Each day, millions of Americans arise before the crack of dawn. They begin thinking about the day’s tasks and cultivate lengthy to-do lists while sipping their first cup of coffee. Moments later, they begin their solo treks to work behind the wheels of 5,000 pound leather-clad SUVs with heated bucket seats; this begins the all-too-common trade of time and money for unnecessary, inefficient luxury.
It is sadly ironic that many of us search for efficiency in countless places – automatic bill pay, dishwashers, DVRs, and online shopping, to name a few – yet reject many of the fundamental notions of efficiency under the disguise of luxury. Unnecessary SUV ownership is a prime example.
The rationalizations for owning massive vehicles are plentiful and predictable. We convince ourselves that we “need” the luxury of a large vehicle in our lives for safety reasons. Some cite their recreational pursuits or profession as the reason for their SUV ownership. Others “bought the SUV for the kids.” Those who are honest with themselves may admit that they sought the feeling of prestige inherent in driving an expensive vehicle.
Surely I’ve ruffled a few feathers thus far, which is both intentional and revealing: Americans are very defensive about their pet luxuries. I’ll admit that I am defensive about some of my own inefficient luxury expenses (dining out, for example). These kinds of wasteful luxuries are akin to subtle body odor: almost everyone notices it is a problem, but we don’t speak up because the offender is blind to their own scent. It is simply easier to remain quiet.
Luxury is ironic. Over time, what was once something that we cherished and appreciated becomes unnoticed, commonplace, and ordinary. We begin taking it for granted, it becomes normal, and the thrill and resulting happiness of the luxury wears off.
To recap, many Americans drive around inefficiently in large sport utility vehicles, which are designed to efficiently transport large numbers of people, because they believe that this luxury will make them happier. The happiness is temporary, which leads to disappointment. And disappointment leads to more spending in search of lasting happiness.
Why do we continue to this maddening cycle? Why won’t we learn?
There are likely all sorts psychological, mumbo jumbo-ish explanations for the unnecessary SUV phenomenon. Perhaps scientific explanations are more fitting; after all, the notion of contentment doesn’t mix well with survival of the fittest. I personally feel there is a simple explanation:
We have become better at rationalization than reasoning.
Reason states that my driving habits and adherence to standard safety protocol is much more likely to keep my family safe during any type of commute, yet rationalization argues that a larger vehicle provides additional safety. Reason argues that SUVs are only necessary for off-road adventures. It also points out that a small utility trailer can support transportation of recreational vehicles at a fraction of the cost of an SUV. Yet rationalization argues that it’s just easier to own an SUV. Reason notes that generations of children survived without SUVs. Rationalization allows us to satisfy our own selfish urges under the guise of sacrificing for our children.
Your Unnecessary SUV Has Taken the Place of Other Necessities
The bigger problem, of course, is not the SUV, or even its outrageous cost. The problem is that when rationalization replaced reasoning, lifestyle concerns replaced responsible financial management. The pursuit of luxury replaced the proclivity to practice restraint.
I truly believe that if most Americans were polled and asked to choose between a new luxury SUV in the driveway every 48 months or a stable retirement with a multi-million dollar nest egg to live on, most people would choose the latter. Yet our actions irrationally put us on the former path. Ironically, our actions in this regard do not actually align with what we value the most.
To put it most simply: We really want B more than we want A, but A is easier to attain and we can have it right now, so we choose it.
This phenomenon is present everywhere. I experienced it myself this afternoon when I indulged in one of my wife’s fresh-baked Christmas cookies. In that moment, immediate gratification outweighed my desire to loose a few pounds. Much in the same manner, unnecessary SUV ownership is like a boat anchor which ensures the owner will remain drowning in debt or at best treading water. In all but the most rare circumstances, most drivers would be wise to embrace efficiency when choosing a vehicle in order to live the best possible life both today and in the future.
What vehicle do you drive? If you drive an SUV, do the costs associated with its operation represent more than 10% of your annual spending?