If I were strapped and needed a car quick, I'd try to squeeze my cash till it screams for mercy but still try to get something halfway decent. Something foreign like a late 80s early 90s Honda Accord, Mazda, etc. My Galant is only my second car, so I'm only going by what other people in my family have experienced. My cousin had an 88 Accord, and she drove it all through college. It had over 300000 miles on it before the automatic tranny finally died. The engine still ran though. Granted, she did keep up on the maintenance. My Dad's old Subaru GL sedan lasted for years, and finally died.
You might put a post up over in the anything goes section and ask other members what they've done in situations like these and what reliable beater's they've had.
Are you going to college this fall or are you still in HS?
I want a puppy too .