The Pain of the Public Upgrade

At the end of this summer, my hubby and I flew into Houston’s Hobby airport. We were coming in for his oral surgery appointment (to extract two teeth … ouch!).  So as we landed in the 100-degree heat, we were not exactly in the most Zen of mindsets.
After deplaning with our carry-ons, we went straight to the rental car counter. We had reserved a compact car, a cost effective option we knew would not only be fuel-efficient but also easily meet our minimal space requirements.
The attendant at the counter, however, had an entirely different goal in mind: namely, an upgrade.
“You know,” she said very loudly, “You’ve reserved a COMPACT car.” We nodded in agreement. Her disdain was palpable. “You’ll have to roll down your own windows. They’re. Not. Electronic.” We reiterated that we were quite happy with our choice.
She stared at us intently.  Taking a deep breath, she lobbed her last salvo in a voice that turned heads, “THERE ARE NO POWER LOCKS IN YOUR COMPACT CAR.” Hot and tired, we told her that we didn’t mind the manual labor.
As we stepped away with the keys to our Ford Focus, we were relieved to be out of the notorious upgrade zone. But I couldn’t help notice several people in line giving us that head-to-toe once over. I could feel their enquiring minds at work: “Are they cheap and stingy? Are they out of work? Why on earth would they want to roll down their own windows?”
Ouch.  I was feeling the pain of the public upgrade.
However, as uncomfortable a feeling as it was, I knew deep inside that a compact car was the right decision for us. And the universe took notice of that conviction. Not only did our compact car end up having power windows and locks, but it maneuvered easily with its zippy engine, and the air conditioner had no problems handling the Houston heat.
Alas, in today’s world we are subjected to the up-sale at virtually every turn. We are bombarded 24/7 with advertising that further fans our flames of desire. Is it really any wonder that so many of us end up with spending habits that are totally out-of-whack?  The average American household, for example, spends almost 20% of its take-home pay on transportation costs; that’s double the 10% rule-of-thumb I’ve always recommended people follow.

So how do we find financial peace of mind when there is temptation and pressure to spend from nearly every direction?

When I think back to our rental counter episode, I was struck at how unmoved I was by the agent’s peer pressuring shenanigans. (Full disclosure… I’m not always so clear and decisive in the face of pushy sales tactics!)
Reflecting upon it, I realized that there were at least two factors that kept me from succumbing to the public upgrade. First, I had thought through my choice calmly and deliberately before heading to the counter. Second, I was aware that part of the checkout routine included the upgrade shtick. I had in effect shone a mental flashlight on both my choice and the potential temptation. Thus I was able to walk away from that counter relatively unscathed.
Having lost hours of my life to second guessing myself on many other occasions, it recently struck me that the “mental flashlight” might very well be a useful tool to keep in hand on this journey to financial peace of mind.

What about you – what tools have helped you avoid the pain of the public upgrade?

19 Replies to “The Pain of the Public Upgrade”

  1. My car is 20 years old. I bought it new and have taken very good care of it.  Some people tease me about driving such an old car, and on occasion, it does  make me second-guess myself. But, at the end of the day, I am happier when I am true to my values and do what I think is right for me.

    1. Love this point you make, Sue: “But, at the end of the day, I am happier when I am true to my values and do what I think is right for me.”
      I can’t help but wonder how much of our (or at least my!) financial anxiety comes from having lost sight of what our core values are. Sometimes modern life can feel so “over stimulating” that it’s hard to separate what you really feel from what the multitude of marketing messages coming at you tell you that you should feel. And that, of course, assumes after all the digitization in your daily diet that you can still feel. More often than I’d like I find myself feeling numb. But when I read that sentence from you… I felt JOY. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I think we are pressured all the time – every place.  From ads on TV to sales clerks who try to load extra purchases into your arms, we are constantly wading through a stream of recommendations.  I applaud your presence of mind at the counter.  It would have been easy to second-guess yourself, or just give in because it was so public or because it wasn’t “that much” more. 
    But how much nicer it is to spend your money wisely!  The “upgrade” experience would have lasted for just the little bit of time you were in the car…and as you saw, the compact wasn’t bad at all.  The difference, if you could have compared them side by side, would probably have been negligible for the short amount of time you actually spent in the car on that trip.

  3. Thanks to YOU for shining a light on how often we are pressured, publicly and privately, to overspend. The rental car upgrade schtick happened to me recently on a trip to San Francisco when the counter person checking me in to pick up my subcompact tried to convince me that I needed an SUV or at least a midsize! In San Francisco yet, where parking is notoriously challenging, gas is well over $4 a gallon, and a small car really is the way to go. I know the city very well and just kept saying, “you must be joking! No thanks.” The disdain I put up with was well worth it because I trusted my own knowledge and got what I wanted. PS, the car was perfect.

  4. The best part of your mental flashlight is that it makes the sting of impulse buys less painful. If we’re prepared 90% of the time, and slip just a fraction, then the dent isn’t so bad!
    One of my tools is pride — I think it’s cool to to be content with what we need, and no more or less. When we choose to make that decision publicly, feel proud & do it with a smile. 🙂 (Not to begrudge the occasional indulgence…I mean power windows?? Now that’s living!)

  5. I love this story because it’s so me. I couldn’t care less about what others think due mainly to the fact that most are in debt up to their eyeballs. It gives me an inner chuckle.
    My tool is my cash envelope. Yep, I use an envelope that holds my spending cash and keep it in a safe place, definitely *not* my purse. That way I can see it either accumulate  (yay) or decrease (boo) as the days and  weeks go by. It’s easier for me to manage cash when I can actually touch it.

    1. I’m learning how to manage cash now that I have maxed my credit and I’m thinking envelopes may be the way to go. It’s been so long since I have touched cash and it feels really good.   I’m hoping to get Mint set up today to track the cash in my accounts.

      1. Alexis – I’m sooooo excited that you are on this journey of developing a more conscious relationship with your money. With your gift for blending together spirituality / law / entrepreneurship I have zero doubt you are doing to have some fascinating insights from your new path. I’d love, love, love to hear more as you go along. Hope the set up went well and most of all that you are feeling increasing sanity and serenity around your finances. I think having an attitude of conscious presences towards your finances, no matter what state they are in, is such a powerful practice. xoxo

  6. About 3 months ago, I made a conscious decision to create a reality where I could not use my credit anymore — took some big risks, maxed it out, and I am learning to use cash for everything.  It’s all part of a big experiment that I’m so excited to write about. 
    I’ve never been this conscious about my money and how I spend it because I always just through everything on a credit card.
    Yesterday, I went to the grocery store with $100 in my pocket and couldn’t spend any more than that because it’s all I had.  When I got to the counter, I realized I had not estimated what I put in my cart properly and I was going to have to put some things back. 
    I felt the shame that has kept me making lots of money rising in my cheeks.  And, at the same time I felt proud of myself for not saying “oh, let me go out to the car and get more money” as I could have done/would have done in the past in reaction to that shame and instead saying “ok, let’s figure out what I’m not buying today.”
    So cheeks burning a bit, I took some things off of the conveyer belt that I really did not need to bring home with me.  And I felt conscious and empowered.
    It was a growing up experience.

  7. I love this post – thanks for writing it. I had a very similar experience at the Kansas City Airport. The rental car agent tried the typical bullying techniques to get us to upgrade. We said no. And no. And no. And then we went out to the parking lot and they had to give us a towncar (what they were trying to sell us) because no compacts were available. I couldn’t believe it. One towncar – and no upgrade fees. 

  8. OMG!  I am not sure we can be friends anymore .  I bet you were not even parked under the canopy so the car was hot.  Lee

  9. When my husband and I recently rented a car (after an accident disabled his car), we requested a compact or mid-size.  When we went to get it, however, we were told that they didn’t have any smaller cars available, so they gave us a “free” upgrade to a large car. We didn’t have any choice in the matter. I’m irritated that we’re stuck with a gas-guzzler that barely fits in our garage!

  10. Living in a world that is consumed with things and more things we have lost all sense of reason and are living a life based on upgradable things. If was such a delight in seeing you and your husband standing your ground and most importantly staying in control of your life. Congratulations!!!

    1. The insatiable society hunger for MORE, BIGGER, FASTER is disconcerting, isn’t it. There is a wonderful piece in the October issue of Vanity Fair magazine by Michael Lewis in which he examines the potential causes of the state of California’s fiscal crisis. He quotes several different folks ranging from city government officials to academic basically saying we’ve become victims of our own success —> sucked into this unrealistic and never ending swirl of expectations and desires. Just defining for each of us what our “ground” is could result in a dramatic improvement. I meet so many hard working people who are not happy… perhaps the way to gain financial control is to pause and revisit this important issue of what really brings us happiness, joy, and supports our personal values.

  11. As I watch how the service reps treat different customers I plant my feet firmly on the ground and go through my mental checklist. Over the years I have observed the different styles of the reps with the male sales executives, polite, calm, caring for their needs as they are on the road all the time. The rental agency always has what they want for comfort after a long flight etc, then the family young parents with small children need to have a large suv for lots of room, the elderly always need the large town ar.
    My experience is generally negative of the car rental agency, a woman traveling alone we don’t have the car you ordered in stock as it was given to the male sales agent, however, we have a four cylinder no power steering, a downgrade from what you ordered. When I look into the parking lot I see lots of cars that is the type I ordered, no we just got that back and it’s not been cleaned etc so I will wait until it is ready. A miracle happens and they do have the type of car that I requested.
    It’s sad these games go on many times the reason for my trips are for ill family members and I really do not want to listen to their crap. Women have to stand up for what you want. No one is there to help you if you are traveling alone. Practice in front of the mirror or with someone before you get to your destination and remember to be polite

  12. Sorry about your  welcome to Houston, Manisha. We’re not all that way here.
    And it doesn’t matter how you operate your windows in summertime. We simply don’t open them as long as the A/C works.

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