The Lost Mustang

Once upon a time, a good friend of mine moved to West Virginia to work a (for him) well-paying but dangerous job in the coal mines. He was following both his father and the money, and both were good. Money had not been plentiful in his earlier life and the allure of $3,500 a month called to him, understandably so.

As he was living with his father, this friend was so fortunate as to live rent free. His main expense in life was an $80 per month contribution to the household groceries. Living in the corner of West Virginia (as opposed to the lengthy state that is California), he saw the possibility of taking regular weekend trips out of state. It was a chance to explore the world that he had not had before. All he needed was a vehicle.

With $3,420 a month just sitting around, he realized that not only could he afford a car, but he could afford the car of his dreams for a mere $18,000*. And so he set off to the dealership, $3,000 burning a hole in his pocket as his advance payment. He put down the $3k and took a loan for the rest, set at minimum payments (roughly $350/month), though he often payed around $700/month. His new car, while shiny and beautiful, still needed some things he thought. They might not be necessary, but he could spare the cash right? First, rims- $550. Then, new speakers, because when you’re driving fast, who doesn’t like to keep the music loud? – $500.

Work was an unfortunate 70 mile round trip. But he was living rent free and it’s not like there was much traffic, so he put up with it. Besides work, he made a point of traveling out of state. He wanted to see as much of the world as he could! Michigan, Tennessee, the Carolinas.  He was young and impulsive and drove fast and recklessly which meant that he ended up replacing his tires every 3 months or so ($600 total). The long commute and the weekend trips meant he filled his tank every few days. His monthly gas total was around $400.

His father, knowing his son, understandably wanted him to have car insurance. My friend was a new driver, and young, so full coverage did not come cheap. $580 per month was the best he could ask for and he was satisfied with it.

My friend’s good fortune and good job did not last as long as he had hoped. Most men work the mines their entire lives and he believed that he would be no different. Unfortunately for him, the mines held a round of layoffs and as both the youngest and least experienced, he was let go. With no job prospects and no savings, he could no longer afford even the minimum payments on the car loan. He returned his car to the dealership, packed his bags, and headed back to the west coast with his father.  Since then, he has mourned the loss of his dream car.

Not too long ago, I helped him run some numbers. He had been employed for 8 months and based off the numbers he had given me we came up with this:

  • Advance Payment ($3,000)
  • Car Payments (8*$700)
  • New Tires ($600)
  • New Rims ($550)
  • New Speakers ($500)
  • Gas (8*$400)
  • Car Insurance (8*$580)

The grand total spent on this one car, worth $18,000 by itself: $18,090.

Yet only $5,600, one third of the total loan, was paid off.

After we had added up the math and gotten past the shock of “Is this really real?” I had two questions for him. One, was I alone in thinking it was absurd that he did not currently own the Mustang? And two, would he do anything different if he could go back? The answers were no and yes, respectively. He tells me that he would not have replaced the speakers or gotten the rims – they were merely a product of lifestyle inflation. He would have driven more carefully to preserve both the tires and reduce his gas consumption. He still would have traveled as much, which I personally find reasonable. In fact here is a direct quote from him: “Hell I would’ve owned that shit now”.

So we ran the numbers.

In the 8 months my friend had spent working the mines, he had earned $28,000. From that we will subtract his monthly grocery contribution for a grand total of $27,360. We whittled down his car related expenses to something we both deemed reasonable.

  • Car ($18,000)
  • New Tires ($200)
  • Gas (8*$250)
  • Car Insurance (8*$580)

The grand total spent on the fully paid off car: $24,840.

That leaves him $2,520 (or $315/month) to spare, whether for clothing, or entertainment, or eating out, or to save and invest.


I have always said that money is about priorities. Where you spend it says a lot about you and what you value. How you spend it depends on what you find important in life. In this exercise, my friend prioritized owned his dream car and travelling.  Personally,  I would rather buy myself a beater and put even more money towards travel, but that car made him happy beyond the “ooh-ahh” status effect (though I’m sure that played a part).

*Coal miners in WV it seems get quite the discount on… well… everything. Including brand new cars!

Whether material or not, are there any dreams you have lost that, in hindsight, you should have been able to get?

One thought on “The Lost Mustang

  1. Pingback: Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is! | Finding the (Glass) Ceiling

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