Lessons Learned From a Flat Tire

On my way into work yesterday, literally a mile away from my office I hit an enormous pothole and blew out my front right tire. And this wasn’t one of the potholes that happen naturally up here in the great state of Massachusetts. This was a huge hole in the middle of the lane on the highway surrounding a sewer cover that a highway crew had clearly been working on the night before. They just hadn’t finished their work by the time the morning commute started.

So I pulled over and within 30 minutes there were four other cars pulled over in the exact same spot, with a flat tire from the exact same pothole. We all commiserated for a little bit before we were all eventually helped and went our separate ways.

It wasn’t a fun way to start the day, but I think there are a few lessons to learn from my experience. There are even some things I felt incredibly thankful for during this ordeal.

Don’t make rash decisions

Just before I hit the pothole, I saw the car in front of me swerve wildy into the next lane. I was taught early on never to do that without properly checking first, and since I didn’t have time to check I didn’t swerve and I hit the pothole. While I wish I could have avoided it, swerving without looking could have landed me in a much worse spot than a simple flat tire. As a general rule, making quick decisions with little information is bound to get you into trouble.

Be prepared

I don’t know how to change a tire. I’m not proud of it, but it’s true. It would have been much more convenient and taken less time if I had been able to whip out my tools and handle things myself. Maybe I could have even helped out the other drivers, since I’m just that awesome of a guy! Instead I was at the mercy of others.

But I was still prepared, kind of. I have 24/7 roadside assistance through my auto insurance policy. So it was as simple as calling them up, giving them some information, and waiting for them to send someone out to help. Even if you can change a flat, having roadside assistance at the ready is incredibly helpful. Sometimes you just need to get towed, and how many people have the tools to do that one themselves?

But here’s where I faltered again. I didn’t have a spare tire, but I did have a doughnut so the guy put that on. I started driving away only to hear the same clunking noise that my flat was making. I checked it out and guess what? My doughnut was flat too! I hadn’t even thought to check on the state of my spare/doughnut, and to be honest I don’t even know how long it has been sitting in my car. Years probably. Luckily I only had to drive about half a mile to Costco, where I was able to buy a new tire and have it installed. Otherwise I would have had to be towed, which would have cost even more money. Clearly I was not as prepared for this situation as I could have been.

Things happen. Save for them.

The new tire, with installation, set my back about $115. Not a fun way to spend that money, but in the end I’m barely going to feel it. Why? Because I have a dedicated car maintenance fund that I send money to monthly. So that $115 is already there and ready to go, and my budget won’t feel a thing. This is exactly why it helps to keep dedicated savings for expenses that are expected but irregular.

Be thankful for the things we have

Within 10 minutes of pulling over, a state trooper was on the scene making sure I was okay keeping oncoming traffic away from where I was parked. We spend a lot of time complaining about government inefficiencies and tax-dollar waste, but it’s pretty nice to not be alone in a time of need. There are many places in the world where I would have been on my own, but not here.

The roadside assistance sent by my insurer showed up about 45 minutes after I called them. It was a pretty good response time, but I was already out of there by then. That’s because a Massachusetts Highway worker pulled over and helped everyone. Again, it’s nice to have help when you need it.

No one was hurt. It would have been very easy for a car to swerve out of control, flip over, or otherwise seriously injure its driver and others. But the worst that happened was that five of us had flat tires. Far from the end of the world, and much better than the potential alternatives.

It was really nice out this morning. About 65 and sunny. Not a bad way to be stranded outside.

As I said earlier, Costco’s tire center was just a half mile way. And my office was just a little down the street from there. All in all, getting this problem fixed was very simple.


Bad things happen all of the time. It’s just a fact of life. You can’t be prepared for all of them, but there are simple things you can do to prepare for some of the more likely ones. I certainly feel like I could have been better prepared, but in the end I had enough of a plan to get me through pretty much unscathed.

It was also nice to step back and reflect on some of the things I was thankful for. There were a lot of positives to an experience that had the potential to be very negative. I feel like that’s true with much of life, and it just depends on how you choose to look at things.

Other articles I think you’ll like

Johnny Moneyseed: The post title says it all: “Don’t get caught up in investment analysis paralysis”. It’s so important to start investing early and there are many good, simple, low-cost options out there. You don’t need to be an expert to get started.

Money for College Project: Some great tips on how to apply for college scholarships. This is something I really wish I had known more about when I applied to schools.

Hull Financial Planning: Our brain works hard to avoid stressful thoughts, such as the possibility of our own death. This can directly impact our financial security by causing us to avoid things like life insurance, long term care insurance and wills.

Club Thrifty: It can be tough to say no to your kids, especially when they have some well-reasoned arguments for why you should spend money on them!

Michael Kitces: An interesting look at how a strategy emphasizing future savings can actually be more effective than one focused on current savings.

The Frugal Farmer: Laurie shows some great perspective on when blowing your budget can be a good thing.

Fat Free Personal Finance: A powerful illustration showing how a small change in your 401(k) contribution rate can make a huge difference in the money you have available at retirement.

Frugal Rules: Terrific, simple advice on how to get started investing in stocks.

Get Rich Slowly: Holly from Club Thrifty has some great tips about how parents can manage their time more efficiently.

Thanks to these carnivals for including me along with some other great posts!

Carnival of Financial Independence
Lifestyle Carnival
Finance Carnival for Young Adults
Yakezie Carnival
Fearless Men’s Most Wanted

Start building a better financial future with the resource I wish I had when I was starting my family. It’s free!
27 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • DC @ Young Adult Money June 7, 2013

    My wife had an $850 car repair last Friday. It’s really unfortunate, but as you said these sorts of things happen. I’m thankful we both now have running cars and I really need to get better about not taking things for granted (like transportation!).

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 7, 2013

      Ouch, that hurts! We’ve had a couple in that neighborhood and it’s no fun. It’s a great point about not taking things for granted. My story was a single example of poor roadwork causing problems, but think how many people travel our roads every day without issue. That’s a pretty significant accomplishment and not something to take lightly.

  • Holly Johnson June 7, 2013

    Thanks for the mention! I don’t know how to change a flat tire either….luckily I can just play the damsel in distress on the side of the road! I once had a flat tire at Home Depot and half of the store was outside changing it and asking if I needed anything. Haha!

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 7, 2013

      Haha. See, women have it so easy! I kid I kid. It is nice to know that there are people willing to help to out of a tough spot though. My guess is after some of the tidbits in your post today, there might be even more people willing to help next time!

  • cashRebel June 7, 2013

    I think I need to sign up for roadside assistance. I still don’t have it. I know how to change a tire myself (a skill you should totally learn), but there’s a lot of crap that can go wrong that I’m not prepared for… especially if it’s raining.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 7, 2013

      On our insurance, it’s only like $20 per year for each car. I think AAA is somewhere around $60, but it’s possible they offer more service. I’m not really sure. Anyways, it’s definitely nice to have. I’ve definitely had situations where I had to be towed, sometimes a pretty good distance, which can be expensive if you’re not covered.

  • Ree Klein June 7, 2013

    Hi Matt. This is a great post. I am so impressed with you for being having it so together at a young age! In particular, I think there are just a handful of people who squirrel away money for anticipated future expenses. It took me until my mid 30’s to start doing that and once I did, WOW, it’s amazing how you view “emergencies” differently!

    The other thing I love about this post is your focus on being grateful. If we all spent more time recognizing the good things in our lives, we’d be so much happier and the bad times wouldn’t drag on so long.

    Hope you have an awesome day,
    Ree ~ I blog at EscapingDodge.com

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 7, 2013

      Oh yeah, having money set aside for this kind of thing makes life so much less stressful. I have to admit that I’m not always quite as positive in those situations. Something about yesterday had me in a good mood I guess. But it’s definitely true that having a positive attitude makes life much more enjoyable and the negative things not quite so bad.

  • Pauline June 7, 2013

    Sorry about that! One of our friends came to visit in the middle of the jungle without a spare and ignored our recommendations to drive slow so his tire burst, no crick, no tools, it was a complete disaster. It never happened to me because I change tires often, control pressure and drive slowly, I like to think at least that preparedness avoids most of the opportunities to get a flat. And now I know how to change it, another thing people will overcharge you for not knowing how to do, so better learn.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 7, 2013

      Definitely something I need to learn. And your friend’s situation is pretty much exactly what I was envisioning when I was thinking how lucky I was to get help so quickly. Getting stuck in the middle of the jungle is a totally different situation to me having a state trooper and highway patrol on the scene within 30 minutes.

  • John S @ Frugal Rules June 7, 2013

    Thanks so much for the mention Matt, I really appreciate it! I hate getting flats, mainly because I ashamedly do not know how to change one either. We have somehow been able to avoid getting any this past year considering the wretched potholes we have in our city thanks to them not wanting to spend the money to fix any of them.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 7, 2013

      I’m amazed I haven’t gotten more. This is the first time in my life I’ve gotten a flat from poor road conditions. Which is either incredibly lucky or a statement to how well they manage to maintain the roads up here. I’m leaning more towards luck, as I’ve hit some wicked potholes in my day.

  • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 7, 2013

    Thanks Laurie. It definitely could have been much uglier than it was. A few flat tires is far from the worst thing in the world.

  • Khaleef Crumbley June 7, 2013

    Great way to take a negative situation and learn from it. You just reminded me to check the donuts in our cars to make sure they are functioning properly (and also to check our tire pressure). Saving up for those infrequent car repairs is a great idea, and one that we have tried, but we have always had to divert those funds because of being in debt.


    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 7, 2013

      Glad I could serve as a reminder. It’s one of those things I just never even thought about and was just lucky I didn’t have to go too far. Being in debt certainly makes it tougher to have savings for stuff like this. Even more incentive to get out!

  • Grayson @ Debt Roundup June 7, 2013

    Sorry you had to deal with that. Many people forget about checking their spare/donut tires to see if they have air. It is the last thing they think about. I know how to change tires in close to about 5 minutes, but not many people do. It is really easy to learn and can save a good amount of money. I also have roadside assistance through the car manufacturer warranty program, so I can use that if I just don’t feel like changing the tire. Good lesson and nice way of turning it into a positive.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 7, 2013

      You’ll have to come teach me! Haha, I’m sure it’s as simple as finding a good youtube video. And getting some equipment. I think my first step is making sure I have a workable spare/donut for next time. It would be nice to be able to do myself, but I really just want to avoid having to be towed.

  • Greg June 7, 2013

    Getting stuck on the road sucks. It does have a way of making you remember to not sweat the small stuff. I also totally agree with you about having money set aside for such a situation. We are going to have to have roof repairs shortly around our skylight. I am not happy about it, but at least the money is there to get it done.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 7, 2013

      So much better having the money available than scrambling trying to figure out how to handle it. It’s a little sacrifice now for a lot less stress later.

  • Brent Pittman June 8, 2013

    I had a flat tire just this week and I have an article about it coming on Monday. Seems like that time of year to check the tires.

  • femmefrugality June 9, 2013

    I hate potholes. It seems like we have two seasons here: the one where potholes are made and the one where road crews are out there fixing them. Slowly. And more often than not, not well.

    Being prepared is so important. In all areas. I’ve got to brush up on my tire changing skills…

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 10, 2013

      You forgot the season where road crews are out creating them! Haha, mostly kidding. They really do a very good job on the whole. The whole being prepared thing can be a funny line. The reality is that there are only so many things you can truly be prepared for. That’s probably the biggest reason I like having savings on hand. When I’m not prepared to handle something on my own, I have money available to pay for someone else to handle it. I don’t want to go through life always counting on other people, but it’s a reality we all have to accept in many cases.

  • Budget & the Beach June 9, 2013

    glad you and everyone were ok, and it’s nice when people look o the bright side of something that happened that is inconvenient. It restores faith in humanity to see people acting out of kindness.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 10, 2013

      Thanks Tonya. Sometimes bad situations bring out the best in people. All in all, my flat tire was an extremely benign situation because of all of the support we have around us, from the police officer to the highway patrol to Costco. Not much more than a minor inconvenience.

  • Funancials June 9, 2013

    Sorry about the flat tire. I’m glad you recognize that the situation could’ve been worse if you tried to avoid it.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 10, 2013

      Thanks. It definitely could have been much worse. Just glad that no one was seriously hurt.

I’d love to hear from you, please leave a comment