Financial Planning for Your Kids: Why Their First Car Should be a Clunker

May 18 • Financial Planning, Life Planning • 1262 Views • No Comments on Financial Planning for Your Kids: Why Their First Car Should be a Clunker

By Jamie Bosse

Think back to your memory about your first set of wheels – the excitement, the anxiety, and the freedom!  You can finally go places without your parents serving as your personal taxi service.  Getting those keys in your hand is such a memorable time and a fun rite of passage.  However, when it comes to cars, there is quite a spectrum of choices available.  On one end, you have the shiny new luxury vehicles and on the other end is the rusty clunker/jalopy category.  If you were like me, your first car was closer to the latter.

The year was 1997 and this dual-colored specimen was my first set of wheels.  My driving excitement screeched to a halt and I wanted to cry when I saw that beater in the driveway.   This car is a 1980 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme (keep in mind that I was born in 1982 and horrified by the idea that my car was older than I was).  My dreams of driving a sporty turquoise Neon or a candy pink Tacoma (which my father assured me does not exist) were shattered.  Instead, I would be driving a huge hunk of steel that looked like a cross between “Driving Miss Daisy” and something out of an early 90’s rap music video.  It came with an 8-track tape player, manual windows, and a horn that sounded like an elderly lion’s final roar.  The nose of that beast seemed to be at least twenty feet from the driver’s seat and it took everything I had to pull those 80lb doors shut.  Needless to say, it took me a while to warm up to that car, but after a few months, we became one.  I affectionately referred to the Cutlass as my “Hoopty”, “G-Ride”, or “The Bucket.”   We got into all sorts of mischief together – running into mailboxes, knocking siding off my parents’ house, and wrapping around poles in the grocery store parking lot.  We caused some damage here and there, but The Bucket never even showed signs of a scratch.   I even made a few upgrades like installing a cassette player and having it painted so that it was all one color.

The truth is, the Cutlass was the perfect car for that time in my life.  I was a teenager with limited income from babysitting gigs and working as a grocery store carryout.  I clearly had limited experience behind the wheel, and was prone to minor fender benders and frequent rear-ending incidents.  The fact of the matter is that your car should match your lifestyle and place in life.  If my first car would have been an Audi, I wouldn’t have been able to afford the premium gas those things require, let alone any repairs or ongoing maintenance.

It is difficult to go “backwards” once you have become accustomed to a luxury.  For instance, if your first car is a brand new Lexus and you have to downgrade to a used Prius once you are on your own and it’s all you can afford – that’s a tough pill to swallow.  You should start near the bottom of the spectrum and work your way up as your income and overall wealth increases.  When I went to college and upgraded to a 1992 used Pontiac, you would have thought I owned a Rolls Royce, the way I talked about that bright blue Grand Am.  I was so proud to have a “sporty” new ride and thought it was the best thing since sliced bread!  It’s all about perspective.  I STILL get excited about heated seats and Bluetooth capabilities in the 2008 Toyota that I currently own.  Every “new” car I have acquired has been a step up from the previous one, and something that I am proud of.  Help your kids “act their wage” by starting with an affordable used car and let them work their way up the spectrum as their income allows.

As a recap, here are the reasons why every kid’s first car should be a clunker:

  1. They will destroy it. There is a high probability that their first vehicle will be in numerous accidents (maybe even totaled) and will be the victim of neglect in terms of required maintenance.
  2. They learn to appreciate what they have and what they can afford. Remember, you want them to “act their wage.”
  3. Humility and pride. Driving that Cutlass was humbling to say the least, but every time I see that picture, I am reminded of how far I’ve come and I’m proud of it.

I am not saying that your kid’s first car should be reincarnated from a salvage yard or a dangerous bucket of rust, but starting them near the bottom of the spectrum could actually set them up for success in the long run.

For more information on how to talk to your family about money, schedule a meeting by clicking below, contact Jamie Bosse –jbosse@makinglifecount.com, or call (913) 345-1881.

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