I drive a 1996 Dodge Dakota pickup truck. It has over 130,000 miles on it. It runs just fine. It is safe, reliable and comfortable. And it is one of the "secret" weapons that sped up my arrival at financial independence. The big deal here is that years ago I consciously made the choice to treat my vehicle as a means of transportation -- and not as a status symbol. That decision lowered my financial independence "magic number" by $150,000 and cut 8 years off my working life. Here is what I mean.
A status symbol vehicle would easily cost me $500 a month in loan payments and depreciation. If I -- like so many others do -- chose to buy such a new vehicle every 5 years so I could maintain that status symbol impression, that $500 a month would become a permanent part of my baseline budget. And funding that hard-wired expense would require an extra $150,000 in retirement savings (based on an annual 4% safe withdrawal rate to generate the $6000 a year needed to cover those costs).
Not having to bank that extra $150,000 has allowed me to retire 6 years sooner. But the financial power of my secret weapon pickup truck does not end there. Operating my Dodge Dakota is thrifty-nifty too. And cut even more time off my working life.
I do not skimp on maintenance or repairs. My truck gets the full Jiffy-Lube treatment every 3000 miles. Every system is maintained according to manufacturer specs. And once a year, a state-mandated full vehicle inspection identifies and leads to the repair of anything that may need it. My cost for all that is $1200 a year. What would that cost be for a late-model status symbol vehicle? Twice that? More?
And let's not forget the cost of insuring a vehicle. The low $5000 or so replacement cost of my Dodge Dakota lowers my premium payments compared to a late-model vehicle.
If my 1996 Dodge Dakota is only saving me $2000 a year on maintenance and insurance, then that has resulted in another $50,000 I did not have to add to my stash before declaring financial independence. And that meant another 2 years I was able to cut off my working life.
Keeping my truck has given me 8 EXTRA YEARS of financially free life. And that is priceless.
(There are counterarguments, of course: fuel efficiency, safety and reliability. And we will examine all in an upcoming post.)