We have worked really hard to teach our kids all about money and the importance of making good decisions with it, since they were old enough to know what money is. They know first hand that when you work hard for something, you appreciate it much more than if it were just handed to you. As a result, I’m proud to say that my kids have purchased their own iPods, computers, guitars, and cars. Well, car: only one so far.
J has been talking about a car for a couple of years now, and naturally when he turned sixteen in February, he went into overdrive, so to speak. Suddenly the car research was taking up just as much time as any of his other day-to-day activities. It’s been interesting to watch him write down information on 5″ X 8″ index cards (a card for each car!), and after watching his older brother go through the car buying (and car repairing!) process, his ideas about what’s important in a car are very different from what D was thinking about at his age.
Last Saturday we went out to a few dealerships that had some used cars within his price range in their inventory. As we looked around, I tried to teach him a little bit about keeping his mouth shut when the salesman is talking (he knows now), and the fine art of preparing to negotiate, even if you’re not sure you will want to negotiate. (I have learned LOTS over the years about buying cars. Want to benefit from my experience? Read my posts by clicking on these: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3!)
We came upon a 1997 Pontiac Grand Prix (cherry red, of course: my kids tend to gravitate towards bright red cars, just like I do!) that was about twenty percent higher than what he had to spend, but we told him that we might be able to negotiate a better price if the car was right. The salesman gave us the list of needed repairs that was generated from the safety inspection (an advantage of buying a car from a dealership: even if the list isn’t complete, it’s more than you get when buying from a private party), and we asked J if he wanted to test drive the car. Naturally he did.
It was very cool to sit in the back seat and watch my sixteen-year-old do his first test drive. Jim sat next to him, analyzing how the car was running and chatting with J about what he thought. We schooled J on trying not to get overly excited about any car until the deal was done, and so as he took us out on the open road he kept his emotions well in check. He wanted to try and get the car. We told J that we’d temporarily cover a couple hundred bucks if we couldn’t negotiate all the way down to what he could afford at the moment, since his first paycheck arrives next week and we would be promptly paid back. It was looking good.
First, though, before we even thought about negotiating, Jim wanted to drive the car himself. When we returned to the dealership so they could trade places, we discovered it was closing time and since we didn’t want to rush (the salesman was more than happy to stick around!), we said we’d come back on Monday evening.
During the day on Monday, I had to go to the bank and happened to check on J’s balance. It was $250 less than what he had told us he had. Uh-oh.
I sent him a text at work, and he was shocked about his bank balance. Then, thirty minutes later, he sent me another text telling me that he forgot that he had bought a build-your-own guitar kit a few months ago and didn’t think to mentally subtract that when he was figuring how much he had to spend on a car.
After he got home from work, we talked about it. Jim and I could’ve decided to cover him for that “missing” money in addition to the couple hundred we already bookmarked, but I told him that he was digging himself into a hole on a car that he knew would need some work right away, and I didn’t think it was a good idea or the right thing to do.
He sighed and nodded his head, agreeing that he’d wait two pay cycles before proceeding with a car purchase. If the Grand Prix was still there, we’d revisit that. If not, there would be other cars to research and test drive. Although he had been trying to stay unemotional about the whole thing, I know that he was devastated.
As a parent, it’s so hard to watch your kids be disappointed about anything. At the same time, seeing them truly absorb something that you’ve worked hard to teach them is a huge reward, for everybody. I know that J will be behind the wheel of his first car very soon, and this little blip will be a distant memory the first time he drives his car, windows down and radio blasting. I can’t wait to stand by and watch.