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May is the month to buy a car, according to U.S. News and World Report, based on factors like the rollout of Memorial Day deals and dealers clearing out old inventory to make room for the new models from the winter and spring autoshows.

If you are in the market for a car, it is worth noting that prices for new and used vehicles are set to decline this year as supply chain issues and inflation start to ease, according to research from finance giant JP Morgan.

But that begs the question: what should you buy?

Top car brands: Toyotas, Hondas and Fords

According to a 2022 study by Experian Automotive, a lot of wealthy folks simply don’t drive fancy cars.

The study found that for people with household income of more than $250,000, 61% don’t drive luxury brands. They drive Toyotas, Fords and Hondas like the rest of us.

Other studies show similar results.

Customer experience and market research company MaritzCX found that the Ford F-150 pickup truck was the most popular vehicle in the U.S. for people earning more than $200,000 a year.

In fact, even the ultra-rich may not be splurging on exotic vehicles.

Mark Zuckerberg, who co-founded Meta (formerly Facebook) and has a net worth of $49.5 billion according to Bloomberg, is frequently spotted driving a Honda Fit hatchback. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was still driving a Honda Accord well after he became a billionaire.

Legendary investor Warren Buffett is frugal with cars, too.

“You’ve got to understand, he keeps cars until I tell him, ‘This is getting embarrassing — time for a new car,'” his daughter said in a documentary.

No need to show off

We often associate rich people with lavish lifestyles — or at least that’s the impression we get from social media.

But in real life, that’s not always the case.

Read more: Over 65% of Americans don't shop around for a better car insurance deal — and that could be costing you $500 a month

Personal finance expert Dave Ramsey points out that for those who have built their first level of wealth — he defines it as having a net worth of between $1 million and $10 million — the cars they drive are “understated” and that “the valet is seldom impressed.”

“It’s usually a used Camry or a nice used Honda or a nice old pickup truck of some kind,” he said during an episode of The Ramsey Show.

“People that achieve that layer of wealth, that $1 to $10 million dollars, the way they did it is, they didn’t do it for you. They’re not mad at you, but they don’t care what you think. They were not living their life to impress others.”

Simply put, they're not trying to keep up with the Joneses.

Especially given the rise in the costs of car ownership, Suze Orman says your objective when buying a car right now should be a simple one.

"Your goal should be to buy the least expensive car. Period. That should steer you to a used car rather than a new car," she wrote.

Why luxury cars aren't a smart buy

There are several reasons why you might want to think twice before purchasing a luxury vehicle.

The first one is depreciation. Cars start losing their value the moment you drive off the dealer lot. According to U.S. News, the average depreciation for all vehicles over the first five years is 49.1%, while luxury brands can lose a lot more than that. The average five-year depreciation for a Mercedes S-Class is 67.1%. For a BMW 7 Series, it’s a whopping 72.6%.

Moreover, luxury cars can cost more to maintain and insure than economy cars. So what you have to fork up ends up being much more than just the purchasing price. And once luxury cars run out of warranty, they can also be more expensive to repair.

Don’t forget, there’s opportunity cost as well. The more money you spend on an expensive vehicle, the less you have to put into your investment portfolio. That potential return — which can get compounded as time goes by — is your opportunity cost.

Jing Pan Investment Reporter

Jing is an investment reporter for MoneyWise. He is an avid advocate of investing for passive income. Despite the ups and downs he’s been through with the markets, Jing believes that you can generate a steadily increasing income stream by investing in high quality companies.

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