I bought my car almost a year ago, and I’m happy as a clam with it. Still, it was my second choice, and that’s actually a good thing, because I realize I did something that almost every other American right now does not do.
You see, when it became clear that I needed to replace my car, I immediately crunched all of the numbers I could find – amount I could reasonably expect on trade-in, amount I could actually put down, monthly payment we could afford, and what purchase price that would work out to at different interest rates, loan lengths and etc.
At the end of all that, I came out with the amount we were willing to spend on a car. We’ll call that “X.” And since we were looking at used cars, we also had other criteria that the vehicle would have to meet, such as a maximum age and miles we’d accept.
So, what I really wanted – what I’ve wanted ever since I learned to drive in one when I was 15 years old – was a Ford F-Series pickup truck. I’ve got a sickness for the things, I’ll admit it. I hit the interwebs like a ninja, researching reliability, mileage, features, quality, pricing, etc. It soon became clear that an F-150 of reasonable age, miles and condition was going to be out of my price range.
I looked for a short while after that realization, hoping for a lightning to strike, but it didn’t. So, I moved on to my 2nd choice – a Ford Crown Victoria/Mercury Grand Marquis. I like them, a lot, and I even owned an old 1980’s model a few years ago. And, within a week of looking, I drove home in my new-to-me Mercury. For “X” dollars, I got a car within my year range, with far fewer miles than I could have even hoped, in absolutely impeccable condition. I basically got a two-year-old car that happens to be 10 years old.
I love my car, and I’m glad I chose it…but if I was like most other Americans, I would have driven home in an F-150. And the conversation with my wife would’ve gone something like this:
Wife: So you got the Mercury?
Me: Nope, I got a sweet F-150! Come out and look at it!
Wife: The truck? But I thought those cost more than we agreed on.
Me: Look, it’s an XLT.
Wife: And you got it for “X”?
Me: Look, it’s got the better stereo, and steering wheel contr—
Wife: Did. You. Pay. More. Than. “X”?
Me: Well, it was a little more…
Wife: How much is a little? A hundred?
Wife: Two hundred?
Me: (silent, shuffling uncomfortably)
Wife (dropping the bomb): HOW MUCH DID YOU PAY FOR THIS!?
Me: Well, it was a couple thousand more…
Wife: TWO THOUSAN—
Me: Butbutbut…it’s okay, honey! We just extended the payments out to seven years so the payment didn’t go up!
I’m sure this conversation plays out between husbands and wives every day, everywhere in the country. It’s ingrained in our society, at least for people of my generation:
“You can always get what you want, if you pay just a little bit more. “
Look at all of the shows on Discovery and HGTV about buying houses. The couple sets a budget, looks at houses that are all nice, but don’t meet all 17 of their requirements…15, maybe 16 of them, but not all 17. Except for that one house. The one that’s $40,000 over their budget. And that’s the one they get.
Look at the selection of almost every product on a store shelf. Toasters, blenders, blood pressure monitors, cookware…almost everything. There’s one cheap, substandard model, one reasonably-priced model that’s functional and well-made, and a whole selection of expensive models.
Look at the housing bubble and sub-prime mortgage crash in 2008. That was us. We wanted a huge house with granite countertops, and twice as many bedrooms as family members, and bathrooms everywhere, and we could get it if we paid just a little more, except it was a LOT more, and we did it with demonic things like interest-only mortgages and massive balloon payments. But we got the houses we wanted.
I’m actually kind of embarrassed to be part of my generation, when it comes to this. It’s like we’re trying to support the conspicuous consumption of the Baby Boomers, but without the great jobs and wonderful investments they have to support it. We just charge it all. I sometimes feel like the only person in my generation that likes what I can pay for…rather than paying for what I like.