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Want A Convertible BMW? Then Start Mowing Lawns!

May 6, 2011 · 37 comments

in Personal Finance, Work

When you bought your car, what was important to you?  For some, gas mileage may be the deciding factor, while others feel they need a vehicle that projects a certain image.

However, sometimes people end up buying a vehicle that projects the wrong image.

A Perfect Example Of Someone Who Did NOT Choose The Right Car

A few years ago, a middle aged man appeared at our doorstep offering to do yard work for us at a pretty reasonable rate.  He seemed down on his luck and we wanted to help him out.  However, my oldest son mows the lawn, so paying for a lawn cutting service was out of the question.  So “Steve” offered to just do the edging for us.  That was fine because we hate edging, and I don’t think our edger was even working anymore.

Every few weeks starting in mid-Spring or so, “Steve” shows up with his edger and gets to work.  He has always been very nice and he and his small crew do a nice job.  Edging is such a tedious job that it is the worth the investment for us, and we have always felt like we were helping Steve out.

I Never Knew Having a Small Lawn Service Could Be So Lucrative

Recently, Steve showed up at our house again to discuss lawn service for this year.   He pulled up in our driveway, and I have to admit I was shocked.  Steve was driving a convertible BMW Z3 (with the top down, of course)!  My perspective of Steve changed immediately.  Where at first I thought we were helping someone out that might be down on his luck, I was really just helping someone to drive a fancy car.  Also, he wanted to retroactively charge us for mowing our lawn a few times last year when we never asked him to do it in the first place.  He had told me before that if he saw our lawn was long, he would just cut the front for free occasionally as part of the deal. Apparently, that part of the deal disintegrated without us knowing it.

Maybe I Am Too Judgmental

After seeing Steve drive that car and he started asking for more money, I suddenly didn’t want to ‘help him out’ so much anymore.  When we first hired him, it was almost out of charity in a sense.  Now that I see he can afford cars way nicer than most people drive, the sense of charity has burst into a ball of flames. Even my son sees Steve in a whole new light.

What A Car Can Symbolize

Steve’s car really drives home the point that image can really matter in business.  (Excuse  the pun there.)  In some industries, driving a convertible BMW or something similar is almost expected, and may even be necessary to ensure credibility.  However, when providing lawn service (or many other services), a fancy car may work against you.  An expensive vehicle may make your customers feel like they are overpaying for the service being offered.  Also, it can be frustrating to the employees (if there are any), who perceive that the boss makes way more money than they do.  It might even encourage workers to ask for a big raise, as the expensive car may signify that business is booming and that the wealth should be shared.

Keep in mind, I have no problem with people making a lot of money.  I want everyone to make a lot of money.  However, in this case, I almost feel like a sucker, and that is probably what bothers me so much.

Has your opinion of someone ever changed based on the car they drove or the house they lived in?

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{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

Andrew @ 101 Centavos May 6, 2011 at 7:09 am

Heh, nicely put, Kris.
We had a company president that for years and years drove the same red Chrisler 300M to work. He kept it clean and well maintained. I know for a fact that he owned not one, but several fancy sports cars, but he never once drove them to work. Smart guy.
Although we could afford much nicer and more expensive cars, both Mrs. 101 and I drive vehicles that are now over 10 yrs old. They’ll eventually get passed on to the kids or retired to the farm.


Kris May 6, 2011 at 9:52 am

I like your company president.

If you retire the vehicles to the farm, maybe you could make a raised bed out of the back of the pickup truck?


101 Centavos May 7, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Maybe… but that could be a tad too redneck-ey.


Nicole May 6, 2011 at 7:30 am

I don’t have much sympathy for people who complain about money and lease luxury cars.

I also don’t understand why an accountant we know who should be old enough to be able to pay for cars in cash still gets car loans. Finding that out dropped my opinion a bit.

One of our upper administrators here is very smart. He has a luxury car (he spends a lot of time doing things that require looking good to people outside the university), but it is a vintage luxury car. It is gorgeous but he doesn’t have to update it with a new car every few years.


Kris May 6, 2011 at 9:55 am

I would love to see a vintage luxury car.

Is there any chance that your accountant acquaintance takes out zero percent loans? If so, then that is a good thing.


Nicole May 6, 2011 at 10:03 am

No, he does not. He just thinks car payments are the way of life. We haven’t asked him why or anything because it isn’t our place. Back when we were first thinking about paying extra on our mortgage we asked his advice and he said it was better to have money accessible than locked in a house, so maybe it’s something like that.

Though the last time he asked for stock tips we did get him the Bogleheads book and he’s totally changed his investment strategy.


TUJ May 6, 2011 at 8:59 am

That’s an interesting story. I don’t know if ‘judge’ is the right word for me – but if I know a person or a couples background and then see them buy expensive toys or cars, I often wonder how the heck they can afford it?! I think I might wonder the same thing with Steve. Is he really making that much money off of lawn work? Is he leasing or does he struggle to make the payment every month?


Kris May 6, 2011 at 9:58 am

I would love to ask the lawn guy how he manages the car, but I suppose that would be totally inappropriate.

I too wonder how these young couples afford these giant homes. It makes me wonder what I am doing wrong!


Kris May 6, 2011 at 10:55 pm

I have no idea what Steve’s income is or where he lives. He seems to own the car (or lease) since I have seen him since driving it.

I often see young couples with kids in big houses and wonder what in the world we are doing wrong. When my husband were just starting out we had decent salaries and such, but we couldn’t afford the houses that many others were buying. As I have gotten older though, I do realize that sometimes image means more than solvency.


Linda May 6, 2011 at 9:06 am

I tried thinking about this flipped around. So, some people are *expected* to drive fancy cars and live in big houses, and some people are not? At what point in someone’s career or at what salary level is a person expected to start reflecting our idea of what it means to be “rich?” At what point is someone expected to start reflecting our idea of what it means to be “not rich?”

There are fundamentals that those of us interested in PF like to follow, and spending precious income on fancy stuff instead of funding retirement or paying down debt is uppermost in importance. But I can’t know what that lawn guy is doing with his money just because he shows up in a fancy car one day. Maybe that’s a rental for a special occasion? Maybe he has decided to buy or lease an expensive car…but that’s his choice.

It seems you feel like he may have intentionally represented himself in a certain way to gain your business, and his real situation may be different than what you thought. That’s the real issue here, I guess: his approach to getting your business is suspect and sneaky, and he seems to be trying to change the terms of your agreement. That’s not good at all.

Maybe one of your neighbors will let you borrow an edger and you can cancel this guy’s services entirely.


Kris May 6, 2011 at 10:53 pm

Linda, even my son wants to get rid of Steve. Perhaps we need to get an edger and put him to task since he already mows the lawn.

I don’t really expect anyone in particular to drive a fancy car or live in an expensive house. I guess the way he presented himself gave a certain impression, and then his car gave another. Especially when he started trying to charge for services that were supposedly free.


First Gen American May 6, 2011 at 9:10 am

Agreed, 100%. The lawn guy on my street only has 1 vehicle and that’s his pickup truck that he uses for business and pleasure. I don’t see an issue with a vendor having a nice pickup truck, but a BMW? Sheesh.

I’m still on the fence about realtors though. Most of them have very nice cars. Does it make them seem like a more successful salesperson when they have a nicer car?


Kris May 6, 2011 at 10:56 pm

First Gen- that is what I mean about some people are expected to have nice cars. Not because they are rich, but because they have to drive certain clients or project a certain image for their jobs. The realtors fall into a tough category. If they drive too nice a car, you might want to ask for a reduction on their commission because you think they make too much money. If they drive a cruddy car, you might thing they aren’t good realtors because they obviously do not make a lot of money.


MoneyCone May 6, 2011 at 10:18 am

We are all judged in a way! Don’t drive up in a BMW to mow a lawn!

You should’ve asked him why he does what he does! Would’ve made a great post!


Kris May 6, 2011 at 10:58 pm

Maybe that will be my greatest post “Steve’s guide to life”… 🙂


retirebyforty May 6, 2011 at 11:33 am

I love our old BMW Z3! This car is not made anymore and it is quite affordable used. I did a quick search and there are many for sales at $3-6,000. The 4 cylinder version is down right cheap.

He probably should have drove up in his pick up truck though, but when the sun is out the convertible is irresistible!


Kris May 6, 2011 at 11:39 am

I wonder if it wasn’t a Z3 then because this car looked incredibly new. (My son said it was a Z3, I know nothing about such things.) Maybe it was just taken care of really well, I don’t know.


krantcents May 6, 2011 at 1:02 pm

Interesting reaction! Would you go to doctor who drives a an old cheap car? Does that influence you as well? Don’t misunderstand I agree with you, however would you answer yes to my question? You spotlighted an image issue. Does the car indicate he is successful and does not need your work or an arrogance that he needs your work to maintain an opulent lifestyle. The car should not matter if the service is good and priced fairly. In spite of that statement, I agree it does affect your thinking.


Kris May 6, 2011 at 10:48 pm

Krantcents, I really wouldn’t care what kind of car my doctor drove. I would probably care more if it was clean or not.

To me, the car indicates that he is quite successful, and he tried charging me for lawn cutting that was supposed to be free. So, I felt like he wanted more money to support his ‘lifestyle’ instead of adhering to the agreement.


Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager May 6, 2011 at 3:24 pm

What made you think Steve was down on his luck the first time he came to see you?

Sometimes my opinion changes, but I’ve also had to opposite experience where I’ve known someone who was rich and seen their car or their house and thought it was “below” them.


Kris May 6, 2011 at 10:46 pm

Actually, Steve showed up at our door on foot, and ‘dressed down’. (Like you would dress if you were mowing lawns.) It was really his demeanor and the fact that he seemed to be walking through the neighborhood trying to drum up business. He was offering to do any kind of lawn work, he just seemed desperate. Plus, unemployment was super bad around here and I may have read more into his situation than there was.

Maybe he is just a great salesman?


Jeff May 6, 2011 at 5:59 pm

I totally agree, image means so much whether people like it or not. At the beginning of this post, I felt bad for Steve too. However, the BMW really doesn’t help his cause.


Kris May 6, 2011 at 10:43 pm

Jeff- I am sure that Steve would be willing to do some work for you too, and charge retroactively for work last year.


Nicole May 7, 2011 at 7:24 am

One of the reasons we’re doing our own lawn work was because we kept getting folks who said they would charge one thing and then charged another. That happens one time and we fire them. We did have a great person (a horticultural student) for a couple of years, but he graduated and the person he sold the company to did a bad job so we let him go too, but at least he didn’t try to cheat us, just mowed over things (I still miss that blueberry bush).

DH is getting big muscles with the reel mower, so I’m happy.


Sandy H @ Journey To Our Home May 7, 2011 at 10:44 pm

I think this would really annoy me too- seeing someone who is possibly overspending with the money I’m giving them. Maybe it is for a service- but it is for a service you could do yourself and had in the past.
Maybe he is not being smart with the money he is making- and is really just leasing and not owning the car. I don’t like pouring my hard earned money into a business with a bad decision maker as the owner. I don’t care what it is- I want to shop with people who are fiscally responsible- or even though I am getting something in return I feel like I’m pouring my money down the drain.


Money Reasons May 8, 2011 at 12:58 am

Just curious, any chance that he was a decent job then got laid off? Maybe he had that car before he stated mowing lawns? Probably not, but something to speculate about 🙂

It’s kind of snakey of him come back and ask from money when he may have mowed your front lawn, especially if he said he would do it for free…


Financial Samurai May 10, 2011 at 12:03 pm

Fantastic perspective, and SPOT ON! I tell all the young guns who’ve just graduated to NOT go out and buy the nicest car they can afford and drive it to work. Otherwise, managers will just ZERO you on your bonus!

My philosophy has always been to appear much poorer than reality. I want to be the underdog, and to fly under the radar.

I see that big HAMMER trying to bop the gopher, and I don’t want to stick out!



Financial Samurai May 10, 2011 at 12:03 pm

BTW, Moose is 12 years old this summer… and I’m gonna drive him to the ground! Of course, I will wash him though )


Kris May 10, 2011 at 2:31 pm

Sam, I will mourn the day that Moose is no more.

It can be great to stay under the radar. I don’t like to stand out in any way, unless of course it is for being nice or something. 🙂 But there is no reason to waste valuable money to influence what others think. Sure, you need to look appropriate, but to me, comfort is way more important than image.


Melissa May 13, 2011 at 1:28 am

Hmmm…intriguing. Have you ever thought that maybe “Steve” is married to a rich woman? Perhaps he won the car on “The Price is Right”? Maybe his uncle died and left him the car? Maybe his last name is Kennedy?

You sure do make a lot of assumptions about people! Geesh! Why don’t you just ask to see how much money is in his bank account? If you don’t need the lawn mowed, then don’t hire him! None of us here would presume to tell you how to spend the money you make…maybe he has saved all his life for that dream car…

Judgmental much?


Kris May 13, 2011 at 8:36 am

Melissa, I think you may be missing some of the points of this post.

What angered us the most is that he struck one deal when he was out looking ‘down on his luck’. Then, he pulled up in his fancy car and wanted to charge us retroactively for lawn cutting that he said would be free. (Remember, we only hired him for edging, and he ‘threw in’ the occasional free lawn cutting if he ever stopped by and saw the lawn was real long. We didn’t want a lawn service cutting our lawn as it is my son’s responsibility.)


Eric May 13, 2011 at 10:46 am

I love how everything thinks that BMW’s are so expensive. I bought my 3 year old 3-series for 20K. And there are plenty of Z3’s out there for less than 10,000.

Now, if it was an M3 – that is an expensive car, but most BMW’s are very affordable used.


Kris May 16, 2011 at 11:01 pm

I can’t say for sure if it was an M3 or a Z3 as my son is who identified it. (Cars are not my thing.)

I would have probably not been nearly as put off by it if he hadn’t tried to retroactively gouge me for the ‘free’ lawn mowings he promised.


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