Just recently a friend and I walked out to our cars together after a meeting. She headed toward her minivan, I headed to mine. Just a couple of moms, chatting by their swagger wagons. Suddenly she said, “Oh no! What happened to your door?” She pointed to a large dent on one of the sliding doors.
I swallowed and tried to laugh: “Oh, I side-swiped a truck… about five years ago.” There was a pause and then she laughed too, saying she couldn’t believe she’d never noticed it before.
I made a joke about it, but here’s the truth: I was embarrassed.
We have a 2013 Toyota Sienna minivan. And my teenage self wouldn’t believe this, but I love it. I really do.
The van is not glamorous—few upgrades, nothing fancy. We bought it from a Toyota dealer in 2014 after they’d used it for a year, giving customers rides around their lots. It had very few miles, and we got it for a great deal. We had saved up to pay most of it in cash, and then we financed the rest. (This was before it occurred to us to not have a car payment. So young, so naive.)
I was pregnant with our third baby, and we’d already tried to fit three car seats in the back of our sedan and it nearly ended our marriage. Plus, we needed a second car—my husband had been biking to work, but he was getting a new job that was much farther away. The van was an answer to our prayers. She was shiny and in great condition. We were so excited.
Less than a year later, that baby was born and I was stressed out. I was delivering dinner to someone who was having health problems. I had all three kids in the car, I was late, it was raining, and I couldn’t find her house. Realizing I had passed it, I went to turn around. But I completely underestimated the size of her small street, and I swiped the bumper of a red pickup.
I felt like such an idiot. I hopped out as my alarmed girls asked a million questions. The truck’s bumper was scratched a bit, but our door was completely dented and had a long red scratch. [Insert swears.] I left a note for the driver, and he later called to tell me not to worry about it. I was grateful for his kindness, but I felt terrible I had damaged our beloved van.
Fortunately the door still worked fine. My husband was able to get rid of the red streak and fix some of the dent. We got an estimate for fixing the rest of the door, and it was thousands and thousands—far more than we could justify spending at the time. We were starting to get more aware of the financial disaster we were in with our student loans, and it just felt like low priority so we chose to leave it.
And it’s continued to feel like a low priority. Most of the time, I don’t even notice it. In many lights, it’s not obvious.
But I’ll admit it—when someone notices it, I feel a wave of shame come over me.
Getting out of debt is not always pretty.
Part of my reaction is the fact that I come from a car family, so I especially feel embarrassed when my family sees it. I feel stupid for causing it, and then stupid for leaving it there all these years. I know that’s something they would never do.
In these moments when I feel ridiculous, though, I have to remember that it’s our choice. We could have saved to fix it back then, and we could choose to fix it today. But we’re choosing to put our money towards other things, mainly our debt. We’re choosing to look a little sloppy so we can meet our financial goals.
That van door has become a symbol to me of sacrificing to meet our goals. It’s required me to swallow some pride and care less what people think about our choices. People may not understand what you’re doing or why you’re doing it. But I know we’re driving in the right direction for our family. We’re happy with our progress. So because of that, I’ve decided I can live with a few dents.