In 2016, the top five car manufacturers in the United States each spent an average of $2.274 billion on advertising. With that power of influence, it’s no wonder that on a daily basis Americans are convinced to spend more than they should at car dealerships.
I can honestly say that I do not believe a car determines who we are as people,but that wasn’t always the case. Like millions of other Americans, I once believed that owning a luxury vehicle would somehow fill an empty feeling deep inside. I loved the beauty of high-end vehicles. But what I loved more was the idea that status came with them. Movies and advertising embedded in my head that to appear successful I would need a fancy car.
From the time I started driving, I had good, reliable vehicles, but nothing fancy.When I landed my first job as a door-to-door insurance agent, I was driving a GMC Jimmy that, let’s say, had some issues. One day, my manager brought me in to his office, explained that I was making enough money, and that I no longer had to deal with driving a crappy car. He gave me the number to his Ford guy and away I went.
Until this time in my life I’d never set foot on a car lot. And as I quickly discovered, I lacked the will power necessary to withstand the seduction of this experience.
The shiny chrome.
The smell of new leather.
It was intoxicating.
I thought that if I was seen in this truck, people would have to think I was successful in order to afford it. An hour later – and $35,000 dollars in debt – I was out of the dealership with my brand new F-150 Lariat Edition pickup feeling like a million bucks! People commented on how pretty my truck was and how successful I must be to drive a truck like that. I felt like I was somebody. Looking back, the only smart decision I made that day was to get 0% financing.
My career path soon changed from selling insurance to investment planning, but it was a rocky transition that brought a difficult financial situation. I had to say good bye to my beautiful truck. I bought a Saturn Aura and had it for several years until I, again, gave into the social pressures of the perception of success.
My colleagues drove luxury vehicles, and without an expensive car, I felt like I had something to prove. On my way home one day, I stopped at the local Lexus dealer and bought a Lexus ES. Then, I “graduated” to the Lexus GX. My dream,though, was to one day purchase what I believe to be the pinnacle of vehicles, the big body Lexus LX.
Thank God, I had an epiphany before that financial travesty happened.
My awakening came while looking over my profit/loss over the previous five years. I realized I had paid as much for my cars as many people pay for their house! On top of that, these assets were depreciating.
I started to question spending so much per month on vehicles. I tried to tell myself that clients have expectations that a successful financial advisor should drive a luxury vehicle. But suddenly, that didn’t seem to make good sense. My eyes were opened, and I asked myself some hard questions:
How much more could I have invested with the difference I would have paid for more practical vehicles over the previous 10 years?
How much money could I have made in one of the strongest bull markets ever seen?
How much did I lose out on if I’d pushed society’s expectations aside?
I went online and started researching vehicles. My father-in-law is a Chevrolet man. He retired from GM and could help us with a hefty discount.
Truthfully, I was afraid. I wondered if driving something that cost $40,000 less than what I was driving would make me feel “less than.” But he encouraged me to go take a test drive. And to be honest, I was amazed at all the bells and whistles! They had many more luxuries than the $60,000+ vehicles we owned!
Today, my wife and I are proud new owners of a 2018 Chevy Malibu (mine) and a 2018 Chevy Traverse (hers). I can sincerely say that leveling down our vehicles and adding to our net worth was far more rewarding than any perceived status we may have gained from the expensive vehicles we had. By making the move to the less expensive cars, we saved $1,100 per month.
Looking back, I wonder where we’d be if that money had been invested. How much it could have grown over the past 10 years?
What an opportunity lost solely for the pursuit of outward signs of status!
We often see physicians finish their residencies or fellowships and before we can say the words “let’s crunch the numbers,” they’ve already visited their local Range Rover, Tesla, BMW, Mercedes, or Lexus dealership and are boasting that their note is only $1,500 a month.
Now the physician reading this may say, Chad, we’ve earned it. We deserve it. But, being a high-income earner just like you, I’ve gotten lost in that belief. I spent a decade paying for overpriced automobiles trying to hopefully project my success to others, and all I got was an empty feeling when I realized how much money I was losing.
While driving a luxury vehicle does give a sense of pride, I find more joy in giving that money back to my church, community, and family than I ever felt pulling up to a client meeting in a brand new expensive ride.
In conclusion, I’m not saying you can’t buy a nice luxury vehicle after you finish residency or fellowship. But maybe don’t buy new. That car is going to depreciate as soon as you drive it off the lot. Find a certified used car with low miles, and let someone else take that financial hit. If you do buy new, research which vehicles retain their value.
You are not your car. The contribution you make to your patients, your community, your family, and the world far exceeds any level of status you think you’ll gain by purchasing a luxury vehicle. Explore all options and don’t be scared to be different. Make mindful decisions on how to spend your hard-earned money. Find joy in your calling, not in chasing empty expectations.