When kids reach adulthood one thing they look forward to most is buying their first car. They may have saved for many years for it or for some their parents may treat them to it as a gift. It’s a big occasion, a ‘coming of age’ and provides a new sense of freedom to no longer rely on mum and dad's taxi service.
It’s also a time which defines their status. They compare their car with their friends'.
I want my girls to understand that whilst getting their first car is exciting, it comes with some less glamorous considerations like ongoing car maintenance.
To help appreciate (and remember) this, I came up with a story about a dragon that pooped too much.
The Dragon that pooped too much
On Dragon Island, two friends Kai and Nita were about to turn 17 years old. They were so excited as it meant they could start their training to fly a dragon by themselves. Learning to fly a dragon was a rite of passage for all 17 year olds on the Island. It allowed them to fly wherever they wanted and not to have to rely on their parents for transport.
On their 17th birthday, Kai and Nita started their dragon training. After weeks of practice they took their dragon flying test. They were both very nervous!
They waited and finally got their results. Fortunately, they both had enough points to pass the test. They could now fly a dragon on their own!
They were so pleased to have passed the test. They now got to go and buy their very own dragon to keep, fly and look after.
Dragons aren’t cheap. Luckily, they both had been saving up money for many years in order to buy one. They headed to the dragon sanctuary to go and pick their own dragon.
Nita looked around and she found a nice one. It wasn’t the biggest but seemed like it would be a great first dragon. As it wasn’t the most impressive dragon, it didn’t cost as much as many of the other dragons on the farm. It was actually cheaper than she thought which meant she had some money left over. She used a little bit of her left-over money to buy a personalized saddle for her dragon. Now everyone would know it was her Dragon when she flew past. She was so happy!
Kai immediately saw the one he wanted. It was one of the biggest dragons in the sanctuary. It could also blow the biggest fire balls. He knew everyone would be so impressed with his dragon. He looked at the price. He didn’t have quite enough to buy it. The farmer, however, said Kai could have it if he paid part of the price now and then came back to pay more off each month. As Kai had a part-time job, he felt he could afford it and agreed to come back each month.
Kai and Nita met up to show each other their dragons. Nita was so impressed with Kai’s dragon. It was bigger, faster and could breathe so much more fire than hers. She was a little bit jealous and started to think that maybe she should have got a bigger dragon too! "Maybe next year I’ll get a bigger dragon" she thought to herself.
They decided to fly their dragons around together. Everyone loved Kai’s dragon. “Wow, I wish I could afford a dragon like that!”. Nita could tell from Kai’s face that he loved the attention he was getting from everyone.
As they were flying, both the dragons would sometimes shiver and make a loud noise which was a bit like a volcano exploding. The noise from Kai’s dragon was so much louder than Nita’s. Neither knew why the dragons were making this noise but the dragons seemed happy.
After flying around for a while, they decided to give their dragons a rest. They also needed to feed their dragons. They went to the dragon food shop (apparently dragons eat fish). Kai was shocked to discover just how much food his dragon needed to eat! Nita was glad she got a smaller dragon as it ate a lot less than Kai’s.
When Kai arrived home, after flying around all day, he saw a group of angry villagers outside his house all holding shovels.
“Hello Kai! How are you liking your new dragon?” they asked politely.
“It’s great - I couldn’t be happier, although I didn’t realise how much food they eat. It’s costing me a fortune to feed it” replied Kai.
“Well, I hope you have enough money left to clean up all the mess your dragon has made?” the leader of the group said.
“What mess? I was very accurate with its fire breathing. I didn’t set anything on fire”. said a confused Kai.
“It’s not your dragon's fire that caused the mess. It’s his poop! As you’ve been flying over the villages, he has been pooping everywhere. You now have to clean it all up or pay someone to clean it up!” they told Kai.
“How do you know it was my dragon that pooped?”
“Your dragon makes a loud noise each time he poops. Like a volcano erupting. We could hear it and as you were flying so high, we had time to run outside to see who it was and where the poop landed” they explained.
They took Kai to go and see all the mess his dragon had made. Poop was everywhere. All over the streets. On top of the houses. Poop had even landed on the cows in the farmer's field (although the cows seemed happy as they continued to eat the grass despite having dragon poop on their backs).
As Kai had used all his money to pay for the dragon and was using the money from his part-time job to pay the money he still owned the dragon farmer and for its the food, he was going to have to clean the poop up himself.
The next day, Kai met up with Nita. She was equally surprised at how much the dragons pooped and that they’d have to clean it all up. When she saw how much more mess Kai’s dragon had made, she was happy that she had a smaller dragon. She was spending so much less than Kai.
Kai said “Whilst it’s so nice having the biggest and best dragon, I didn’t realise all the poop that came along with it! I wish I had a smaller dragon - I’d have a lot more money”.
After a while Kai ended up selling his dragon and getting a smaller one like Nita’s. Whilst he missed having such an impressive dragon, and all the admiration that came with it, he was glad he got some money back and didn’t have as much poop to deal with.
Key message to kids
Whilst I don’t want to put my kids off buying their first car (assuming kids will actually grow up still driving their own cars that is, given the rapid move to automotive self-driving cars), I want them to understand that sometimes large purchases come with a lot of poop!
In terms of buying their first car, this poop is the insurance, fuel, road tax, maintenance costs and MOT (in the UK).
Then there is the ‘higher standard of living’ costs associated with buying something which is outside of their means. If you have a nice car, then people feel you should have nice clothes and great gadgets, and eat at nice places. All these pressures result in more spending. This is known as the Diderot Effect!
When I was growing up, I ended up driving my Mum’s light blue Fiat Punto until I was 28 years old. I did get jealous of friends who had nicer cars and there were times I thought about using my savings to buy a nicer car. Luckily, I didn’t. I used my savings to buy my first apartment, and that helped towards a deposit for our family home. I eventually bought a nice BMW car (in cash) when I was 28. By then I had a good understanding of all the poop that it would come with but knew I could afford it and that we could still continue to save money each month for the future.
For those wondering why I’ve told my kids about buying a car now given they are so young, it’s because I believe that it helps them grow up with a clearer focus on what their money can do for them in the future. Many people make money decisions in the ‘here and now’ and this leads to mistakes which can have financial impacts for years to come. Having a clear picture in mind reduces the chance of my kids making spur of the moment money mistakes.
Thanks for reading!
P.s. Want your kids to grow up to be great with money? Give them a copy of Grandpa's Fortune Fables.