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3 Biggest Advantages of My (Non) Doctor Car

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As it relates to personal finance, the “doctor car” is a topic sure to elicit strong reactions. Personally, I don’t have a flashy, expensive doctor car. I have a normal, boring car that is driven by a doctor. In fact, my car is anything but the typical doctor car. 

When I graduated fellowship, despite my growing personal financial knowledge at that point in time, I still was pretty beholden to the idea that I had to spend to “look” like a plastic surgeon. I also had seen previous graduates buy expensive cars as a reward for their delayed gratification. So I planned to do the same. I budgeted ~$1,000/month for a luxury car lease.

But then at some point, I remembered that I am not a car person. I don’t really care what I drive as long as it gets me from point A to point B. I realized that I didn’t have to do what was typical — I could do what was personal. And so I asked myself: Why would I spend $1,000/month on a car when I wouldn’t actually derive that amount of joy from the purchase? 

After this revelation, I bought a used 2011 Toyota Avalon in great shape for $4,000. And since then, my wife Selenid and I have used the $1,000/month that we saved to either buy something that does bring us a commensurate amount of joy or to accelerate our paths to financial freedom via saving and investing. It’s now been about three years. Below, I offer the three biggest advantages that this doctor car decision brings:

1) I don’t care what happens to my non-doctor car.

I mean, I do care. But not as much as if I was paying $1,000/month for it.

Let me explain. I don’t pretend to be a good driver. I’m not bad. But I’m not good either. 

Interestingly, studies show if you ask people if they are a good or bad driver, over 80% will say they are better than the 50th percentile. This is obviously impossible, and just shows that we are bad at self-assessment in general. Fortunately, I myself am under no (flattering) misconceptions about my driving.

It’s not like I get in crashes or something. The car hasn’t been in any accidents. But I have dinged it up a bit. My garage is small, which means I have: nicked the sides of the car innumerable times; knocked off part of my driver’s side mirror apparatus; had my bumper cover fall off; and gotten plenty of scratches.

I’m not proud of this. But I’d be really angry if this stuff happened to a luxury car costing a ton of money — which mine didn’t. 

Plus, the car itself runs fine. It’s purring like a kitten. It just doesn’t look pretty.

Now, I know there are readers who would be mortified by the idea of driving around in such a car. As a profession, doctors are often worried about how we are perceived and if we are keeping up with the Joneses. But I’ve noticed that my colleagues — and most importantly, my patients — don’t really seem to care. 

It takes active mindset work to get rid of the nagging inner critic, yes. Still, I believe the financial rewards are worth it.

2) No one would steal my non-doctor car.

This sounds silly. But it actually does give me some peace of mind.

It’s not like I’m living or hanging out in unsafe areas. But stuff happens. Cars get broken into. I honestly don’t even worry about that. For quick trips into the store, for example, I don’t even lock the door. 

3) My non-doctor car has no payments.

Of all the advantages of my non-doctor car, this is the one that will most likely resonate with other people.

Because my car has no payments on it. My lease. No loan. I bought it outright. Like I mentioned above, that means that Selenid and I can use the $1,000/month that we would have used for a lease payment to either buy something that does bring us a commensurate amount of joy or to accelerate our paths to financial freedom via saving and investing.

Over three years, that totals $36,000. That’s nearly enough to buy a rental property that has a cashflow of >15%. Or it becomes nearly $100,000 by investing in a broad, low cost index fund for 20 years with presumed 5% after-tax, after-inflation returns. Or it’s $36,000 worth of intentional purchases that bring you an equal or greater joy.

Any way you slice it, that’s powerful.

And that’s what I remember when I see a fancy car being driven around. Maybe it’s paid off by the owner. But data suggest that it is not.

Now, not everyone may agree with my approach. I have a former co-resident who loves cars, and who believes that having a “doctor car” is totally worth it. And here is my rebuttal to that: Yes! Buying a doctor car is awesome — if it is intentional, and not just something you do out of social pressure. If you love cars and a luxury car fits in your budget, still allows you to reach your financial goals, and will bring you a joy greater than the price tag, then buy it! (Same goes for any purchase, whether it costs $1 or $1,000,000. That’s just intentional spending.)

In sum, I don’t advocate buying a “hooptie” like mine per se — rather, I urge people to think more deliberately about their cars, and to realize that you don’t have to drive a “doctor car” to be a respected doctor.

Do you have a "doctor car"? Why or why not? Share in the comments!

Jordan Frey, MD is a plastic surgeon in Buffalo, NY at Erie County Medical Center and the University of Buffalo. His clinical focus is on breast reconstruction and complex microsurgery. He is also the founder of The Prudent Plastic Surgeon, one of the fastest growing finance blogs. There, he shares his journey to financial well-being with a goal of helping all physicians reach financial freedom, practicing on their own terms.

Image by Malte Mueller / GettyImages

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