A Paid-Off Car with High Miles, Not a Brand-New Car with Payments, is a New, Unspoken American Status Symbol

I noticed that back a few years ago, when I lived on the edge of Nashville, where income levels were lower than where I live now in my commuter town, that it was the norm to see so many fellow commuters driving luxury cars, on every side of me… which were obviously leased. Compare that to where I live now- people make more money, but drive older cars; not many Mercedes’ to be seen.

Owning a brand-new car is not worth celebrating, unless the person paid cash for it. Otherwise, the person is paying more money for something they couldn’t afford in the first place.

Imagine the irony: A person doesn’t have enough money to buy the product, so they agree to pay even more of the money they don’t have in the first place- in interest.

The Eighties and Nineties are long gone. No longer can we pretend we are doing financially well because of the false status symbols bought with credit. That mentality ended with the Financial Crisis of 2008; which happened to be the year I got married.

I believe our culture is now realizing that the new status symbol is being able to afford more, but choosing to save and invest that money instead.

If anything, the new status symbol is to be able to brag on how little money you paid for a product, not to allow others to believe you spent more. The new status symbol is being able to figure ways to save money and make money on the side, then share that info with everyone else. That has value.

We are living in the aftermath of the Financial Crisis of 2008. My generation is becoming the new version of those who lived through the Great Depression.

Being frugal and in full control of your finances is the ideal; not necessarily making a lot of money, only to continue to struggle to pay the bills and live in debt. Now it’s all about low overhead and living well within your means.

This month makes exactly 13 lucky years that I’ve owned my 2004 Honda Element, with 170,000 miles and a salvaged title; making it worth only about $500. Two years ago, it came within about $25 shy of being totaled, when an albino dear ran into my driver’s side door and wheel. (True story!)

But the way I see it, that car is worth a whole lot more than what I could sell it for.

It’s funny how typically, when a person “buys” a new car, the typical reaction is to be happy for them: “Oh wow! I like your new car! I wish I had something nice and shiny like that!”

When I overhear a conversation like that, I always privately think, “But yeah, now they have to be making monthly payments for the next few years, coupled with the insurance payments that accompany a new car…”

And it’s even worse if the car is leased, because there’s no chance of making any profit when the lease is done; in fact, you may end up having to pay more money if you drove too many miles or caused damage to the car.

So yeah, I am proud to drive my 2004 Honda Element. It’s a bit rusty and my kids complain about having to ride in it because, “It’s so old!”

But hey, it runs and it’s been paid off well over a decade.

Dear Jack: You’re Halfway to Age 16!

8 years.

Dear Jack,

It’s taken me a few weeks since your recent 8th birthday to realize:

You’re halfway to being age 16. More specifically, you’re halfway there to being able to have a driver’s license.

Mommy and I were talking about it this week.

As we are really focused on investing our money beyond what we are already saving, we were discussing your college and our retirement.

But then Mommy reminded me, “Jack will be driving in 8 years, too. He’s going to need a car.”

I have a feeling that these next 8 years will pass by quicker than the first eight. I wonder what you’re first car will be?

If I’m lucky, you can have my 2004 Honda that I’m driving now so that I can finally get an upgrade.

Love,

Daddy

Why My Next Car Will Have a Metallica Sticker on the Back Window, Not a Christian Fish Symbol

Whenever I eventually do trade in my 2004 Honda Element for a newer SUV with a 3rd row seat, I have already decided I will not be putting a “nice dad” sticker on my back window: No stick figure family, no logo from my kid’s school, not even a Christian fish symbol.

It’s Nashville. I’m a commuter from a bedroom community. I typically spend a minimum of about 2 hours a day, navigating through chaos from the congested back roads to the often stand-still Interstate.

Being perceived by other drivers as a “nice guy” is not what I’m interested in when I’m on I-65 or Columbia Pike. Otherwise, I’d be in danger of also being perceived as a hypocrite in other drivers’ eyes when I am either driving too fast or too slow for their liking.

Other drivers’ personal perception of my driving ultimately serves a reflection of the legitimacy of whatever sticker is on my car.

Yeah, I know that sounds obtuse and illogical. But it’s true…

If a non-Christian driver perceives that I selfishly pulled out in front of him, then sees a Christian emblem on my car, that driver is placed in a position where he can theorize: “There’s another one of those self-centered, hypocritical Christians! Why would I ever want to be like them?”

Instead, I’d rather be known as the guy who other drivers don’t have high expectations for. The easiest way I can think to accomplish this is to simply have one black sticker on my back windshield:

Metallica.

That way, when I have to hurry and pass another car real quick on the Interstate in order to reach the exit lane in time because of how congested all 4 lanes are, I’m not a jerk. Instead, I’m simply what they expect from a guy who listens to the legendary heavy metal band Metallica: I’m assertive, intimidating, and unpredictable.

However, when I do something courteous, like when another driver is trapped trying to make awkward turn and I let them in (which is something I do several times per day), and then I eventually catch up to them when that one single lane transitions to a double, and I’m now in the other lane and they can see the back of my vehicle…

Now, I’ve suddenly become the Good Samaritan. Why?

Because, hey, the Metallica guy was nice to me!

I’d rather be perceived as a nice Metallica fan rather than a “hypocrite” with a Christian fish symbol on my car. I

My ironic theory is that it’s easier for those fellow commuters to see the grace and kindness of a Christian when there is no Christian label, as I’ve learned that people naturally have higher expectations of Christians; meaning it’s also easier to be disappointed by Christians.

No one is disappointed by a guy who listens to Metallica. But as a commuter, I say the Metallica guy has got a better chance of being seen as a saint, compared to a guy with a Christian fish symbol on his car.

This is 36: The CD Player in My Paid Off, 13 Year-Old Car Stopped Working… So I Now I Use My Shattered iPod from 2006

I have first world problems. And even then, the word “problems” is a ridiculous overstatement.

Two weeks ago, the CD player in my old (but paid off) 2004 Honda Element stopped working. I had just purchased every Metallica album for $5.99 on clearance at Best Buy… where they are apparently doing away with selling CDs now that most people just download or stream their music.

(In case you’re not aware of my premature mid-life crisis where I suddenly became a huge Metallica fan and legitimately taught myself to skateboard, read all about it here.)

So now, sitting in the cubby of my dash, there are several CDs that I have yet to wear out, including others I have kept in heavy rotation- until now.

It’s important to note that as a skilled driver in the Nashville area, I have accepted my fate that I will be in the car for a total minimum of 2 hours each day, to drive only about 38 total miles round trip for my daily commute for work.

Just me in the car with my thoughts for two hours, every day.

I depend on that solitude. It is good for my brain and good for my soul.

And that solitude has always been undeniably enhanced by the kinesthetic routine of physically placing whatever CD that I feel like listening to at the moment into the CD player to play through the speakers.

No streaming or digital files. Just a CD. Like in high school in the 1999.

But now, that American right has been taken away.

And it’s definitely not worth buying a new CD player for my car.

Hopefully, I won’t be getting a new car anytime soon. That’s right- hopefully, I won’t.

Last year between having a baby, paying cash for a new car for my wife, taking a big family vacation, and having multiple hospital stays for our kids… this year is all about saving our money to eventually buy me a new car in cash like we did for my wife.

I need my faithful Honda Element to hold up until we can buy me a new car, which will be well over a year. It’s almost like I pray every time turn I turn the key in the ignition, “Please don’t let this be the day it doesn’t start…”

With us being Dave Ramsey followers, I would feel horrible about myself if I had to finance a new vehicle. It goes against who I am as a person.

So here’s who I am as a person: I now proudly drive while listening to a busted iPod that has a battery that dies by the end of my 2 hour round trip commute, even though it’s fully charged when I leave the house.

Anything from before 2007 is on there, though. Time to get reacquainted with The Wallflowers and Sister Hazel.

This is 36.

Dear Jack: Monster Jam 2017 (Weekend of Manliness! in a 2004 Honda Element, Part 2/3)

6 years, 1 month.

Dear Jack: Monster Jam 2017 (Weekend of Manliness! in a 2004 Honda Element, Part 2/3)

Dear Jack,

The next stop of our Weekend of Manliness! was Monster Jam in downtown Nashville. We loaded up in my salty and dusty 2004 Honda Element (which doesn’t even have cruise control) and made our way through 40 miles of country roads and interstate to the Bridgestone Arena.

Dear Jack: 1st Snow of 2017 (Weekend of Manliness! in a 2004 Honda Element, Part 1/3)

We thoroughly enjoyed seeing Monster Jam this past summer at Nissan Stadium when Papa was in town. Fortunately, we got to see those monster trucks just 6 months later- this time along with their dune buggy and ATV counterparts!

I have to say; there is definitely something therapeutic about two guys- a father and son– sitting up in the nosebleeds watching beastly trucks fly into the air. It was like we were sitting on top of the world, watching the monster trucks race around the truck, secretly hoping to see them roll over- especially if it wasn’t one of our favorites, like Zombie or Gravedigger.

Dear Jack: Monster Jam 2017 (Weekend of Manliness! in a 2004 Honda Element, Part 2/3)

During the show, we didn’t have much to say to each other… we didn’t need to. For us, watching the monster trucks at Monster Jam, over these past 3 years I’ve been taking you to Monster Jam, has become like seeing art.

We soak it in. We appreciate it. We become one with the monster truck experience.

As I expected, the moment we got home that day, you immediately ran upstairs and got your toy monster trucks. All your indoor playtime then revolved around monster truck competitions: The twist was that your toy dinosaurs got involved and caused some additional chaos.

Dear Jack: Monster Jam 2017 (Weekend of Manliness! in a 2004 Honda Element, Part 2/3)

It’s a given: Boys like monster trucks.

Therefore, it was very important for us to attend Monster Jam as part of our Weekend of Manliness! I was so proud to share that experience with you.

Granted, that wasn’t our last stop on our Weekend of Manliness! tour. After Monster Jam, we made our way to the Green Hills Mall to see what we already knew would be an amazing movie: Rogue One!

Love,

Daddy

Dear Jack: Monster Jam 2017 (Weekend of Manliness! in a 2004 Honda Element, Part 2/3)

Weekend of Manliness! January 2017 Series:

1st Snow of 2017

Monster Jam 2017

Rogue One Star Wars

Dear Jack: 1st Snow of 2017 (Weekend of Manliness! in a 2004 Honda Element, Part 1/3)

6 years, 1 month.

Dear Jack: 1st Snow of 2017 (Weekend of Manliness! in a 2004 Honda Element, Part 1/3)

Dear Jack,

Our Weekend of Manliness! began Friday evening when I got home from work and there was enough snow for us to try out the old sled Nonna gave us when we were in Alabama for Christmas. Fortunately, we happen to live in a great neighborhood for sledding in the snow.

Dear Jack: 1st Snow of 2017 (Weekend of Manliness! in a 2004 Honda Element, Part 1/3)

After all, we do live in Spring Hill, Tennessee. And our town lives up to the name. Not only are there plenty of hills all around, but apparently there are also plenty of springs as well- because it was no challenge finding new places to explore frozen puddles.

Dear Jack: 1st Snow of 2017 (Weekend of Manliness! in a 2004 Honda Element, Part 1/3)

The next morning, on Saturday, I explained to you: “Jack, this is your day. We’ll be going to the monster truck show and the new Star Wars movie later, but what else do you want to do today?”

You instantly responded: “I want to go back in the snow!”

Dear Jack: 1st Snow of 2017 (Weekend of Manliness! in a 2004 Honda Element, Part 1/3)

So we did. Even though I told you we’d only be out there no more than 30 minutes, we ended up staying out there an hour and 15 minutes. And it was awesome!

Fortunately, the sun start coming out to help our endurance.

Dear Jack: 1st Snow of 2017 (Weekend of Manliness! in a 2004 Honda Element, Part 1/3)

In addition to getting to sled down every hill we found in our neighborhood, you also made it your personal mission to attempt to crack all the ice you could by jumping on it- and then eventually, by having me throw heavy stones on the ice.

Dear Jack: 1st Snow of 2017 (Weekend of Manliness! in a 2004 Honda Element, Part 1/3)

Because it was so cold, and because I made sure all the frozen water we walked on was no deeper than 6 inches deep, the ice was extremely thick- and therefore, quite challenging to burst through.

Dear Jack: 1st Snow of 2017 (Weekend of Manliness! in a 2004 Honda Element, Part 1/3)

Undeniably, our Weekend of Manliness! was off to a great start. Our snow and ice adventures couldn’t have been appreciated by the likes of Mommy, who isn’t used to the cold since she’s from California- or by your 8 month-old sister, who is constantly catching and fighting sicknesses as she is naturally building up her immune system.

Dear Jack: 1st Snow of 2017 (Weekend of Manliness! in a 2004 Honda Element, Part 1/3)

No, this was clearly a job for the boys.

Had I realized a month ago what all would have occurred, I would have reached out to Toyota or Lexus and got us a vehicle to feature each part of Weekend of Manliness! But I didn’t know the awesome baby blizzard was coming, that we would see Rogue One, or that we’d be going to Monster Jam until it was too late to get us a manly and adventurous Toyota or Lexus to match the energy of the father and son duo.

Dear Jack: 1st Snow of 2017 (Weekend of Manliness! in a 2004 Honda Element, Part 1/3)

So instead, we settled for my 2004 Honda Element, which I’ve officially owned 11 years as of this month; and have had paid off for 10 years.

Dear Jack: 1st Snow of 2017 (Weekend of Manliness! in a 2004 Honda Element, Part 1/3)

Now it was time to make the 40 mile drive to downtown Nashville for Monster Jam…

Dear Jack: 1st Snow of 2017 (Weekend of Manliness! in a 2004 Honda Element, Part 1/3)

Love,

Daddy

Dear Jack: 1st Snow of 2017 (Weekend of Manliness! in a 2004 Honda Element, Part 1/3)

Weekend of Manliness! January 2017 Series:

1st Snow of 2017

Monster Jam 2017

Rogue One Star Wars

I’ve Now Owned My 2004 Honda Element for a Decade; Looking to Trade It In

I’ve Now Owned My 2004 Honda Element for a Decade; Looking to Trade It In Now

It was a decade ago, in January 2006, that I got my first real job out of college. And 10 years later, I’m still at the same place; which is unusual these days, especially for a Millennial like me.

Just a couple of weeks after I got hired, it just so worked out that I was able to get my dream car: a Honda Element.

It’s been a wonderful decade. I’ve had no mechanical issues with it. It’s been faithful.

My Element was the car that my wife and I took our first date in.

It’s the car that I’ve carried our son to and from day care/pre-school each day for the past 5 years.

I’ll always remember the first time I ever asked him a question and he legitimately answered me; it was as I was placing him in his car seat in my Honda element when picked him up from school one day.

I asked him what he did that day at school that day.

To my amazement, he answered me, “I played.”

My 2004 Honda Element has been a great car. I still love my car and I wish they still made Honda Elements.

However, we have another child on the way, due in April. The plan is to trade in my Element for a new car by the time she arrives.

By “new car,” I mean “slightly used” car. I personally fundamentally can’t see myself buying a brand new car when I can get a better value by letting someone else “drive off” the warranty; and therefore, much of the price for me, as I will be the 2nd owner.

I’m looking for a Honda Fit that has between 30,000 and (up to) 60,000 miles on it. That puts us in the budget range we are prepared for.

A week ago at Darrell Waltrip Honda, they evaluated my 2004 Element being worth $5000 as a trade-in. (It has 153,000 miles on it.)

I’ve Now Owned My 2004 Honda Element for a Decade; Looking to Trade It In

My wife and I are planning to trade it in for a “slightly used” Honda Fit. While Fits are smaller than Elements, Fits have 5 seat belts whereas Elements only have 4.

Plus, my car is mainly used just for commuting Monday through Friday; we always drive my wife’s Honda Accord on the weekends and on road trips.

Basically, I’m just looking for a newer, slightly smaller version of what I already have, but also with another passenger seat, as well as cruise control. The way I see it, a Honda Fit is what I’m looking for; a quirky commuter car that will hold its value, like my Element has.

My research has shown me that Honda Fits definitely hold their value.

Because my wife and I are faithful Dave Ramsey followers, we already have the cash in the bank to pay for our “new” car. It’s not that we make more money than the average household in Nashville, because we don’t; that’s not why we are able to pay cash.

It’s instead because we have live by a strict budget where every dollar has its place, so that we tell our money where to go… instead of our money telling us where to go.

We are not in a desperate situation where we have to hurry up and by a car. We obviously will not be making payments on it or paying interest. When the time is right and the perfect Honda Fit presents itself, we shall strike.

The money will be paid. The car will be purchased. Sale complete.

Our plan from there is to eventually trade in my wife’s 2006 Honda Accord for possibly a “slightly used” Honda CR-V.

I am happy about moving forward with a newer vehicle and I am happy for whoever ends up with my Honda Element next. Ole “Jedi” has been good to me.

As for now, a decade later, it’s a year of change and new beginnings.