R Scott Jones

April 16, 2021

A collectible car versus a free college education

The Barrett-Jackson car auction took place last month in nearby Scottsdale. I was at a small outdoor party with someone who had attended the first day, intent on buying a Ferrari (or one of three other options) the following day. His budget was up to $400,000, so his purchase choice would simply depend on how the bidding played out. He had attended the first day to scope out the cars he might want and learn the bidding process before jumping in the following day.

It seems crazy to me that people care so much about cars that they would pay such vast sums for them, especially for rare or vintage "collectibles." In fact, that goes for just about any "collectible," which provides virtually no utility beyond—perhaps—a mild but fleeting ego boost or feeling of nostalgia. Perhaps he considered it an “investment,” though let’s be honest—if you have $400k to burn, is it really money you need to use to make even more money with?

Personally, I can't really imagine having enough wealth to even consider buying something like a car I'll never drive—even if I thought I could resell it later for a bit more money.

If I had an extra $400,000 laying around to blow on something like that, I’d spend it quite differently. I presume if such a purchase was even an option, that I had already fulfilled all of my needs and could already afford whatever experiences I wanted to have and travel wherever I wanted to. Granted, my wants aren’t of the “luxury” variety—which can never truly satisfy anyway given the hedonic treadmill.

And if that were the case, it just seems obvious that one would derive far, far more personal joy from spending that money to help others. How much joy can you really get from an object that you can’t really use, after all? 

But how much joy would you get from funding the college educations of 6-8 kids compared with a car you'll never drive more than a handful of miles? We're talking about having a major impact on the lives of half a dozen human beings here—that's going to give you joy for A LONG TIME.

Not a fan of college? What about funding a gap year of international travel for each of them? Or maybe fund a twelve month runway for them to start a business—there’s no better education than actually doing it, right? All of these would be life-altering experiences that they might not otherwise ever have.

And each would likely return far more personal joy than the ego boost you get from owning something you never use—even on a much smaller scale than a $400k Ferrari. That's perhaps something we should all keep in mind the next time we're buying something frivolous.