The Number That Turned Me Frugal

At 22 years old, less than a month out of college, my dream vehicle: a big, beautiful, black, limited edition Ford Expedition was mine. 18 months later, we sold that Expedition. That was the turning point, when I got really serious about getting out of debt and living frugally and intentionally.

Everyone has their ideal vehicle. The one they dream about a bit, and really strive to get one day. Growing up, my country self always dreamed of a jacked-up Bronco with big mud tires.

Oh, the teenage dream.

Then I grew up, got married, and got pregnant. And my dream vehicle changed. I wanted a big, beautiful Ford Expedition. Lots of room, could possibly pull something if we needed it to. I had all these reasons it was what we “needed” for our growing family. Add in a broken down truck and Hubs that loves me too much, and it was a recipe for financial disaster.

The Backstory

So, a bit of backstory to explain. Hubs and I got married at 21, while still in college (yeah, we were that couple). Although I worked all the way through college, I still had $10k of student loan debt I brought into the marriage. Luckily, he had none.

7 months after we got married, we found out we were pregnant with our first baby. We were so excited, but it was December of our last year of school and Hubs started sweating at the idea of supporting a family. I’m sure that’s a sentiment most 22 year old men would agree with. Thankfully, God had already blessed him with a job with a great company, which took care of hospital bills. Other than that though, we had zero money. The week before we graduated, my truck broke down. By broke down, I mean it was a miracle it didn’t catch on fire. I had only paid $2000 for it to my bro-in-law a couple years before, but we were not in the position to buy another.

Choosing Debt

This leads us to the dream vehicle. After moving to our new town, 3 hrs from anyone we knew, we knew we had to get another vehicle. I had doctor appointments and errands to go run, all of which I needed a vehicle to do.

So, we headed out to survey the options. Now, this was our first time to ever buy a vehicle on our own. After minimal research, as I would say most newbies (especially as young as we were) do, we found the Expedition at a no-haggle dealership. We looked it over for a few days, trying to decide if we needed it/liked it/ etc. The only real smart part of it was that we only looked at used vehicles. Seriously, that’s the smartest thing in this whole story.

The Debt-mobile (and my 6 month baby belly)

After much some, discussion, we decided we “deserved it” and headed in to talk to the dealers. The dealer was incredibly nice and so graciously offered to let us take it home for the weekend. Monday rolled around and what do you think we thought of the truck?

We loved it. I loved it, really, and Hubs loved me. He liked it okay, but was not a truck guy so much. But he wanted me to have what I wanted, so we headed back to work out the financing.

The Financing

Now, when it came to buying the Expedition, we had some cash from Hubs signing bonus. So we put the minimum down, which was barely anything. The dealer started running our credit, and of course, we had issues. I had credit, from the student loans and a credit card I got at 18. But Hubs had no credit, but was the one with the job.

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This was the moment when I took pride to a whole new level. We could have called one of our parents and had them co-sign with us. My parents had done it with most my siblings, so I know they would have. And his would have, if we told them we needed it. But I said NO!! I thought we were “adults” so we had to handle it on our own.

But no bank would even look at us. Little to no down payment, 22 years old, one income…. I still have no idea how the dealer got us financing. But that’s what he did, finally getting us an offer. The catch?

18% interest rate

Oh yea, you read that right. That’s a whopping number. Even the financial idiot I was knew that was a bad rate. Also, let me remind you that we were a one-income family at this point (not by choice yet, but still).  But, we signed our names on that line, agreeing to $20k in debt. Then we climbed in our debt-mobile and headed home.

18 months later, we traded my dream vehicle in for a 1999 Nissan Pathfinder. We had begun our journey to be debt free. And though we could have paid it off with a few extra months on our debt payoff, my pride was wrapped up in the Expedition. So I knew I had to sell it, to truly push myself to be gazelle focused on our goal.

What we learned, and you need to, too

There are so many lessons I feel like we learned through the process of that stupid deal. And lessons you need to think about when you are looking to buy your next debt-mobile dream vehicle:

  1. Use cash.

    We had a good-sized signing bonus that we could have used to buy an older used vehicle, much like the pathfinder we ended up with. We would have saved so much money all around if we had just done that.

  2. Keep the type of vehicle option open.

    I insisted on an SUV. I never wanted a car, so we wouldn’t even look at them. That alone was going to cost us more. If I had been open to cars, our debt would have been much less (still not good, but better).

  3. Don’t take the vehicle home.

    That sold us. We saw it in our drive, in our life. That’s the point, y’all. If you see it as a part of your life, you will never walk away. So don’t drive it home.

  4. Look for the door.

    God shut the door so many times. He probably slammed them in our faces and bolted them shut. But we didn’t listen to Him. We had many, many banks shut us down and say no. But we forced it and paid dearly for it.

It’s totally okay to have a dream vehicle. The issue comes when we choose to go into debt just because we feel we deserve to have it now. We had the means to buy a very reliable, used car. But I wanted what I wanted… and paid exactly what I deserved to get it.

Looking back, I’m glad we went through this with a used $20k vehicle instead of a bigger purchase. And I’m even more glad that this decision led me to where we are now, being more intentional with our finances and choices. We got out of debt, and are heading towards Financial Independence because this dream vehicle made me realize what our dream really was.

What was your version of the debt-mobile? What made you realize it wasn’t the dream you thought it was?


  1. payingforprivateschool

    August 4, 2017 at 9:05 am

    18% interest rate! Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah. Glad this event turned your perspective. In some sense that car (and bills) woke you up and got your on a new path much earlier in life than most folks – so it did some towing after all. Good for you and thanks for sharing this inspiring story (and warning) with me.

    1. Ember

      August 4, 2017 at 9:59 am

      Yeah it was not a good decision for sure. But yes, it was such a wake up call! Thanks for stopping by!!

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