I would like to share a short tidbit from my new book, Stop Acting Rich. You can read more in Chapter 7, The Road to Happiness.
I admire people who drive Buicks. They show wisdom in buying a car that ranks high in both quality and value. Plus, according to Automotive News, people who trade in Buicks are the least likely to be “upside down” (owe more on the trade in than the vehicle is worth). About one in three (33.6 percent) of all new car buyers in the United States is upside down. Only 13.1 percent of those trading in Buicks were found to be upside down. Contrast this with those who traded in Mitsubishis where 56.1 percent were in this unenviable category.
I also have an affinity for those who own Buicks because these people seem to me to be among the least pretentious among all of millionaires who drive motor vehicles. They typically understate their wealth via the middle-of-the road brands they select. They understate even more than Toyota millionaires. From suits to shoes, from watches to vodka, as well as the stores they patronize, Buick drivers who are wealthy are anything but flashy.
After looking over all the correlates of Buick ownership, I recalled a personal experience that brought home what the data show: those who have a strong need to display high status may not have a lot of interest in associating with Buick types. For several weeks, I drove a Buick, my father-in-law’s. During this time, my family was in the process of building a house. The weekend before ground was to be broken we visited (via the Buick) the lot to make plans for our future in the neighborhood. One of our new neighbors, Buff, introduced himself, and we chatted for a few minutes. Buff then asked us for our current address and telephone number, “just to keep in touch.”
Later that weekend, we received a telephone call from another new neighbor, Dell, who introduced himself as the “Chairman” of the Architectural Review Committee in the neighborhood. He also informed us that we could not break ground until the plans had been approved.
After looking over our plans and the Buick in his driveway, Dell made the comment that “these are not custom plans.” He said that most of the homes in the neighborhood were custom homes. Later, I discovered that the existence of an “Architectural Review Committee” and the claim that most homes were “custom” was so much baloney, but at the time I was concerned if not offended. I assured Dell that our builder was outstanding and that he had suggested using these stock plans. I paid $175 for seven copies of W.D. Farmer Company’s “Stock Plan #2727-A.” Our builder was familiar with the house because he had built it dozen times and had worked out all the problems. As Dell reviewed our plans, he spotted something else which disturbed him. “What! No Jacuz? I don’t see where you are going to put your Jacuzzi,” said Dell. I informed him that we didn’t want a Jacuzzi; we would not use it, and we would prefer to spend the money to help fund a 40-year roof and 44,000 bricks. Finally, Dell gave the “official” approval, but we could tell he was not particularly happy about doing so.
What was this all about? I have a theory that Buff (who drove an entry level leased Porsche) panicked when he saw us drive up to the lot in a green, nondescript Buick. (It was also missing its hubcaps, but that’s another story.)
We never did become close friends with Buff, though when my book, The Millionaire Next Door, made The New York Times’ Bestseller List, Buff’s wife called up and wanted to host a book signing party at her house! It is amazing what a little success can do. It can even transform the Buick-based opinion once held by an aspirational.