When a Great Deal Isn’t So Great

by Joe Plemon on February 7, 2011

Or is it?

Jan and I recently said “no” to a great deal. I will tell you all about it in a second, but first you need a bit of background information.

Background info 1: Jan and I are currently involved in a house flip project which, because we are “cash only” investors, has dropped our savings to, uhm, uncomfortable levels.

Background info 2: Our car situation is less than ideal. My beloved 1999 Cadillac DeVille has a head gasket problem. It is still running fine, but it is relegated to short trips (100 or less miles). Jan’s car, a 1996 Oldsmobile Aurora, is perfect mechanically, but showing her age other ways (leather driver’s seat coming apart, various trim pieces unglued, paint faded badly, etc.)

Background info 3: Our plan is to continue to limp my Caddy along indefinitely and buy Jan a newer car after our flip house sells. We hope to have the house on the market by March, so we could conceivably sell it by summer.

Got it? Now…back to the great deal.

Knowing that we will be shopping for a newer car in a few months, I started researching what Jan thinks she would like: a nice mid-sized SUV with third seat capability. I know…”just looking” can get one in trouble, but I justified my male hunter instinct by telling myself that some knowledge now could help later. This is where the great deal enters our lives: some friends offered to sell us their 2005 Honda Pilot for $1500 under Kelly Blue Book price. How did they know we might be interested? Uhhh, I sort of mentioned that, once we sell our flip house we would be looking for something like what they drive. My bad.

This is a great deal…right?  Saving $1500 — a sweet, sweet Honda Pilot — we know the previous owners. But we held our ground. I told our friends “Thanks, but we have to wait until we sell our flip house.” Two days later they called back to tell us they have found another vehicle and must sell their Pilot soon. Long story short: they lowered their price another $1000. My response? I started to weaken. “We are not in a position to buy until we sell our flip house…but…let me talk to Jan and crunch some numbers.

When I mentioned this great deal to Jan, her response was, “Well. That is interesting.” I took this to be a slightly open door, so I started listing all of the good things about the great deal.

  • It is a great deal.
  • The Pilot is supposed to be a very safe vehicle.
  • The owner ratings on Edmunds.com were 4.5 out of 5.
  • We know a young couple we would love to give Jan’s Aurora to.
  • It is a great deal….oh, did I already say that?

I then started trying to find a way to make it happen.

Borrowing money — something Jan and I are both quite averse to — was not an option, so I tabulated our various accounts to discover that we could pay cash for this great deal – if we depleted our emergency fund. “Well”, I thought, “this isn’t ideal, but we could always pay it back once we sell the flip house. After all, this is a great deal.

Armed with this info, I asked Jan if she would like to talk about the Pilot. “Sure”, she replied as she turned the TV off. “But I don’t see how we have much to talk about if we don’t have the money.

Well, we DO have the money.” I replied. “But our emergency fund would be just about gone until we sell the flip house.” I hesitated, then proceeded, “This is a great vehicle, you know. And wouldn’t it be a great one to drive on our vacation this summer?

Jan was quiet for a moment as she studied the floor. Then, looking up at me, she said, “I just don’t feel right about buying something we don’t have the money for.”
She then followed up with this zinger, “You coach people about their money. What would you say if one of your clients asked for your advice on this same decision?

She nailed me. Deep in my gut I knew that all of this juggling  just to take advantage of a “great deal” wasn’t smart. “I would advise against it”, I murmured. Then, at that moment, a wave of peace swept over me. “But I want you to know, Jan, that I wouldn’t feel right about it either. Thank you for your wisdom.” For the millionth time in my life I was extremely grateful I had married this woman.

Yes, we could have found a way to take advantage of that great deal, and it all might have worked out fine, but doing so would have forced us to compromise our principles. No deal is great enough to justify that!

Saying “no”, on the other hand, feels pretty great.

Readers: When was a time that you felt good about saying “no” to a great deal? How about saying “yes” when you knew in your gut you should be saying “no”?

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Janice February 7, 2011 at 8:48 am

🙂

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Squirrelers February 7, 2011 at 9:52 am

I like this story, Joe. It seems as if you have a wise wife!

Really, this scenario plays out for many people, whether car, boat, tv, or whatever. If something is on sale or a “great deal”, there’s the tendency to purchase it. The thing is, if we don’t NEED something at a particular point in time, then we have to consider if A)We might need it sometime soon, and B)If we can feasibly purchase it right now. Looks like your example might have met A, but not B.

You did a nice job of avoiding the temptation to move on from older vehicles to a newer, versatile one. That’s a situation that could probably trip up many folks, so I’m glad you stuck to your principles here.

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joeplemon February 7, 2011 at 10:27 am

@Jan (my wise wife)…glad you liked it!

@Squirrelers,
Isn’t it crazy how a “great deal” can tempt us to pitch our logic out the window? That is why I love your A and B analysis … it keeps logic in the purchasing process. Yes, we were A, but not B. And, yes, I have a very wise wife.

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krantcents February 7, 2011 at 2:08 pm

I feel great whenever I make a decision! Saying yes or no has nothing to do with it. How’s that for an answer? I won’t try to put myself in your shoes, that is why I make these comments. My cars are 16 and 14 years old. I want to replace them because I am bored with them. I know it makes no sense! I am keeping them for now, because my practical side keeps me on target, which is what you did. I think!

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joeplemon February 8, 2011 at 11:28 am

@krantcents,
Yes, simply making a decision can make one feel great. In this story, I shared that I felt a wave of peace sweep over me at the moment when I knew what we were going to do. Much of that peace was because I knew that we were making the right decision, but part of it was simply knowing that I no longer needed to struggle with the issue.

As always, I appreciate your perspective.

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Cheapskate Jake @ My Personal Finance Journey February 13, 2011 at 9:38 pm

Howdy there Joe! You definitely made the right call on this one! Emergency funds should ONLY be used for emergencies. It is tough though…One can write and write about what people “should” do in these situations, but when I get in to them myself, there is a definite temptation!

Way to go makin’ the right call! Keep ’em comin’!

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Funny about Money February 14, 2011 at 9:37 am

LOL! This is a great story! Smart wife, smart decision. 🙂

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