How Much Car Can You Afford? – Podcast #218

“Average Joe” is frequently poor because of his car. For most middle-class Americans, the reason they are not millionaires is sitting in the driveway. It is a really important concept to understand, that we are wasting a lot of money on cars. We simply consume it. You don’t have to do that. Here is the other truth that makes it very difficult to talk about this subject: most doctors make enough money that they can drive a very nice car and still be financially successful. So, despite the fact that this is an important aspect of your financial life if you’re middle-class, it doesn’t matter nearly as much for doctors. However, in this episode we discuss how to know if you can afford a specific car, debunk some of the reasons why doctors justify getting new cars instead of driving something inexpensive, and talk about the most economical way to pay for your transportation. For those who have their vehicle situation all figured out, we also answer several listener questions about 457s, ETFs, and mutual funds.

Can You Afford the Expensive Car? 

The difference between an inexpensive car and an expensive car on an annual basis can be up to $5,000 a year. I am counting everything in that, replacing parts, gas, insurance, depreciation, financing costs, everything.  If  you take $5,000 a year starting at age 20 and go to age 65 and extrapolate out at 8%, it’s over a million dollars. Thus, many people are not millionaires because of what they drive.

I think that’s a really important concept to understand, that we are wasting a lot of money on cars. We simply consume it. And you don’t have to do that. I know a lot of people didn’t grow up the same way I did. Maybe they don’t understand that you can get around with a not very expensive car and do just fine. I was lucky that my parents showed me that when I was young. I completely understand it and I’ve been able to save the difference. I’m not a car guy. I like driving fast and fancy cars as much as anyone, but I’m not someone who is going to rub a car with a diaper in my garage. It’s just not what I’m into.

In this episode I shared a story about a student who thought he could afford a car because he could make the payments and then ended up in trouble. That is not how you determine if you can afford a car. The way you determine if you can afford a car is looking at the cost of the car and then looking at the amount of money in your checking account. If the amount of money in your checking account is more than the cost of the car, then you can afford it. If not, you can’t afford the car. Making payments on a car does not mean that you can afford it.

Now I admit the truth of the matter is that most doctors make enough money that they can drive a very nice car and still be financially successful. What I tell attending physicians is that they need to save 20% of their gross income for retirement. A doctor making $600K/year could buy a brand new $60,000 car every year and still build wealth. It’s just not a factor. Now it’s not quite the same story if you’re making $180,000 as a doctor and you owe $400,000 in student loans. Then obviously your car is going to matter a whole lot more.

But for many doctors, this just isn’t as big of a deal. So, if you read my post that says, “Drive a Beater… And get Rich” and you go, “I don’t have to drive a beater to get rich”, you’re probably right, you don’t. You make a lot of money. You can spend some of it on cars and still be perfectly fine.

So as long as you can afford the car by my criteria, that you can actually pay cash for it, go ahead and buy the car. Enjoy it. It’s nice having a great car. I much prefer driving a nice new car to driving a beater. I totally get that.

 

What is the Most Economical Way to Pay for a Car?

The most economical way to pay for your transportation is to buy a used car. Let’s say a car 5 to 10 years old and drive it for 5 to 15 more years. Without a doubt, it’s not even close, if you run the numbers, that is the best way to pay for your transportation. Buy a used one where most of the depreciation has happened and keep it till the wheels fall off.

The second-best way is probably to buy the car brand new. Again, keep it for 10 to 20 years. The key is to avoid the turnover. That way you’re not eating the depreciation every few years. Buying a brand-new car every three years is a very expensive way to do it. Same with leasing, which is basically the same thing, with some finance charges added in.

But when I’m talking about a beater, what I’m talking about is usually an economy car. We’re talking about a Honda Civic, Toyota Camry, Nissan Sentra, Mazda 3, or if you really want an upgrade, a Mazda 6, or a Nissan Altima. That sort of a thing. Those are the sorts of beaters I’m talking about. You give them five or 10 years and these cars cost less than $10,000. Oftentimes they’re about $5,000.

You have to kind of adjust this a little bit for the craziness in the car market in the last year. Cars have gone up dramatically in price in the last year. The main issue is that you can’t get a new car due to supply chain issues. Because of that, people go to the used car market, which has really pushed up the prices of used cars. In a lot of places used cars cost 30% more than they did just a couple of years ago. So, massive inflation in the used car market in the last couple of years. So be aware of that.

Any post I wrote saying $5,000, seven years ago, you might have to adjust that up. That might now be a $7,000 car. But when I’m talking about a $5,000 or $7,000 car, I’m talking about a 10-year-old Civic, that’s about what it costs. And about a year ago, I bought one of these. It’s a 12-year-old Civic and cost us $5,200 with 120,000 miles on it.

It’s had no problems since. It runs great. It’s completely reliable. It’s what I call a beater. That is the sort of car that if you will drive, you will save a whole bunch of money that you can put toward paying off student loans or saving up a house down payment, or max out your retirement accounts or whatever other financial priorities you may have. A four-door sedan, an economy car that’s known to last a long time.

If you’re not sure what cars last a long time, go look around for 20-year-old cars. You will see that there are some brands that just aren’t out there at 20 years old, but you’re going to see a whole lot of Toyotas and a whole lot of Hondas. So, keep that in mind. If you’re going to be driving a car for another 15 years, you want a car that can actually go 20 years.

 

Why You Shouldn’t Buy A New Car

What are some of the reasons why doctors justify getting new cars instead of driving something inexpensive?

Reliability

I’m an emergency physician. I see the emergencies at the hospital. I know who I call in to take care of emergencies. There are very few of you that come in rapidly to save a life.  So, if you are not an obstetrician that’s actually doing a significant amount of OB or perhaps a pediatrician that responds to resuscitations on L&D, maybe a trauma surgeon at a trauma center but even there, I work in a trauma center, our surgeons get a half hour to get in. Those sorts of specialties, maybe you can justify it.

Everyone else, whether you get to the hospital in the next half hour or an hour and a half, it doesn’t make a difference to whether the patient is going to live or die. There is someone taking care of them,  running the code. I know because I’m running the code. I’m there.

Even if you’re an emergency physician, the person that you’re replacing on your shift is not leaving until you get there. Your partner will take care of it, if for whatever reason you’re a few minutes late. So don’t overestimate the value of reliability.

What happens when your car breaks down? It has happened to me a number of times.  It doesn’t happen all that often, even if you’re driving these inexpensive cars. As a brand-new attending, I paid $1,850 for a Mazda 626. I think it was a ‘97 when I came out of training in 2006. It had 130,000 or 140,000 miles on it. I drove that to work for the next four years. How many times did it break down on me? One time. It was when I went out there on a cold morning to drive it home from work, not on my way to work, and it wouldn’t start.

So, the next person that came out to the hospital parking lot, I said, “Hey, can you give me a jump?” They gave me a jump. I started the car. I drove over to an auto parts store and I bought a battery. The auto parts store guy put the battery in for me. He was really nice, and I drove home. Four years of driving a car that costs me less than $2,000 and that was my only breakdown in that car. In the episode I share a couple more breakdowns in other inexpensive cars I’ve owned over the years. I have an auto insurance policy that includes towing. I’ve needed to use that. You can get an Uber ride to work if the car breaks down, and let the towing company take it to a mechanic. Renting a car if you don’t have a second car while the car gets repaired is easy.

This fear of having an unreliable car that breaks down all the time, you have to get over when you’re trying to justify your new car. It’s just not that big of a deal.  You want a new car, you can afford a new car? Go get a new car, but don’t use this justification to justify borrowing $80,000 for a new car.

Safety Issues

The second thing that comes up is safety issues. It is true that a brand-new car is safer than a car that is 10 years old. No doubt about it. There have been some new safety features over those last 10 years, and it is safer.

But if you look at the actual amount that it’s safer, it’s actually a trivial amount. Not only do you have to get in an accident, but that’s multiplied by the likelihood that whatever the new safety feature is makes a difference to prevent or reduce injury in that accident. It’s just a tiny percentage that you’re multiplying by. So, the likelihood of it actually making a difference is very, very low.

We review the history of safety features in this episode.

In 1998, dual front airbags became required in all vehicles. In the 2000s you saw automatic braking systems, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping and lane departure warning systems. In the 2010s, you see some other new developments, blind spot and forward collision warning, pedestrian detection, some adaptive lighting, some parking sensors, and a rear-view backup.

There were new developments in the 2010s and there will continue to be new developments, but you have to give yourself a reality check here. What is the difference in a five-year-old car versus a new car today? What are you really missing there? Maybe some sort of lane change safety thing. That’s it. What are the odds that is the one thing that saves your life? They’re infinitesimal.

If you really want bang for your buck on safety, while you’re on the road, look at reducing exposure. Move closer to work, shorten your commute, go on fewer road trips. Have your kids go to a school that’s closer to your house. Those sorts of things have far more bang for your buck than anything else. Most of us aren’t even driving as safe as maybe we ought to be. Why don’t you start there if you’re really worried about automobile safety?

But let’s be real about it and not justify whatever we want just because there’s some new safety feature. Those automobile manufacturers know this. They put in a new safety feature every year for you to buy a brand-new car so they can make money off you. You don’t have to have every single safety feature.

All Wheel Drive

I hear doctors say, “I have to have all wheel drive. I’ll never be able to get to work in a snowstorm, or I won’t be able to get home in a snowstorm.” Obviously an all-wheel drive cars is going to cost a lot more than the beaters I mentioned earlier.

Maybe you do need an all-wheel drive. Maybe you live someplace where it really is mandatory. But I’m a little bit skeptical because I grew up in Alaska driving a two-wheel drive car, and guess how often I needed a four-wheel drive? Five, maybe ten days a year. It’s interesting to drive down the highway, the first snow storm in Anchorage. What you see in the ditch is a whole bunch of cars. Almost every one of them will be a four-wheel drive car.

Four-wheel drive helps you go fast. It doesn’t help you slow down quickly. All it does is help you get up to speed that maybe you shouldn’t be at in the first place, whereas with a two-wheel drive car most of the time, you have to accelerate a little bit slower when you’re driving on ice.

I now live in Utah, the greatest snow on Earth. I live at the base of a canyon known for getting 600 plus inches of snow a year. You cannot get to my house without going up a hill that is at least 11%, 12%, 13% on every side. No matter how you come to the house, you have to be able to go up a hill like that to get home.

So, how many days a year do I need to engage the four-wheel drive to get home? Less than five days a year. Don’t justify having a car for 365 days a year that you need five days a year. Especially if you don’t live in someplace where you need it as much as I do. We have plows that are out there, plowing the main roads so quickly that I rarely use four-wheel drive. I go up to the canyons most of the time, if it’s not snowing, you’re not even required to have four-wheel drive going up there. You can go up to the ski resort and back in two-wheel drive, 90% of the time. No problem.

The other days, what do you do? You ride the bus. You park at the base of the canyon and you ride the bus up. No big deal. You don’t need all wheel drive. If you want all wheel drive and you can afford it, go buy an all-wheel drive car. I like them. I have a four-wheel drive car. I’m perfectly fine with you getting one. But if you are trying to save money, if you have a negative net worth, you probably ought to give some real thought into what you’re driving.

Buying a Car as a Tax Break

People talk about buying a new car as being this awesome tax break that you can write off as a business expense. What is deductible? Business expenses are deductible. Your commute is not a business expense. You cannot write that off. Even if you have your business purchase the car, those are personal use miles. They are not a business expense that you can write off. What is business mileage? It is from one place of business to another place of business. So, you drive into the hospital, that’s commuting. You go from the hospital to your clinic, that’s business mileage. You go from your clinic back to the hospital, that’s business mileage. You come home from the hospital, that is personal mileage. That’s commuting, it’s not deductible.

Whether you’re using actual expenses of operating your car, or whether you’re just claiming the standard mileage rate, that’s the way the system works. So, don’t convince yourself that it’s some awesome tax break to lease your car. It probably is not. It’s probably just a really expensive way to drive a car.

 

Basic Principles of How to Buy a Car

Here are the basic principles.

  1. Remember that you aren’t what you drive and no one cares what you’re driving.
  2. Transportation costs keep a lot of people from building significant wealth. It might not be as big of an obstacle for doctors as it is for the Average Joe middle-class, but it can certainly hold doctors back in how quickly they accumulate wealth.
  3. Basic transportation is cheap. You can get basic transportation for a couple thousand dollars. Now, it’s not reliable transportation. If you want reliable transportation, you’re probably going to be spending $5,000 to $7,000. So, what does that tell you? If you need to borrow for a car, you should probably never be borrowing more than about $5,000 or $10,000, because you can get reliable transportation for that price.
  4. Do you want to buy something nicer than that? Save up the money and pay cash for it. In fact, get used to paying cash. That is the mindset you want to be in to build wealth. Buy things with money you saved, not money you borrowed.

Recommended Reading:

Drive a Beater…Get Rich

 

Contributing to 457(b) Plan for Half the Year

“I am finishing a fellowship and will take up an attending position this summer. My new employer offers a 457(b) plan, and I understand that the maximum pre-tax deferral is $19,500 for the year 2021. As I will be in this job for around six months this calendar year, would this contribution be related to the length of time I am with my employer? Say that I will be working for six months this year. Is my max deferral $9,750, or can I defer the total maximum of $19,500 for this calendar year?”

Even if you’ve only been there for a month, you can put in $19,500. Now that’s assuming the employer lets you. You have to read the plan document. Sometimes they make you be there for 6 months or 12 months before you’re eligible to participate in the plan. In that case, you wouldn’t be able to contribute a thing this year.

Remember the 457 contribution is totally separate from your 401(k) / 403(b) contribution. So, no matter what you put in the 401(k), you can still put $19,500 into the 457(b). Remember there’s governmental and non-governmental plans. Governmental ones are generally better. Usually a better employer. You’re less worried about going bankrupt and you can roll it into an IRA when you’re done unlike a non-governmental one.

You also want to make sure that the fees are reasonable, that the investments are reasonable and that the withdrawal options, the distribution options are also reasonable before using a 457.

 

Should You BUY VTI or VTSAX in Taxable Account?

“I recently talked with a financial advisor and I wanted to run something they said. For context, I’m talking about my investments in a taxable account at Vanguard. The advisor said it would be better to invest in VTI, the ETF share class over VTSAX, the mutual fund share class of the total stock market index. I know that they’re the same investment, just different share classes. Their explanation was that I might incur capital gains taxes, if others that are invested in VTSAX sell their shares and then incur their own capital gains that are then passed on to current owners of VTSAX. But this wouldn’t be a risk with the ETF share class. I was under the impression that there was low turnover for starters, and that capital gains were flushed out of the mutual fund. But he said, this was a concern when people sell their shares of VTSAX. The advisors said this problem doesn’t apply to the ETF share class. Is this true? Should I change my VTSAX holdings to VTI? I guess I’m not quite sure that I understand the implications or consequences of holding one over the other.”

Unfortunately, the advisor is wrong. He’s only wrong for Vanguard, though. With most mutual fund and ETF companies, this is actually the correct advice. In a taxable account an ETF is a little more tax efficient, even among index funds, than a traditional mutual fund share class. ETF units are created and destroyed and broken down into their individual stock holdings by these companies that do this ETF creation destruction process, you’re able to pass on those appreciated shares out of the fund to these companies. Thus, the fund holders don’t get stuck with those capital gains.

The benefit of Vanguard and their special proprietary, I think it was even trademarked, the structure they have is that the ETF is a share class of the traditional mutual fund. So, what do they do when they need to flush capital gains out of the traditional mutual fund? They just do it with the ETF. So, they’re very, very, very, very tax efficient. They’re very tax efficient, even without this. With this, they are even more tax efficient. But the truth is that VTI is not more tax efficient than VTSAX, not in any significant way. That is what you would expect to happen with the way they run this fund.

Now you want to put VTI in there? Fine. It’s a great holding. I own VTI. I’ve owned VTSAX at times. I think I own some now in some of my accounts. They’re both great holdings in a taxable account. I would not worry about this question one bit, but I think the advisor is wrong on this very esoteric point.

 

Should I Invest in My 457 Plan?

“Should I consider 457 investing a no-brainer? I’m in the 35% tax bracket. So, anything I invest is almost like an automatic 35% return. The distribution would be over five years after separation from my employer so that gives me a good runway if I decide to retire early.”

How do you decide if it’s a no-brainer? Well, first of all, it’s not a 35% return. The actual return you get on it is only the difference between what you’re saving money on now and what you take the money out at later. So, if you take it out at 20% later and you’re saving 35%, now that’s 15% difference. Plus, the benefit of that money growing tax-protected between now and when you withdraw the money. Those are the benefits of using this tax protected account.

With the 457, though, you have to remember, this is not your money. It’s your employer’s money. It’s deferred compensation. You have to look at the stability of the employer. If the employer does not look so financially stable, you might not want to put a thing into this account, even if it’s otherwise a great account and something that’s really beneficial in your life. If that employer looks like they’re going under, remember the 457 is subject to their creditors, not your creditors. Because of that, it provides great asset protection to you, of course, because it’s not your money yet, but it is subject to the employer’s creditors.

You also want to make sure you have a reasonable distribution plan, over five years after you leave the employer, unless you leave the employer at age 39 and you don’t want to retire until 55. Well, then it’s not such a great distribution option, is it? Now you’re taking that money out of there during your peak earnings years, and maybe that’s not awesome.

But a lot of people use 457 as one of their first sources of funding of an early retirement  because there is no “age 59 and a half rule”. Usually once you leave the employer, you can start taking the money out without any penalties. You have to pay the taxes, obviously, if it’s a tax deferred 457. If it’s a Roth 457, you don’t. But you want to make sure the distribution options are going to work for your financial plan.

Then of course you want to make sure the fees aren’t outrageous and you want to make sure the investment options are reasonable. If all that is in place, then yes, go ahead and use it. It’s a great option.

Another reader asked,

“I work for a university that offers the 457 plan. I believe the university has a B credit rating. So, there are some credit risks to holding it here as I don’t think bankruptcy would be a likely event. Nevertheless, their policy is that at termination I either need to roll it to another 457 or I need to set a date of distribution within 60 days. This sounds reasonable. The date can be set anytime up to 70.5 years.  In terms of the distribution options, they give me four – single lump sum, single life annuity, a joint life annuity, or fixed period payments not less than five years, not more than 30 years. That sounds pretty reasonable. Do you agree?”

I think this is okay to use. I don’t know if it’s a private university or a government university. It’s probably a governmental 457 backed by taxpayers of the state. I wouldn’t worry a whole lot about that even if the state has a B credit rating. Those are reasonable distribution options. I think I could probably come up with something there that would work in my financial plan. Go ahead and use that 457 plan.

 

ETFs vs Mutual Funds

“I had a question regarding ETF versus mutual funds. In particular I have some mutual funds at Charles Schwab and my question was do ETFs, specifically those in Charles Schwab, charge more fees than the mutual funds? I asked this because in order to qualify for Charles Schwab’s intelligent advisor premium, that’s the one where they charge you $30 a year for unlimited access to a certified financial planner, in that program, you’re required to have your funds in ETFs. I’m in a situation now that I have the money in mutual funds, and I figured there must be some catch. I figured they want it to push clients into ETFs and then give them these CFP services for low costs because they’re making up this money somewhere else.

The first place I thought was more fees associated with the ETFs than with the mutual funds. If this was not the case, then why not let me use minimum balance in my mutual funds for the Schwab intelligent advisor premium services? I tried looking on the website to dissect out what the fees are between ETFs and mutual funds, but it’s not very easy to find.”

I’m not super familiar with this particular program from Schwab. It sounds very reasonable. $30 a year is obviously a very good price for financial advice. It might be a little too low. I don’t know what kind of advice I’d expect for $30 a year. But Schwab is generally considered one of the good guys.

You think about the good guys out there in the mutual fund space and the brokerage space and you think about people like Vanguard and Charles Schwab and Fidelity and those kinds of places. That doesn’t mean every product offered by every one of these companies is a good product. It doesn’t even mean it’s being offered at fair price, but as a general rule, you’re not going to go wrong at these companies. I think that is reasonable to use if you want to do that.

Are there extra fees? Well, these are ETFs and mutual funds.  They’re regulated by the SEC. They have rules and they have prospectuses and they have to put certain things in there, including the fees and costs. So, these are not undiscoverable things. You can look up the expense ratio of your mutual funds. If you can’t find it on the website of Schwab or Vanguard, you can go to Morningstar and look them up. Same thing with ETFs.

Now at Schwab, my recollection is that Schwab ETFs are traded totally commission free. If not, the commissions can’t be more than a few dollars. Now Schwab mutual funds are probably also traded commission-free there, but I’ll bet if you want to buy a Vanguard mutual fund as Schwab, you’re going to pay like $50. That is just the way it is when you go to another brokerage and you try to buy someone else’s mutual funds. The ETFs are fine because they trade on the stock market just like stocks, but the mutual funds, they usually nail you with a pretty good commission, both when you buy and when you sell.

So as a general rule, if your 401(k) or your taxable accounts are at Schwab, and you want to own Vanguard funds, you buy the ETFs. It’s just cheaper. Why does Schwab have that particular rule? I have no idea. Maybe it makes it easier for them to manage. Certainly at $30 a year, they have to look for ways to keep it as easy as possible, but that would not be a deal stopper for me. If it’s not in a taxable account, it’s probably no big deal at all to swap from mutual fund to an ETF. No costs there.

But if you had to change from one holding into another and realized capital gains, well, maybe you might not want to do that. Remember with Vanguard funds and ETFs, you can change from one share class to another by converting the shares rather than actually realizing a capital gain. So, you might want to take that option if we’re talking about Vanguard ETFs. Maybe Schwab offers the same thing for their ETFs. If you’re in a taxable account, you might want to ask about that.

But for the most part here, this is not a bad thing to swap into ETFs. I use both in my investing accounts, whichever one seems more convenient, and sometimes it’s a little bit cheaper to use one over the other. But you don’t need to lose any sleep over whether you’re using an ETF or a traditional mutual fund share class.

Just don’t get suckered into the stupid ETFs. These are the ones that Jack Bogle was always ranting about. Some goofy index that was put together and is really just an excuse for active management. They charge you high fees and encourage you to churn it. Those sorts of narrowly focused ETFs. Stay away from those. But when you’re trading total stock market and total international stock market ETFs it really doesn’t matter if you’re in the mutual fund or the ETF.

This episode of The White Coat Investor is sponsored by Biohaven Pharmaceuticals. Biohaven is a commercial-stage biopharmaceutical company with innovative therapies designed to improve the lives of patients with debilitating neurological and neuropsychiatric diseases, including rare disorders. Biohaven offers a broad pipeline of late-stage product candidates across three distinct mechanistic platforms, including developing therapies for patients with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), Alzheimer’s, and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). The FDA also recently gave Biohaven’s Nurtec® ODT (rimegepant) its second indication. To discover more about Nurtec ODT and Biohaven’s neuroinnovative portfolio of treatments in development, visit www.biohavenpharma.com.

Milestones to Millionaire Podcast

#21 Doctor and Nurse Become Millionaires in 5 years

Sponsored by GoodRx. Learn more at goodrx.com/WCI

This couple went from -187K to 1.2 million in 5 years. The key to success? Budgeting software, You Need a Budget, and following it to a T. In this episode they discuss how they got the reluctant partner to buy into budgeting. If you and your partner are not on the same page financially check out the 7 ways to get your partner on board financially.

Quote of the Day

Our quote of the day comes from Phil DeMuth, who said

“The main advantage of self-management is that it is much cheaper if you do the work yourself. Naturally, there is a price to self-management as well. For one thing, your advisor might be an idiot.”

That is certainly the truth.

WCI Online Course Sale

Don’t forget about our sale that is running through July 12th. If you sign up for a White Coat Investor online course at whitecoatinvestor.teachable.com and use code WCI JULY 10, it gives you 10% off and a free t-shirt. That includes our Continuing Financial Education courses and our flagship Fire Your Financial Advisor, either with or without CME. Sale runs July 1-12th.

Full Transcription

Intro:
This is the White Coat Investor podcast where we help those who wear the white coat get a fair shake on Wall Street. We’ve been helping doctors and other high-income professionals stop doing dumb things with their money since 2011. Here’s your host, Dr. Jim Dahle.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
This is White Coat Investor podcast number 218 – The truth about cars and your finances.
Dr. Jim Dahle:

Now one medication is proven to treat and prevent, Nurtec ODT Rimegepant – 75 milligrams. To learn more about this exciting news visit nurtec-hcp.com.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
All right, let’s do our quote of the day today. Our quote of the day comes from Phil DeMuth, who said “The main advantage of self-management is that it is much cheaper if you do the work yourself. Naturally, there is a price to self-management as well. For one thing, your advisor might be an idiot”. And that is certainly the truth.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
Thanks for what you do out there. Life is hard. Life is particularly hard for people who earn a lot of money, it turns out. It’s not all roses and fun. Usually if you’re getting paid a lot, it’s because you have a difficult job, a difficult job that involves interacting with people at hard times of their lives, thinking about hard things and lots and lots of education and risk. Thanks for doing that. If you’re on your way into work, way home, working out, and nobody’s told you thank you today for all that sacrifice you did, let me be the first.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
We got a sale coming up here. Let’s see, we’re recording this on June 19th. It’s being published July 8th. We have a sale on all of our online courses from July 1st through July 12th, you get 10% off on any course, plus you get a free WCI t-shirt. If you’re watching this on YouTube, like this one I’m wearing, this VT sacks and relaxed t-shirt that I’ve got on as I am recording this podcast. You can check that out on the WCI store.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
But if you take one of our online courses, we’ll send you a free t-shirt. And you still have all the usual warranties and guarantees with those courses. If you’ve only watched a little bit of them, you’ve only had it for a few days, you can return it, get all your money back risk-free. We don’t want you buying courses you don’t actually want to take.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
But we have some great courses. We have Fire Your Financial Advisor, which is our flagship course, it helps you put a written financial plan in place. We have a version of it now that is basically approved for CME. You get Fire Your Financial Advisor and in addition to it, you get another 8 plus hours of CME. It’s called Financial Wellness and Burnout Prevention for Medical Professionals. That’s a great name, right? It qualifies for CME. Fire Your Financial Advisor, plus some wellness content.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
Another big one this year is our Continuing Financial Education 2021 course. If Fire Your Financial Advisor is your initial financial education, the CFE course is what you need to stay up to date each. And we compile that mostly from WCI con, but it also often contains some additional material there.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
But any of our courses, they are 10% off through the 12th and you can go check them out. Just go to whitecoatinvestor.teachable.com and use coupon code WCI JULY 10. That’s how you get the discount – WCI JULY 10.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
All right, today, we’re going to talk about cars. I’ve written a number of posts about cars over the years, and we recycle them from time to time on the blog. I think one that got recycled recently is called “Drive a Beater… Get Rich”.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
A lot of people I think take the wrong messages when I’m talking and writing about cars. They’re not quite getting the message I’m trying to get them. So, today I’m going to talk a little bit about cars and what I really think about cars and what you ought to be doing with cars.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
But first, the first thing we need to talk about is that I don’t actually own a Tesla. Stop emailing me, asking what I think about my new Tesla. That post ran on April 1st, April 1st, right? April Fool’s Day.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
So, if you totally miss that, if it totally went over your head, now you understand I do not at this time own a Tesla. But I am still getting questions from friends, friends like real life friends asking me about my Tesla and my parents thought I bought a Tesla. I didn’t buy a Tesla. It was kind of a funny April fool’s day post because I’m always making fun of Tesla’s. If you had read any further than the title, you would have read that I paid for that Tesla using borrowings from my whole life policy and speculating in Bitcoin and trading options and individual stocks.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
So obviously if you got that far into the post, you probably wouldn’t have believed it, but a surprising number of readers did. So, no, I don’t have a Tesla. The only thing true in that post is that my garage actually is wired for Tesla. So, at some point in the future, maybe I’ll get a Tesla or Leaf and put it in the garage and be able to plug it in. I like Tesla’s. I think there are a lot of fun to drive. I totally understand why people like them and enjoy driving them.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
Next point, “Average Joe”. Average Joe out there is poor a lot of times because of his car. For most people, most middle-class people, most middle-class Americans, the reason they are not millionaires is sitting in the driveway.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
The difference between an inexpensive car and an expensive car on an annual basis, it can be up to $5,000 a year. Now you count everything in that, right? You count replacing parts. You count the cost of gassing it up. You count the cost of insuring it. You count depreciation, you count financing costs, you count everything in there.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
And the difference between a really expensive car and a cheap car might be about $5,000 a year. And if you take $5,000 a year starting at age 20 and go to age 65 and extrapolate out at 8%, it’s over a million dollars. Thus, many people are not millionaires because of what they drive.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
I think that’s a really important concept to understand that we are wasting a lot of money on cars. We simply consume it. And you don’t have to do that. I know a lot of people didn’t grow up the same way I did. And maybe they don’t understand that you can get around with a not very expensive car and do just fine. I was lucky that my parents showed me that when I was young. And so, I completely understand it and I’ve been able to save the difference. I’m not a car guy, right? I like driving fast cars and fancy cars as much as anybody, but I’m not somebody who is going to rub a car with a diaper in my garage. It’s just not what I’m into.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
So, another thing I think is important to know, and I saw this and put it on Twitter after I saw it. It was someone who said this and let me quote directly from this tweet that I screenshot here. All right here it goes. It said, “I’m working on my master’s and applying to medical school. A few years ago, I made the mistake of buying a BMW SUV, which I could afford at the time. I was working full time.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
I recently decided to pursue my dream of medical school, but the BMW is a curse. The payments are over $500 a month plus insurance. And since I paid for an extended warranty, I’m upside down on the vehicle. I can only sell it to take an $8,000 hit, which I don’t have right now. I’m living on private loans while I do this master’s and I’m literally up $200 to $300 a month to eat on groceries and surprises. To make things worse, the car has had constant issues that the warranty never covers. Something’s wrong with the steering column is $1,500 to fix, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Is there any way out of this mess that I’m just not seeing?”
Dr. Jim Dahle:
Oh, man, talking about a curse in your life instead of a blessing, that’s just the classic car, right? Here’s the deal. This student thought he could afford this car because he could make the payments. I got news for you. That’s not how you determine if you can afford a car.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
The way you determine if you can afford a car is you look at the cost of the car and then you look at the amount of money in your checking account. If the amount of money in your checking account is more than the cost of the car, then you can afford it. If not, you can’t afford the car. Making payments on a car does not mean that you can afford it.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
All right, here’s the other truth that makes it very difficult for me to talk about this subject. And the truth of the matter is that most docs make enough money that they can drive a very nice car and still be financially successful.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
So, despite the fact that this is kind of an important aspect of your financial life if you’re middle-class, that really does matter what you drive. And it really does affect how much you can save. And it will keep you from being a millionaire if you drive too much car, it doesn’t matter nearly as much for doctors. And I hate to let you off the hook like that, but it’s true. And if I don’t acknowledge that that’s true, none of the rest of this makes any sense whatsoever.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
What I tell attending physicians is that they need to save 20% of their gross income for retirement. So, let’s say we have a doc that’s either making a lot of money by himself or herself or a two-doc couple. Let’s say they make $600,000 a year. I want them to put 20% of that away towards retirement. That’s $120,000. That still leaves them $480,000. Even if they’re paying a whole bunch of money in taxes, let’s say they’re paying $200,000 in taxes, which is a pretty high tax bill on $600,000 but let’s say that’s what they’re paying. They’ve still got $280,000 to live on.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
So, they could buy a brand new $60,000 car every year and still have $220,000 a year to live on. This is not going to keep them from building wealth, right? It’s just not a factor. Now it’s not quite the same story if you’re making $180,000 as a doc and you owe $400,000 in student loans, then obviously your car is going to matter a whole lot more.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
But for many doctors, this just isn’t as big of a deal. So, if you read my post that says, “Drive a Beater… And get Rich” and you go, “I don’t have to drive a beater to get rich”, you’re probably right. You’re probably right, you don’t. You make a lot of money, right? And you can spend some of it on cars and still be perfectly fine.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
So as long as you can afford the car by my criteria, right, that you can actually pay cash for it, go on and buy the car. Enjoy it. It’s nice having a great car. I much prefer driving a nice new car to driving a beater. I totally get that.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
But let’s talk about some of the reasons why docs justify getting new cars instead of driving something inexpensive. And what I mean by inexpensive? Well, let’s talk about inexpensive cars. First of all, the best way, the most economical way to pay for your transportation is to buy a used car. Let’s say a car 5 to 10 years old and drive it for 5 to 15 more years. Without a doubt, it’s not even close, if you run the numbers, that is the best way to pay for your transportation. By used ones, most of the depreciation has happened and keeps it till the wheels fall off.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
The second-best way is probably to buy the car brand new. And again, keep it for 10 to 20 years. The key is to avoid the turnover, right? And so, you’re not eating the depreciation every few years. If you’re buying a brand-new car every three years, that’s really not a great way to buy a car. It’s a very expensive way to do it. Same thing with leasing, which is basically the same thing, which some finance charges added in.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
But when I’m talking about a beater, what I’m talking about is usually an economy car. We’re talking about a Honda Civic. We’re talking about a Nissan Sentra. We’re talking about a Mazda 3, or if you really want an upgrade, a Mazda 6, or a Nissan Altima. That sort of a thing. A Toyota Camry, maybe Geo Prizm. I don’t even know if they even still make those.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
Those are the sorts of beaters I’m talking about. And then you give them 5 or 10 years. You give them five or 10 years and these cars cost less than $10,000. Oftentimes they’re about $5,000.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
And also, I have to kind of adjust this a little bit for the craziness in the car market in the last year. Cars have gone up dramatically in price in the last year. The main issue is that you can’t get a new car due to supply chain issues. You can’t get the chips for them or whatever. So, you literally can’t go get new cars. You order them when they come in in three months maybe, if you’re lucky.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
And so, because of that, people go to the used car market, which has really pushed up the prices of used cars. And so, in a lot of places used cars cost 30% more than they did just a couple of years ago. So, massive inflation in the used car market in the last couple of years. So be aware of that.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
Any post I wrote saying $5,000, seven years ago, you might have to adjust that up. That might now be a $7,000 car. But when I’m talking about a $5,000 or $7,000 car, I’m talking about a 10-year-old Civic, that’s about what it costs. And about a year ago, I bought one of these. It’s the car Whitney drives to school. It’s a 10-year-old Civic. It’s 2009, I guess, it is now 12 years old. And it cost us $5,200 or something like that. It had 120,000 miles on it.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
It had no problems since. It runs great. It’s completely reliable. It’s what I call a beater. And that’s the sort of car that if you will drive, you will save a whole bunch of money that you can put toward paying off student loans or saving up a house down payment, or max out your retirement accounts or whatever other financial priorities you may have. But that’s the sort of car I’m talking about. A four-door sedan, an economy car that’s known to last a long time.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
And if you’re not sure what cars last a long time, go look around for 20-year-old cars, you will see that there are some brands that just aren’t out there at 20 years old, but you’re going to see a whole lot of Toyotas and a whole lot of Honda’s and those sorts of things. So, keep that in mind. If you’re going to be driving a car for another 15 years, you want a car that can actually go 20 years.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
All right. But here are the things people say to me, when they try to justify driving more cars than maybe they ought to be driving. The first thing is, “I’m a doctor. I need something reliable. I got to get to the hospital to save lives”. Well, this is a little bit of a bogus thing, right? I’m an emergency physician. So, I see the emergencies at the hospital. I know who I call in to take care of emergencies. And there are very few of you that come in rapidly to save a life. It’s precious few specialties.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
So, if you are not an obstetrician that’s actually doing a significant amount of OB or perhaps a pediatrician that responds to resuscitations on L&D, maybe a trauma surgeon at a trauma center but even there, I work in a trauma center, our surgeons get a half hour to get in. Those sorts of specialties, maybe you can justify it.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
Everybody else, come on, who are you trying to kidding, right? Whether you get to the hospital in the next half hour or an hour and a half, it doesn’t make a difference to whether the patient is going to live or die. There’s somebody there taking care of them, right? Somebody is running the code. I know because I’m running the code. I’m there.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
Even if you’re an emergency physician, right? Your person that you’re replacing on your shift is not leaving until you get there. You get in there absolutely on time every day, 365 days of the year is not going to result in somebody’s life being saved otherwise they would die. Your partner will take care of it, if for whatever reason you’re a few minutes late. So don’t overestimate the value of reliability.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
Now let’s talk for a minute about what happens when your car breaks down. And maybe for some of you, this has never actually happened. It’s happened to me a number of times. Your car can break down. It doesn’t happen all that often, even if you’re driving these inexpensive cars. I honestly can only remember two cars that were regular things that I drove that had less than 100,000 miles on it. And I shared both of them with my wife. That was when we were one car family. So, obviously, I’m driving older cars, right?
Dr. Jim Dahle:
You got to think about it when you sell these cars with 100,000 miles on it, or 200,000 miles on it, somebody is buying it from you. Who is that person? It’s me. I’m buying that car from you. I’m driving another 100,000 miles. And so, I know what happens with those cars over the next 100,000 miles.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
So, let’s talk about the car I bought to commute in as a brand-new attendant. I paid $1,850 for a Mazda 626. I think it was ‘97 when I came out of training in 2006. And so, it was, I guess, nine years old at that time, it had 130,000 or 140,000 miles on it. Something like that. It didn’t cost me very much money at all obviously, I bought it at an auction, but that only saved me a few hundred dollars.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
But I drove that to work for the next four years. How many times did it break down on me? One time, it broke down one time. And it was when I went out there on a cold morning to drive it home from work, not on my way to work. It was on my way home from work and it wouldn’t start.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
So, the next person that came out to the hospital parking lot, I said, “Hey, can you give me a jump?” They gave me a jump. I started the car. I drove over to an auto parts store and I bought a battery. The auto parts store guy put the battery in for me. He was really nice and I drove home. Four years of driving a car that costs me less than $2,000. And that was my only break down.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
Now I’ve had some other breakdowns. I drove a Durango, which I’m not a super big fan of. We were going down to Vegas and I think we were going rock climbing or something. But as we pulled onto the freeway here in Salt Lake, it started not running very well. It felt like a transmission issue. So, we turned around the next exit, started heading toward our mechanic. And it didn’t quite make it, it ended up stranded on an off-ramp of I 15 here in Salt Lake City.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
So, what did I do at that moment? Well, I called a tow truck. I have a policy and auto insurance policy with USAA, which includes free towing. So, I called a tow truck. And guess what? 40 minutes later, a tow truck pulled up, loaded my car up and took it to our mechanic. We got a ride back to the house, right? I think we called a friend, but if that hadn’t been available, we would have just Uber-ed. It would have cost us $15. We went back to the house, we put our stuff in the other car and went to Vegas and we had a great trip. It’s not that big a deal to have a car breakdown.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
Let’s say we didn’t have another car. What would we have done? We would have gone over and rented a car and gone on our trip. Not that big a deal. You’re a doctor. You can afford to rent a car when your car breaks down. It’s not that big of a deal.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
So, another breakdown. This one happened not that long ago with my Sequoia, which just went over 260,000 miles. My Sequoia, it ended up having the fan pulled into the radiator. And so, obviously I couldn’t drive it at that point. So, what did I do? Well, I called a tow truck and they towed it to my mechanic. And my sister came by and picked me up, and ran back to my house. Actually, she took me down someplace else first, we tried to fix it ourselves, that didn’t really work. But at the end of the day, we got home and it wasn’t a big deal. How long did I wait for the tow truck? Oh, about 40 minutes.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
A more recent breakdown I had was coming back from the Grand Canyon. We were towing a trailer with that old Sequoia. We’d been out in the heat. It was 93 degrees. And we ended up in a traffic jam. There was an accident just outside of Las Vegas. Between Las Vegas and Mesquite, we sat in traffic with the AC going full bore at 93 degrees for two hours, waiting for traffic to clear. And we pulled that trailer up that big hill up towards St. George and then continued on up the next hill above St. George. And you know what? About halfway up that hill, the car broke down. It started not running really well.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
So, we pulled off, pulled it into the shade underneath the overpass. And we sat there for a while and tried to decide what to do. Well, we were caravanning so there were other cars with us. We put the trailer on another one of the trucks and decided we were going to call a tow truck. But as we were in that process, I drove around a little bit and it started working again just fine. I think it had a vapor lock or something in it. So, I drove it for a couple hours. It seemed to be working fine. We put the trailer back on it and drove it home. And it hasn’t had any problems since.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
These are what breakdowns actually look like and what actually happens in those situations. So, let’s say you’re on your way into a clinic and your car poops out. What’s going to happen? Well, you’re going to call a tow truck. You don’t even have to stay there with the car when you call a tow truck. You can just call them and say “Here’s where the car is. Come pick it up, take it to the mechanic”. And then your next call is an Uber. And for $15 or $20 or whatever it is, Uber takes you into work. And you can even Uber from there over to the mechanic after work or Uber home, whatever. It costs you a few bucks in a few minutes of inconvenience, but it’s not the end of the world to have your car break down.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
So, this fear of having an unreliable car that breaks down all the time, you got to get over it. It’s just not that big of a deal. New cars break down too, by the way. Not as often, but they do break down. So, get over that fear when you’re trying to justify your new car. You want a new car, you can afford a new car? Go get a new car, but don’t use this crappy justification to justify borrowing $80,000 for a new car.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
All right. The second thing that comes up is safety issues. They say, “Oh, no way would I put myself into a car that’s not safe. Old cars aren’t safe”. You can use this to justify just about anything, anything you want as far as cars go. And you’d be surprised what you can justify. And it is true that a brand-new car is safer than a car that is 10 years old. No doubt about it. There have been some new safety features over those last 10 years, and it is safer.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
But if you look at the actual amount that it’s safer, it’s actually a trivial amount. Because not only do you have to get in an accident, but that’s multiplied by the likelihood of whatever the new safety feature was, makes a difference to prevent or reduce injury in that accident. It’s just a tiny percentage that you’re multiplying by. So, the likelihood of it actually making a difference is very, very low.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
So, let’s talk a little bit about safety features. And you can go back through history. There is lots of history of all this sort of stuff that people have done. You go back to 1899. That was when the first recorded traffic deaths occurred. There was a guy hit and killed by a motorized carriage in New York City. Ford Model T in 1908. They started putting in safety glasses. In 1918, they put in stop lights. In 1914, they put in a stop sign. They put in turn signals in 1939. Seatbelts, 1950. It was the Nash Rambler.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
Shoulder belts were in Volvo’s. They still have this great safety reputation. 1959 standard feature. Driver’s training was required in 1955 in Michigan. In 1966, the national traffic and motor vehicle safety act was passed. And that resulted in changes to both highways and vehicles.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
Airbags came out in 1974, that was GM. 1984 was the first year the seat belts were required to be worn. 1985 anti lock brakes showed up. So, if you buy a car that’s less than 37 years old, you should be able to get some antilock brakes on there. It’s not exactly a new development.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
Airbags became standard in Mercedes in 1985. And a lock brakes became standard in Cadillac in 1991. In 1998, dual front airbags become required in all vehicles. In the 2000s you saw automatic braking systems, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping and lane departure warning systems. In 2015, you start seeing Googles for self-driving cars being tested. And in the 2010s, you see some other new developments. Blind spot and forward collision warning, pedestrian detection, some adaptive lighting, some parking sensors. A rear-view backup, which is super convenient, by the way, if you ever trailer it’s worth it just for that. And even night vision cameras that you can get on them.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
So yes, there are new developments in the 2010s and there will continue to be new developments, but you got to give yourself a reality check here. What is the difference in a five-year-old car versus a new car today? What are you really missing there? Maybe some sort of lane change safety thing. That’s it. What are the odds that is the one thing that saves your life? They’re infinitesimal.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
If you really want bang for your buck on safety, while you’re on the road, look at reducing exposure. Move closer to work, shorten your commute, go on fewer road trips. Have your kids go to a school that’s closer to your house. Those sorts of things have far more bang for your buck than any of this little lane change crap that you put in your car. Most of us aren’t even driving as safe as maybe we ought to be. Why don’t you start there if you’re really worried about automobile safety?

Dr. Jim Dahle:
But let’s be real about it. And not justify whatever we want just because there’s some new safety feature. Because those automobile manufacturers know this. They put in a new safety feature every year for people like you to get you to buy a brand-new car so they can make money off you. So, you don’t have to have every single safety feature that’s ever come out with, including ones that barely make a difference at all.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
All right, next thing I hear is “I have to have all wheel drive. I’ll never be able to get to work in a snowstorm, or I won’t be able to get home in a snowstorm”. And so, obviously an all-wheel drive cars is going to cost a lot more than the beaters I mentioned earlier, right? Your Civics and those sorts of things.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
And maybe you do need an all-wheel drive. Maybe you live someplace where it really is mandatory. But I’m a little bit skeptical and I’ll tell you why. Because I grew up in Alaska driving a two-wheel drive car, and guess how often I needed a four-wheel drive? Five, maybe ten days a year. It’s interesting to drive down the highway, the first snow storm in Anchorage. And what you see in the ditch is a whole bunch of cars. And almost every one of them will be a four-wheel drive car.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
The reason why is that four-wheel drive helps you go fast. It doesn’t help you slow down quickly. All it does is help you get up to speed that maybe you shouldn’t be out in the first place, whereas with a two-wheel drive car most of the time, you got to accelerate a little bit slower when you’re driving on ice.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
I now live in Utah, the greatest snow on Earth. I live at the base of a canyon known for getting 600 plus inches of snow a year. You cannot get to my house without going up a hill that is at least 11%, 12%, 13% on every side. No matter how you come to the house, you have to be able to go up a hill like that to get home.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
So, how many days a year do I need to engage the four-wheel drive to get home? Less than five days a year. So, let’s not justify having a car for 365 days a year that you need five days a year. Especially if you don’t live in someplace where you need it as much as I do, which you probably don’t. I saw someone moving to Salt Lake recently and they’re going to live in Salt Lake City and they thought they needed four-wheel drive. We have plows that are out there, plowing the main roads so quickly that I rarely use four-wheel drive. I go up to the canyons most of the time, if it’s not snowing, you’re not even required to have four-wheel drive going up there. And you can go up to the ski resort and back in two-wheel drive, 90% of the time. No problem.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
The other days, what do you do? You ride the bus. You park at the base of the canyon and you ride the bus up. No big deal. You don’t need all wheel drive. If you want all wheel drive and you can afford it, go buy an all-wheel drive car. I like them. I have a four-wheel drive car. I’m perfectly fine with you getting one. But if you were trying to save money, if you are having a negative net worth, you probably ought to give some real thought into what you’re driving.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
Next thing. People talk about it being this awesome tax break that you can write this off as a business expense. Most of those people that tell you that are cheating on their taxes, probably unknowingly, but they’re probably cheating on their taxes. If you’re writing off your entire car expense and you’re a doctor, you’re cheating. That’s fraudulent.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
What is deductible? Business expenses are deductible. Your commute is not a business expense, much less your trip to the ski resort and your trip to the grocery store and that sort of stuff. That is not a business expense. You cannot write that off. Even if you have your business purchase the car, those are personal use miles. They are not a business expense that you can write off. So, stop cheating on your taxes.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
What is business mileage? It is from one place of business to another place of business. So, you drive into the hospital, that’s commuting. You go from the hospital to your clinic, that’s business mileage. You go from your clinic back to the hospital, that’s business mileage. You come home from the hospital, that is personal mileage. That’s commuting, it’s not deductible.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
And whether you’re using actual expenses of operating your car, or whether you’re just claiming the standard mileage rate, that’s the way the system works. So, don’t convince yourself that it’s some awesome tax break to lease your car. It probably is not. It’s probably just a really expensive way to drive a car.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
So overall, here’s the basic principles. Remember that you aren’t what you drive and nobody cares what you’re driving. You don’t care what anybody else is driving, do you? Not really? Right. And so, why do you think anybody cares about what you’re driving? They don’t. Your patients don’t care and if they do, park around back.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
Transportation costs keep a lot of people from building significant wealth. It might not be as big of an obstacle for doctors as it is for the Average Joe middle-class, but it can certainly hold doctors back in how quickly they accumulate wealth.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
Basic transportation is cheap. You can get basic transportation for a couple thousand dollars, maybe $3,000 now with all the inflation we’ve had in the last year. But it’s very cheap. Now, it’s not reliable transportation. If you want reliable transportation, you’re probably going to be spending $5,000 to $7,000. So, what does that tell you? Well, if you need to borrow for a car, you should probably never be borrowing more than about $5,000 or $10,000, because you can get reliable transportation for that price.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
Do you want to buy something nicer than that? I do not blame you. I like driving something nicer than that, but you ought to save up the money and pay cash for it. In fact, get used to paying cash. That is the mindset you want to be in to build wealth is that you buy things with money you saved, not money you borrowed. If you stay in that mindset, you’re in medical school when you were living in all that borrowed money, you’re never going to build much wealth.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
And then of course, if you do this, you will build wealth. You will become rich. You will, at that point, then be able to reward yourself and do it. If you’re a car person, go buy the car of your dreams and enjoy it, rub it with a diaper in the garage, whatever you want to do with that car and have the safest, most reliable, fastest whatever car that you want. But if you’re actually trying to save money, don’t kid yourself that there’s a fair amount of money going out the door toward your transportation costs.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
All right, rant over about cars. Let’s take some of your questions. This one’s about a 457 contribution from Keith. Let’s take a listen.
Keith:
Hi, Dr. Dahle. Thanks for what you do. I am finishing the fellowship and will take up an attending position this summer. My new employer offers a 457(b) plan, and I understand that the maximum pre-tax deferral is $19,500 for the year 2021. As I will be in this job for around six months this calendar year, would this contribution be related to the length of time I am with my employer? Say that I will be working for six months this year. Is my max deferral $9,750, or can I defer the total maximum of $19,500 for this calendar year? Thank you.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
Great question, Keith. And you’re going to like this answer. The answer is even if you’ve only been there for a month, you can put in $19,500. Now that’s assuming the employer lets you. You got to read the plan document. Sometimes they make you be there for 6 months or 12 months before you’re eligible to participate in the plan. And in that case, you wouldn’t be able to contribute a thing this year.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
Remember the 457 contribution is totally separate from your 401(k) / 403(b) contribution. So, no matter what you put in the 401(k), you can still put $19,500 into the 457(b). Remember there’s governmental and non-governmental plans. Governmental ones are generally better. Usually a better employer. You’re less worried about going bankrupt and you can roll it into an IRA when you’re done. Unlike a non-governmental one.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
You also want to make sure that the fees are reasonable, that the investments are reasonable and that the withdrawal options, the distribution options are also reasonable before using a 457. Good question though.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
Let’s take this one from Adam.

Adam:
Hi Jim. Thanks for everything you do. I recently talked with a financial advisor and I wanted to run something they said. For context, I’m talking about my investments in a taxable account at Vanguard. The advisor said it would be better to invest in VTI, the ETF share class over VTSAX, the mutual fund share class of the total stock market index.
Adam:
I know that they’re the same investment, just different share classes. Their explanation was that I might incur capital gains taxes, if others that are invested in VTSAX sell their shares and then incur their own capital gains that are then passed on to current owners of VTSAX. But this wouldn’t be a risk with the ETF share class.
Adam:
I was under the impression that there was low turnover for starters, and that capital gains were flushed out of the mutual fund. But he said, this was a concern when people sell their shares of VTSAX. The advisors said this problem doesn’t apply to the ETF share class. Is this true? Should I change my VTSAX holdings to VTI? I guess I’m not quite sure that I understand the implications or consequences of holding one over the other. Thanks for your help.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
Great question, Adam. When you’re starting to ask questions like this, the question I have for you is “Do you really need a financial advisor?” You’re really talking about how many angels are dancing on the head of a pin here. This is a pretty high-level question that doesn’t have a lot of relevance to your financial life. If this makes the difference between when you become financially independent, I’d be incredibly surprised.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
But unfortunately, the advisor is wrong. He’s only wrong for Vanguard though. With most mutual fund and ETF companies, this is actually the correct advice. In a taxable account and ETF is a little more tax efficient, even among index funds than a traditional mutual fund share class.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
And the reason why is that as those ETF units are created and destroyed and broken down into their individual stock holdings by these companies that do this ETF creation destruction process, you’re able to pass on those appreciated shares out of the fund to these companies. And thus, the fund holders don’t get stuck with those capital gains.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
The benefit of Vanguard and their special proprietary, I think it was even trademarked. The structure they have is that the ETF is a share class of the traditional mutual fund. So, what do they do when they need to flush capital gains out of the traditional mutual fund? They just do it with the ETF. So, they’re very, very, very, very tax efficient. They’re very tax efficient, even without this. With this, they are even more tax efficient. But the truth is that VTI is not more tax efficient than VTSAX, not in any significant way. And that’s what you would expect to happen with the way they run this fund.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
Now you want to put VTI in there? Fine. It’s a great holding. I own VTI. I’ve owned VTSAX at times. I think I own some now in some of my accounts. They’re both great holdings in a taxable account. And so, I would not worry about this question one bit, but I think the advisor is wrong on this very esoteric point.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
All right, let’s take our next question. Let’s take a listen.
William:
Hey Jim, this is William from the Lone Star State. Should I consider 457 investing a no-brainer? I’m in the 35% tax bracket. So, anything I invest is almost like an automatic 35% return. The distribution would be over five years after separation from my employer so that gives me a good runway if I decide to retire early. Thanks for taking my question.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
All right, William from Texas. Welcome to the podcast. A good question. I think I have at least one more 457 question coming as well. This one is, “Is it a no-brainer?” Well, it’s not a no brainer, but it’s something that many doctors should be using.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
How do you decide if it’s a no-brainer? Well, first of all, it’s not a 35% return. The actual return you get on it is only the difference between what you’re saving money on now and what you take the money out at later. So, if you take it out at 20% later and you’re saving 35%, now that’s 15% difference. Plus, the benefit of that money growing tax-protected between now and when you withdraw the money. Those are the benefits of using this tax protected account.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
With the 457, though, you have to remember, this is not your money. It’s your employer’s money. It’s deferred compensation. And so, you got to look at the stability of the employer. If the employer does not look so financially stable, you might not want to put a thing into this account, even if it’s otherwise a great account and something that’s really beneficial in your life. If that employer looks like they’re going under, remember the 457 is subject to their creditors, not your creditors. Because of that, it provides great asset protection to you, of course, because it’s not your money yet, but it is subject to the employer’s creditors.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
He also wants to make sure you have a reasonable distribution plan. Your sound’s okay. Over five years after you leave the employer, unless you leave the employer at age 39 and you don’t want to retire until 55. Well, then it’s not such a great distribution option, is it? Now you’re taking that money out of there during your peak earnings years, and maybe that’s not awesome.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
But a lot of people use 457 as one of their first sources of funding of an early retirement, right? Because there’s no age 55 rule. There’s no age 59 and a half rule. Usually once you leave the employer, you can start taking the money out without any penalties. You have to pay the taxes obviously, if it’s a tax deferred 457. If it’s a Roth 457, you don’t. But you want to make sure the distribution options are going to work for your financial plan.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
Then of course you want to make sure the fees aren’t outrageous and you want to make sure the investment options are reasonable. If all that is in place, then yes, go ahead and use it. It’s a great option.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
Also, another question about a 457 plan from email. This one says “I work for a university that offers the 457 plan. I believe the university has a B credit rating. So, there are some credit risks to holding it here as I don’t think bankruptcy would be a likely event. Nevertheless, their policy is that at termination I either need to roll it to another 457 or I need to set a date of distribution within 60 days. This sounds reasonable. The date can be set anytime up to 70.5 years.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
In terms of the distribution options, they give me four – single lump sum, single life annuity, a joint life annuity, or fixed period payments not less than five years, not more than 30 years. That sounds pretty reasonable. Do you agree? As such I plan on continuing to max it”.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
Yeah, I think this is okay to use. I don’t know if it’s a private university, if it’s a government university. It’s probably a governmental 457 as probably backed by taxpayers of the state. I wouldn’t worry a whole lot about that even if the state has a B credit rating. I wouldn’t worry too much about it, but those are reasonable distribution options. I think I could probably come up with something there that would work in my financial plan. And I’ll bet you can too. And so, I’d go ahead and use that 457 plan.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
All right. Here’s another question about ETFs and mutual funds. Popular topic today.
Ricardo:
Hi, Jim. I had a question regarding ETF versus mutual funds. In particular I have some mutual funds at Charles Schwab’s and my question was do ETFs, specifically those in Charles Schwab, charge more fees than the mutual funds?
Ricardo:
I asked this because in order to qualify for Charles Schwab’s intelligent advisor premium, that’s the one where they charge you $30 a year for unlimited access to a certified financial planner. In that program, you’re required to have your funds in ETFs.
Ricardo:
I’m in a situation now that I have the money in mutual funds, and I figured there must be some catch. I figured they want it to push clients into ETFs and then give them these CFP services for low costs because they’re making up this money somewhere else.
Ricardo:
The first place I thought was more fees associated with the ETFs than with the mutual funds. If this was not the case, then why not let me use minimum balance in my mutual funds for the Schwab intelligent advisor premium services? I tried looking on the website to dissect out what the fees are between ETFs and mutual funds, but it’s not very easy to find. Thank you so much and I appreciate your help.

Dr. Jim Dahle:
Okay. Good question, Ricardo. No, I’m not super familiar with this particular program from Schwab. It sounds very reasonable. $30 a year is obviously a very good price for financial advice. It might be a little too low. I don’t know what kind of advice I’d expect for $30 a year. But Schwab is generally considered one of the good guys.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
You think about the good guys out there in the mutual fund space and the brokerage space and you think about people like Vanguard and Charles Schwab and Fidelity and those kinds of places. That doesn’t mean every product offered by every one of these companies is a good product. It doesn’t even mean it’s being offered at fair price, but as a general rule, you’re not going to go wrong at these companies. You’re not going to be totally ripped off there. And so, I think that’s reasonable to use if you want to do that.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
Are there extra fees? Well, these are ETFs and mutual funds, right? They’re regulated by the SEC. They have rules and they have prospectuses and they have to put certain things in there, including the fees and costs. So, these are not undiscoverable things. You can look them up, you can look up the expense ratio of your mutual funds. If you can’t find it on the website of Schwab or Vanguard or whoever, you can go to Morningstar and look them up. Same thing with ETS.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
Now at Schwab, my recollection is that Schwab ETFs are traded totally commission free. If not, the commissions can’t be more than a few dollars. $5, $6, $7, something like that, I think was their commissions last time that I looked, but I’m pretty sure that their ETFs and probably many others are traded commission-free.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
Now Schwab mutual funds are probably also traded commission-free there, but I’ll bet if you want to buy a Vanguard mutual fund as Schwab, you’re going to pay like $50. And that’s just the way it is when you go to another brokerage and you try to buy somebody else’s mutual funds. The ETFs are fine because they trade on the stock market just like stocks, but the mutual funds, they usually nail you with a pretty good commission, both when you buy and when you sell.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
So as a general rule, if your 401(k) or your taxable accounts are at Schwab, and you want to own Vanguard funds, you buy the ETFs. It’s just cheaper. And so why Schwab has that particular rule? I have no idea. Maybe it makes it easier for them to manage. Certainly at $30 a year, they got to look for ways to keep it as easy as possible, but that would not be a deal stopper for me. If it’s not in a taxable account, it’s probably no big deal at all to swap from mutual fund to an ETF, right? No costs there.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
But if you had to change from one holding into another and realized capital gains, well, maybe you might not want to do that. Remember with Vanguard funds and ETFs, you can change from one share class to another by converting the shares rather than actually realizing a capital gain. So, you might want to take that option if we’re talking about Vanguard ETFs. Maybe Schwab offers the same thing for their ETFs. If you’re in a taxable account, you might want to ask about that.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
But for the most part here, this is not a bad thing to swap into ETFs. It’s fine to use ETFs. I use both in my investing accounts whichever one seems more convenient and sometimes it’s a little bit cheaper to use one over the other. But you don’t need to lose any sleep over whether you’re using an ETF or a traditional mutual fund share class.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
Just don’t get suckered into the stupid ETFs. These are the ones that Jack Bogle was always ranting about. Some goofy index that was put together and is really just an excuse for active management. They charge you high fees and encourage you to churn it. Those sorts of narrowly focused ETFs. Stay away from those. But when you’re trading total stock market and total international stock market ETFs it really doesn’t matter if you’re in the mutual fund or the ETF.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
All right. I think we’ve talked about 457s enough. We’ve talked about ETFs enough. We certainly talked about cars enough. I hope there was something useful and enlightening in this podcast for you. Remember a few things, don’t forget about that course sale. The code is WCI JULY 10. If you’ve been waiting for a discount to take a WCI course, you get a t-shirt and you get 10% off. You got to buy it by the 12th.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
Thanks to our sponsor today. Now one medication is proven to treat and prevent, Nurtec ODT Rimegepant – 75 milligrams. To learn more about this exciting news visit nurtec-hcp.com.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
We could use a few more questions on the podcast. If you would like to get your question answered on the podcast, go to speakpipe.com/whitecoatinvestor leave us your question and we’ll get it answered on the podcast.
Dr. Jim Dahle:
Thanks to those of you who are leaving us five-star reviews and telling your friends about the podcast. Our most recent one came in from Gbstackhouse, who said, “Even for know-it-alls. I am an older and experienced investor, and have been financially independent for years- and yet Dr. Dahle continues to provide great new content that still teaches me things!”
Dr. Jim Dahle:
Head up, shoulders back. You’ve got this and we can help. We’ll see you next time on the White Coat Investor podcast.
Disclaimer:
My dad, your host, Dr. Dahle, is a practicing emergency physician, blogger, author, and podcaster. He’s not a licensed accountant, attorney or financial advisor. So, this podcast is for your entertainment and information only and should not be considered official personalized financial advice.

 

 


Originally posted at https://www.whitecoatinvestor.com/how-much-car-can-you-afford/

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