“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”

The quote above is one of my favorites but, like so many other quotes I’ve included in my posts, I can’t find a singular source. Trying to practice appropriate citation habits here! Even though this is one of my favorite pieces of advice, I realize it’s also easier said than done sometimes – for people of all ages.

Peer pressure is already bad enough for youth and teenagers, and the advent of social media has taken things to a whole new level for those age groups. Social media has also made it even easier for millions of adults around the globe to display their lives (but only the good parts!) for all to see.

Several months ago, I began my blog posts with one about appreciating our lives. When we don’t, we’re more easily influenced to make decisions with our money that we might later regret. Social media doesn’t help us here either.

As I’ve written before, personal finance is exactly that – personal. We’re all free to spend our money however we’d like, and I am not here to tell you how to manage your finances, but I will share a little bit about what has worked for me.

Over the past decade or so, we’ve gotten a bit more focused in our home on our path toward financial independence. During this journey, I’ve learned a lot about myself, plenty about money, and I’ve expanded my horizons when it comes to books and topics that interest me. And, to borrow from the author, Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, I’ve learned that “what got you here won’t get you there.” For many of us, to become financially independent, you have to go against the grain a little bit. You must be able to push aside the temptation to compare yourself to others or to try and keep up with the generally-accepted displays of success and achievement that are all around you.

These opportunities to stand apart come up all the time, particularly with smaller decisions, but I made a big one a couple of years ago that people still joke with me about.

Unlike New York or Chicago, where you have reliable mass transit or people primarily walk where they need to go, Atlanta is a city of drivers. In cities where cars aren’t as prevalent, people may choose to spend money on handbags or really swanky strollers, but in Atlanta – home to 8-lane interstates – it’s all about the cars. And there are nice cars everywhere.

Don’t laugh, it’s paid for

The picture above is a perfect example of deciding to do things a little differently. The car in the foreground was one I bought brand new, and couldn’t afford. If I recall, I put down very little, if any, money up front and basically financed the entire cost (in the range of $28k-$30k). And, as time went, I kept refinancing it for a longer term to get the monthly payment amount down. I don’t even want to know what I paid in interest during the years before I finally paid it off.

I bought the car about a year or so after moving to Atlanta, and boy did I baby that thing. I used to be so concerned about it getting dinged or dirty or, hell, even letting anyone else drive it. Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? And it was. But this was my image at stake here! I couldn’t roll up to a fancy restaurant (remember what the cheese dip did to me?) in a beater. Sitting in traffic, I wanted everyone to admire my car and know that I’d arrived! What a joke. It’s even hard to write this without shaking my head.

I must say, however, as time went, and I realized how nice it is to be free from monthly car payments, I vowed to make that car last as long as humanly possible. In the end, I drove it for 15 years and put 195,000 miles on it.

So, when the time came to part ways with my dear 4-wheeled friend, I took an entirely different approach. I’d come to realize that a car is just a thing and, from the start, I wasn’t going to worry about dings or dirt or scratches or whatever. By the way, did you know that your car is parked and not in use 95% of the time? Crazy, huh?

As I pondered my second-ever car purchase, I remembered a bumper sticker I’d seen as a kid on a car that you could tell had seen a lot of miles. It read, “don’t laugh, it’s paid for.” Faced with a choice, I thought about that bumper sticker time and again.

This next car was going to be used, and paid for with cash. No leather, DVD player, navigation system, or sun roof here. To make things even more entertaining, I bought a rather small car (Nissan Leaf). It’s 100% electric, and a perfect car for short commutes and errands around town. When I’m cruising the strip (ok, that doesn’t happen), the image of Chris Farley in Tommy Boy comes to mind as he dances around, singing “fat guy in a little coat.” My version, however, is my 6’5” frame in the Leaf – tall guy in a little car.

Remember, your spending choices are a direct reflection of your priorities. For me, one of those priorities is personal freedom, which will lead to a life of happiness, finding my purpose, and making a positive impact. Not spending as much on a car has contributed to that personal freedom.

I’m currently reading this translated version of Tao Te Ching, and the following passage caught my eye recently:

“When you are content to be simply yourself and don’t compare or compete, everybody will respect you.”

I know plenty of people that live simply, are passionate about a cause, or gladly dance like nobody’s watching, and they are some of the most interesting people I know. They march to their own rhythm, and I respect them immensely because they’re real, and honest with themselves. They’re not trying to be somebody they’re not. Dictate your own terms; it’s your life to live.