How Many Cars Will I Own?

There are very different ways of interpreting that question. 

I was rereading the book Your Money Or Your Life recently, and two of its passages brought me back to my mid-twenties:

Other people’s expectations don’t make you buy stuff. TV does not make you buy stuff. Your thoughts make you buy stuff. Watch those suckers. They’re dangerous to your pocketbook—and to a lot more.
— p. 194
‘Quality of life’ often goes down as “’standard of living’ goes up. There is a peak to the Fulfillment Curve—spending more after you’ve reached the peak will bring less fulfillment.
— p. 300
The rationale for buying every five years was in part based on the fact that it had been drilled into me that cars are reliable until the five-year-mark or so and that it was better to replace it for a new one than to face expensive repairs. And with car loans averaging 4.5 years or so in the 1990s*, it seemed obvious to me that I’d have enough for somewhat of a downpayment before buying the next one. (Yes, that was the extent of my financial savviness. That and paying loans off a little early. The true cost of depreciation hadn’t sunk in yet.)

Back then, I was thinking of how many times I’d get the opportunity to experience that “new car smell” and still be young enough to really enjoy a high-performance car. Given I’d been brought up with the understanding that we should buy a car every five years or so and cars of increasing luxury as our expanding means permit, I had every expectation that I’d own a car about every five years (see right for more on my previous thinking).

How Many Cars?

Here's what the calculation looked like for me in my early twenties:

(70 years old -20 years old)/5 years of ownership = 10 cars

I’d only own 10 cars in my lifetime, a baker’s dozen if I was lucky.

My then-boyfriend (now Mr. F2P) owned a:

  • Black Isuzu pickup truck he’d bought used from his brother and an
  • Old Yamaha motorcycle

Thus far, I’d owned a:

  • Blue Geo Metro and a
  • Black Ninja 250 motorcycle

and still owned a 

  • Smoking' Joe CBR600F3 motorcycle and a
  • Silver Honda Civic coupe sport. 
During this time, my husband bought a Dodge diesel long box truck, which he bought used and sold after five years of ownership when he realized he didn’t need such a large and expensive vehicle anymore. He was much smarter with money than I was.

And, I was well on my way to owning a Honda Pilot, which we bought without negotiating ( which happened at around the apex of my stupidity). It was the worst car I’ve ever bought and regretted it for the—you guessed it—five years I drove it.

Why the Honda Pilot?

With my swanky new job in Corporate Canada, I felt we needed to drive a status car (black, of course) and it was the first of only 10 cars in my lifetime. I had to make the purchase count!

That was an expensive decision. And, not having researched the purchase properly, it was the wrong car for us…for five years.

My Thinking Was Distorted

The word “only” was guiding my car purchasing decisions. My thoughts revolved around limitations, scarcity, want versus need. I felt that if I’d only own 10 cars in total, they’d better be the best I can afford, because there would be so few.

I also had bizarre thoughts around the potential to make enough money to own two at a time: a status car and a fun car (like the car/motorcycle combo I maintained for a while).


And this type of thinking wasn’t relegated to car purchases. I was thinking about homes, vacations, and all sort of other “stuff”. I’d even thought of how quickly I could use up things in order to get new things so that I could experience “new” as often as possible. Is it any surprise that, with this type of thinking being so prevalent, throwaway fashion is on the rise?

The book YMOYL was right. As my standard of living increased, I got lost in thoughts of “stuff” and my quality of life did go down. Dramatically. 

That’s what happens when thoughts of how many cars I’ll own in my lifetime replaces wondering about how many quality relationships I’ll have, how many great unexpected experiences I’ll encounter or how many moments of joy I’ll get to share with those I care about most. 

I got lost in the idea of accumulation, which left my head in a perpetual state of future thinking—which makes me wonder: how I could really appreciate what I had in the present?

I didn’t pay attention to what mattered and lost part of myself in the process.

Luckily, it didn’t last long.

And My Quality of Life Suffered as a Result

Misery is a great friend when it chooses to give you a wakeup call. We sold the SUV and I replaced it with alternate modes of transportation to get to work (including my feet, my bike and public transportation) and I started to care less about the newest “status bling” of choice and more about what freedom could afford us. 

We did get another vehicle, eventually. In November 2011, we bought a 2009 Rav4 Sport for about $21K CDN.

I still ask the same question:

“How many cars will I own?”

But now I ask it wondering how long this set of wheels will last as opposed to how soon can we trade it in for a new toy.

We're now in our sixth year of ownership of this ride and we’re looking forward to another five years with her, if not more.

How quickly life changes when the meaning of “how many” is flipped on its head.

*With car loans now up to 8 years in duration, which has driven the average loan duration to over 5.5 years for new cars AND with an incredible consumer appetite for that elusive new car smell, is it any surprise that so many of us are driving around in rides loaded with negative-equity? Why is this insane behaviour becoming so common? Because dealerships are our new neighbourhood lender of choice. Want to get a discount for paying cash? You might be out of luck, even when buying used!

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