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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