Do You Learn Lessons the Hard Way?

learn lessonsA pretty embarrassing occurrence took place this weekend on the way back from my parent’s house. Up until now, we’ve had a relatively easy and laid-back time driving to and from their house. We had been warned by R’s co-workers to be aware of speed traps in some of the smaller towns we pass through, but we had never seen any sign of them.

Honestly, we had barely seen any sign of police activity at all! Most of the roads we take are one-lane rinky dink things with decent speed limits. They’re certainly higher than back home, and we have been enjoying that.

A little too much, I guess.

I’m sure you can all see where this is heading.

Our run-in with the law

Okay, that might be a little dramatic, but here is what happened.

We were minding our own business, going along one of the more major highways, when I spotted a cop car on the opposite side, heading toward us. R immediately slowed down, and tried to get behind the other cars in the right lane. But when he saw the cop’s blinker turn on to come over to our side, our hearts sank.

Slowing down was futile at that point. When I saw blue lights turn on, I sat in the passenger seat, panic-stricken.

We were getting pulled over.

A million thoughts started racing through my mind; I was shaking; I couldn’t breathe; I kind of had a mini anxiety attack.

Let’s backtrack a little

This is how I’ve always reacted to getting pulled over, mostly because in my childhood, I remember my dad getting pulled over several times. (Yes, he’s quite the crazy driver.) Then a fight would ensue between my parents, and it’s obviously not a relaxing experience.

I was pulled over once in my entire driving life (seven years almost), coming home from R’s house, at 3AM one night. Funny thing was, I had seen the damn cop already – but he had someone else pulled over. Somehow he managed to catch up to me (I must not have been going that fast!), and I almost died. Thankfully, he only gave me a warning.

After that, I’ve been really careful about monitoring the speedometer. I police R myself, alerting him when the speed limit changes, because I’m really paranoid.

Having dreams of being in law enforcement one day, I’ve never been comfortable having any sort of confrontation or interaction with officers. I feel so ashamed of my actions and it’s really easy to blow things like a simple ticket out of proportion. Unfortunately, I couldn’t help myself in this instance.

Sunday’s nightmare

So there we were, one of maybe three other cars on the road, and we were the winners.

The cop approached our car and asked R how fast we were going, to which he responded, “Around 70?” Again, I’m usually really good at looking over to make sure we’re not going that fast, but for some reason I was busy singing along to a song, and R told me he didn’t think we had been going very fast.

“77” was the answer we really didn’t want to hear. “77 in a 55” just made it worse. In our “defense,” the speed limit is normally 60 on that road, but for some reason it alternates between that and 55, and at some points, 45, so you really do need to be on top of things. We were also going down a hill, and I could have sworn there was another car in front of us going faster. But of course, none of that matters.

At this point I was a frantic mess, and the cop asked me if I was okay. I have to say, he was a friendly officer, and we honestly lucked out in that regard. R handed him his license and my registration, and he said he would try and help us out.

After five minutes he came back with a ticket and said he reduced the violation to 64 in a 55, and the total fine came to $82.

How does this relate to personal finance?

There are a few lessons we can learn here. First, it just goes to show you unexpected expenses can come in many forms. Cat from Budget Blonde has a great term for this: gremlins. She even mentioned speeding tickets there! It really does pay to have a little set aside for days when crap happens.

Second, R and I got too comfortable. It wasn’t until a week ago that we saw three cops on the same road. Someone in front of us actually got pulled over. At the time, we were thinking, “Yay, it wasn’t us!” Oh how the tables turned. For some reason, we both failed to notice that we were going way too fast. Back home, there were medians on major roads, and cops didn’t really pull you over unless you were going 85. R’s experience led him to believe the likelihood of getting pulled over was slim.

This can happen to anyone with their finances, especially when you’re not tracking your spending. You might settle into a routine, think you have it all figured out, and then bam! One day, you take a look, and realize your bank account doesn’t have nearly as much money in it as you thought.

Third, if you don’t speed, there’s no need to be on the watch for cop cars. Suddenly, there’s not as much pressure when you’re driving. You can set the cruise control at an appropriate speed, and enjoy the ride.

Let other people pass you and get a ticket – it’s not worth feeling “left out” of the crowd because you’re not following their speed. Do I really need to reference the Jonses here? Similarly, don’t be afraid to be frugal simply because others are throwing money out the window.

Always pay attention, and always be ready. Then you won’t have to worry about your finances as much. When you’re in control, and know where your money is going, you’re in a great spot. You can’t hope to get ahead when you have no clue how much debt you’re in, or why you’re living paycheck to paycheck.

Fourth, it was really easy to beat ourselves up after this incident. It’s something that was in our control; we got a ticket because of our negligence. However, it was the first one R had ever received, and my record is still clean. Is it the end of the world? No. Were we upset because it was something that could have been easily prevented? Sure.

But make sure you put things into perspective. Sometimes it’s not worth it to freak out about things in light of the bigger picture. Is one $82 ticket going to break the bank? Nope. Remember to forgive yourself for mistakes you make. No one is perfect.

All in all, it could have turned out worse for us, but some people need to learn lessons the hard way. R has promised me no more speeding on his behalf, and I no longer expect him to roll his eyes and say, “Who’s going to pull me over here?” when I tell him the speed limit has changed! Our normal three and a half hour trip might turn into four hours, but at least we aren’t putting ourselves at risk.

What’s one lesson you learned the hard way? Have you ever been pulled over? What’s the last unexpected “life happens” expense you encountered?

Picture Credit – Cygnus921 via Flickr CC

Erin M.

Erin is a personal finance writer and virtual assistant who loves talking about money and how to use it as a tool to get what you want out of life. When she's not obsessing over numbers or working (which is rare), she can be found messing around in Photoshop, laughing at her cat, watching YouTube videos, playing video games, chair dancing, or any random combination of the above.

65 thoughts on “Do You Learn Lessons the Hard Way?

  1. Welcome to the club of people who got pulled over this week! :P Kidding!

    I was pulled over too last week. Learned to always put the renewed insurance card in my glovebox as soon as it comes in the mail rather than bring it inside and put it on my desk.

    So glad the cop was nice and lessened the ticket!
    bre @ The Weight of Debt recently posted: I Was Pulled Over This MorningMy Profile

    1. Haha, I was totally thinking of you when it happened! I actually didn’t even have my insurance card on me, which was really foolish after reading your post. I’ve been waiting for a new one to come in the mail. Luckily it wasn’t needed since I wasn’t driving, but I had my registration in the glove box.

  2. I’m sorry about your getting pulled over! You did an excellent job of comparing this to PF. I love your comparison and the reasons you stated. Thanks for sharing your story with us. I hope you are able to maintain your clean record. I’ve been pulled over 3 times and I freak out. I’m so nervous and scared to get into trouble, but so far I’ve never gotten a ticket.
    Kayla @ Shoeaholicnomore recently posted: The 0% Interest TrapMy Profile

    1. Thanks! I hope so, too. I’m not really driving as much anymore, which helps, but the speed limit on the highways around us is 65, and going 70 is fine with me! Most people blow past at 80/85 so I don’t think it’s as risky. I’m glad you’ve never gotten a ticket! I think cops can sympathize as long as you’re not being a jerk. I’m sure there are some idiots out there who want to deny they were speeding and try to fight with them.

  3. Sorry to hear about the ticket, but it’s a good thing that the officer was nice and reduced the penalty. And no points right? I haven’t been pulled over for speeding (knock on wood), I generally try to go with the flow of traffic, but that is tough when there are only 3 cars on the road. In college, I did get pulled over once while driving a friend home who was intoxicated and we had to stop for him to puke his brains out. Anyways, after driving a few blocks and possibly not stopping completely at stop signs (there were no cars on the road) a cop stopped us…he asked me if I had been drinking, I said I was the designated driver, he did a test with his flashlight and asked where we were heading. The house we rented was close by and he let us go. I was definitely really nervous.
    Andrew recently posted: Why Aren’t Nerds Popular?My Profile

    1. Yes, the officer was really nice, which I wasn’t expecting at all. I don’t think there will be any points, as he didn’t mention it. We don’t have to go to court or anything. R and I are used to going with traffic, too, and as you know, on Sunrise and the LIE that’s a lot easier as there’s usually more cars around =).

      That is so scary!! I’m glad he let you go considering you were close to your house. I see so many people blow stop signs and lights, and cops are never around to catch them, of course.

      1. I was on the Southern State last night going home and I saw the car in front of me slow down quickly and then I noticed a police vehicle on the side. Then I saw the sirens and I got a little nervous! I was so scared it was me…and I was hoping it was the guy in front of me. Fortunately it was someone else…whew…
        Andrew recently posted: Why Aren’t Nerds Popular?My Profile

        1. I HATE the Southern State!! Those troopers are everywhere, always hidden. That’s certainly one road I never speed on, especially at night. I’m glad it turned out to be someone else!

  4. I have (*bite my tongue*) never been pulled over. Thankfully! I am sure I would react much like you did! But – I still speed all the time… it’s gotten so much worse since we moved and I drive on the highway all time time. The speed limit is 90km, but I get road rage if people are going less than 100km… it’s bad.

    I guess I should learn my lesson threw you because I can NOT afford even a $82 ticket at the moment. (Not that I ever want to spend my money on a speeding ticket!)
    Amanda recently posted: EI, EI, Oh…My Profile

    1. I used to be the same exact way. I’ve been surrounded by speeders my entire life, so it rubbed off on me. I had no problem speeding during the day when I could actually see cars, but I went the speed limit at night just in case a cop was lurking somewhere. R and I are both going to have to learn to be happy doing the speed limit, as we’re both prone to getting impatient with other drivers!

  5. I was pulled over once, at 16 or 17 in my parents care. I was doing 70 in a 50 km zone (44 in a 30 mile zone for comparison). God lord, you never saw someone turn as white as I did… the guy I was hanging out with at that time thought I was a ghost. Thankfully I only got a warning.

    I have a 5 hour drive back to my parents place, and I’ve been known to be a speeder. My car is peppy, to say the least. It’s a VW hatchback and has a lot (!) of horsepower for a car its size. I easily drift up to 130+ on 110 zones because you don’t even realize. I really should learn to use my cruise control. Maybe I will this weekend on the way home…
    Alicia recently posted: Why I Am Not Changing Apartments.My Profile

    1. Ah, right there with you! I was probably a ghost the time I was pulled over, too. I’m glad you got away with a warning. I asked R why he wasn’t using the cruise control, and his reasoning was it’s annoying when you’re trying to navigate around traffic. The roads we travel on aren’t very crowded, and considering our goal was to go slower, we probably wouldn’t be passing anyone. Needless to say, that’s what we did the rest of the trip. Not having to worry about our speed was nice.

    1. I’m glad you’re cautious at least! I have been ever since my incident, and it has paid off. I have a pretty good eye for cop cars. Unfortunately this weekend, the sun was right in our eyes, and I guess their radars have a long reach. Thanks for stopping by!

  6. That was really nice of the officer to reduce the speed violation in order for you to pay less!
    I got my first ever NYC parking ticket in Manhattan in late May…$115 freaking dollars! Needless to say, I paid that off pronto and I will never let that happen again. I need to learn how to read the gazillion parking signs…
    Kassandra recently posted: Where Is My Order Amazon Prime!My Profile

    1. It really was, and we did appreciate it. I can’t imagine what the original fine would have been. Parking is crazy in Manhattan! The few times I was there I was always nervous about it. Here in Charlotte, there are several parking garages that seem to be a safer bet. I just don’t want to come back to find my car towed!

    1. What?!? That is absolutely insane. The most I’ve ever seen for a red light was $50. Wow! I think that beats our ticket :/. We are really thankful red light cameras don’t seem to exist here; they were slowly taking over every single intersection back home. I’m honestly not sure if he’ll get any points on his license, but if he does, he’s at least never had any other violations before.

    1. Yep, sometimes we really do have to learn the hard way, otherwise we would have simply never known! It’s better to have your eyes opened than closed.

  7. Oh, man! That’s the worst feeling, isn’t it? I once got pulled over by the same cop twice in the same week, back when I was first driving. It’s a stressful situation, and the cost just made me feel regret. Still, it happens to just about everybody and the best thing you can do is learn from it and, hey, you got a cool post out of it, too!
    Done by Forty recently posted: Betting on YourselfMy Profile

    1. Yes, I really do think it’s one of the worst feelings! One reason I’ll never be a criminal, that’s for sure =). R pretty much said the same thing – it happens to everyone, and he just moved on afterward. I don’t like to settle for that, though. I’m very stubborn about certain things not happening to me, haha.

  8. I got pulled over in my driveway for doing 30 in a 25 zone. It was my first ticket in the US and I didn’t know that if you miss your court day they put an arrest warrant for you! I rushed down to the courthouse when I learned that and paid the lesser fine they offered me. Of course I freaked out first :-)
    Tre recently posted: Do You Rebalance?My Profile

    1. That’s ridiculous! Generally, it has seemed that going 5mph over isn’t really horrible. I can’t fathom it really being worth all the paperwork, but I guess it happens :/. I worked at an animal shelter, and our animal control officers issued summonses for dog violations. If you didn’t appear in court for them, a warrant for your arrest was issued, too. Most people didn’t believe that!

  9. oh my gosh- that stinks! I was pulled over when moving up to NY. I was so embarrassed, too! I was going 21 over and honestly thought I was going to be thrown in jail or something- ha!! I’m glad the cop reduced your ticket- that is so awesome! NOT being a jerk (like so many other people probably are!) can definitely pay off!
    Ashley recently posted: How should I pay off my debt?My Profile

    1. That’s awful! For the most part we hit too much traffic to really go past the speed limit when we moved, but I have heard VA is the worst to go through so I’m always careful over there. I don’t know what reckless driving is defined as – I knew someone that went 90 and still just got a hefty ticket! I do think honesty pays off in cases like these. The cop doesn’t want to hear you lie and say you thought you were going 50 or something.

  10. Sorry to hear about the ticket- no fun. On the bright side that was really nice of the officer to lower the ticket. As far as learning a lesson the hard way goes, in some ways I regret going to a private college. It was way more expensive than public school. However, had I not gone to this college, I would have never met my husband or had the experiences I had. I guess everything happens for a reason?
    Liz recently posted: A Tool for Organizing and Taking NotesMy Profile

    1. It was! I hear you on that one. I decided to go to a private college that was close to my home, so I didn’t have to dorm. Over the years the tuition rose to the point it probably would have been just as expensive to go to a state school. But like you, I wouldn’t have met my boyfriend if I hadn’t gone, as we met through mutual friends I made there.

  11. OUCH! So sorry, my friend. :-( That totally sucks. I learned my lesson with a $72 ticket back in 1992 or so, and haven’t gotten one since. I tried using the flirty “Gee, officer, I don’t have any idea what I was doing wrong”, but it didn’t work. :-) Parenthood and age definitely make it worse: I rarely even budge over the speed limit now and driving like an “old lady”. :-)
    Laurie @thefrugalfarmer recently posted: How to Deal With CriticismMy Profile

    1. Haha! At least you tried. R said afterward my hyperventilating helped in reducing the ticket, but it wasn’t even my intention. Maybe speeding runs in my family, as all of my aunts, my mom, and my grandma are crazy on the road. Age has not slowed them down at all. Being a safe driver is worth it though!

  12. That kind of sucks. I don’t want to give away any of my money to the police for something I could avoid. I don’t drive too fast so I have never gotten pulled over for speeding, but I also have to learn to slow down a little more. Driving slower saves gas and I’m really not in a rush to get places.

    Also, maybe you got a ticket because you were looking at the wrong -ometer. The odometer measures or tracks distance traveled. That’s the number you look up to know how many miles your car has. You should be looking at the speedometer. I’m just joshing they’re usually right above each other anyways.
    Aldo@MillionDollarNinja recently posted: Ting Review After 1 Month of UsageMy Profile

    1. That’s great Aldo! That’s pretty much how I approach driving these days. Normally R doesn’t go very fast – only 5mph over the speed limit – so it was just unexpected. You know, I looked it up on Google beforehand, and I thought the odometer was the mileage. Oops! Silly me, the pictures showed the speed too since most odometers are over there. =) I swear I know what I’m looking at!

  13. Ouch those stupid little gremlins!!! Yeah, they get all of us from time to time. I remember when my parents were visiting me in Seattle and they made ME drive their stupid rental car and I got a ticket for speeding. My dad, being the overreacter that he is, never let me hear the end of it. Good times! :) I think it’s the stupid shit that always bugs me the most. The kind where you smack your palm against your forehead. Take comfort in the fact it happens to everyone! :)

    1. Oh no! My dad has gotten so many tickets in the past, I don’t think he could really judge, but my mom has only ever gotten one somehow (she tailgates everyone). It is the worst when it’s something that could have been completely avoided had we just been paying more attention.

  14. Yuck, sorry you guys learned that lesson the hard way.

    Personally, I’ve gotten so many speeding tickets that I was 1 point away from having it suspended at one point… so I am not the best person to take driving advice from.

    On the flip side, it did occur to me once that I funnel a lot of time and effort into getting away with breaking the rules – definitely more effort than it takes to follow the rules. The cost of speeding tickets, a radar detector. The time to read a book on how to get out of speeding tickets, etc.
    Mel @brokeGIRLrich recently posted: What You Can Learn From My Best Summer JobMy Profile

    1. Ah, you sound like my dad =). I can’t even remember how many tickets he’s received over the years, and of course that’s not counting the ones before I was born…

      That’s an interesting thought. I’m not usually one to break the rules (mostly because of wanting a career in law enforcement), but I’m sure that knowledge comes in handy! I remember when my friend got a police scanner and radar detector for his car. He decided to get a sports car and make sure he was invisible to cops.

  15. This might not be helpful at the moment, but I’m actually jealous of your ticket being just $82. I got pulled over last year for doing 37 in a 25 zone, the cop lowered it to 34 in a 25, and it still cost $114 – and I’d never even been pulled over before, much less ticketed!
    Daniel recently posted: Is the 4-Hour Workweek Relevant?My Profile

    1. Whew, that’s crazy! It probably differs depending on the state, but I do think it depends on the type of road you’re on. I was looking at the section that we violated online, and it mentioned double lane highways vs single lane ones.

  16. This was definitely a gremlin event and I hate it for you guys, but at least the fine was reduced and it gave you lots of learning lessons. I took a path through Central Park one time that clearly had an HOA sign on it, even though I was by myself and I didn’t get caught. The next week I did the same thing and sure enough there were a bunch of cops pulling people over. I kicked myself and told the cop my GPS told me to head that way (which it did both times) he took my license and registration, let me sit for about 10 minutes and kick myself some more and then returned and said he didn’t want to ruin my perfect record with something like this so he was going to let it slide. And I have NEVER gone that way again.

    1. Oh that’s such a relief! I’m glad he let it go. I absolutely hate that period in between when you’re waiting for them to come back…ugh! It doesn’t help the anxiety at all. I know I’d like to keep my good record too, so I’m definitely going to be on top of things even more now.

    1. I’m with you on over-planning things, though I can be quite stubborn at times, leading me to learn a few things “my” way. Learning from our mistakes certainly helps us grow!

  17. I love your correlations with getting the speeding ticket with personal finance! I agree there’s similarities, especially with driving at the speed limit (though easier said than done, as is with overspending at times). But for the most part, if you just abide by the budget/law, then it’s a lot more manageable and consistent.
    anna recently posted: You Know What’s Awesome Part 3My Profile

    1. Exactly! And it’s much easier said than done. I’m far from being a perfect driver myself, but it’s one of those things you’re better off learning early on (like how to manage your finances).

    1. Thanks Lisa! I know it’s hard to fight the temptation to follow the crowd on the road, but sometimes it’s better to let yourself have peace of mind! You never know, a cop could decide to pull multiple people over, or just pick you out…being in the crowd doesn’t shield you from the consequences.

  18. That’s too bad! Getting pulled over is the worst! Luckily it’s been years since I’ve gotten pulled over (knock on wood). Getting into good driving habits helps a lot. I actually took a motorcycle course that really helped me appreciate the rules of the road. Hopefully no tickets for the foreseeable future for me and you too!
    Thomas @ i need money ASAP! recently posted: How To Make Money On CraigslistMy Profile

    1. Thanks Thomas, I hope there’s no tickets in our future either! I agree that good driving habits are really worth having. Both R and I are interested in getting our motorcycle license at some point; maybe that will help him out, too =). Motorcycle drivers definitely have to be extra attentive on the road.

  19. I didn’t get pulled over, just a $400 fine in the mail and loss of 3 points! I paid it cause I agree I ran a red. I get scared braking hard on my motor scooter ever since breaking my shoulder. That’s no excuse, I was likely going faster than 6.30am on a Sunday needed, but I knew I was running late to meet a friend and had a tight morning schedule. So I copped it sweet! My finances aren’t happy, but I really have nothing to complain about!
    SarahN recently posted: 12 in 2 progressMy Profile

    1. I didn’t realize running a red light was so expensive elsewhere! I’ve never actually ran a red light, but I did make a turn on red without *fully* stopping, so I got a ticket in the mail once. I really don’t like when I’m approaching a yellow light at a decent speed; I’m not too fond of braking hard, either. There were a few tricky lights back home that I came close to running every once in a while because of that.

  20. $82 is really good considering how much over the limit R was. I used to get really nervous when I got pulled over, then I watched a video about what you should do (made by the ACLU) and now I’m more comfortable haha. I’ve gotten three speeding tickets, all for 15 over (70 in a 55). Never got a warning, never had a ticket reduced. Sucks!
    DC @ Young Adult Money recently posted: How to Get High-End Furniture for CheapMy Profile

    1. That’s awful! Maybe that means next time you’ll get a warning (hopefully there isn’t a next time!). I might sound foolish here, but most of our speed limits back home were 55 (on 3-lane highways), and everyone always went 70+. They might as well just raise it! I was so surprised to see 65 and 70 speed limits around here.

  21. Getting pulled over is one of the worst feelings ever. After over a decade without tickets, I somehow got two within 6 weeks earlier this year. I am determined never to speed, but sometimes you just tune out on familiar roads.

    1. Oh no, I’m sorry to hear that! After going so long without seeing a single cop (or soul) on some of these roads, I guess we incorrectly assumed there really wasn’t much of a law enforcement presence.

    1. Ha, I’ve had quite the lead foot in the past – it runs in my family. I hate driving, which is why R usually does. Hopefully this will be solved by the cruise control button.

    1. I’m mostly annoyed it was on the stretch of road that was 55 – just a few miles more and it would have been 60! Part of me wonders if my speedometer is a bit off, considering I’ve never seen R go past 75 on trips. We weren’t about to fight with a nice cop, though. I think protesting is just asking for trouble!

  22. It is good that you got a nice police officer. It is a good thing that it won’t affect your insurance rates.

    This is kinda beside the point, but going that fast really does kill your gas mileage.

    Great point about forgiving yourself. I’ve made stupid mistakes and received tickets and had a hard time doing this. As you pointed out, the $$ is not much, but it is an ego bruise that can be hard to get over.
    Derek @ recently posted: Why Should You Invest in Gold?My Profile

    1. Like I said, we normally don’t go that fast. Well, R used to back home, but we try to hover around 65mph now for the most part. I’m well aware of the implications of going fast on gas mileage – I’ve only tried to tell R a hundred times! It seems to be sinking in now =). It is quite the hit to the ego, you’re right! And I wasn’t even driving.

  23. The last unexpected “life happens” expense I had encountered was when I got hospitalized a week ago. I never really expected that would happened to me. I was in the hospital for a week! I had kidney infection. So my doctor prescribed me expensive medicines so that the stones in my kidney will be dissolved. I am so thankful yet because the medicines were effective and I haven’t got operated! I’m afraid to it.

    1. I’m glad things worked out for you, Teffany. That’s a scary situation to be in, and it’s awful how some medications are so expensive.

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