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Living with Dents

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Living with Dents

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.

Money and Kids

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It should come as no surprise that my family struggled financially when I was little. My parents had 7 kids and my mom was a stay at home mom (can you imagine what the childcare would have cost!?!?) and she did her best to save every penny but we never had enough for ‘fluff’. Food, yes. Housing, yes. Everything else, not so much.

My parents were always stressed about money. I remember my mother choosing not to drive somewhere because we didn’t have enough money for gas. That happened a lot. The day I remember clearest was the day my parents sat all the kids in the living room and told us they were filing for bankruptcy. We would be losing the house and moving to Idaho. They went on to say the cars would be taken by the bank as would anything else they had borrowed against. There wasn’t enough money to take all of us so we would be splitting up to live with family and friends for a while. Our ratty orange carpet started to blur as tears filled my eyes. My parents couldn’t afford me?

They ended up being able to work around the bankruptcy and keep the house which almost made the fear worse. Were we losing the house? If so, when?

Those memories started surfacing regularly when I had kids. I never wanted them to have that fear.

We seek to correct the mistakes of our parents without realizing we are making new mistakes of our own.

We ‘solved’ this by never talking about money in front of the kids. Ever. When we were in the biggest mess, our kids were completely clueless. I realized this wasn’t the answer either so we started talking about money. All. The. Time. But I thought I was doing it the right way, especially after the debt was gone. I used the term ‘it’s not in the budget’ rather than ‘we can’t afford that’. That’s the best way right?!?!

My job sends me to work across the country several times a year and once a year, I take my husband and one of the kids. It’s a really special time and gives the kids a rare opportunity to get extended one on one time. Last summer, we took our 8-year-old to Denver and hiked miles and miles of stunning red rock trails.

My work covers the hotel, my food, and my flight. I’ve earned a healthy amount of airline miles so hubby and kiddo fly free. Next month, we are headed to Florida (no, we are not going to Disney) and are taking my 6-year-old son. My husband and I were in the kitchen discussing the costs of eating out. Even with my work paying for my food, it was out of our budget to pay for my husband and son to dine out every meal (plus that’s crazy unhealthy). We were meal planning based on what we could make in our hotel room. There was no stress in the conversation, it was just a puzzle to figure out. I assumed the kids were tuned out but I neglected to realize little ears are always open.

Late that night, my 6-year-old son crawled on the couch next to me and sat quietly. I could tell something was bothering him but I’ve learned with this particular little one that I can’t pry it out. I have to let him take his time. We sat silently and I brushed his hair with my fingers. ‘I sure love you baby boy’ I whispered and kissed the top of his head. He stared for a long moment then said, ‘Mama? I know you don’t have any money. We can use my money to pay for the food. It’s OK.’ He’s been saving birthday, Christmas, and tooth fairy money for something special. He was willing to give it all to us.

This is when I realized I still have a lot to learn about this whole ‘parenting’ gig.

I realized that switching ‘we can’t afford that’ with ‘it’s not in the budget’ doesn’t make a difference to his ears. He felt like I had felt all those years ago. I also realized in that moment that my parents were doing the best they could. They didn’t have the answers… and I don’t either.

So I’m backing out and trying again. Money talk all the time = bad. Money talk none of the time = bad. Figuring out how to make age appropriate conversations = good.

How do you broach this subject with your kiddos?

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