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Totaling my parents automobile as a teenager taught me financial survival

  • I wrecked my parent’s car when I was a teenager, and that taught me how to handle money problems.
  • I had to go to traffic school to get a discount on my car insurance. This taught me to look for ways to save money.
  • I also learned how to make short-term changes to my way of life when money is tight.

A few weeks before Christmas, when I was a teenager, I wrecked my mother’s car by accident. It went wrong. Bad, as in “bent axle, smashed back end, can’t move on its own again, cops had to drive me home.”

Ironically, my parents were going to give me my own set of car keys for Christmas that year. Instead, I had to go to traffic school and ride the bus for the rest of the school year.

After calling the police and the insurance company, my parents sat down to make a plan. I was going to be a part of that plan. My parents were upset that they lost a car, but it wasn’t the end of the world like I thought when I was a teenager. We made a plan to get over this loss of money together, and the lessons I learned will stay with me for the rest of my life.

I learned to find ways to make a financial hit less painful. 

I was supposed to go to traffic school as part of the plan. If I went, the insurance company agreed not to raise my rates as much as they usually do when a teen driver is in an accident. Before it could be done online, traffic school was very dull and uncomfortable. But I learned from the experience to look for ways to lessen the damage when money goes wrong.

After a few years, I got married and was in my last year of college. To my shock, I found out that my new husband had forgotten to pay a lot of bills for many months because he was too busy. Some of them had even gone to get money.

Because of the good example my parents set, I decided not to kill my new husband and instead use my problem-solving skills to get us out of debt. I called the companies he owed money to set up payment plans or see if I could get a discount if we paid the whole amount at once. In less than a year, we had paid off all of our debts and were free.

I also learned that making short-term changes to your way of life can help you get through a rough patch financially. 

One of my parents’ plans was for me to take the bus to and from school since we didn’t have a car for me to use after the accident. Anyone who has been a senior in high school knows that riding the bus when you are old enough to drive is very, very uncool. My parents insisted that we had to do it that way until we could afford a new car. So it was the bus.

Even though it wasn’t cool, I learned that when money is tight, some things you want may have to wait. You may even have to change the way you do things for a while, but the eventual recovery and financial freedom are worth the sacrifice.

This lesson helped me a lot when I was in college. I walked, shopped at thrift stores, looked for free things to do on the weekends, and ate a lot of peanut butter and jelly, but I was able to graduate with almost no debt.

A business investment that went bad a few years later was even more helpful. My husband’s business partners betrayed him and left us with most of the debt and no income. We didn’t know what to do, but we finally decided that the only way out of our huge amount of debt was to sell our house and move into an RV trailer for a while. It was tight, uncomfortable, and hard for our kids, but it did the job. We were able to pay off our debts quickly, so we could buy a new house and start over.

But I think the most important thing I learned from what happened after the car accident was not to be scared. There was a way to solve this problem. At first, I was scared and a little shaken up, but my parents helped me see that not everything was lost. They got a new car in the end, and I was finally able to drive again.

My family was able to get through this together because we had a plan to cut costs and change how we lived. I was right in the middle of it. I had been taught to be strong physically and mentally, but this taught me that I could also be strong financially.


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