A car is the ultimate status symbol for insecure people. Let me explain why not following my 1/10th rule for car buying is more due to the unhealthy desire for status rather than the inability to be frugal.
As I was returning home in Rhino, my 2015 Honda Fit, a late model Porsche Cayenne SUV came zooming towards me. We were on a quiet and narrow residential street so I was going slowly. I’ve driven the street hundreds of times before and have never had a problem passing a car going the other way.
Instead of slowing down, the driver in the Porsche SUV started honking her horn for me to pull over to make way for her, as if she owned the road.
There was no need for me to do anything since I was well on my side. But if you’re going fast, it’s harder to calibrate the space you have between cars. I slowly kept on going and she slammed on her breaks and started screaming.
The Car As A Status Symbol
Of course, I curiously rolled down my window to hear what she was saying because I LOVE to talk to emotionally crazy people! It’s so much fun to try and figure out why some people go berserk over their own wrong doing.
“What are you doing?!” she screamed.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“You’re supposed to make way. Don’t you see I’m coming?” she continued.
“You want me to move even more into my lane you mean?” I asked. “There’s plenty of room for both of us to pass. Just slow down.”
Then she got even more pissed and began talking nonsensical. “YOU HAVE NO IDEA! NO IDEA!”
“Huh? What are you talking about?” I responded calmly.
“This is why I drive a $70,000 car and you drive that!” she blurted out . And then she rolled up her window and sped off, perfectly fitting through the lane without me moving as I had explained.
Dang, why did she have to big-wig me like that?
Why Do People Lash Out?
Speed kills. I didn’t take the statement to heart until I saw one too many careless auto accidents that either destroyed a vehicle or left someone dead.
Just last week, I saw a woman driving a brand new Audi Q5 t-bone the Honda hybrid vehicle that was literally right in front of me at a neighborhood four-way stop because she somehow didn’t see the other vehicle going. Slow down people!
I’m trying to understand why the crazy woman in the Porsche said what she said to me. I’ve thought of several plausible reasons.
Road Rage And Insecurity
1) She was in a rush to go to work. It was 8:30am when the incident happened. Perhaps she was stressed because she was running late for an important 9am meeting. Anything slowing her down would face her wrath.
2) She’s insecure. Nobody needs a SUV in the city. Nobody needs a sports car in a city either. If you drive a sports SUV then you’re at the top of driving an unnecessary vehicle. Therefore, a reasonable explanation could be that she’s using her vehicle to make up for some type of insecurity. The insecurity could be as simple as being extremely unattractive. Or, maybe she’s using her car as a reason to make up for her inability to buy a single family home in San Francisco. Who knows for sure. She needs a car as a status symbol.
3) She believes bigger, more expensive cars have more authority on the road. I’ve noticed one very obvious difference driving a compact car versus driving a Land Rover. I get bulled over by larger cars who aggressively try and push me off the road when making turns or passes. Now I know exactly how it feels to be a smaller person walking in a crowd. It must get so annoying to get pushed and shoved by bullies or colleagues who feel more powerful than you because they are looking down.
4) She’s a bad driver. If you’re a bad driver, it’s hard to relax on the road because you know your lack of driving skills could cause damage to your car. The more expensive your car, the more stressed out you’ll be when you even park your car, let alone fix the car after an accident. If you’re a good driver who drives an inexpensive car, you’re as stress-free as you can be.
5) She’s financially overextended. When you’re stressed out about money, you’re simply more unpleasant to be around. Looking back at my post, “What Does Financial Independence Feel Like?“, the number one feeling I write about is no longer getting as annoyed or as pissed off at people. If you’r financially overextended, in a rush, and a bad driver, I can see why you might snap.
I really can’t think of any other logical reason why she’d be so rude to me other than the fact that she’s a nasty person. But I don’t think anybody is inherently bad. Usually something else is bothering them to lash out. It’s kind of like reading the occassional nasty comment. Comments are a reflection of the individual, because we always see the world in our own way.
A Car As A Status Symbol
If you’re saying to other people, “This is why I drive a $70,000 car and you drive that!,” it’s clear you believe a car is an important status symbol. I can understand putting a greater emphasis on the value of your car as a 20-something-year-old or even if you’re a late blooming 30-something-year-old because it may take up a greater portion of your net worth.
But if you’re over 40, happy, and financially secure, what’s the point of big wigging somebody?
Related: There’s No Need To Win A Financial Argument, Just Win By Getting Rich
I don’t go around telling people who cut me off, “Hey jerk! This is why I own multiple properties in San Francisco and you still rent!” That would be obnoxious, especially given only about 11% of San Franciscans can afford to own a median home right now.
But owning a median-priced $1.9M home in San Francisco in 2021+ is financially way harder than owning a $70,000 vehicle.
Easier To Lash Out Than Be Disciplined
I’ve come to the conclusion that Americans believe the car is the ultimate status symbol. It’s the reason why there is so much backlash against my 1/10th rule for car buying.
If you’re spending way more than 10% of your gross income on the value of a car, you will defend your decision to the end! It’s like paying $250/person for a meal if you’re not rich.
To not feel completely stupid for paying so much, you crow about how amazing your dining experience was and share all your food pics over social media.
If you’ve got a very expensive car status symbol, but it’s well less than 1/10th your income, you’re not insecure at all. You’re big balling and couldn’t give two shits about what other people think about your car. Nor would you ever try and big-wig someone who drives a less expensive vehicle.
What To Do If You’ve Been Big-Wigged?
As someone who is now 43, I found the whole incident amusing. It was an absolute joy to drive a $19,200 pre-tax compact car because I don’t have to worry about dings or fitting into tight spaces.
Rhino was the perfect city car that can park in 20% more spots than a mid-size car. Further, it’s much more gratifying picking up someone in an economy car and convincing them you’re someone worth spending time with, than picking up someone in a luxury car and having them admire you for your money.
If you’ve ever been big-wigged, just know there’s something wrong with them, not you. The people who are truly happy with their lives would never try and big-wig someone else.
They don’t need a car as a status symbol. Instead, they’d show more kindness than the average person because they are so appreciative of what they have.
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I’m 47 with a high six figure income. I’m in complete agreement with you. I drive a 17 year-old Honda which I purchased new. It has 155K miles on it. I can afford something much more luxurious, but I find satisfaction driving a car with no payments and doesn’t cost me much to own. I’d rather put my money into things that appreciate in value. And I know plenty of people who barely have two nickels in their pocket who have several hundred dollar per month car payments. And they always complain that they have no money. No crap, a lot of your money is going into something that will soon be worthless.
Two things came to mind when reading your post.
First, it reminded how nice it is to drive a 14 year old car with 150k miles on it, I don’t really have to worry as much about crashing it or having it damaged while parked. I’ve been in several situations like you described and I found the best approach is to simply point out that my $4k car is perfectly capable of totaling their $60k car if they try to push me off the road.
Second thing that came to mind is the line between buying a sports car because you enjoy driving it and buying a sports car as a status symbol. Where would you say that line exists and what would you advise prospective sports car buyers to keep in mind (assuming they follow the 1/10 rule) to avoid buying something for status?
IMO if status pops up in your mind when looking at the car, you know.
The line is hard to draw with cars because much of what they are and provide for the consumer is image. Frankly, I think sports cars that are similar in price to the aforementioned Honda would be suitable. The type of cars that are cheap and have lower expectations. Like a Miata.
“I don’t go around telling people who cut me off, “Hey jerk! This is why I own multiple properties in San Francisco and you still rent!” That would be obnoxious”
– (you sure are telling us now!!)
Perhaps you need to check your self?
Also, you could have also move a little bit aside if you really want to prevent an accident,
But your ego couldn’t let you.
Interesting article, but I think it says more about you done anything else.
Financial Samurai says
It sure is, because this is my article. But you don’t know who I am, so I’m happy to share. Sharing in this article doesn’t help me in any way.
The question is: how did you end up on this article that I wrote so long ago? Surely you must’ve googled the term about cars as a status symbol or something.
It is true I don’t know you. But you didn’t know the woman you wrote this article about.
How I found you?
I have been working hard for the last 10 years. I’m now 38. I was looking for a reason not to treat my self with this new RR suv. Because I hate the fact that people connect it with some kind of a status. I just live the car. But all your article did was confirm what already known. Ego is the sickness of the haves and have-nots.
Conclusion: doesn’t really matter whether you have nice car or not.
Financial Samurai says
Agreed. Follow my 1/10th rule for car buying and you’re good e.g. if you want a $78,000 Range Rover Sport, shoot to make $780,000+.
Otherwise, you’re going to be stressed and short circuit your financial freedom. I can already tell you’re pretty frustrated and want to buy the RR but can’t comfortably do so. Hence your frustration toward me.
Bottom line: Don’t buy what you can’t afford. A luxury car is not a right. Too many people waste their money on a car. There’s nothing wrong with a Honda Civic.
BTW: The woman has received multiple speeding tickets in my neighborhood. Many parents have complained. I have a RR Sport
Andy Orellana says
If you need yo make 700k a year to buy a 70k most people you see walking in the USA shouldn’t even have a bicycle. In fact whats is a 70k car? 900 to 1000 a month? Thats chump change. If you make 15k and your income usually goes up with a 3k to 5 k mortgage you can have vacations and whatever you want and live life and die happy.
What you are saying to. Women and men its have 1 child at age of 60 because that’s when you can afford it. A child cost supposedly 250k … so technically people should own a child until they make 2.5 million a year lol. That’s one stupid way to put it.
Financial Samurai says
What’s wrong with a $10,000 car? I drove one for 10 years as an adult, a second-hand Land Rover Discovery II I bought for $8,000, and it was awesome.
To your point: Net Worth Goals Before Having A Child Please: How About $1 Million
Andy Orellana says
Nothing is wrong. I am buying a used truck for 6k today. Could I buy a 70k truck that I like yes.. but I choose not to because I have other priorities that I want to take care of.
Plus I believe there will be a huge correction in the real estate market and want to have money ready for it.
Financial Samurai says
Sounds good. So far, real estate is on fire though and accelerating in price due to record-low mortgage rates, a strong stock market, rising input costs, and more time spent at home. Everybody is appreciating real estate more now. You might be waiting for a long timee.
See: Real Estate Outperformance Examples During COVID-19
90s kid says
“Nobody needs a SUV in the city.”
I was enjoying the article until I saw that, because that’s just straight up wrong. If you have 3+ kids, you need an SUV. My mom had a Suburban when I was a kid, not because she wanted one, but because she needed it. She needed it for road trips and carpools, and other parents refused to let their kids sit in the death trap reverse seats of her station wagon (despite the fact their kids loved those seats). She hated the car, and sold it the moment it was no longer necessary. She also hated that it was a ‘status symbol’ of the time, but she didn’t want a minivan and there weren’t many options for 3 row SUV’s back then.
I grew up as one of four kids and my parents never drove an SUV. We had a few Toyota minivans that they drove until they were 250,000 miles or above. We live in Minnesota. Unless you’re getting groceries in 8 inches of snow, I don’t understand the need.
Asif Ellahi says
Love this topic! I struggle with people everyday and see true colours in people.
I own two modern classics; 1) Ferrari F355 Spider in black, and, 2) POrsche 911 996 C4S also in black.
When I’m driving these cars (if in daytime hours) I find people are extremely courteous to me and I get let out of junctions and given priority even when it’s not mine. If anything I tend to feel quite shy driving them especially when it comes to filling them up with fuel as the cars do attract a lot of attention. Mostly I drive them at night as they give me quality thinking time. My favourite journey is from Birmingham to London (approx 1h 45mins) and I usually head to Leicester Square McDonalds to grab a milkshake (yes I know – I’m a saddo) & to enjoy the busy lights of London then I’ll drive back home all content. What I am trying to point out here is that I purchased these cars because I REALLY like them. I bump into people all the time who purchase cars to ‘keep up with the neighbours’ – that is totally not me – If I can take a journey by bus, train, bicycle or train I will – there’s no stress there!!!
My daily drive is my late fathers 2010 Vauxhall Astra Van. It has super low mileage, starts first time, excellent on fuel, (for some reason) has an excellent radio / CD / speaker set up and drives like a dream. In his van I can go along to my destination in complete peace with no hassle.
Here’s the contrast, in my cars people show a lot of envy (even though that’s genuinely not why I bought them – they each have several reasons why I wanted them mostly to do with history and / or engineering excellence) – people let me have way, say hello etc etc
When I’m in my late fathers van people look down on me so so badly like I’m a nobody and there’s a lot of bullying tactics to either not give me way even when it is legitimately my right of way, or just to be in front (as if the vehicle is offending their eyes so much that they just need to be in front) Then there’s the typical stiff neck at traffic lights where people will absolutely not make eye communication as I’m a ‘lower form of life’
It makes me chuckle how is human beings behave!!!
I have a 2016 Toyota Avalon CLE and A 2009 Subaru Forester. Neither one is a status symbol but they are luxury. I don’t need A Cadarac or A Saburbin or a Lessus. The Avalon is 286 HP opposed to an Audie with 178 HP. I have no need to style and profile or lowrider. I paid cash for both and own my home plus half a mil in the bank. Im not insecure just smart and diligent. I don’t need a status symbol. I know Im better than the next person…..
The author himself is insecure and he’s jealous. Why do you wear a suite? Why not ear the same T-shirts from Walmart? Why not living in a cheapest house you can get? Should I go on?
Ohhhkayyy….. *hands Joe a Snickers.* I’ve met Sam, and he’s neither insecure, nor jealous, nor was he wearing a suit. Maybe take a nap, buddy?
Financial Samurai says
Hah! Thanks for the support :) Hope all is well! Opinion car posts definitely tend to rile some people up b/c Americans have a love affair with cars.
Related: Safety First: Finally Got A Nice Car, And It’s Not A Mini-Van!
I’m want to get a car that would typically be seen as a status symbol. Not only that I still look like a young guy in my early 20’s (I’m in my mid 30’s) so if people saw me driving it they would think I’m just some punk kid trying to show off.
However, I’m one of those guys that just wants car because he really likes it (BMW I8). I have no desire to “show off” to strangers on the road. I prefer that people admire me for my morality, excellent common sense, my balanced worldview etc. then some lifeless object. Other then the I8 I really don’t have any desire for expensive vehicles. Therefore, right now I drive a 13 year old vehicle with a blue book value of about $7K.
Even though my net worth is in the 7 figures and I have enough money to buy a new I8 with cash; I’m trying to be disciplined and wait. Much of the things you mention in your blog that lead to financial success are things I have been practicing for over 15 years. So its really hard for me to just go out and make such an expensive purchase that is a depreciating asset. So I’m going to wait another 3 years, invest some more and then buy the I8.
I grew up admiring cars and going to the SCCA autocrosses on the weekend with my father. I love getting into my BMW M3 on the weekends and taking it for a quick drive to play tennis or to the gym. I have been driving the M3 for over 13 years now. I only drive it on rare occasions now as my children require more of my time. Getting into my car and cruising along winding roads is my escape from the busy world and allows me time to unwind and recharge. My daily driver is a 7 seat Acura MDX that I use to shuttle my daughter and her basketball teammates around in. I would love to upgrade to a Porsche 911 S, which is my dream car. I cannot seem to justify spending the money on a car that I will only drive around on the weekends. Maybe one day when they have graduated from college I may reconsider my dream purchase. Why work hard if you cannot enjoy your money? I like to find a balance between saving and spending. I live a very frugal life for he most part.
I think the problem why I am came to this post is because material doesn’t bring me persistent happiness , it is a high that fades quickly. So, financially (as this website targets) you can certainly use money to fill up your needs, but spiritually ” Enjoy your money” does not bring satisfaction.
Lily Reed says
Here in Germany people buy luxury cars because of the horsepowers to enjoy the performance on the autobahn more.
Germans appreciate the driving experience more than showing off their wealth compared to most Americans like the woman in the story.
The drivers in luxury cars with 250-300 horsepowers going 200-300km/hr feel more entitled to drive on the left lane and flash lights at you to move out of their way. I don’t have a problem with this behavior anymore as I come to understand that some people are addicted to speed and not out there to make me feel inadequate.
I am simply glad when they zoom past me.
Financial Samurai says
It’s funny because so many luxury cars come from Germany, so I wonder whether you guys see MB, BMW, Porsche as luxury vehicles at all?
We certainly don’t view Fords, Chryslers, and Buicks luxury cars here in the US! Do you?
This is just another example of someone who assumes that what type of car is what defines you as a person. She probably is over-extended and you are sitting pretty.
Exactly! I see these people all the time, because we live in an affluent area.
I grew up in SoCal and cars are everything to the many vacuous people who live there. I moved out of SoCal almost 25 years ago. When I was single and went out to bars/night clubs the first question women would ask me in Ca is what car do I drive.
I would tell them I drove some old Buick or Chrysler and I was a trash collector. Then I’d ask what they did for work. At the time I owned my own business at 22 years old and they were secretaries. Nothing wrong with secretaries, though I had secretaries working for me, along with a publicist and full time accountant among my team. I didn’t buy the BMW to impress, because I was perfectly happy with my paid for Nissan Sentra.
Others grew up without money and attempting to prove their value. It’s really quite sad.
It’s all really like high school all over again. These people never matured and have no clue about what’s really important.
I own my business with my wife in the software industry. We do well and live in a very nice/expensive home we could afford and it will be paid off this year. Because we don’t flaunt our wealth, it’s humorous and at times annoying how people act like we’re below them financially and lacking status.
We’ve saved a lot for retirement and our kids college funds. I could easily afford to write a check for over 100k car from my checking account if that was really something stupid I wanted to do. I say stupid, because I don’t need a car that expensive. Besides, most luxury German cars break down a lot and I have better things to do than trek back and forth to the dealership for repairs.
I’ve often joked that people driving those luxury cars who act very special should have a scrolling LED on the side of their car stating their net worth minus all debts. :)
I didn’t come from money and went to a wealthy high school and college. The car issue has always been a difficult subject for me, because so many people judge you based on your car and other material things. I’ve dealt with it the best I can, though sometimes I do think about buying an expensive car to get it out of my system.
I agree that a really expensive car is often a status symbol, but definitely for younger folks. When I see a guy in his fifties cruising in a Porsche I just assume that he has been smart with his finances and finally earned himself his dream car. I on the other hand, being 25, drive my dad’s Porsche around occasionally and immediately feel as if I am somehow better than everyone else on the road. Same feeling comes from flying first-class (from free upgrades) and watching all those “average” people walk by. I hate that feeling and hence I drive a 98 4Runner that is well within the 1/10th rule for my income. It does everything I want it to do, I don’t worry about scratch marks, people profiling me or gold diggers trying to date me. When I eventually have a lot of money AND don’t feel better than other people I don’t know, then and only then will I buy a nice car.
The best idea is to buy a sustainable nice car. I recently purchased a 2016 Honda Civic EX. Most people say that it is unwise to buy a new car as they are more expensive. However a high rated car like such will last 15 years or so making the use worth the money. Additionally buying new will create a higher resale value if I plan to sell in the next 8 years. Luxury cars are not needed! A Chevrolet Tahoe and a Cadillac Escalade are virtually the same car as they are made by the same overarching company (GM). However they are $40,000 apart. Be cautious about your purchases and invest your money elsewhere in something that will appreciate.
Financial Samurai says
I’m impressed you bought a new Honda Civic at 16. How did you do it?
How does buying new create a higher resale value? You lose a huge chunk of money as soon as you drive it off the lot and then most cars generally depreciate the most over the first four years. You are taking all of that loss. If instead you buy a car that is at least a few years old you can get a great car without a ton of miles for a huge discount and then have a great resale value if it’s a reliable car (Honda, Toyota, Subaru, etc.). Looking forward to your perspective!
Luxury cars are bought by obnoxious people as well as people who actually value the vehicle. I drive fast, but never cut people or tail gate them. I never ever speed in neighborhoods or would dream of crowding others out. I have noticed more aggressive driving in people who drive Kia Souls and little Honda fits (and the likes) than Corvettes or Porsche Cayenne’s. Maybe there are more people driving Kia Souls? Yes luxury cars are silly because most people who own them cant afford them. Also because they are, unfortunately, a very visible symbol of wealth (ever seen a music video?) I make a good living and thought very hard before I bought my G37S. I didn’t want to be branded a “poser” (even though an Infiniti is not super fancy). I can proudly say that even 4 years later, I get a huge thrill driving it daily. Paid it off under 16 months. I plan on driving it for another few years and then maybe “upgrading”. I am, for some odd reason, fascinated by cars. I drive a luxury car not for show, because I truly appreciate the fine details. I also wax/wash and do my own oil changes. Cars are not the best financial decision but whenever I am having a bad day, the thought of driving my car makes it all better. It really pains me when people see a certain car and pin it to being a snob or “compensating”. The need for stealth wealth might restrict my future car buying decisions. :-(
I am so looking forward to driverless cars. Replacing economic sink holes with an on demand transportation utility will be biggest economic boost in decades. Not only will lives and property be saved, but resources will be much better allocated. There will be significant economic turmoil, but the gains will more than make up for it.
Driverless cars are in development but the legal issue of who is responsible for a crash remains.
This one is simple. This woman has a sense of superiority. Why? 1). She felt an entitlement of some sort to a larger portion of the road than you. This is typical of wealthy people. They also typically tailgate and speed…obnoxious habits. 2) She stated you have no idea…meaning you are less informed/educated on perhaps many things than she is based on your lower car value…which is linked to your socioeconomic status in her view. 3) she is better than you because her car costs more (the 70000 comment).
she is also probably materialistic and lives in disconnected fantasy world.
You should have no concerns, this woman needs therapy. :o)
I upgraded from a small hatch to a bigger car just for the snob value. Let me tell you it hurts when you realise your mistake.
Eric Bowlin says
It’s really true that people use cars as a status symbol. It’s especially true in many Asian countries.