The Sweet 16 tradition in the United States is synonymous with two things: stepping into adulthood and getting your first car. In the case of reality shows, rich friends, or lucky circumstances, the brand new Mustang sits in the driveway with a big pink bow on top and your name written on the windshield.

But for the rest of us, this isn’t a possibility. Wouldn’t it be better to put in the work and buy your first car on your own? That’s why it is important to begin thinking about how to save for this treat ahead of time. Below are a few things to consider when saving for your very first car to treat yourself on your Sweet 16.

Find a job that fits your schedule

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, the youngest age at which a person can get a job is 14. There are very strict laws on how many hours a person is allowed to work, what they are allowed to do, when they are allowed to work, and how much they are allowed to be paid.

However, it is still entirely possible to work enough to save for your very first car. When it comes to finding your first job, here are some great tips on how to apply. Set yourself up for success!

As a teenager, your life is the busiest it has ever been. You have a full school schedule, probably a dedication to a sports team (practice AND games), school clubs, social responsibilities, family time, and lots of sleep to recharge. But if there is one thing that teenagers know how to do, it’s make time for what they want!

Consider what you enjoy doing or what you are willing to do for work. Make sure that you find a job that suits your busy schedule and is willing to work with and around your other obligations.

Get a used car (you’re not that good of a driver yet)

You’ve got your first job! Congratulations! You are now officially a working member of society. Now, it is time to begin saving your money.

In order to know how much money you need to save, you need to know how much a car costs. That price should include not only the car itself, but also the registration, insurance, and gas.

Hop on your bike or ask your parents to drive you around town in search of cars for sale by owner. A lot of people will park their cars facing the road with a sign on the front that says FOR SALE, which typically includes an asking price.

If you are having trouble finding cars in your area, see if you can find one for sale near you online. There are plenty of websites that offer that service. But always make sure that you do all of your research with a parent or guardian to ensure the opportunity is legitimate.

It may be very tempting to want a brand new car for your 16th birthday — maybe a hot rod or a slick speedster. But those are terrible cars for first-time drivers. You probably haven’t been driving very long, if at all. You want a beater. Your first car should be something that doesn’t cost too much, is safe, and wouldn’t put you in financial ruin if the car breaks down randomly or you get into an accident.

Also, you will need to have a better understanding of how much the upkeep of a car actually costs. (“You mean I have to do an oil change every 3,000 miles? And what is that squealing noise from under the hood?”) Once you learn to balance work hours with the cost of a vehicle, you can begin to understand the value of owning a car.

A teenage girl sits behind the wheel of her first car. The top is down and she is wearing sunglasses.

Set aside money from each paycheck/birthday/Christmas, etc.

Becoming financially responsible is a very difficult thing to do. Luckily, most people your age don’t have to pay many bills. You probably don’t have to pay rent or your phone bill, or buy groceries. The money you make is yours. This is one of the few times in your life where this will be the case, so take advantage!

The rule of thumb is to set aside 10% of every paycheck you make into a bank account or piggy bank that you do not touch until it is time to buy the car. It is very easy to find what 10% is — just move the decimal over to the left one place and that is your number. (10% of $100 is $10. 10% of $230 is $23. 10% of $50 is $5. You get the idea.)

But at your age, with your lack of financial responsibility (you ain’t got no bills), you can afford to save even more. Consider saving 75% or 80% of every paycheck if you can afford it. Trust me, you won’t even miss it, and when you look at the final number when it’s time to buy your first car, you will be amazed at how much you have saved.

Note: This doesn’t just go for work paychecks. Do this with birthday, Hanukkah, Christmas, or other monetary presents you may receive throughout the year.

Alt Text: The inside of a convertible that has the top down. There is no driver, and the car is parked on the side of the road.

Ask your parents or guardian for help (go 50/50)

This may not be an option for everyone, but in some cases, families may be able to help out. A respectable deal to offer your parents or guardians is that you will promise to work very hard and save as much money as possible if they promise to match that same amount when it’s time to buy. So, if you have saved $400 and they can match you, you now have $800 towards a new car!

Buying your first car

Buying your first car is exciting and incredibly responsible. You will feel a stronger sense of pride in your vehicle when you know exactly how many hours of planning, work, sweat, and tears went into saving for it. Then, when your Sweet 16 party comes along, you can reward yourself with the best possible gift. Imagine pulling up to your party — whether it’s at the beach, a bungalow, or any number of other amazing Sweet 16 party venues — in your brand-new-to-you, hard-earned automobile.

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