventory page of a vehicle in which you're interested, you may notice that some are marked "Lease Offer." In exchange for your contact information, you'll get an upfront monthly payment figure on a lease.

4. Call a Dealership's Internet Department

If you walk into a dealership and ask for a monthly payment, it could be a long back-and-forth discussion with a salesperson before you arrive at a monthly payment. Alternatively, if you call the same dealership and ask for the internet sales manager, it will take substantially less time. Plus, you'd be in the comfort of your own home. Give it a try.

Making a Monthly More Affordable

Don't like the monthly payment number you see? You have two tools that can lower your monthly payment (three, if you have a car to trade in or sell):

  • You can make a larger down payment. If you're financing at 3 percent for 60 months, every $1,000 down will drop the payment by about $18. For every $1,000 down you put on a 36-month lease, you drop the payment by roughly $30.

  • You can finance with a longer loan term. Just be careful about 72- and 84-month loans, which can leave you bored with the car before you've paid it off and at risk of being upside down on the loan. If a short financing term is the best fit for you, think about leasing.

Consider All Deal Aspects

When you arrive at a monthly payment, be it from a price quote, negotiation or advertised special, make sure you are aware of all the numbers behind it. What good is a low monthly payment if it takes you 84 months to pay off the loan? Is the selling price for the car a good deal? What about the trade-in amount the dealership is offering for your car? Ask for the "out the door" figures from your salesperson to review before making a decision.