Here lately I’ve been in a reflective mood. Not sure why. Maybe it’s because another school year is rolling around and my kids are growing up too fast. Maybe it’s because my 31st birthday is right around the corner and I’ll officially be in my “thirties.” Whatever the reason, I’ve been thinking about the past a lot. Not necessarily dwelling on it, but thinking about how I got to where I am today.
My very first credit card purchase was a Sony Playstation. I was a sophomore in college and had just received a brand new, shiny credit card with a whopping $500 credit limit compliments of Discover Card (trading a credit card application for a t-shirt was my first really dumb move). At the time, Playstations were going for about $199, plus games, and I even tossed in an extra controller for my roommate. I think I charged around $300 in that first transaction. I’d pay it off over time. Well, that was the only part of this plan I had right. I would pay it off over time – years!
Young and Dumb
During my 20’s I was mostly “young and dumb,” especially when it came to money. It’s not that I was downright irresponsible with money, but I just wasn’t making conscious decisions about my spending. For most of my 20’s I lived with a “monthly payment” mentality where I justified financing my lifestyle because I could afford the payments. Looking back, this was an incredibly immature way of looking at finances. I even remember being about 22 years old and pining for a new car. My low status on the career totem pole meant the purchase consumed a large percentage of my annual salary–but that’s okay, I could afford the payment. And then something happened and I was instantly cured of car fever, gadget envy, and all the other consumer cravings that had caused me problems up to that point.
Cars are Just Hunks of Metal Riding on Four Pieces of Rubber
I’ve never really been a car guy. I didn’t grow up around car restorations, or mechanics, and my grandfather owned exactly two vehicles in 34 years. But I did like cars, and when I was a teenager I wanted a “cool car.” I didn’t get one, but I did inherit my grandmother’s car which was in pristine condition, mechanically. In fact, I wish I still had that car! When I finished college I needed a new car, because after all, I was working and earning a salary and I “deserved” it. I leased an SUV, and several years later traded it in on a newer, used Chevy Silverado. Oh, how I loved that truck–sport trim package, V-8, ice-cold air, CD player, great sound system, etc, etc. It also came with a new monthly payment, and an increase to my insurance premium. For a few months I drove that truck and loved it. My grandfather had offered his old truck to drive, but I wanted a “cool truck.”
One day, after writing out the check for the monthly payment, and the increased monthly insurance premium, something hit me like a ton of bricks. I sat there watching my kids play in our backyard, and then looked over at that “new” truck. How much could their futures be improved by taking this $400 a month and applying it to our other debts, and then saving it for their future education? How could I be so selfish.
A Cure to Car Fever
I got in my truck and drove to an office supply store, picked up a “For Sale” sign, and listed it for sale in our credit union bulletin the next day. Two weeks later I got a call. The prospective buyer loved the truck, offered what I was asking and left to arrange financing. That Saturday morning he and his wife drove over to pick it up. We exchanged a cashier’s check, and a bill of sale, and away they went. As I stood there in the driveway watching my “dream truck” drive away I was forever cured of car fever. It was if I could literally feel the transfer of the burden of car debt move from me to the new buyer–poor guy.
That was about four years ago. I’ve been driving my grandfather’s “old” truck ever since that Saturday morning. I will continue to drive it as long as it runs. I’ve adopted a utilitarian view on automobiles (and other things). They are literally hunks of metal pieced together, set on four tires, and sold to us for the purpose of transportation. Cars don’t define our social status, and are horrible indicators of wealth. Never again will I fall victim to worrying about what others think, or what marketers try to convince me to think.