My cousin has cars on the brain. He’s 14, and talks about driving, the kind of car he wants, whether he’ll be able to get his license when he turns 16, whether he’ll be able to learn on my car, etc. I don’t have good answers for him either, except that if he wants a car in the future, he’d better start saving now.

I think back to when I was about to turn 16. I was interested in driving, of course, and anxious for the freedom it would bring, but it didn’t really even cross my mind that I might want to get a car. I figured I’d just borrow Mom’s if she wasn’t using it. So I was surprised when my parents came to me shortly before my 16th birthday and asked me which I would rather have: a horse or a car. (I’d been horse-crazy for many years, which probably explained why I didn’t care so much about cars.) But I gave it some thought: yes, I could finally get a horse, but as I got older and moved out it would be harder and harder to find places to stable it in our metropolitan area. And I knew exactly how much work a horse was, having taken care of them for other people. In the end, I went with the car because it seemed more practical long-term.

Cars & younger cousins┬ámake me nervous, mainly because I am a parent and it’s only natural, but also for financial reasons. For many people that live in suburban areas, a car is their first introduction to debt and working for “things”. You want a car, so you get a job that you need transportation to in order to have money to pay for the car. Next, you take what seems like a good low-interest offer for a car, and before you know it, you have to work to pay for the loan you took out. And then you just buy more and more…

My cousin is a smart kid. And of course he’s heard me talk about money and debt. But you know, I was a smart kid too. I’ll be spending the next few days trying to think of ways to help him avoid the trap I let myself fall into.