Should You Buy Your Kid a Car?

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Buying your kid a car can be tricky as you don't want to spoil them. Here are tips to use the situation to teach financial literacy and responsibility.

I’ve listened to many people over the years brag about what they’ve purchased, but this story really takes the cake. I sat across from an old co-worker as he told me a story that he was clearly proud of. With a satisfied grin on his face, he told me how he had just bribed his teenage son with a brand new, $30,000+ 3-series BMW so that he would break up with his girlfriend that the father didn’t like. That weekend, the son broke up with his girlfriend and got the car from his dad.

So, being a woman who likes to live frugally, what did I say to this guy?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I had no words, because I’m not sure there’s much you can say to someone like that. I sat there with glazed eyes and a dumbfounded smile plastered on my face as I listened to his story. I think I may have even nodded along at certain points, as though to commiserate and imply, “Kids these days. So hard to raise them!” In my head, though, alarm bells were going off and my jaw was on the floor.

I’m not typically one to judge anyone’s style of parenting nor am I one to judge someone for how they spend their money, but I really couldn’t help myself that day. I completely judged the guy. I couldn’t believe that anyone would do that. My mind was blown and, years later, that story has stuck with me. I can’t help but wonder what kind of person his son is today.

Although that is (hopefully) a highly unique story, it made me wonder what that kind of entitlement will do to a teenager as they grow up. Is it good for them? Does it teach them any character? Should we even buy our child a car at all or will it just set high expectations and make them spoiled?

Teaching Your Kid To Keep Up With the Joneses


I’m not yet raising a teenager and dealing with everything that goes along with that, so I can’t speak through that lens. However, I have been a teenager before, and I vividly remember the emotions that go through a teenage head.

*Related: Need to buy your child a cell phone? Read our guide on the best phone plans for kids that won’t break the budget.*

It’s the first time you want to feel like you’re part of the group, one of the cool kids. It’s the first time you’re trying to fit in when you’re actually feeling very insecure about yourself, what you’re wearing and what you’re driving. The feeling is very akin to us as adults when we try to keep up with the Joneses. We all want to fit in, whether we’re 16 or 36.

If we buy our kids brand new luxury vehicles from the time they are teenagers, we are setting them up for a lifetime of keeping up with the Joneses syndrome, and I think it’s safe to say that most of us don’t want that for our kids. By setting up high expectations and forking it over to them because they feel entitled to it, they won’t have a good grasp on how to become financially savvy adults.

As parents, we have a responsibility to teach them how to handle money well, and to start them off with a few financial lessons.

Give Your Kid Some Character


If you do want to buy your child a reliable car, I can’t blame you for that. My parents did it for me, and I will likely do that for my own daughter one day. If that’s your choice, too, then choose to make it a humbling experience. There are several ways to do that.

*Related: Need to save money on tires? Check out our guide on best places to buy tires and save big money.*

For instance, the car that my parents gave me was my mom’s old first generation Chevy Lumina. When they “upgraded” me a couple of years later, it was to my grandma’s old Chevy Corsica. Neither of these cars were lookers, but they got me where I needed to go.

They certainly didn’t match the coolness factor of the Mustangs cruising around my high school parking lot, but did I care? No. I was ecstatic and so thankful to simply have a car! I knew that my parents didn’t have to do that, and I was appreciative.

Teach a Valuable Money Lesson


You can also make your child earn it and take the opportunity to teach them about budgeting and money. My nephew, for instance, just got his very first car. The agreement he had with his parents was that they would pay for half the car if he would pay for the other half. They didn’t want to just give him a car; they wanted him to work for it, too.

*Related: Not certain if you should buy or lease? Check out our leasing vs. buying a car guide to learn which is best for you.*

Surprisingly, once he earned his half of the money, in a genius move for a 16-year-old, he opted to only spend his parents’ half of the money to buy an older, used car and save the other half in his bank account. Not too bad for a 16-year-old! Recognizing how much time and effort it took to earn and save that much money changed his perspective on how to spend it.

If you choose to purchase your child a car, you have a ripe opportunity in front of you. When you give your kids some incentive to help pay for a car or earn it in some way, they are going to step up to the responsibility. They are going to have a vested interest in caring for a car if they’ve helped earn it.

They are going to feel the repercussions and the pinch if they get a speeding ticket. Go ahead and take the opportunity to build some character and responsibility into the process by turning it into a money lesson that they can carry with them into adulthood.


Will you buy you child a car when it’s time? If you have you done that in the past, did you regret it? Did you parents buy you a car when you were a teenager?

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Robin McDaniel

Robin is a freelance writer who chronicles her financial missteps and victories on her blog


  • Hannah says:

    I think it’s amazing for parents to help their kids with their first car, but a huge aspect of car ownership is learning about responsible independence. My parents bought my first car (a white minivan) which lasted exactly three days before the transmission died 300 feet from the school parking lot.

    They also helped me buy my second car a few months later which lasted 6 more years and only cost $3000.

    • Robin McDaniel says:

      As a teenager, I bet you were mortified for your friends to see you in your broken down car, but I bet it also built in some character, too. 🙂

      Sounds like the second car was a much better option, and that’s a steal at $3,000 if it lasted for six more years.

  • Kara @ Money Saving Maven says:

    My parents spoiled me with my first car. It wasn’t new, but it was way more than I needed (and probably deserved). I think that set me up to have certain expectations about the type of cars I drove, that I’m now only outgrowing at the age of 34!
    I plan not to recreate the same scenario with my two kiddos!

    • Robin McDaniel says:

      I felt spoiled just having my mom’s old car. Some of my friends didn’t have one, and I got one for free. I definitely felt lucky and privileged, even if it was just an old car.
      I think your parents definitely set up that expectation from the get-go, based on what happens when you turn 16.

  • Emily @ JohnJaneDoe says:

    I did get a car when I was 16 (thanks, Nana and Granddaddy). It wasn’t the fanciest car, but it worked and gave me (and my parents) some freedom, at least commensurate with what I could scrape up in babysitting money for gas.

    Foolish me, I used to get annoyed at Christmas when my “present” was car insurance. I now understand that was a significant gift to a teenager.

    • Robin McDaniel says:

      Oh wow, car insurance as a present– that was probably a very expensive gift from your parents, though you didn’t realize it at the time.

  • Kathy says:

    We gave our son my Cougar when I bought a different car. Several years later, he and my hubby just went “looking” at new cars for him since he was moving out of state for grad school. They came home with a brand new Impreza WRX. I was livid. It cost more than any vehicle we had ever bought for ourselves. But, as soon as he graduated from grad school he took over the payments and actually kept the car over 10 years. So I guess it worked out ok.

    • Robin McDaniel says:

      Luckily it worked out, but I would’ve been ticked too, to say the least! I’m 31, and I’ve yet to own a new car (and never plan on it either.) At least he kept his car for a long time.

  • Aaron says:

    Wow, I can’t imagine buying my kid a $30K+ car when she’s ready to drive. Driving is a big responsibility and given the accident rate for teenagers, a big expense that could be totaled.

    I’d rather teach her to save her own money for a car, and help her buy a starter car that makes more financial sense.

  • Mindy Jensen says:

    My sister and I turned 16 together, so we went from 2 drivers with 2 cars to 4 drivers with 2 cars, and 4 people all with 4 different places to go.
    My parents bought a car for my sister and I to share. It was their car, but we were the only ones driving it. WE paid for the gas, insurance, repairs, etc. And we had to make up a schedule about who was driving it when.
    Most of our friends didn’t have cars, so the fact that we had 4 wheels that got us someplace was huge. Our sweet ride? 1983 Chevette.

  • Kim says:

    I will decide once I see what type of teen we have on our hands. At age 8, she is very mature and responsible for her age and we have always talked about age appropriate financial literacy. If her personality doesn’t change I would absolutely buy her a used car that we searched for and decided upon together.

    Learning how to buy a used car is a great skill I wish my parents had taught me. I did get a car at age 16, but it was a surprise so I had no input. It was a sweet 80’s era Pontiac but I loved it!

  • Boyink says:

    I bought my own first car. Paid $235 for a ’71 Dodge Dart (with a known engine issue) when I was 15. Moved it around the yard and worked on it until I turned 16. Got my license on lunch break and drove the car back to school. That night out horsing around with buddies I blew up the engine. Dad towed me home, and the next day we went and pulled a junkyard engine and spent 3 nights swapping it in. Such good lessons for a young kid.

    Fast-forward, we just launched our oldest boy this past September. His life has been different because we’ve been fulltime RVers for 5 years. He moved out of the RV and took a factory job 6 miles from the apartment he rented. With no car – just his bike.

    People made comments to us that we should have bought him a car – but we didn’t have a choice, we just weren’t in a position to. We coached him to find rides and make use of public transit for as long as possible to save up money to buy a decent car outright.

    About 6 weeks into the job he was talking about looking for a car, but didn’t have a good enough budget yet.’s winter where he is but he hasn’t talked about getting a car again. Now it’s talk about international travel instead. And we’d be OK with that.

  • Sabrina says:

    I totally agree, we should not purchase an expensive car for our teens. I was completely against any car for teens … until I had teens of my own. We gave our 16 yr old son my husbands 1996 pick up. Once he finished Running Start/HS we also gave him the responsibility of gas, insurance, tabs and tire bills for that pick up. We GAVE it to him. It’s his responsibility.

    My daughter drives my 1998 Honda to school every day. We moved her to a school 33 miles away. Since she is still in HS, I pay for insurance, gas, tabs etc. Once she is no longer in school/college it will then be her responsibility as well.
    I have an old car that I drive, my husband had a need for a bigger car for his band gear so it all worked out for us.

    I think its important to teach our kids to be responsible but do it in a way that works for everyone as well.

  • Natalie says:

    Hi there Robyn,

    I think the hardest part with this generation of kids is that they automatically feel they DESERVE a hand out. Gone are the days when teens were happy to have a car that cost 2k at the most.
    I have a teen that feels because everyone elses parents are buying them cars, she is hard done by.
    Im lost for a solution..

    Confused Mum

    • Joe says:

      I agree with you completely, having a car is not a right, is it a luxury. Kids will see other people in their school/college getting cars and automatically think that they need to have one too.

      Being 17 currently, I feel very humbled and greatful that my family has decided to come together to fund a car for myself. The vast majority of this is coming from my grandparent and my parents, for which I am extremely appreciative for. I feel that I am so lucky to be in this situation, as many of my friends would love to have a car. I stated that I would pay for the insurance with my own funds – (being 17, inexperienced, male and obviously generalised as reckless, not cheap at all). I understand the essential value of money, starting a new part time job as a bartender, on low wage/long hour shifts to pay for fuel, MOTs and maintenance. There will clearly be the people who think I am spoilt, greedy and snobby, and to those I would say that yes, although the car is a significant amount of money, I feel greatly humbled for the family I have, and I am prepared to kill myself in my new job each weekend for low pay just to pay for upkeep. To the over-critical, attention-loving editors claiming car buying for teens is sickening and will turn their kid into a spoilt brat, please, crawl back to the dark hole you came from. It is completely fine if it is financially acceptable and appreciated.
      Now I’m going to get back to studying for uni, from which I will strive to land a decent job so I can repay my parents for their generosity and trust.
      Thanks for reading, hopefully I changed someone’s perception.

  • Jennifer Bowman says:

    We’ve always been the mean parents who made our kids work cleaning a church on Saturdays to pay for their smartphones or they can save the money and get a dumb phone paid for by mom and dad! When it came time for them to be driving we bought my daughter a 4 door Saturn sedan that runs great but had some hail damage for $100! The great thing about Saturns is over time the dings pop back out so it barely noticeable now. Four years later she has saved up money and just bought a beautiful 2006 red Ford Mustang under 100,000 miles for $4,000 and now my son whose 16 and learning to drive has a 4door Saturn with a lot less dings!

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