In Discussions, Money, Wealth

On how looking successful and rich can actually help you become both

When I was younger, I only drove lemons. I bought the CHEAPEST CARS POSSIBLE. I am talking minivans at $1900 cash, and then another minivan at $10,000 (that one hurt, I was expecting $5000… but my partner told me I just got lucky with the first lemon.)

I very proudly drove these cars because it was a badge of frugality and how woke I was to my finances.

It showed the world, myself and to my clients that I did not give AF about wasting money, pretending to look rich when I wasn’t (I think I had a net worth around $55,000 after my first contract at the age of 26), and I was proud.

I was frugal.

I was saving money.

I wasn’t OVERCHARGING THEM (ding ding ding!).

I was also a huge fan of the mindset in one of the money books that completely altered my perception on money – The Millionaire Next Door.

Say what you will about that book, when I read it for the first time at 23, I was blown away.

People who drove nice cars weren’t rich? The ones in big mansions were actually drowning in debt?

MIND. BLOWN.


So, obviously, as a padwan of this millionaire next door mindset (I was focused on getting rich eventually), I knew and absorbed all the money lessons from the community:

1. Cars are depreciating assets

Why the heck would you put money into a new car that is going to lose half its value when you drive it off the lot?

2. Cars that are at 3-years or so, are at the OPTIMUM level of depreciation

The fine balance between being new-ish and cheap enough once someone took the hit for buying it new.

3. Cars are tools.

They aren’t status symbols or any sort of indicator of who you are as a person, or the way you live your life, let alone your net worth.

4. You save on insurance with a cheap, old car.

New, expensive cars also come with expensive insurance premiums.

5. You won’t shed tears if your car gets dinged, rusts, whatever.

It was a depreciating asset after all.

So.. this is the story:

I donated my first car to charity, and then the second was a trade-in to the car I drive now. It was maybe $1800 at best, at trade-in, down from the $10,000 price tag. LOL.

When I upgraded (I mean, really upgraded) from what I had before to the luxury car I drive now, that I bought new and in cash, I had impulsively (and not…), I decided to buy something new for once in my life, and to buy a NICE car.

Not necessarily luxury, but a NICE one.

I obviously went overboard if we are just buying a luxury car, in hindsight, but I have zero regrets about what I did.

I had purchased the car originally for myself, and mostly because I couldn’t find it used in exactly what I wanted (LOL, old habits die hard), and it was getting to the point where my second car started to have major issues (heat not working in the middle of winter, doors no longer locked, the tires kept deflating every week, battery died weekly…), that I had to make a decision and quick.

But something very strange happened…..

I started getting far more respect at work from all levels, VPs to my colleagues.

Now please note.. I am not a braggart.

I am not that person who walks in and name drops whatever I spent or did. I just keep it cool because I don’t enjoy attention if it is going to be negative, and I feel (still), slightly uncomfortable with any displays of overt wealth.

I am not into creating jealousy or negative energy around me, so I try not to be THAT PERSON.

Even wearing my Burberry coat to the office made me nervous and I would button up the coat and hide the label with a scarf covering it.

So, I do not conspicuously drive my car and show it off.

I tried very hard to hide it in the lower levels of parking, and on my newer contract, far away from windows of people in meetings, but eventually word always gets out.

And the complete change of how people reacted to me versus other projects was kind of … incredible.

First off, they are all much nicer to me.

I mean, they were nice before, but now they are N-I-C-E. Complete respect from all levels.

Second, they do not seem to give me strange looks when I talk about money and investing.

I can’t help myself, I am always looking for people who are into money and investing to chat about different topics and learn from them as much as I can.

I like talking about money. Seems very strange when you are driving a beater and you’re talking about investments. You aren’t as trusted for advice as someone who has a status car. *shrug*

Third, I asked for some change in terms for my contract and did not get rejected.

I basically now make more money but work far less. 2 days a week, $260K a year.

I asked for it, and I got it. Could I have gotten that without the project managers knowing I drive a luxury car? I’m not so sure. I cannot tell, but I think it definitely had a little of: Gosh if we don’t give her what she wants, she’ll just leave. And we need her. Look at how expensive and sought-after she is! She is SUCCESSFUL and she doesn’t need us.

All true. Much harder to prove when you’re driving a lemon. I am 60% certain it flavoured their decision.

It made me realize that there is always a different perspective to everything

Yes, it makes technically sound, financial sense to do exactly what I did in the past – oldest, crappiest car possible – but sometimes the heart wants what the heart wants.

You have the hardcore extremists who may shun cars and their trappings completely, biking to work in the snow, etc, to the more moderate types who drive only used lemons, to the others who just drive used cars but nicer ones.

I obviously went to the extreme with my luxury car, brand new no less, and I know it.

I didn’t have to. I could have purchased something a little more low key and half the price to garner the same level of respect, but ultimately at the end of the day:

It is my money and I want to enjoy it.

Bwahahahahah! MONEY!!!! MOAAAAAH MONEY!!!!!!

I wanted the car, I could afford it, I didn’t go into debt for it, I didn’t miss any money goals as a result of it and ….. that’s all I need as justification.

I am milder in my views now about spending and if you hit all of your money goals and then some, do whatever you wish with the rest.

You need to align and find your tribe of people who share similar views and by that, I mean in the way you treat money – as a foundation and stepping stone to a rich life — whatever your rich life means to you.

One of my things may be this brand new luxury car (well, now it is a used luxury car), but yours may be traveling around the world, taking 10 trips a year and really maximizing that.

To completely say that one way (the cheapest possible way) to look at money is the ONLY way, is not going to ever sit right with me.

I don’t love the subtle shaming/derision that goes on in the community that if you buy something new, like a car, or if you spend on something that isn’t approved as an ‘acceptable’ expense, you’re bad with money.


Other things on that hit list I have seen?

  • Vacations
  • Weddings
  • Clothes
  • Homes

So WHAT if you want a $100K wedding? Maybe it is the most special moment and day of your life, and you want to celebrate it with everyone possible.

So WHAT if you want that $20,000 vacation? Maybe it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to visit a country, take your time, and do it to the fullest.

I LOVE hearing people make money goals like this their priority because it matters and means so much to them, and it doesn’t say ANYTHING about how good they are with managing their money.

(Note: I did not say MAKING money. Plenty of people make a lot of money and then spend it all. That’s not any better. I would rather make less money and be a badass at managing and saving it.)

I, and many others, disprove this notion completely, and I feel like it doesn’t really draw people to the cause because it is full of shaming and one-upmanship to be the cheapest motha out there; the cause being that they need to sit up, make a budget, track their expenses and know their money situation.

We can spend $500 on some sneakers and still be great at managing our money.

We can spend $20,000 on a vacation, and still be great at managing our money.

We can spend $100,000 on a wedding and still be great at managing our money.

We all have different priorities, and as long as we meet our personal money goals – go forth and spend on what makes you feel rich and happy.

Some examples of money goals?

  • Saving at least 20% of your income – I know it sounds high, and unless you’re at minimum wage, this is doable. You can save pre-tax income to make it go farther, and for me, 20% is now the minimum.
  • …and maxing out your retirement accounts — RRSP, TFSA, 401K, Roth IRA
  • Making a 6-figure income – instead of just focusing on decreasing expenses, focus on making bank so it isn’t as painful to spend.

I am sure there are more that people can come up with.

And there is absolutely nothing wrong with spending your money ON WHATEVER THE F*CK YOU WANT after you have set and met your goals and that is the message we should be sending out.

Here’s the thing though…..

As a freelancer who makes bank, it is actually in my interest to show a little of that because it enhances my reputation and my business.

To show that I am successful, not struggling.

By driving a nice car and not a lemon, it shows that I make enough money to cover my expenses, I am gainfully employed on contracts and not having long periods of unemployment that would cause me to not have enough money.

It shows I am worth the rate they are paying me.

The price tag unfortunately, does change the way we think about things

If you saw two bottles of wine, exactly the same, but one was $5 and the other was $50, which one do you think tastes better?

Research has proven that the $50 one, has enough optics and mental subconscious trickery to make you feel like the $50 wine tastes much better.

Even pouring it into a proper wine glass instead of drinking it out of a plastic cup (optics again), enhances its taste and value in your brain.

Technically, we KNOW it is hogwash.

Emotionally, we FEEL that it makes a difference.

Same goes for our careers – if you see two consultants, supposedly the same.

One is well-dressed, driving a moderately nice car.

The other is poorly dressed with boots that have holes in them, driving a clunker that breaks down every other week.

Which one do you think is more successful?

Who do you think is better at their jobs to be able to get contracts, at a good rate, and to live well?

All of it boils down to this one simple fact:

99% of people cannot imagine or know that you CHOOSE to live this way to save money.

Our entire society’s perception of money, ultimately does lie on status symbols and such visual cues to tell us whether a person is trustworthy, successful, rich, intelligent, or not.

It can work in your favour, but also in your disfavour (see: being a person of colour or a woman, as there is obviously a bias, no matter how subtle, against you.)

Holes in your boots?

If you are successful, why wouldn’t you just buy a new pair of warm boots?

Your car keeps breaking down?

Get a new one that doesn’t, if you have the money.

It makes no sense to 99% of the general public, and to their perception that you would willingly go without upgrading to small luxuries if you could. They do NOT get it.

Why the hell would someone decide not to have a car, and bike in winter instead?

(I still don’t get that one, but then again I live in MontrĂ©al and not in Norway where it would be much safer and less scary to bike in winter.)

Remember (and this is what I forgot as a freelancer), that the general population is not made up of money geeks like us.

Only 1% of the population thinks like a money geek!

I have no long drawn out research to back this up, but if I look at the 2.7 million people on Instagram following get-rich-quick schemers who are talking about the becoming truly wealthy versus other accounts with 30K followers who are promoting a more frugal approach to finances as the path to wealth… it doesn’t take a genius to do the math.

It is clear as day to me that we are in the minority, the minority of the minority.

To talk about money so freely in our society is not considered normal behaviour.

So as a truly successful freelancer, I do have to show that I am good at what I do, and the only way I can do that, is to use status symbols and markers of my success (car, clothes, bag, shoes) to build that perception, and then capitalize on it.

Otherwise, 99% of the population just doesn’t get it, and unless you’re in that rarified 1% who is a money freak, you’ll just think I am a liar who isn’t as successful as she purports to be, and isn’t worth the premium rate because my packaging says otherwise.

So in conclusion – packaging matters

Perception, and optics of wealth and success particularly as a freelancer, go a LONG WAY in my business as I recently discovered.

And all this time, I thought I was being much smarter doing it the other way – driving a beater so that I wouldn’t look like I was being overpaid!! *snort*

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Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

Millionaire at 36 after getting out of $60K of student debt in 18 months, a little over a decade earlier, using TheBudgetingTool.com. Since then, I have paid my $600K home in cash (my half was $300K), my $180K casr in cash, worked 50% of my career (taking 1-2 year breaks), and quadrupled my income within 2 years of graduating, going from $65K to $260K with an average lifetime savings rate of 50%. I could retire today if I wanted, but love my work-life balance as a freelancing consultant in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). I am all about balance - between time and money, and also enjoying my money. I also post daily on Instagram @saverspender.

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10 Comments

  1. StackingCash

    “Image is everything”

    Reply
    1. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      First impressions do matter.

      Reply
  2. Amy

    I enjoyed this. I have a salaried job, but have started consulting as well. A client came from out of town to meet with me, and I was about to offer to pick him up at the airport and then changed my mind bc I drive an old beater and I thought it might influence him (we are negotiating my payment and role in his venture)

    Reply
    1. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      For the 10% of people who can see past all that, no problem — they don’t focus on what you wear, what you drive, nothing. But for the rest of the world basically who judges you on your appearance, don’t discount it.

      Reply
  3. Luna

    Out of curiosity, would you mind sharing the brand of your current car? I’ve heard you refer to it a few times on the blog and just want to complete the mental image from rusty, slightly beat-up minivan to ______ *insert nice,safe car here*.

    Reply
  4. Noob

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I wonder how this would apply outside of the workplace, like in friendships and dating (for girls). Did you notice your friends treating you any differently? Would men be intimidated by a girl who drives a more expensive car than they do?

    Reply
    1. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      Some are, some are not.

      Some guys are like: Whoa… hello there! đŸ˜€

      Other guys are not as receptive and say things like it was Daddy’s Money, etc.

      In either case, I don’t care. The car is for me, not for anyone else. My partner is very happy because he paid $0 and gets to use it (LOL).

      My true friends are the same – no one treats me any differently. If anything I am happy because now they are asking me for more money advice which makes me so excited that they care about their finances.

      Otherwise, people are just happy for me. *shrug*

      Reply
  5. Steveark

    It really depends on the job. At my company the high level people all got free cars and gasoline. Status wasn’t in driving a Mercedes, it was in having a company car as a perk. But even now, retired, and being relatively loaded, I drive older used cars. However most people think they are new because I find models people don’t recognize, in mint condition. Only I know it cost $7,000 and its a 2008 model. But it’s working for you so why not? If I wanted a Ferrari I’d go buy it with cash, wouldn’t even slightly dent my net worth, but I don’t want one.

    Reply
    1. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      I can see that — company status being that you had something for free because you were so high up.

      I also think people are mixing up (in comments online on Instagram anyway) the idea of a ‘nice car’ versus a lemon. I used to drive a dented, huge, rusted Dodge minivan. That to me, was a car that worked but was a lemon. I got little to no respect on contracts because they could literally see I had no money (even if I did have money and was aiming towards an early retirement).

      Ever since I switched to a nicer car, new, it was a completely different ballgame at work. They didn’t even balk when I doubled my rate and they’re planning on keeping me for the long-term. I have tried to raise my rate before on other projects and I was let go the next month or soon after.

      Is it due JUST to the car? No, but I also think as a young woman I have to work harder to use other markers of status show that I am successful and know what I am doing / am worth the money versus older guys (like my partner) who can drive whatever they want within reason, and look successful regardless.

      Reply

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