Thursday, September 27, 2007

Keeping Up with Mr. Jones

Until very recently I was pretty much immune to the urge of keeping up with Mr. & Mrs. Jones. We live in the Bay Area (Northern California), one of the most expensive areas in the country. People here drive fancy cars and live in multi million Dollar houses, but I didn't care. We rent our modest townhouse, and I stubbornly insist on driving my 10 year old, beat up, Geo Prizm.

So what changed? Last month my son started kindergarten, and while I couldn't care less about what people think of my car or my house, I have been having these nagging concerns that my lack of housing & driving "style" will influence the way that my son is received at school.

When I drop off my kid in the morning, the other parents arrive driving their shiny BMWs, Porches and Mercedes, next to which my dinged up junker looks even worse. Dropping off my son is the only place where I feel uncomfortable driving my old ride, but let's face it I am not going to spend tens of thousands of Dollars just to satisfy an irrational urge to keep up with the Joneses. However, I did make a few concessions to good taste: last weekend I replaced my cracked windshield, bought a new set of hubcaps for $24.95 (one of my old ones was missing), and even went the extra mile and bought new floor mats for the Geo. If I am going to drive this beat up old car for a few more years, I might as well drive one that looks slightly better kept.

The total cost for this cosmetic treatment: $300 including the windshield. Ouch. But a much smaller ouch than buying a new car... Still, the urge to upgrade is not gone. I bet other parents experience the same pressures. I would love hear any suggestions and feedback from people that had similar experiences. Do share.


beth said...

My dad's former employer (owner of a small computer company) *loved* picking up his high school son driving his old GEO Metro. The car was very old and rusty (this is Minnesota where salt to melt snow rusts cars fairly quickly). The son would plead with his father, "Can't you drive Mom's car?" It was a computer company in the late 90s/early 2000s, so all employees were paid well, and most of them drove old, rusty vehicles and were proud of it. Make it a point of pride: "Wow! Our car has 150,000 miles on it and it still runs. We're awesome! I wonder if we can make it to 200,000!"

Your son will be okay as long as you don't forbid all the pleasures in school life (i.e., allow him to play a sport/join an activity--maybe not all he wants, but at least a few; let him take school trips that you think are pointless).

(Keeping the car looking nice, even if it is older/cheaper is important, too.)

Anonymous said...

Don't give in. It's better for him in the long run. I grew up in Saratoga, and everyone's parents had nice cars and kids always had nice clothes, but I came from a military family and my parents were really thrifty and they drove, guess what? A geo prism (they still have it too). I never felt inferior to my classmates because of this. If anything it taught me that material things don't really matter, and that people like me for who I am, not what kind of car my parents have. Don't teach your kid that material things are important, teach him that value is. I'm so glad my parents taught me how to be thrifty and not to worry about material status. I'm a much happier person for it, I truly believe that. That said, you don't want to drive around in a completely unkept car, as people will start to wonder if it safe, and they will start to wonder what conditions are like at home. There's definitely a difference between a thrifty car, and a neglected car. You don't want to give the impression that other things in your life are neglected too. So I think that $300 spent was a good idea.

Traciatim said...

I'm with the top two posts. Though I drive a few year old Taurus (2002) I'm planning on keeping it until around 2012 if it will keep going.

Unless your a real estate agent and you need a 'real estate car' then I would really avoid the urges.

I would be willing to bet your son will grow up in a much better person if you just spend more time with him and teach him how to respect other people.

Lazy Man and Money said...

I'm not saying to give in or anything, but I wonder if you could take a different tactic to acheive "status." I live in the same area as you and it seems to me there are lots of Prius' and Mini Coopers on the road. I never thought of these people as driving a cheap car, but looking up to them for thinking of the environment. If your Geo starts needing replacement, maybe you can get a price efficient car that brings a little status in a different way.