I STEPPED TO THE podium for the first time in more than three years. My presentation skills were perhaps a bit rusty, but I jumped at the opportunity earlier this month to speak at my former employer’s annual symposium. It felt great to see so many familiar and friendly faces, including old teammates, workplace acquaintances and former clients. It was also no big secret that I was curious about an open position at the company.
I took time to chat with a variety of folks and came away with a continued favorable view of my old employer, an energy trading firm. Will I return to the office? That remains unknown. For now, I’m continuing with my own financial writing, and also helping with blogging projects for financial advisors and larger investment companies.
The more time goes on, though, the more I miss being around smart and fun people at work. Sure, I could keep my head down and eyes glued to dual monitors in my home office, but those few days at the symposium reaffirmed that work is about more than just making money. Collaborating with others, and even non-work banter, go a long way toward making the Monday-to-Friday work routine fulfilling.
Not to throw shade on my current writing clients—whom I adore—but periodic work, with the occasional Zoom or phone call thrown in, just isn’t the same. As much as I despise the notion of having to buy a car and commute, it might be the eventual outcome of my strange career journey.
And have you seen the prices of used cars lately? After a dip during the back half of 2022, the Manheim Used Vehicle Value Index rebounded from January through mid-March. I’ve perused Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist for inexpensive small cars, like the 2008 Toyota Yaris I purchased seven years ago for $4,200. Today, it appears a similar set of wheels would set me back around $8,000.
Readers familiar with my financial situation would rightly scoff at price being a hurdle. Maybe the bigger issue is the psychological impact of buying a car. It means I’m stepping away from freelance writing—working on my own terms—and returning to the nine-to-five grind.
It’s revealing that I imagine my life more fulfilling if I had a fulltime job. After all, the FIRE—financial independence, retire early—movement promotes financial independence as the freedom to call your own shots. But after years of tracking my net worth, eyeing the day I’d achieve “FI,” it hit me that amassing a big pile of money doesn’t guarantee happiness.
Meanwhile, the twice-a-day, 25-mile, 50-minute commute might offer an upside: mentally checking in and checking out. Working from home, and always monitoring markets, investments, Twitter and email, offers little in the way of boundaries. Looking back to the days when I’d drive to and from the office, I would listen to a podcast or veg with some country music on the radio, relaxing before the workday and mentally exiting after it’s done.
The upshot: I’ve been eyeing a no-frills car like a Ford Fiesta, Kia Rio, Nissan Versa or Toyota Yaris. I find there’s still a “Japanese premium” for Toyotas and Hondas, so maybe I’ll bid for a Fiesta. Another option is to go the lazy—and more costly—route of buying on Carvana. I estimate that would cost a few grand more than buying privately. While I’ve had no issues with the four vehicles I’ve purchased privately, I feel I’m due for a lemon. That would be frustrating since my time is more valuable today than it was when I was in my 20s.
Inertia and status quo bias are very real for me right now. Writing is going well financially, and pulling the trigger to return to the workplace, buy a car and resume commuting are big mental leaps. I’m confident that, once I’m in the groove again at the office, I’d be happy that I went through it all. On the other hand, maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. I haven’t yet been offered the position or even asked to come in for an interview.
The speaking engagement several weeks ago, along with the fun meals with old colleagues, reminded me that it matters a ton who you work with. What about buying a basic and boring used car? That’s more of a symbolic step than a money matter. But it would feel like a win if those vehicle prices retreated a bit. The Clark Howard in me always wants to score a good deal.
Mike Zaccardi is a freelance writer for financial advisors and investment firms. He’s a CFA® charterholder and Chartered Market Technician®, and has passed the coursework for the Certified Financial Planner program. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeZaccardi, connect with him via LinkedIn, email him at MikeCZaccardi@gmail.com and check out his earlier articles.
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For what it’s worth, I’ve always bought used cars and eventually I settled on not getting them checked out by mechanics. Why? Because every used car has some deferred maintenance and if it isn’t obvious on inspection, it might well not be obvious on further inspection. I recognize I am running that risk and am comfortable with it. I will certainly encounter more lemons! Instead I just factor that approximate risk into my buying decisions.
I had that exact commute for 17 years—25 miles each way. I was fortunate to have a job opportunity in the town where I live open up. It was four miles from where I lived then and two miles from where I live now. What a game changer. I didn’t realize how much that commute took out of me until I stopped doing it and all of a sudden was actually cooking dinner, exercising, etc.
I was young (31) when I started doing it and 48 when I changed jobs. I could never do it now. That would be a deal breaker for me. Will be interested to see what you end up doing.
I bought a 2018 Kia Rio EX 5 door hatchback new in December 2018. I like a car with harder suspension so driving the Kia suits me well and the Kia meets my automotive needs when paired with the 17 year old van my wife is the primary driver of.
A few months after purchase I was driving my Kia on the interstate and a driver cut in front of me and then hit his breaks. Before I could brake the Kia’s sensor engaged the automatic braking likely saving a collision. I encourage that when you to decide to buy a vehicle, new or used, to opt for one with up to date safety features.
You are far better at analysis than I am , but I have owned two Fords (Expedition and Windstar), a Jeep Cherokee , and several Toyotas and Hondas. All were bought new. The American cars had more repairs , were less reliable and didn’t last ten years. My current car, a 2008 Toyota Avalon has had only two repairs and I will drive it for as long as I can . We had a Honda Pilot with 250k miles and we only replaced it because we were tired of it. Bought another Pilot.
Thanks, Paula. I generally liked my Civic and Yaris that I once owned. Yaris is my preferred car since it’s so zippy!
When I look back on my former career, it is with rose colored glasses. I tend to emphasize the positive and downplay the negative. Perhaps you don’t have the bias that I do. Good luck with your decision.
For sure. I know my time at the energy company, even in the role I liked best, was not always a breezy pleasure. I just notice my mental state going downhill since leaving the office. I have another opportunity brewing that’s hybrid (more investment related) which could be good too. A good learning experience is that a lifestyle in retirement must include fun stuff (hence ‘lean’ fire seems rough).
I agree. I retired almost 3 years ago at age 67. I recently spoke to a former co-worker who was catching me up on people and in doing so he reminded me of all the frustrations of working with a software company that ignored the employees’ suggestions for improvements. I miss the people, I don’t miss the work.
Right. But I also notice that people generally seem to talk about their ills of work rather than the good aspects of it. Something cathartic about venting perhaps.
Oh. I drive a 2011 Subaru Forester that I purchased new. I won’t say repairs have been inexpensive, but it has always started and gotten me to where I needed to be. I feel safe when I’m driving that car.
First, I love the Clark Howard reference at the end. I don’t miss any of his podcasts.
Second, in response to this part of the article:
You must know that Clark would tell you (and often tells people on his show) that you should always get a used car checked out by a good mechanic of your choosing before purchasing the vehicle. A seller won’t let you do that? Don’t walk; run away from the deal.
That should prevent most issues, and is very much worth the few hundred extra dollars for piece of mind.
Good point, Nate!