The gift of a new car is more than a lot of us can say we've received.

Sure, many situations require driving at a young age, but I think we can all relate to the pit you get in your stomach watching a 16-year-old text behind the wheel of a new Porsche. On a less dramatic note, it can be equally unsatisfying when all of your friends receive cars at some point in high school while your parents continue to expect that you earn one on your own.

Sitting here 10 years later, I've realized my parents did me a favor. Granted, having a car growing up would have been nice, and surely would have given me more freedom. But walking away from buying my first car on my own gave me a taste of independence that became addicting. I started looking into insurance plans, took my dad's name off of my bank accounts, and I applied for a credit card. The more established that I could get on my own terms, the better I felt.

Not only did I grow more confident in my ability to support myself, but I also learned the basics behind car shopping. Make sure the title is clear, check the Carfax, know the difference between buying and leasing, and most importantly, is this car in my price range? I’ve seen so many friends go broke trying to stay on top of car payments. Accepting that I won’t be sitting in my new Mercedes anytime soon really helped me set realistic expectations as a buyer.

I learned to use tons of cool tools like a car payment calculator to help estimate how much my payments would be for each car I considered. I also checked the Kelly Blue Book value and compared it to asking prices. TrueCar can give you that information too. After wrapping my head around reasonable prices for prospective cars, I used Carjojo to locate models close to me that I was interested in.

Once you’ve set your eyes on a car, it’s important to prepare for insurance costs. Insurify compares different rates to find you the lowest quote. Using online resources can be helpful, but if you’re buying a used car there is an additional set of important questions to ask.

  • Where did the car come from? (private or commercial owner)
  • Is the title clear? (i.e. is it salvaged)
  • Has it ever been in an accident?
  • Is the powertrain all original?
  • Is there a warranty on the vehicle?
  • Is there any rust damage/has there ever been?
  • Are all the OEM accessories included?
  • Have there been any recalls?
  • Are there any known defects?
  • What is your seller history? (Google them and read some reviews)

These are just a few important ones, I recommend bringing a car savvy friend along while you test drive. Aside from learning how to shop smart, I picked up a new sense of appreciation too. If you want nice things, you’re going to have to work hard for them. Long blog short, thank you mom and dad. And to parents, maybe consider the long term benefits of making your kid work for their car.