Pride is a funny thing. It seems to permeate every aspect of your
life–especially the areas you think it leaves untouched. I guess that
is why saying “pride is the root of all evil” is not a mere cliché.
Recently, I tested my pride and self-discipline by getting rid of my
2002 Audi A4, and buying a 1992 Izusu Trooper for $2,000. I can’t say I
passed the test but I hope my explanation will help you understand
further why financial discipline and financial peace are so important.
Pride comes in many forms. One of the most dangerous varieties is
when pride clouds or engulfs our thoughts, actions, and decisions and
we don’t even realize it (although others around us may see it
clearly). With money, pride is so prevalent that we are often horribly
blind to what is motivating us to make the decisions we do. Let’s face
it–most car commercials are preying on our pride–sex, status, comfort
and happiness are all part of the automobile marketing that beckons us
from the TV to the showroom salesman, and it’s only getting worse. .
What you need vs. What you want
A couple of years ago, when I had more or less cleaned up my
financial house, I was finally in a position to buy a new car, and
quite frankly I needed one. My 1989 Honda Prelude had 230,000 miles on
it. Although it was in good condition, reliability had become an issue.
So, I spent about six months researching vehicles, and finally
determined I wanted an Audi A4 with Quattro (its version of all wheel
drive). Even as a little kid I was fascinated with German cars–and
here was my chance to get something bigger than matchbox size.
By this point in my life, I had become fairly money-conscious and I
really did my homework. I didn’t blow into the dealership all excited,
and buy based on the monthly payment I could afford. Instead, I settled
on an amount I wanted to spend and I matched a car to that amount. I
also did not buy new, because I was aware that you lose about twenty
percent of the value the moment you pull off the lot.
Finally, one weekend I was visiting my family and I got a call from
one of many dealerships I’d been working with (literally up and down
the East Coast). A car was just traded in that matched what I was
looking for. I test-drove the car, loved it, negotiated the price, and
since I was pre-approved for a loan I had received online, I simply
wrote out a check. All in all, it was not a bad deal as far as buying
cars go. The Audi had only 16K miles and was just ten months old. Other
than the color, it was everything I had been looking for. And since I
bought used (or in this case certified) I got a better warranty (Audi
Assured) than buying new. I also avoided that initial depreciation hit.
But there was a downside and that was the brand spanking new car
payment that came as part of the package.
At the time, I had never read or listened to anti-debt people like
Dave Ramsey or Suze Orman, and thought a car payment was just a way of
life. But as I began to learn about financial peace, I realized car
payments generally were not, and should not, be part of life.
What glitters is usually not gold
When you have debt of any kind– especially attached to a
depreciating item—you are enslaved. If you create enough of these
debts, you are soon working simply to pay other people. For the first
several months or so, I loved my car and took care of it like a newborn
baby. But after one fender bender, and then hitting a deer, some of the
luster wore off my new pride and joy. Sure, the car was fixed and an
outsider would never notice what had happened–but I could tell, and
once that butterfly joy wore off, I didn't quite take care of it the
way I once did. As a result, my awesome new prize became just another
car I drove to get me where I needed to go.
Now don’t get me wrong, the car handled like a dream, and there is
nothing like Quattro with four Blizzaks (a brand of winter tire) to cut
through Pennsylvania winters, but at the end of the day it was still
just a means of transportation. That’s when my feelings about my car
merged with my new perspective on debt, and I started to think that not
having a car payment would be more beneficial then driving my Audi.
That’s when I began thinking of a way to get out of this car payment,
and into a car that would be paid off.
A Two Thousand Dollar Lesson in Humility
afterward, the opportunity to buy a car for about $2,000 popped up. I
figured this was as good a chance as any, so I bought the car oblivious
of the lesson I was about to learn. The first couple weeks I drove the
car was kind of fun–I mean I had never owned an SUV, and I enjoyed the
bigger vehicle–but that feeling didn’t last long. The first time I was
with someone I didn’t know too well and they watched me get into the
Trooper, rather than my Audi, pride reared its ugly head. That feeling
repeated itself over and over and over again. I soon missed the
attention I would get when I pulled up to a stop light or was driving
slowly through a neighborhood. And let’s not forget the next time I
picked up a woman for a date. I hate to admit this about myself, but I
had become superficial and worldly about the kind of car I drove. The
only reason I could drive such a nice car was because I had eliminated
my debt, bought used, and didn't have the expense of a family. My
emotions were conflicted– I was mad that I no longer received the
recognition of driving a nice car, while at the same time feeling
ashamed for being so prideful.
For those of you who drive nice cars, I am not saying it is a sin as
such–trust me, I want to drive a nice car again someday. However, when
I do, I will pay cash, for two reasons. First, when you pay cash it
forces you to think, “is this car worth all this money?” Writing out a
check for say, $20,000 is very different than making a $200 monthly
payment for five years. Second, working to save the money allows you to
feel a genuine sense of accomplishment and can help you counter-balance
the risk of being prideful about the possession. I’m not saying you
can’t still be prideful if you pay cash, I am just saying it helps.
Furthermore, if you have to drive an old car while you save the money,
I can guarantee that you that you will learn a lot about humility. I
have only been driving my Trooper for a few months, and I have gained a
ton of it.
For love not money
There is debate about the morality of buying expensive material
items, and how that relates to Gospel values. In fact, people who have
a socialistic view of life will often cite the scriptural passage about
a rich man passing through the eye of a needle as proof that wealth is
evil. But these debates are often misplaced, because they do not
address the real reasons people become materialistic. In our modern
day, the ease with which an individual can accumulate debt helps
provide momentum to our natural human urges. When we were a society
where we had to save before we made purchases, natural barriers existed
to assist in staving off the temptation to materialism. This is not
merely a modern problem–materialism has existed since the Fall, but
many of the financial mechanisms of the last forty years have helped
create a pace of materialism never before seen in our history. It is
that correlation between debt, pride and materialism that I believe can
be broken. What we save to buy, we value more.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I have not sold my Audi yet. It is
currently sitting on a used car dealership lot waiting to be sold to
the next owner. But while I have not gained the financial benefit of no
longer having a car payment, I have learned the value of humility,
detachment from worldly things and begun the discipline of saving to
pay in cash. And when that car is finally sold, driving that Trooper
will become just a little bit more fun.