Family or Marriage Finances & Money

Getting a car without earning it

Last week, I announced we were selling our 1997 Pontiac Grand Am to a relative. Well on Friday evening, we battled traffic for 4.5 hours to get to Pennsylvania (normally takes under 3.5 hours) in 2 vehicles to get to Stacie’s parent’s house.

The following morning, we dropped the car off at the notary and stopped at her relative’s house to pick up the check for $1,800. We stayed a little longer to have a chat with the parents while their daughter was sleeping (till noon as usual). If you recall, they bought the car for their 18-year-old, college-bound daughter.

Earning vs Gifting a Car to Your Child

We were a bit upset going up to PA this weekend because we learned that they were planning on keeping “Greenie” (the car) for just a year and then trading it in on something “better” for their daughter. We were under the assumption that she would drive this car into the ground, as it probably has another 50k miles left on it. While chatting, I brought this up (I didn’t mention our distress at the idea) and the dad suggested it was just a thought, but it depended on how well the car ran after her freshman year. They totally expect her to trash the car in the next year. Based on what she’s done to her mom’s car, it’s a valid expectation.

However, the problem that I saw in all of this is that the daughter didn’t earn any of it. But in their eyes, she earned it all just by being in existence. You see, this couple tried hard to have a kid for a long time. Eventually they had “Em” while in their forties. Because they finally had a daughter, they were just so happy that they spoiled her rotten.

“Em” doesn’t have a job, although she does hand-craft some clothing for a certain band she likes and sells them on eBay for a small profit (maybe enough for gas money). She seems like a very respectful daughter, although her parents told us she doesn’t respect property. She doesn’t take care of her stuff, nor their stuff (like their car), and they can’t understand why. Hmm, I wonder.

But the big question here is should “Em” have earned the car by working, or was her parent’s gift justified? They’re also paying for her college education, housing, food, etc. and not expecting her to work at all while in college. Is this the right way to teach her the value of earning a dollar? Do you think there’s a better way to get her to appreciate material stuff?

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Clever Dude


  • I do think that when people pay (at least in part) for things like cars and their educations, that they will value them much more. They’ll try to cut costs and make it last.

    I know a family that paid for cars for their kids, as well as all of their college education. The cars weren’t well-maintained, and one kid even told me that he didn’t care if the car got wrecked, since he didn’t have to pay for it anyway. Um.

    Same kid went ahead and let his parents pay $500 for books per semester, rather than getting them on Amazon or another cheaper location.

    He and his parents should get smacked.

  • I guess I should have mentioned that Stacie paid for half of that car when she and her parents bought it used 8 years ago. She worked hard for many summers to save up enough money to cover her share, and she certainly appreciated the car for the next 8 years!

  • This is a huge problem today. Kids today feel they are “entitled” to anything they want. This is going to be the most selfish generation in the history of the United States.

    Schools are so afraid of hurting their feelings that they’ve eliminated honor rules.

    Sports leagues don’t keep score — everybody wins.

    How are these kids going to function in the real world when they actually have to go out an earn something.

    Even worse, how are they going to handle it when they “lose” in the real world — they don’t get the job they want, etc.

  • Having myself been a late sleeper as a teenager, I get really cranky when adults suggest that when teenagers sleep in late, it’s due to laziness, lack of motivation, or some other character flaw.

    Adolescence brings changes in brain chemistry

    Teenagers’ late-to-bed, sleep-until-noon habits may seem related to stereotypical adolescent defiance. However, brain scientists tell us that teen brain chemistry differs from the chemistry of both adults and younger children. Teens start to secrete melatonin, a hormone that helps to trigger drowsiness at the end of the day, up to two hours later than younger children. This normal hormonal shift causes teens to feel more alert later at night and to wake up later in the morning.”

    Rant over 🙂

  • @A.J. – I realize I probably could have left that statement out (about sleeping late), but it doesn’t apply to all teens. While I did stay up very late in high school through college, I also woke up very early to go to a job, or just to do something productive like reading. “Very early” to me then was 9-10am, not noon-2pm.

  • I have mixed feelings on this. Why? Because when I turned 16, my parents bought me a car. I had to share it with my brother when he turned 16, of course. Part of the reasoning was to benefit my parents – we went to a school that was a 25 minute drive away, and while we could take the bus to school in the mornings, if we were participating in any sort of after school activities, our parents would have to pick us up. I was one of only about 15 kids from my town at this school, so it was rare to have someone else from the town doing the activity to make carpooling possible – but we did it when we could.

    My parents also gave us gas money. We got $10 a week, which covered enough to get the car to and from school 5 times a week. If we needed more gas than that, it was our responsibility.

    Because it was a shared car, I wasn’t allowed to take it to college with me. My junior year, my parents bought me another car. This prevented them from having to make the 6 hour drive to pick me up at breaks. I still lived on campus, so I didn’t use the car all that much, but it was my responsibility. My parents usually paid for gas for trips home, but that was it.

    Was I totally spoiled in this? I was. Yes, it benefitted my parents, but I know how lucky I was to have these cars. I was required to keep up my grades and stay in certain extracurricular activities and pay for maintenance, but that was it. I didn’t have a car payment.

    Did this make me in any way an irresponsible person? No. Possibly because I knew that if I destroyed the car, that was it. I wasn’t getting a new one. Possibly because my parents made me understand what went into buying that car and what sort of responsibility they were placing on me.

    I don’t think that I’m the exception to the rule either. I think it depends in large part on the situation. Buying one car is one thing. Buying car after car because they get destroyed is an entirely different matter.

  • Well, this is a tough-y. I was fortunate enough to have my mom pay for college, and my first car (which I still have). She has been a great provider to me. I always got what I needed and then some.
    I could be considered spoiled (call it the single-mom-with-an-only-child syndrome), however, my mom always made sure I knew the value of what was acquired. Looking back, I know I got a little more than I deserved, but the difference is that I do know it and never felt entitled to it.

    On the other hand is dh’s step daughter – the miracle child. Your story reminds me of her. Parents desperate to have a child, tried everything, were told they could not conceive, and finally, miracle of all miracles, little princess arrives. At 18, she just graduated from high school with high hopes of going to Harvard or some other very impressive business school in the Boston area. Come to find out she’s going to the local community college and as a graduation present got an almost brand new sport car. At 18, we all can guess where this one is going to end up. Can’t wait to see how she ends up.

  • CleverDude, this is definitely NOT the way to teach her the value of a dollar!

    I have seen many parents buy cars for their (adult) children, and it has always struck me as a bad move. Nothing instills a sense of value and respect for an object like actually having to work for it. Having to work for the things you want also helps develop character and a strong work ethic, as well as confidence and independence.

    With that said, if my mother called me up tomorrow and told me she was going to buy me a shiny new Porsche, I’d do a backflip :).

  • My grandmother died when I was 19. At the time, I didn’t have my license or anything, but I was working full time and had just finished up school. I didn’t need a car, but my brother was offered the car out of her estate first and declined.

    I, of course, jumped at the opportunity. It was in good shape, never missed an oil change, was her pride and joy. Best of all, my favorite aunt and uncle were executors of the estate.

    But here’s the rub…they wouldn’t just gift me the car out of the estate. They could have; very easily, in fact. Instead, they chose to make me pay for it. It was a paltry sum ($3000), but I had to take out my first (ever) loan to do it. I paid that car off in two years on my minimum wage salary, and it became my pride and joy.

    If they had given it to me? I probably wouldn’t have taken such good care of it. It was my grandmother’s! It was over ten years old. It was a granny car, to say the least.

    Because I put my blood, sweat, time (and yes, paychecks) into it, however, I took really awesome care of it, and when I sold it two years later, I got back half of the value I put into it for my trade-in, which helped me to pay off a bunch of my debt at the time.

    Where I sold it at a technical loss (don’t we all, when it comes to cars?), what I learned from the experience was far more valuable than money.

    Personally? They should make their daughter pay them for the amount of money they put into it. Even if it’s half of whatever she sells her clothes for for the rest of her life. A lesson in responsibility is worth it.

  • I think a teenager can be given a car and/or college education without being ungrateful or oblivious to what’s being given to them. But it’s rare. I paid my own way through college and grad school (ok, ok – I got loans for most of it that I’m now paying back), paid all my own living expenses, bought my own car at 17 and paid for the upkeep on my own, etc. I had friends who were given everything – most considered it their parents’ responsibility to provide everything from gas money to cell phones to textbooks. Some were grateful that they got it, some took it for granted and one very special one realized how fortunate she was and refused to accept all of the help her parents wanted to give her.

    It isn’t just a question of how much a teenager should be given – it’s how they’ve been taught to view those gifts over the course of their life.

  • I don’t know – I have such a strong personal finance, earn what you need and spend it carefully orientation, that I see your point. On the other hand, my parents paid for college, even expensive “add-ons” like summer courses overseas, let me use an old family car after my freshman year (I paid for gas, they paid for insurance), and gave me a cash gift at graduation. And I still turned out OK. I lived beneath “my” “means” in college (ie spent less than they had budgeted for books and spending money). I got a great job thanks to the fabulous education, which was significantly enriched by not having to work during the semester. And I continued living beneath my means once I was out of school, which was made easier because I don’t have to worry about student loans. I am really grateful for everything they did for me. I don’t see how throwing me out of the house financially at age 18 would have made me any more fiscally responsible, and it probably would have set me back in life significantly. So don’t be too hard on your relatives. If they can afford to do this for their daughter, let them. If they raised her right, with an overall sense of responsibility, she’ll be fine, even if they buy her a car.

  • As an employer, I can say that some of the kids who grow up with everything and little sense of responsibility for things turn into lousy employees. What do they do when they hit the working world and find out they are expected to actually contribute? They often find a different job or an employer with a lower standard.

  • My kids will NOT be given cars when they are old enough. There is no way we as a family would be able to afford it. And even if I had a windfall between now & then, I don’t believe a teenager *needs* a car- or even a college student.

    I believe that when the child is old enough to afford the car and all the responsibilities of it on their own, they are ready. Until then, it just becomes another grand entitlement- of which too many kids today are spoiled beyond redemption.

    We live in the same city I lived in as a teenager- I did not have a car until I was on my own. Public transportation was more than adequate or arrangements for rides would be made. And no- I did not mooch rides off everyone else either– my family was strict about who could be driving— not just some kid they didn’t know. I spent money on cab fares, sharing the costs with friends, when the trip was beyond reasoning for public transportation– and believe me- even two or three such cab trips/month are way cheaper than all the costs a car entails.

    Full disclosure- I haven’t owned a car in over 14 years now- our family is committed to being a one car family, even with 4 kids. This is how we afford living on only one income- mine- and hubby is a stay at home mom with the kids. Why would I want to pay $10K, insurance costs, gas costs, and upkeep- for a vehicle to drive to & from work only 2miles from my house? I carpool.

  • Aw man don’t even get me started on this whole nonsense. I went to an Ivy League school full of rich kids. My freshman year roommate went through THREE cars in his first three years of getting a license and all three of them were high end things like Range Rovers. He would offroad with them and destroy them – or at least destroy them to the point where his parents thought they should be disposed of. We had tons of kids like that but the ones who really irked me the most were the ones who sound like your relative Em. They weren’t necessarily rich but they were well-off and they were extremely coddled by their parents. And they would have these cheap cars their parents gave them and they would think they were “slumming it” because of their cheap cars when the fact was 99% of it who were really slumming it could not even imagine HAVING a car. They would think they weren’t spoiled because they didn’t have high-end vehicles which was so stupid.

  • I have to say that ‘spoiled’ comes more from how one is raised than specifically what they receive. I know of people who are given plenty of things along the way, but it’s the work ethic at their core that makes them ‘unspoiled’. If you teach your kids about hard work early, how much you give them later isn’t as relevant.

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