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Our Shared Ongoing Battle To Not Buy A Tesla

Like you, I am pretty much resigned to the fact that I’m going to have to buy a Tesla at some point.

I can tell because I have read every last scrap of Tesla news and inadvertently memorized every last technical detail about the company and their cars and energy storage systems that has ever been printed or YouTubed. Since about 2012. When this happens to me for any product, whether it’s a new laptop or a different vehicle  or a house in a certain neighborhood, I usually end up buying it.

The purchase tends to happen when the list of justifications builds up to a tipping point where it starts to seem sensible. For the Tesla, these justifications are things like:

  • “I strongly support the company and its mission. Unlike almost any other big company on Earth, Tesla exists primarily to help out the human race. Surely worth a few of my spare bucks, right?”
  • “I can afford to buy it in cash without having to go back to work or anything extreme like that.”
  • “It’s the best car AND the best piece of technology in the world, and at least ten years ahead of the next best. Shouldn’t a lifelong tech expert like myself be taking a peek at the future?”
  • “It would be a lower-pollution way to replace some of my air travel, as the only car that can drive itself most of the time on long highway trips. PLUS, imagine the road trips I could take with my son! Mammoth Caves National Park! Lifetime Memories just like I have with my own Dad!”
  • “They are reasonably priced these days at “only” about $45k for a new Model 3 and even lower for a used Model S.”

In the past, my mind has made up similar justifications for other purchases like, “this lovely camera will help you create more engaging pictures for the blog.”, “this drywall hoist will save you a lot of time”, “you will make a profit by owning this high-end new laptop because it will encourage you to write more.”

And it’s not just me. As I’ve talked to more and more people about this, I find that most of us have some sort of Purchase Justification Machine running in the background of our minds. The PJM’s effects can range from very useful, like a carpenter buying a nailgun which will be used every day to make money, to completely disastrous, like the office worker who buys a $40,000 8-passenger Honda Pilot for his 12,000 annual miles of mostly empty driving on smooth roads, because “I need to make sure I can get to work in the winter, too.”

I like to fancy my own PJM as being at least a bit better than average, after all I have always maintained a slightly-less-ridiculous level of spending than the average middle class worker. Most of the things it has talked me into buying have indeed been things like nailguns or reasonably good quality clothing that just happens to be from Costco or the thrift shop.

Yes, there was once a brand-new $13,000* Honda VFR800 sport motorbike which destroys a lot of my credibility, but that was in 2001 long before Mr. Money Mustache was born.

But I can TELL that it is really grasping at straws when it tries to justify that Tesla. And that’s why I thankfully still don’t have a Tesla.

The PJM has done its work well, but I try to stay ahead of it by tossing in my own list of objections, like throwing gnarly stumps into a wood chipping machine to slow it down.

  • “You don’t even have anywhere to drive that Tesla, dude! If you had a mandatory 20-mile commute and absolutely could not move closer to your six-figure job, that would be one thing. But you’re retired and you bike everywhere, so a car is only for camping and hiking trips. Wait until you are further along in the child-raising project and have more free time to take off for month-long road trips.”
  • “You can’t just leave a $40,000 car out in the searing Colorado sun to bake and fade and collect birdshit, but you also don’t want to sacrifice an entire bay of your tidy workshop garage for a car. So you need to at least wait until you build that master bedroom deck which doubles as a carport, right? So you’d better get out the post-hole digger before you sign into the Tesla Design Studio.”
  • “No matter how much you use that car, it will always cost more per mile than cross country air travel even with full carbon offsets. So don’t get lured in by the nearly-free nature of electric car charging.”
  • “Make sure you try it before you buy it. Rent a Tesla from Turo or from a friend and try your first road trip. If you still crave one after that first thrill wears off, then we can talk.”

See what’s happening here? In order to keep ahead of the relentless efficiency of my Purchase Justification Machine, I just need to throw up nice, rational roadblocks to slow it down.

But the reason this is so effective is that I’m not just flat-out denying myself that Tesla. It’s pretty hard to tell yourself that NO, you can never have what you want. Instead, I’m just telling myself what things need to happen first, before clicking “buy” on the Tesla website.

And if these things are healthy, happy things (raising my son, getting other labor-intensive projects done with my own hands, and planning a great future series of camping and roadtrips), I divert my attention into living a good life right now, instead of doing the easy thing which is just buying myself another treat.

And the further I can delay this or any purchase, the longer my money can remain productively invested in stocks, and the more it prevents my PJM from locking its greedy crosshairs onto the next little lifestyle “upgrade” that it will find.

But this trick is not just for jaw-dropping electric sports cars. You can use it almost anywhere in your own life.

Kicking the Kitchen Down the Road

A friend of mine loves to cook, and has been pining for a kitchen upgrade for many years to make this activity more enjoyable. And I can’t blame him – his kitchen is indeed dated, as is the rest of the house. But he’s also in debt and not climbing out very quickly. And too busy to do the kitchen upgrade work himself, because work and kids suck up all his time. Should he allow himself to upgrade this kitchen?

Yes!

BUT only after meeting a carefully considered list of conditions:

  • Quit Cable TV, Netflix, Hulu, Facebook, Twitter, video games, and other time drains. Because getting three hours of life back each day will give you more time to address other shortages in life.
  • Make sure you’re getting in at least an hour of outdoor walking and/or cycling every day. Plus, regular weight training. The joy of a new kitchen is nothing compared to the benefits of getting your heart, muscles and mind in better shape.
  • Use another hour of each day for cleaning, organizing and optimizing the house you already have. Is every drawer in the kitchen well-organized? Could you get more space by hanging up the pots and pans? Adding one of those large but simple heavy duty rolling islands with butcherblock top from Costco? What about just a super nice faucet for 80 bucks and a couple of nice track lights?**
  • How about the rest of the house? Are  the closets well-organized with optimal shelving? Is the garage spotless? Carpets DIY steam cleaned and rooms patched and painted nicely? Gardens and lawn tidy and peaceful?
  • How about the finances? Have you checked around for lower mortgage rates, home and car insurance, mobile phone plans, and canceled any unused subscriptions? Ask your friends what rates they are paying for all these things, switch to the best option, and you cut your bills by $500 per month, which will add up to pay for a kitchen pretty quickly.

See, instead of being constantly depressed because it will be years until you can afford that kitchen, you use it as a trigger to get busy and improve your entire life right now. Which gives you the feelings of happiness and control that were making you crave that kitchen in the first place. Or that Tesla.

And on that note, I am going to get out there and start measuring the post locations for my new deck.

Epilogue!

The very day after I published this, I went down to visit a friend in Broomfield to chat and borrow some of his spare video gear (to help me delay purchasing my own, of course!)

But what should I find in his driveway, but a BRAND NEW Tesla model 3, long range all wheel drive in the same glowing red color shown above, which he had just picked up the day before.

I gave him the whole interview on why he bought it, because I know he doesn’t commute to work and has no need for a fancy car either.

They were the same reasons that I had listed above – he’s mostly curious about the future of technology, wanted to support it, and knows that Tesla is it. If it weren’t for Tesla’s existence, he would be perfectly content with a 15-year-old Honda. This company is really pulling out a unique set of buyers that no other car company could ever entice.

So we took it for a test drive. My diagnosis: very similar to the Nissan Leaf in interior size and tight, silent driving feel for standard urban driving – except much more artistic inside and out, and so fast that you literally start to lose consciousness and get dizzy under full acceleration. Kinda silly, but the very existence of cars is silly so you might as well embrace it.

Oh! And unlike the Leaf, when you fold down the rear seats and climb inside, it is plenty big and flat to sleep two people, which makes it a passable road trip mini-camper, even without a proper hatchback.


In the Comments: what is YOUR Purchase Justification Machine trying to make you buy? Have you already bought the Model 3 or are you still milking the 2010 Prius for all it’s worth? How long are you going to push your current smartphone until you allow yourself to replace it? Sharing your battles will give others the strength to keep their own procrastination game strong.


 

* I forked over $10,000 of my hard-earned cash as a 26-year-old kid in the year 2001, which is about $14,000 if you adjust it for inflation to 2019. But motor vehicles prices have risen slower than general inflation over recent decades, so I split the difference a bit here. But any way you slice it, this was a foolish purchase on my part!

** I linked to those because I have been using that particular track light everywhere in recent years – headquarters, home, and other projects. Way nicer quality/style than the options at Home Depot despite lower price. These LED bulbs are great for it as well.

  • Robert T. Smith June 20, 2019, 12:43 pm

    Well on my way to FI…but after having my mom pass away after a 3 day battle with Pancreatic Cancer (thanks docs for just telling her it was a hernia!), I decided it’s not always worth waiting for things you want now (financial goals be damned). My dad had a ton of plans for him and her to do in another year when they were both retired and now those go unrealized. So I just pulled the trigger on a lightly used Camaro ZL1 1LE….not fuel efficient but will be fun as hell!

    Reply
  • Donovan Walker June 20, 2019, 3:31 pm

    I took delivery of mine not a week before you posted this article. I’d held off for what felt like a very long time, citing *exactly* your arguments above… and then I got a job that required commuting 30+ miles each way. Before that most of my getting around was by bicycle, with a small SUV for hauling things when the need arose or taking the occasional out of town trip.

    60miles/day by bicycle wasn’t going to happen, and I felt like a terrible person for getting in my gas powered car every morning.

    My decision came after several months of driving. I realized that Environmental Responsibility is more real, and more important than Financial Responsibility. My finances are such that I can afford to be more responsible (my home was already wind powered yay!). I started buying carbon credits when I fly, but buying carbon credits is a lot like using paper napkins and recyclable utensils, something you do when there are no other options. (titanium sporks and handkerchiefs are FTW!)

    An added benefit is that I have a tactile conversation starter *that people are curious about* for discussing environmentalism, and that it’s both urgent, and can be fun.

    P.S. Bicycles are still better!

    Reply
  • Jennifer June 22, 2019, 6:51 pm

    I just LOVED this thread because I have been a Tesla FANATIC for years now. My daughter lives in Austin, TX right by a Tesla dealer – I pass it every time I go to visit. I have test driven an S and I want one. So bad. But when my rational brain starts to recover I realize that – like others have mentioned – I don’t really want a vehicle that sucks tons of worry-energy out of me. Worried about dings. Worried about thieves. Worried about lousy phone-watching drivers. I drive a 2009 Hyundai Santa Fe and I will until I hit 200k at least.

    Reply
  • Dave June 25, 2019, 1:03 am

    Hey MMM,

    Totally agree that NOT buying a car is better than buying a Tesla. Also totally agree that not buying a Tesla is insanely difficult given the company’s mission and awesome tech.

    My personal compromise? Buy Tesla stock (no, I’m in no way affiliated with them or any financial company. I’m a university professor).

    Obviously this has to be a small part of the portfolio (~1% in my case), but this gives the feeling that you’re contributing to the Musk agenda.

    Reply
  • Jelle Derckx June 25, 2019, 2:10 am

    Hello all,

    Recently I have studied financial independence and have also started investing. I do have some concerns. If we continue like this (fossil mode, chemical agriculture, etc.) then the earth will warm up at a – just like now – fast pace and that will have many consequences (floods, drought, extreme weather conditions) with sky-high costs. If you are in the global index funds with this scenario, your value will fall. This will crystallize over the next 20-30 years and therefore affects our generation.

    The good news is that if we make a transition to green energy, the economy can actually flourish through more jobs (agro-ecology) and gains on these forms of green and clean energy.

    My question is: how do we proactively anticipate these developments as investors?

    Reply
    • Dansplain July 31, 2019, 9:15 am

      You would invest in some nice, low-cost total market index funds so that as those new green companies take spots on the indexes, you get to reap the rewards!

      Reply
  • David July 9, 2019, 1:47 pm

    I think a used BMW i3 is even better than the Tesla Model 3. One of those, with only 17,000 miles on it can be easily picked up at a BMW dealer for $22,000 or less. It is much more cool inside. Not as fast but still fast. Feels like The Jetsons.

    Reply
  • Jay McConnell July 17, 2019, 11:08 am

    1 year old Escalade ESV, iPhone XR, and pay contractor to remodel kitchen.

    Whoa. I think I’ll just get the NUVO tracklights, and reorganize a kitchen cabinet instead! Thank you, MMM!

    Reply
  • Wai Gor Blog August 9, 2019, 9:34 pm

    In Hong Kong, Tesla is a great brand, every driver wants it. It is hard to afford car parking fees (working place and home), so I have no idea to purchase a car.

    Reply
  • Lance Keckritz August 14, 2019, 5:57 pm

    I will get an electric truck someday, perhaps a Tesla if available. I have 70k miles on my 2010 Nissan Frontier, so I am not budging on anything until its done paying dividends.

    My wife and I just finished paying her student/car loans off ($97k in a little less than 3 years) to be debt free (we rent due to military move every 3 years). So, we are so excited about the future. We are going to stash about $4k/month in cash now and when I retire from the military in about 8-10 years, should be good for buying a house, our first house.

    Thank you for your help. I have been reading your work for a few years now and I know it has helped. I have shared your knowledge with others who have found it refreshing as well.

    Reply
  • Heather August 18, 2019, 2:29 pm

    My PJM has been hankering for a cargo bike (either a longtail like an Xtracycle, or a bucket bike like Madsen), for several years. I realized I mostly dream of being able to go further afield with the kids, so instead of clicking Order, I’ve been using our bike trailer for groceries and kid hauling, enjoying watching our young kids grow into bike-riding pros in their own right by age 4, and extending our adventure radius by taking our bikes on the train.

    Reply
  • David wolf August 27, 2019, 5:17 am

    I bought a salvaged model S and rebuilt. It. The result was the same. Amazing vehicle for 35% less cost than a clean title. It was a lot of work, but I enjoyed it so much I’m doing it again with a 2015 model s 75D with. 20k miles on it. For 25k all in

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache August 30, 2019, 10:13 am

      Nice find, David!

      What did you have to do to restore that crashed Tesla?

      Reply
  • Daniel Winegarden August 27, 2019, 5:55 am

    Sure, you publish this a month after we purchased a used second generation Chevy Volt. The perfect EV for rural flyover country where we live with thin to non-existent EV charging infrastructure. It replaced a 2006 minivan with 240k miles at the point of expensive regards or replace. I still drive enough commuting miles that we can already see the impact on cash flow of using kWhs instead of gallons. So far feel good about our PJM. The EV was a long deferred goal, bought used, for cash, and justified as much less expensive than our ideal Tesla or Rivian. The Volt has enough driver-assistive technology to see self-driving just over the horizon.

    Reply
  • Benjamin Clark August 27, 2019, 1:48 pm

    Mr. M,
    I hope this has not already been touched on. But if you want one so bad have you considered buying a wrecked Tesla and using all your DIY knowledge and skills to fix it? I know there are lots of forums on how this can be the wrong way to go because of the nature of the car but if you found the right car that was without a damage frame and internals where still intake, maybe mostly cosmetic damage and was devalued enough that would justify you paying for parts and Tesla’s fees for software fixes. Just curious

    Reply
  • Pat OBryan August 28, 2019, 7:09 am

    If your Mammoth Cave trip comes to fruition you have a host in Ky.

    Reply
  • Ol September 3, 2019, 3:05 pm

    Yep want one of course. But it’s a stretch. After three months of delaying just bought the Withings high end scales that measures heart and health. Discounted 20% and free delivery :) ahhhh

    Reply

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