The roads were icy and the city was humming during rush hour. We had a big snowstorm hit Kansas City. I mean big. I mean, roads weren’t cleared for the entire day kinda snowstorm big. I was driving home from the grocery store, my mind thinking about the upcoming holiday season as I drove past city buildings adorned with Christmas lights. I was thinking about how to climb out of $35,000 in student loan debt with a $40,000 salary. Damn you, student loans!
I reset my mind as traffic increased on my commute. I was driving a 2002 Ford Escort ZX2 and I knew how easily that tiny car can get tossed on slick roads. So, when I took the hill down to the Belleview Avenue stop light, I cautiously braked to a complete stop. BOOM. My head whiplashed against the headrest. I looked in the rearview mirror of my red two-door coupe and saw bright headlights reflecting back. I put the car in park and slowly got out of the car. I walked around the back of my vehicle and saw the remains of my bumper in the street.
Just a block away from my apartment, my car got rear-ended during an ice storm.
Miraculously, the trunk was still functional even after impact, and most importantly, it was still driveable. But holy shit. That bumper was completely gone. The frame was bent. I was the epitome of a redneck in a red vehicle. Embarrassing. In car accidents like this, I started to believe I would have to get a new car. I was thinking I’d have to give up my 9+ years of driving Ol’ Red. Luckily, no one was injured—save for a massive headache.
Student loan debt and car debt? Instant panic started to sink in.
After exchanging insurance information and completing a valuation of my car, insurance deemed it totaled. I had two choices: I could take $3,846 cash for the value of my car and they’d haul it off, or I could keep it with a salvaged title and $3,260. If you still had debt in other areas of your life, and had your car smashed from the rear, what would you do?
Actual letter from insurance on my vehicle evaluation.
That $35,000 student loan debt sat in the back of my mind. My budget spreadsheet that I had setup was already working to pay down that debt. See, I knew that I was meant for so much more in life than making payments. If I was going to make anything of myself: move to another part of the country, become wealthy, build my career (whatever the hell it’s supposed to be), I knew the easiest way was to become debt free as quickly as possible.
“I knew that I was meant for so much more in life than making payments.”
The next night, I went to my parents’ house and told them what had happened. My folks discussed the possibility of me applying for a car loan. My heart did a little flutter to think about adding more to my debt. I got back into my car and sat in the driveway, uncontrollably (and embarrassingly) bawling my eyes out. Me and Ol’ Red had been together since high school. It’s the only car I’ve ever owned. I felt like I was about to giveaway a child.
Me and Ol’ Red. Melted crayons, spilled pop, cruisin’ with the crank windows down.
No. My dream of no more debt payments was way more important than the way I looked driving a bottomless car. Call me redneck, I dare ya. I made my decision. I emailed the insurance company and stated I would retain ownership.
A few months later, my dad and I ended up going to a you-pull-it-junkyard and found the exact same bumper model and same color for $25. Remember the extra cash I received from insurance? I used it to accelerate my debt payoff and I had $25 in my budget to cover the new bumper. My then-boyfriend/now-husband strapped it on the back and Ol’ Red was starting to look pretty damn new again. I began to think of this misfortunate car accident as a fortunate one.
The metamorphsis of my bumperless Ford to nearly new again.
“I began to think of this misfortunate car accident as a fortunate one.”
One year and five months later, I was completely debt free and I ended up selling Ol’ Red to a family who had a 16-year-old daughter in need of new wheels. Today, she’s somewhere winding around eastern Kansas, helping that Midwestern girl find her own way. As for me, my budget allowed me to pay for my first real car purchase as a fully functioning debt free millennial.
Living the debt free millennial life with a new set of wheels, a new city and still on a budget!
Whether you’re dreaming of new adventures or just want to give debt a swift kick in the ass, it all starts with knowing that your current situation is temporary. Stick to a well-planned budget (like the one I came up with) and be the bumperless Ford in a sea of debt-ladened Beemers.