Perhaps one of the most prolific stereotypes about those that enlist in the U.S. military is that, when given their first paycheck by Uncle Sam, they run to nearest sleazy auto dealer, which invariably sells them a sports car akin to snake oil at an annual percentage rate so high, it’ll leave them chowing down on a Top Ramen diet for years.
And while it is true in many cases, it doesn’t have to be.
Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Paul Garcia, who joined in 2004 and now serves with the 535th Airlift Squadron, managed to finance a number of dream cars — including a McLaren and a Nissan Skyline — without a ridiculous interest rate.
His secret? Waiting.
“You always see those memes, those 20 percent Camaro and Mustang,” he told Military Times. “Everything takes time. And it’s about patience, and understanding and knowing you can achieve what you want in due time.”
Garcia started small after enlisting at 18. His first car was a Honda Prelude. Choosing to buy it used and for less helped him establish a relationship with the bank that allowed him to eventually scale his auto purchases.
“I kind of stuck with the same credit union, which ended up continuing to finance,” Garcia said. “As my credit grew better interest rates came, and higher financing amounts.”
Garcia purchased the McLaren in 2016, valued at $160,000. He put down $30,000, while the bank financed the other $130,000. But it wasn’t long before he set his sights on another car: a 1999 R34 Nissan Skyline GT-R V-Spec, which is not available in the United States.
“Being a car aficionado, I love so many vehicles,” he said. “This one was definitely a dream being that they only made 282 of them worldwide. And it was mainly just in Japan that you know, it’s where the car came from, and it’s such a rarity.”
In addition to carefully scaling his car selections up from a $10,000 used Honda over the last 18 years, Garcia made a few other shrewd financial decisions. He bought a multi-bedroom house and rented out rooms to fellow airmen, and he invested in a franchise of Capriotti’s sub shop.
“I bought a house by Edwards, and ended up selling, and I bought another home down at Travis,” he noted. “I ended up renting that one out and bought another one. When the time was right, I ended up selling both of those houses and invested in opening up a Capriotti sandwich franchise.”
And although Garcia is happy with his Nissan Skyline, he foresees rejoining the McLaren family again someday.
“I do want to continue to pursue what’s next,” he said. “I think I love the McLaren brand. I love what it stands for, the ideology of its race roots. So I’d love to be able to get back into a McLaren.”
Sarah Sicard is a Senior Editor with Military Times. She previously served as the Digitial Editor of Military Times and the Army Times Editor. Other work can be found at National Defense Magazine, Task & Purpose, and Defense News.