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Mustang Dreams on a Pinto Budget

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A Ford Mustang.

In the fall of 1999 I landed my first post-college job. Not necessarily a good job, but one where I could earn a bit of money while figuring out what to do with my degree in history. I moved back home after college, so even though I would only be making about $8/hour, I had enough money to make my student loan and credit card payments, and even save a bit. Sounds good, right?

Looking back, it was good. I could have made that work until I decided what I wanted to do. Unfortunately, at the time I was more interested in fast cars and independence.

So when my ’86 Taurus went kaput, after just a couple weeks on the job, it was clearly time to grasp for that independence….and convince my grandpa to co-sign on a car for me. Clearly.

Now, the responsible choice would have been to get a nice, affordable car with good gas mileage and low maintenance and insurance costs. Boring! I decided to go in a slightly different direction.

What I got was what every 22 year-old making $8/hour while living with his parents truly needs – a Mustang GT. Brilliant, right? Apart from having wheels, it literally met none of my actual needs. But that V8 sure did sound nice when I started it up.

Ok, I think you can see where this is going. Almost immediately I struggled to make the payment, and before long I couldn’t make it at all. It delayed me getting my own place, forced me deeper into debt, and caused constant stress about money.

The good news is that I was eventually able to set things right with my creditors (grandpa included). Today, my wife thinks I’m a fanatic about sticking to our monthly household budget, but I’m ok with that.

The key is to be realistic about your financial situation and recognize that the decisions you make about money, every day, have an impact on your long-term goals. It can take a decade or two of good decisions to undo one or two bad ones.

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