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The Pain of the Public Upgrade

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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 beforeheading 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?

[This post originally appeared at ManishaThakor.com.] Want to join the journey to MoneyZen? You can follow personal finance expert & author, Manisha Thakor, on Twitter at@ManishaThakoror sign up to get her MoneyZen email updates delivered right to your inboxby clicking here.