MONEY-SMART KIDS


Getting Along With Two Cars

Janet Bodnar

When our family went from owning three to two cars this summer, our children worked together to get where they needed to go.



When my daughter, Claire, 21, went back to college last weekend, our family achieved a milestone of sorts. Our three children, ages 23, 21 and 17, had made it through the summer with -- gasp -- just two family cars (one of them a very un-hip minivan).

Until this year, we also had what was known as the kids' car: a 1993 Ford Taurus station wagon, which was so old it was cool again. But at the beginning of the summer, the Taurus died, leaving the kids, each of whom had a summer job and places to be, to share two cars. Horrors.

At first the kids agitated for buying a third set of wheels, and my husband and I considered getting a used car. But somehow we never got around to it (and, truth be told, we didn't want to spend the money anyway). So the kids had to figure out ways to share.

And darned if they didn't. As the youngest, Peter drew the short straw. He arranged his schedule as a lifeguard so that he could start work at 9:30 a.m. Then he waited for big brother John to come home from coaching an early-morning crew practice and give him a lift (sometimes he even deigned to ride with Mom). After work he'd get a ride home with Claire, who picked him up after finishing her two jobs as a swim coach and an assistant in a research lab.

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My children have all gone to high school in the city, so they know their way around public transportation (or PT, as we call it). Left without wheels, Peter defaulted to PT when he wanted to visit his friends. One day he called to tell me he was on his way to Arthur's house. "Aren't you proud of me for taking the initiative to take the train?" he asked. "And I even brought my summer reading book."

Our kids are responsible for buying their own gasoline, and I expected some squabbles over which of them should be responsible for filling an empty tank. But they managed to work it out. "Whoever used the car most bought the gas," explained John. And they could all point out nearby stations that were selling gas for less than $3 a gallon.

The kids kept hoping we'd eventually buy the extra car. But before we knew it, the summer was over and we didn't need it anymore. My husband and I were happy, and the kids were surprised that it had been so easy. How did they manage? I asked John. "Teamwork," he replied.

Janet Bodnar is deputy editor of Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine and the author of Raising Money Smart Kids (Kaplan, $17.95). Send your questions and comments to moneypower@kiplinger.com.




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