Buying a car is well within reach when you have a plan of attack.

With car prices high, here’s how to buy on a budget

If you find yourself asking the question, "Should I lease or buy a car?" context is king. The proper decision is largely contingent on the current buying environment, what the automobile will be used for, and to what extent.

That being said, you'd be hard-pressed to blame prospective buyers who are hesitant to pull the trigger, as prices have risen sharply lately, according to several reports. For example, the average price for a new vehicle in 2016 reached $34,077, Edmunds.com reported. That's a near 3% increase from 2015 and an almost 13% jump compared to 2011.

Vehicle valuation firm Kelley Blue Book reported that as 2016 closed out, the average transaction price for a new car totaled $35,300, an all-time high, and a 1.5% increase from one year earlier.

The troublesome trend hasn't gone without notice. Nearly three-quarters of consumers – in a poll done by automotive information firm Requisite Press – said they considered today's car buying environment to be too rich for their blood. With the median household income level in the U.S. at approximately $53,000 and the high cost of living, it would be virtually impossible for the average family to buy a new car at today's prices without financing.

So, if you're in the market for an automobile, does this mean that you should wait until prices moderate? Not necessarily, as there are lots of things you can do to find a car you can afford. The following are a few effective ways of going about it:

Buy used, but avoid 'hot' sellers

Of course used or pre-owned vehicles tend to have lower sticker prices. However, if you're interested in an automobile that other buyers are also intrigued by, demand may influence the price. Try to steer clear of automobiles that are hot ticket items. For example, according to CarGurus – an online vehicle and price information website – some of the most in-demand automobiles last year included the Ford Mustang, Ford F-150, Jeep Wrangler, Chevy Silverado, and Chevy Corvette. And when it comes to specific nameplates, two of the Big Three were at the top of the list: Chevrolet and Ford.

Find reliable car salesperson

We've all heard the phrase, "What do I have to do to put you in a car today?" That's ultimately what a dealer wants to do: sell. However, truly reliable salespeople prioritize the interests of the consumer, not their bottom line. Talk with friends about who they've dealt with when in the market to buy or lease. This can make a huge difference in helping you determine the vehicle that's best for you and within your price range.

Establish a budget – and stick to it

When the rubber meets the road, it all comes down to what you can legitimately afford to spend. The only way you can determine this is by knowing what your budget is, which is dependent on your means. Sit down and work out the numbers. Fortunately, several websites have car budget calculators that are very helpful, including Edmunds and TrueCar.

Narrow down your car search

The asking price will be the main determinant of how much car you can buy. However, the wide variety of choices out there can be crippling. The best way to buy a car is by narrowing down your options so that it's not too overwhelming. Your dealer can help you with this, but Edmunds has an online tool that's very effective as well. You'll find it as soon as you log on to the homepage.

It may not be the most opportune time to buy. But with a little legwork, you'll soon be driving to work in a car you both love and can afford.