Friday, December 20, 2013

COLUMN: New Car 2: Electric Boogaloo

Shane: The next gen. Sitting in my garage right now.

Some people have nervous breakdowns. I think I'm having a nervous BROKE-down: I'm about to be super broke and I'm pretty doggone nervous about it.

I used to think that I handled stress well. Sure, you might see me occasionally running around like a lunatic. You might hear me swearing like a sailor. And I have to admit, I'm really quite adept at making over-the-top exasperated sighs. But at the end of all the running, swearing, and sighing, I'm usually conquering whatever's got me stressed out. This time, though, I'm losing the race.

All week long, I've been mired in stress. Financial woes, pending projects, time management issues, and major life decisions have all crept up on me ninja style and attacked while I wasn't looking. It's the perfect storm of bureaucracy, budgeting, and decision making -- all wrapped up in a giant bow of sleepless nights and Advil bottles.

It was clear that I needed to make an action plan. It was time to strategize, organize, and clear these hurdles with forethought, timeliness, and responsibility.

Which is why I promptly went to a movie.

It turns out that, when faced with challenges, I become an ostrich and bury my head in the sand. Not that ostriches ACTUALLY bury their heads in sand, because they don't. It's a myth. Ostriches are officially better at crisis management than I am.

I just need to remind myself that, in the big picture, I have very little to freak out about. There are people out there in the world with REAL problems. Mine revolve around petty materialistic issues. I'm worried about hitting goals at work when I suppose I should be thankful I have a great job in the first place. I'm worried about coming up with questions for a trivia night I'm emceeing this week when I should be thankful I've got enough free time to even do it.

But most of all, I'm worried about buying a new car -- when I suppose I should be thankful that a new car is even within my budget reach. Which it's pretty much NOT, but I don't think it's going to stop me at this point.

I witnessed a pretty magical thing the other day. I was meandering around a car dealership checking out rides when another customer walked in and immediately got sucked into the tractor beam of a nearby salesman. I was close enough to hear the conversation, and here's how it played out:

"Hi, how can we help you today?"
"I'd like to buy a car."
"Great. Have anything in mind?"
"This one," the guy points. "Here."
"It's a great model."
"I'll take it!"
"I'll draw up the paperwork."

I swear to you, this guy went from a walk-in to a car owner in under 30 seconds. Clearly, I'm doing something wrong.

I've now spent two weeks on a grand scenic tour of Quad City car lots. I've test driven over a dozen different models, and I've listened to sales reps tell me that every one of those 12 cars is the absolute best possible car for me. I've learned that I apparantly can't live without a navigation system in my car, despite the fact that there's nothing I love more than getting lost. I've learned that cars are clearly inferior if they don't have automatic window defoggers -- because, as we all know, pushing that defrost button is a LOT of work. I shunned a car the other day because it didn't have a push-button start.

Clearly, I have become a monster.

I've witnessed salespeople so aggressive that they lost me on the car I really wanted to buy because I couldn't imagine spending another overly-aggressive second in their presence. On the other hand, I've had salespeople who were SO nice, helpful, and informative that I honestly feel guilty not buying from them (Bob and Petey, I'm talking to you guys.) But in the end, it was another car that spoke to me, and if all goes well, by the time you read this, I'll be the proud new owner of a... well, I suppose I shouldn't give anybody free advertising. Let's just say the make sounds like a sneeze and the model sounds like it should be on Star Trek.

I can buy cars all day long. That was the fun part. FINANCING, on the other hand, is something I never ever want to deal with ever again. Here's the short story of what I've been through.

Getting the car to a price I can afford (-ish) was as simple as: getting the MSRP reduced via a special sale, taking advantage of two additional rebates, getting a lousy finance deal through the manufacturer that gets me yet another rebate, making one payment through that deal, and then refinancing through a credit union at a lower rate. Then I went to the credit union to have them tell me I couldn't get that lower rate. And then the dealer told me that whoever I talked to at the credit union was mistaken. Then I went back to the credit union and learned that "direct loan reps" offer different deals than "indirect reps" (whatever that means) and that the dealer was right.

In the meantime, while the credit union was perusing my fiscal autobiography, the "direct rep" informed me that I could refinance my house through them and save upwards of $100 a month if I could simply provide them with my loan statement, a declaration of insurance, my county tax record, my last two tax returns, three pay stubs, four calling birds, three French hens, and the blood of a virgin fairie.

To cap it all off, I finished by calling my insurance guy, requesting the form they need, and being told that not only does said form NOT exist, but that I shouldn't refinance through a credit union without first talking to his buddy such-and-such at so-and-so bank who can get me this-and-that.

I'm starting to wonder if life was easier when we lived in caves and no one had come up with the whole "wheel" concept yet. Back then, you didn't have to refinance your cave mortgage. All you had to worry about was whether or not you could find food to eat -- and after I make a couple of car payments, I might just be in the same boat as Captain Caveman. I could be headed towards financial ruin, but at least I'll get there in fog-free windows.

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