Thursday, November 18, 2004

The Jones' Syndrome

On my way to the office this morning, I had to stop at a railroad crossing. Trains are ever present in this community, and waiting at crossing gates is a numbing part of my daily life. A good opportunity to work on my anger management skills.

I sat in my little 94 VW Jetta and watched train cars speed past about 15 feet in front of me until I become dizzy. Glancing around to break the spell, I noticed to my left a brand spankin' new Hemi powered Chrysler 300C, all shiny and decked out. The 300c has been catching my eye for awhile.

My old Jetta, supposedly a temporary transportation solution for me, has become more permanent than I had hoped. It was previously my wife's car, but last year we bought a minivan to celebrate the arrival of the third child. Suddenly we had too many cars. The 95 Jetta was much more reliable than the 94 Jeep I had been driving. The Jeep also needed some work, had more miles on it, was more expensive to insure, and got lousey gas mileage.

To economize, we dumped the Jeep and I started driving the fire-engine red Jetta. I told myself that this was just a temporary solution, that I would get a new car later in the year (i/e, about now). As gas prices broke $2 per gallon, I was feeling like a pretty smart cookie driving the miserly Jetta.

But now, sitting at the crossing gate waiting for the train, I'm thinking to myself, "I'd sure look good behind the wheel of that 300c!" The driver in the 300c must have seen me staring. He just sort of looked over at me with his shades on, not giving anything away by his expression. Then he looked away, uninterested in my old ride.

At that moment I felt, well, sort of bad that I was driving an old car. I wanted to get out of the car, go over to his 300c and explain that I, too, could be driving a nice car, if I really wanted to. I just didn't want to, not today anyway. But that would have been a lie, so I stayed in my car.

I struggled to cling to my senses: I knew that I could go to the bank and take out that $15,000 settlement I received a couple of months ago after my classic El Dorado burned up (See the October 14, 2004 Post: The Car Fire), run down to the Chrysler dealer and take home a 300c this afternoon.

"This must be the Jones Syndrome I'm experiencing," I rationalized. This is the point at which many families get themselves into financial trouble; they capitulate to the feeling of inadequacy and low self worth because they are seemingly not keeping up with their neighbors. To compensate, they buy expensive cars that depreciate faster than they can drive them off the lot, trying to keep up with the proverbial Jones'. By the time they get the new car paid off, its already an old car, and the cycle starts all over again.

"I don't need to keep up with the Joneses," I coached myself. I tried to remind myself that as long as my family loves me, that's all I really need. And every month I drive this old Jetta is $350 saved from lease or loan payments. Driving the Jetta is the logical decision. Logical, not fun.

But try as I might to convince myself of all the good that I'm doing for my family and the environment by driving the old Jetta, I really want that damn car.

Todays lesson: Resist impulse purchases.

1 comment:

Jim said...

Wise you are. I succumbed to the Jones' Syndrome when I bought my current car. The joy I get out of driving it is easily offset by my $369 monthly payment, and the higher price at the pump.