Lesson 81: A car is transportation, not self-expression

Published 4:15 pm Thursday, July 8, 2010

Drive-in banks were established so most of the cars today could see their real owners.

E. Joseph Cossman

Before we get too deep into this topic, lets look at why were talking about it in the first place. This lesson is all about money and where you choose to spend it. You can buy a car for $3,000 or for $100,000, or anywhere in between. Essentially, they both accomplish the same thing: getting you from Point A to Point B.

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The reason Im bringing this up is that young people and some not-so-young people as well tend to spend a lot of their money on a nice car. Thats understandable; theres something about the feeling you get from a new car. The smell, the noveltythe newness of the entire experience is exciting. Who wouldnt love to have a new car, especially if you havent had one before?

But life is all about choices. You can choose to spend a lot on a new car, or you can choose to spend a little on a not-so-new car, and save the difference.

Thats no fun, you may well protest, and I agree. But if youve been reading the last few pages about money, you know that getting caught in the debt trap is no fun either. And while having the new car is a lot of fun for the first few months, it doesnt take long for the debt trap to take away all the good feelings you had when you first drove off the lot.

To make this work, you have to think about it with your head rather than your heart. A good, safe used car that gets good gas mileage will be cheaper to buy and own than a new car. Go ahead and have the conversation with yourself. Tell yourself that the used car may require expensive repairs; go through the argument about not wanting to buy somebody elses problem; tell yourself that the new car will last longer, etc. Okay, done? You still know Im right, dont you?

Lets be honest. I know that most people reading this will agree with everything it says, but will go ahead and buy the new car anyway. But unless you have a huge income that will allow you to save and make a big car payment at the same time, it will be a bad decision. And I guarantee that in a few years, youll wish you had followed this advice.

The excitement of a new car is fleeting, but debt can hurt for a long, long time.

Excerpted from The Graduates Book of Practical Wisdom: 99 Lessons They Cant Teach in School by C. Andrew Millard, published by Morgan James Publishing, available in bookstores and online. &opy; 2008 by C. Andrew Millard; all rights reserved. For more information visit www.wisegraduate.com.