A Nice Car Won’t Get You Promoted

15 Jan

I use Pandora pretty extensively when I’m working. It plays me all the latest music for free, and all I have to do is suffer through the advertisements. Normally I hate the ads, but the other day one came on that made me laugh, and even inspired me to write an entire blog post.

It was an advertisement for the 2013 Nissan Sentra. The ad basically shows a young hot shot at a company giving an executive a ride in his Sentra, and then getting a promotion because of it. “It makes a powerful first impression” declares the narrator.

I embedded the video so you can check it out yourself.

So basically this ad says that if you drive this fancy brand new car, you will get promoted.

Yeah, I laughed too.

Now obviously that isn’t what they are directly claiming, but it is still is what you are meant to insinuate from the commercial. And that same theme is reverberated not only in countless other advertisements, but through our entire culture. The theme that expensive consumer items show that you are successful and wealthy, and that buying them will somehow get you there if you aren’t already.

There are two huge flaws with that theory. Well there are actually many more than just two, but the two I’m talking about are the biggest and kind of incorporate the others.

Stuff Doesn’t Make You Successful, Hard Work Does

Well isn’t that a shocker. Believe it or not, wearing $2,000 suits and eating all organic food and driving a luxury car won’t immediately vault you to the top of your company and let you conquer the world. The only way to be successful is to work hard. Sound cliche? Sure. Absolutely true? You betcha. There will always be those few people out there who make it big by being lucky, convincing others that you can win big without working hard. But for the vast majority of us, working hard is the best road to success.

This theory can be applied to virtually anything. Of course the obvious example is in your professional career, but there are many others. Will a fancy computer help you type faster and thereby get better grades in school? Of course not. What if you buy a solid gold watch? Will that increase your chances of making lots of friends in high places? Not likely.

Some of the requirements I set for myself during the fitness challenge I started last week are that I can’t go to gyms or personal trainers and I can’t use any expensive equipment. Why would I do that? Don’t P90X and Bowflex and all those other expensive items make you ripped? They can, but I’m setting out to prove that you can get ripped just as easily without them.

Buying Stuff Makes You Wealthy

This is one of the biggest misconceptions out there. If you were to ask random people on the street if they thought that all rich people have lots of consumer and high class items, most would say yes. For some reason, wealth is associated with expensive consumer goods.

Turns out that is very wrong.

If you’ve read “The Millionaire Next Door”, which I highly recommend, you know that the average millionaire doesn’t spend lots of money. They don’t drive luxury cars or wear expensive clothing or live on a small island. Some do, but not most.

The only way to build wealth is to invest part of your income. Therefore, spending money on lots of consumer goods, whether it is a Nissan Sentra, a gold watch, or a private island, actually hurts your ability to build wealth. Unless you absolutely need something, or purchasing an item actually saves you money in the long run, every time you spend money you are impeding your own quest to one day become rich.

It’s Time to Shift the Paradigm

American culture is convinced that stuff is superior to all else. That having a high income means you should spend it all away, that it’s okay to take on debt to buy things like brand new cars, and that stuff determines social class. This paradigm in the American culture needs to be changed. It isn’t good for anyone but the companies making cheap products.

And while it is hard to change a culture overnight, you can easily change your own way of living. If you want to get out of the consumer rat race and live more meaningfully, all that is required are some simple lifestyle changes. Here are the most important:

  • Focus on Value and Quality, Not Quantity: When you buy things, focus on buying quality and value. Instead of having lots of stuff that you never even look at, aim to have a much smaller collection of things that provide a maximum amount of utility and pleasure to your life for a bargain price.
  • Focus on People and Accomplishments, Not Things: Instead of working and striving towards obtaining possessions, strive to build connections with people and accomplish things in work and life. A meaningful connection with a friend or family member is far more valuable than any car. And when you look back on your life, you will remember what you accomplished and who you knew, not what you owned at the time.

Making those above shifts will no doubt help you live a more fulfilling life, and you will find that you will be much more financially stable as well.

So, in conclusion, a car won’t get you promoted, and no other consumer purchase is likely to do you very much good either.

14 Responses to “A Nice Car Won’t Get You Promoted”

  1. Cherleen @ My Personal Finance Journey January 15, 2013 at 7:26 am #

    I would like to think that the young hot shot and the executive had an affair after she was given a ride. Apparently, she was “impressed” with the young hot shot; hence, she helped her get a promotion… Me and my malicious mind. LOL.

    • James January 15, 2013 at 10:03 am #

      I like that idea, it certainly sounds much more believable than what they implied!

  2. Shlomo Goldshekelstein January 15, 2013 at 2:26 pm #

    You are aware that the Sentra’s MSRP is $14,900, arguably a bargain for a new vehicle.

    It gets 39 mpg highway, due to the recent federal emissions/fuel economy regulations that have been put in place.

    It’s a very viable purchase, and looks like a much more expensive vehicle.

    If we compare it to your car, a Honda Civic (used, likely 10+ years old) we see the following:

    http://www.carsforsale.com/used_cars_for_sale/2000_Honda_Civic_173479511_12

    So $11,300 gets you 133k miles, assuming you pay full retail (you can easily negotiate that down to a $10,000 difference). It’s really not bad, considering the first 36 months are warrantied, whereas the civic is more likely to need repairs.

    It’s a wash in terms of cost per mile if you can squeeze 48k more miles from this civic, also assuming that there is not difference in repair costs.

    There are great examples of automobile marketing but this isn’t one of them. The Sentra’s a great car at a great price, and it does make a good first impression.

    • James January 15, 2013 at 3:59 pm #

      I was more looking at the macro of things in this post, not necessarily at this car in particular. Now that you point it out, the Sentra isn’t a bad buy for a new car considering its MPG and starting price. But I still think my Honda is cheaper in the long run. It has much few miles on it than the one you linked to, and Honda’s are known for going for at least a couple hundred thousand miles without major problems. If I had a ton of spare cash lying around and my car just died, then maybe I would consider the Sentra. But considering how little I drive I doubt it would make much financial sense in the end.

      • Shlomo Goldshekelstein January 18, 2013 at 2:13 pm #

        You shouldn’t “think” your Honda is cheaper, you should know conclusively, especially before you sully the good name of an otherwise thrifty vehicle.

        If your Civic has less miles on it, then it may be worth more you in cash toward a newer vehicle. Case in point:

        http://www.edmunds.com/honda/civic/2006/

        $7,700. We can assume $7,000 after costs, title transfer etc.

        Many dealerships offer 0% financing for 60 months. Interest rates are low, so you can take the loan, pay nothing in interest and then collect capital gains on the $7,000 for 5 years.

        At 8% gains, 1.08^5 = 1.469. Multiplied by $7,000 and you’re at $10,283 in value.

        That’s not a sentra, but it’s almost a versa, which can be negotiated down from an $11,900 MSRP down to $11,000 or less.

        http://www.nissanusa.com/versa/

        Considering that you’d gain 15% in terms of fuel economy, at a paltry 6,000 miles per year (since you don’t drive much after all). You save 26.47 gallons of fuel per year. Over 5 years, that’s over 132 gallons, or about $400. If you drive closer to the normal 12,000, then you save $800, allowing you “trade” your 2006 civic for a 2013 Versa.

        You shouldn’t “Focus on Value and Quality” if that means looking at it, thinking about it and not researching it like you do. You should SEEK OUT value and quality, understanding that value and quality has a resale value that can allow you to buy MORE value and quality.

        You’re giving up what’s effectively a free mileage reset. You could roll your odometer back for free in a new Versa, but you’re caught up in your ways assuming a used civic is the end all be all, when I’ve shown you that it’s clearly not.

        • James January 18, 2013 at 3:02 pm #

          Ok let me rephrase what I said. I do know that my Civic is cheaper. I could go into all the details of why this is, but my fellow blogger Mr. Money Mustache has a couple of excellent articles on the subject that should explain to you why.

          http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2011/11/28/new-cars-and-auto-financing-stupid-or-sensible/
          http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2011/05/02/car-strategies-to-cut-your-costs-in-four-or-more/

          Also, that car you linked to is six years newer than my own, and worth nearly double, which invalidates all of your above math.
          My actual driving is more like 4,000 to 5,000 miles per year, most of which comes when I take the occasional trip to visit my family. My weekly driving is typically less than 20 miles.

          But again, I think you have missed the point. I wasn’t knocking the Sentra, like I said before. I am simply making the point that you can’t become more successful or be considered a higher social class just by owning a new car. That is like thinking you can become ripped just because you own a Bowflex.

          • Shlomo Goldshekelstein January 21, 2013 at 6:24 pm #

            I linked a second example of a car arbitrarily. Apparently my lack of psychic power invalidates hard mathematics (somehow).

            Ironically, the first car I posted was a 2000, and the second a 2006. You go on to say that your car is 6 years younger. By your own admission, my first set of data (for the 2000) was correct therefore means that I actually do have psychic powers and that you ignore the valid math on my prediction for your actual year of Honda Civic.

            So funny that you bring up the stache, because I quite literally calculated it the cost by mile, exactly as he would. The only difference is that instead of spending money on a new car and treating it as lost investment capital, I compare it the lost “inventory cost” of your civic when compared to an interest free Versa.

            The stache compares a 2012 Corrola to a 20,000 to two Corrola’s at $9,000 and $7,500. The stache finds a 11,000 gain for the $9,000 + $7,500 strategy.

            But we’re not talking about a $20,000 Corrola, we’re talking about an $11,000 Versa. This changes everything. But since you won’t take it from me, take it from the Stache himself:

            “She has to go without that $9000 for the entire 13.3 years, which could have earned her $17,221 if she had used it to pay off her mortgage.”

            There you have it, it’s $6,000 cheaper to buy the Versa at $11,000. The stache also compares 20k up front rather than amortizing in relation to interest paid on the loan. With up to 60 months interest free, there’s even MORE to be saved.

            Even the Stache admits the value of the Versa at the end of his first article, even if he fails to do the math and recognize the actual value.

            I think you have missed the point, and you’re lying about knocking the Sentra because you were ignorant and assumed it was a “fancy” car. You made fun of the advertising which actually shows a younger/entry level/less confident person being able to look like one of the big boys, all on his ENTRY LEVEL budget. It’s a humorous take on how people can look at a car and assume so much about a person even if it’s NOT TRUE OF THE COST.

            It’s a joke. It’s making fun of those people fooled by the “luxury” appearance of the car, and ironically making fun of you for thinking the car is a more expensive/luxury vehicle. This article is a testament to the value that car provides, and it’s hilarious. You blindly assume the buyer is stupid for wasting money, but most people blindly see him as someone important. The point here is that people are blind, ignorant and don’t research every car on the market (including you).

            Conspicuous consumption doesn’t make you independently wealthy, but looking sharp doesn’t hurt. If you can have a new Versa/Sentra at the same effective price as your old Civic, why keep the Civic? Why not take whatever marginal benefit in social standing from the vehicle?

          • James January 22, 2013 at 11:55 am #

            It is clear you and I have very different opinions and beliefs on the cost/value outlook of vehicles. You are okay with leveraging debt, which may work for you. For me it makes no sense, especially seeing as I’m a college student.
            For the record, you aren’t psychic, neither of the civics you linked to were like mine. I have a 2000 with around 70k miles, which puts it in between the two you linked to.
            I’m beginning to wonder if you even read the article I wrote before blindly assaulting it. In fact, I only talk about this car at the very beginning of the article, the rest is about consumerism in general, and has very little to with the actual car. I don’t debate the value of this particular car at all. I merely use an advertisement for it as an example.

  3. Canadian Budget Binder January 15, 2013 at 8:18 pm #

    I believe working hard will getone where they need to go but also with determination. Sometimes going above and beyond and finding new ways, improvements,etc will help make you stand out, not the car you drive or the watch you wear. The millionaire next door is an excellent book which I’ve read. The authors really know how to make you go ah… never would have thought of that, or yes come to think of it, that’s correct. Stuff just doesn’t mean someone is rich it could potentially mean they are knee deep in debt. Mr.CBB

  4. Anne @ Unique Gifter January 15, 2013 at 8:39 pm #

    That commercial irks me as well. To insinuate that a car can get you a promotion is pretty ridiculous. Providing a ride to a bunch of important folks at your job may help, but I would venture the cleanliness of your vehicle is more important than the make. Now, to find someone who is willing to detail my vehicles, haha.

  5. Lorillia|Your Money Mentor January 31, 2013 at 3:10 am #

    One of the richest man on earth did not buy a new car for so many years. The point is, if a thing is still efficiently serving a purpose, meaning you can save more gas and repairs on it compared to when buying a new one, then, stick with it and don’t try to assume more liabilities.

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