Dear Dave: When I Got Started With Car Stupid

Dear Dave,

In my very first letter to you, I mentioned that my dumb money decisions weren’t things I started early in life.  Actually, early in life, I didn’t make that many.  Well, I did buy a whole life policy, but I got out of that after 4 or 5 years of dumb.  And I did finance a new car in 1988, but I did get myself sorted out pretty well once I dove into my career in ministry (my wife and I were missionaries for almost 20 years).

Living overseas on limited income has a way of trimming your stupid, at least for a while.

Fast forward from the early 90s to mid-2000s.  By this time we have a child and have purchased a home for my mother-in-law to live in (early 2000s), even as we continue to serve as missionaries.  We come home to Texas to live for a year of stateside assignment, living with my MIL.  During that year we learn that she has Alzheimer Disease,  and with incredibly heavy hearts we are prevented from returning to East Asia where we believed we would serve God for the remainder of our careers.

We were devastated.   And unemployed.  And no money really at the ready to weather such a storm.

I have heard you say many times, Dave, to those in grief, that they shouldn’t make money decisions in the middle of grief.

I wish I had heard that back in 2007.

Cause I made one of the dumbest decisions right in the middle of a time of grief (our sense of calling having been ripped up and totally changed).   I immediately bought a car and financed all of it.  The only good thing in that whole event was that it wasn’t a new car.

I limited my stupid to a used Jetta (bought at a dealer).  I still remember the day we bought it.  It felt like I did something smart, but it really was dumb.

As I look back at that decision that day, I realize that was the point at which I fully lost control of our finances because it was the first day that borrowing money became our first option, rather than no option at all.

We actually had non-retirement mutual funds that we could have tapped into that day (or I guess that month) rather than buying on credit.  It was the first step down a very slippery slope.

I’ve heard it said that we are more likely to be eaten by mosquitos than a lion.  Those mosquitos started biting that day, Dave and kept biting until 10 years later when it finally occurred to me that I had a problem.  I added a few zeros to the stupid.

One payment became two, became three, became four (not a car, but a payment), well, you get the idea.  I had landed a very good job in 2009, moved up, made more money, but the number of payments increased too.  The payments continued.  We got to the point where we were essentially living paycheck to paycheck.

Stupid compounds just like interest, only compounded interest can work in your favor, but compounded stupid never is in your favor.

There is a point at which stupid overwhelms you, and it finally did in 2017, which is also about the time I started listening to your podcast.  But that’s another letter.

Until then,


Have your own story with car stupidity?  Share it below in the comments.  Or watch the video to see how cars can kill you. 


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