This weekend I am giving my wife her first lesson in driving a manual transmission vehicle. We have a 6-speed Dodge RAM 2500 we bought to pull the Airstream. The thing is a monster and pulls like a beast on a mission. But, that truck will also be our only car post-retirement, and she’ll need to know how to drive it.

And I can’t help but think about how similar this process is to learning personal finance.

Charlie (Airstream) and Clifford (Truck) w/motorcycle at our camp site
Charlie (Airstream) and Clifford (Truck) w/motorcycle at our camp site

Learning to drive a manual (“standard”) transmission vehicle is super duper easy. Understanding how the clutch and transmission make the vehicle move forward with the power of the engine is simple stuff.

The bigger challenge is acquiring finesse. Becoming smooth with the vehicle takes practice, and lots of it. And just because you know how to drive YOUR vehicle smoothly doesn’t necessarily mean you can immediately drive another manual transmission vehicle smoothly.

All cars have their sweet spots. Some like to be driven at higher RPMs than others. The truck, for example, has gobs of torque where lower RPMs aren’t a problem. Drive a Toyota Camry, however, and you’re looking at a whole different set of sweet spots.

The concepts of driving a Camry and a diesel truck are the same. Getting good at driving smoothly and instinctively and knowing what the vehicle “likes” takes many hours behind the wheel to truly mater.

Let’s face it: After we first learn how to drive a manual car, we suck at it. We aren’t smooth with the gears. We jerk forward. We might even stall the car a few times.

And God forbid we find ourselves on an incline, feeling the non-violent torture of the car rolling back until the clutch is released just enough with the right engine power to propel the car forward without slamming into the guy behind you, but also not inadvertently spinning your tires.

Personal finance is about finesse, too.

Personal finance is easy, isn’t it?. The goal? Stop spending shit. Save as much money as you possibly can to build up a sizable net worth, then enjoy the rest of your life doing whatever the hell you actually want to do.

It ain’t complicated. Auto deductions from our paychecks or bank account make this process even more simple. Save lots. Spend little. Just like driving a manual transmission vehicle, this isn’t rocket science.

However, it takes practice to master. You won’t be a kick ass saver the first few months after deciding to take personal finance seriously. You’re gonna suck at it. You won’t be smooth. You might even stall every now and then. And, that’s okay.

Hell, the majority of people today are entirely unaware of what truly makes them happy. Through a process of trial and error, however, we discover those things that bring a smile to our face. For example, I used to think that I couldn’t live without ESPN. But look at me now…all livin’ and stuff.

Through practice, we get to know ourselves. We bump up against our limits and remember where they are for next time. We begin to understand where to spend our hard-earned money and where to save it. Practice has taught us such things.

The more we practice, the better we get. We become much more confident in our ability to save money that it almost becomes second nature. Once your savings is on autopilot, you know that you’re in a good place.

…shifting between those gears like a boss, smooth, controlled and confident.

My first manual transmission car

My Corvette, now sold
My Corvette, now sold

Funny story. A few weeks after getting a job out of college, I wanted a Corvette. You know, the classic American sportscar. I found a Corvette at my local Carmax for the right price. It was a 1999 Corvette Convertible. Arctic White. Beautiful car.

The only problem was…it was a 6-speed manual (as all sports cars should be!), and I didn’t know how to drive a manual at the time.

My brother, a huge “car guy”, lived about 4 hours away. On a whim, I called him up and asked if he could teach me to drive a manual transmission car over the coming weekend so I can buy the Vette. He agreed and, after work on a Friday, I made the drive down.

The next morning, my brother and I found an open lot and he taught me to drive a manual transmission on a 4-cylinder Nissan pickup truck. The stick shift was probably a foot long. Fun little truck to drive, but nowhere close to what I was about to buy.

And two days later, I found myself behind the wheel of a 350HP Corvette. I proceeded to dump about $25k into the car by slapping on a supercharger, headers, race cam, twin-disc clutch, 4.10 gears and a variety of other performance parts. But, that’s neither here nor there.  🙂

If only I had learned about personal finance a couple weeks after college!

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