Two more days, folks. That’s all we get until it’s officially the mad rush for Christmas/winter holiday shopping. Okay, let’s be honest — it’s all pretty much geared toward Christmas.

I’m not the biggest fan of crass commercialism to begin with. But the severe onslaught of ads are nearly painful. We’re all pummeled with the commercials touting the latest stuff we need. (Perhaps most annoying is that so much of it does seem cool — or at least enchantingly shiny.)

Still, I save my true hatred for the ridiculous luxury commercials. You know the ones: A husband surprises his wife with some pricey jewelry (ie, $500-1,000… or maybe more) or a shiny new Lexus or Mercedes. (It’s never a Hyundai or Kia. I guess if you’re going to go big, you should at least get some leather seats — with seat warmers — for your trouble.)

The jewelry, I guess I understand. I still think that’s a lot of dough to put on one present (and it’s never the only present the woman gets, is it?) but assuming you keep the price reasonable, I suppose you could sock away enough money over time to “surprise” her. Although I wonder if most men don’t just put it on a credit card, like a true American, and worry about paying for it later.

The thing is, once you’re a couple, it’s hard to buy big presents without letting your spouse know just how much you spent. And that can be a bad thing. Especially if your spouse is as uptight about money as I am. (Tim, stop nodding!)

Of course, I have always kind of wondered about gift-giving in serious relationships. If you are pooling most of your resources, how much is your partner or spouse actually “buying” you a gift? It seems like (s)he gets all the good credit for purchasing something, even though it was probably bought with funds from both people.

I know that’s terribly unromantic. Perhaps I’m just too much of a control freak (Tim, you’re nodding again) to really enjoy a large “surprise” gift. I can’t really imagine being 100% delighted by the notion that hundreds of dollars of our money got spent by you, without my getting any input — and that I’m supposed to be grateful for it.

That’s why I have a particularly hard time understanding the ads where a car sits in the driveway with a big bow on it.

The inner nit-pick in me piles on the practical concerns:

  • How did it get there without her noticing?
  • Wouldn’t she have heard it pull into the driveway?
  • Did the car company deliver it in the middle of the night?
  • How would they know when she’s asleep and it’s safe?
  • Does that mean the husband gets a walkie-talkie and gets to say things like “The bear is in hibernation” and “Roger” and “Over”?
  • And, most importantly, who ties that bow, and how does it stay so perfect overnight?

But those are questions probably best left for another day. For now, let’s keep the focus on finance, where the real puzzle is how anyone ever manages to surprise a partner with such a big purchase.

Yes, I know some couples have separate accounts. But does anyone keep accounts so separate that they can afford a down payment for a car — let alone the whole cost — without arousing suspicion?

Let’s face it: More couples have joint accounts than separate ones. I really have no idea how you’d sneak out more than a thousand or two without arousing suspicion. Heck, in most households, getting more than $200 could land you in a pretty big argument.

Another thing to consider? You’re not really buying a car. You’re buying debt, albeit in a very attractive form. (And most debt won’t get 0 to 60 so quickly! Unless you’re talking about a credit card’s APR.)

So all that money you spent on your thoughtful gift? That was just an introduction to more spending. In all likelihood, you just bought yourself at least two years’ worth of monthly payments. Plus your insurance will go up since you have a new car.

Oh, and let’s not forget the leverage lost when the salesman finds out it’s a gift. If you’re buying something that important, you’re probably sticking to one specific car type that your partner wants. That means the salesman knows you’re unlikely to walk away.

It also means you’ll be hard pressed to deny a lot of the extras. No one really wants to say, “Merry Christmas! Look how generous I am! Oh, but on-board GPS was extra so I told them not to bother.”

So to sum up:

  1. You just took thousands of dollars away from our other goals.
  2. You spent money that we earned together.
  3. You didn’t let me in on the bargaining process
  4. You didn’t have many bargaining options, so you probably didn’t get a great deal.
  5. You’ve increased our overall debt levels.
  6. And now we have to add monthly payments to our budget.

And you want to get credit for this as a good thing?

Has anyone ever even met a person who got a car as a present? Does this kind of thing really happen? And what’s the biggest gift you ever got from a partner or spouse?

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Meg November 25, 2009 at 7:27 pm

I would be so pissed if my husband surprised me with a car because A. we can't afford it, B. even if we could, I'd still want to discuss such a big purchase, but mostly C. because I'd want to pick it out myself. (Though, then again, I think he'd know which one I'd want theoretically, but I'd want to test drive, too.)

However, I don't see the problem with actually surprising someone with the gift. You just get someone to help you drive it into the driveway at night. Or, you can park elsewhere in the neighborhood then drive it yourself. You don't have to be super quiet since there are other cars driving in the neighborhood so why should the sound of this one be so suspicious? And also, there are bows especially made for outside conditions, so I don't think that'd be an issue.

In fact, I actually was surprised with a car once — for my birthday when I was in high school. My mom knew I'd be going away to college soon in a big city and really wanted me to get used to driving and to have something to get back home in. So she bought me a red Ford Probe — and handed me the key in an envelope when I came down that morning. Boy was I surprised when I got that key — and then again when I saw the car! She had talked about getting me a car, but nothing we had looked at was nearly as gorgeous.

It was used and eventually had some major issues (which is why I finally got rid of it), but I was still very proud of it and VERY appreciative.

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2 FB @ FabulouslyBroke.com November 25, 2009 at 7:28 pm

One of my good friends got a used car as a gift for her 16th birthday from her parents.

Her dad is a bit of a tinkering mechanic, so he found a good car that was a bit old, and together they bought it for her. It was SO nice.

It's something I think would be a great thing to do for my kids in the future.

But a new car? I'd be peeved. And very very angry. And hungry. And mad.

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3 anonymous November 25, 2009 at 7:46 pm

I happened to mention my mother's old car to her– the one she had back in the 70s. It was a small Volkswagon, not something super-expensive. She drove it for about ten years. She told me that my father surprised her with it as a gift and that she never liked that car. Our family was still growing at the time that he bought it, and it was really too small for the number of kids they ended up having. Let's just say that we wouldn't have fit these days, given the seatbelt laws.

However, I do think that you're projecting your own situation too much onto what everyone else needs or wants. For example, I can imagine a situation in which my husband surprising me with a car wouldn't be a bad thing. Suppose we were gearing up to get me a car anyway, he was a better negotiator, and he already had a good idea what I wanted? I don't enjoy car-shopping, and it might be nice for him to spare me the effort.

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4 Christina November 25, 2009 at 8:18 pm

My dad has purchased a car to surprise my mother several times over the years for Christmas or her birthday, but I don't pretend that they are the norm as he always pays cash for it from an account that she probably won't be looking at. As for the logistics, you'd be surprised what dealerships will go out of their way to do for you if you're plunking down $50k+ in cash on one of their cars, including an associate driving the car to the house at midnight in the snow (true story).

As for my husband and I, we do have joint accounts so in order to surprise each other we decided early on to choose a number we were both comfortable with and withdraw that in cash. Then, we each have a limit and can spend it however we want without the other person logging in to our online banking and seeing exactly what will be under the tree.

My husband has also surprised me with purchases by withdrawing small amounts of cash here and there over a period of time. I didn't really notice the debits, and when he had saved up enough he made the purchase.

We do agree to NEVER put anything on a credit card without both of our knowledge, and then only if we can pay it off that month.

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5 Donna Freedman November 25, 2009 at 8:48 pm

Whaaat? You mean you're not getting Hyundai of Aurora to bring me down a shiny new car on Dec. 25?
I am so disappointed. :-(

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6 Bobby November 25, 2009 at 9:45 pm

Hmmm, the first thing my girl might think if I gave her a car for Christmas is, "Okay, so he's had an affair…." Kidding.

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7 Abigail November 25, 2009 at 10:39 pm

I know that some parents surprise their kids with cars. I guess the "surprise" mechanics are the same as a new car. And, Meg, you're probably right about a general car noise not tipping a woman off. It's just that, to me, the sound of a car rolling up in my driveway is a lot different than regular car noise. And in the commercials I've seen, it's always in the driveway. Maybe it's different when you live in a two-level house.

Bobby, I think you're not far off on your guess. And it probably wouldn't help matters if you said, "Okay honey I have a surprise for you and, no, I didn't have an affair."

Anonymous, you're probably right about my projecting my situation/preferences onto life. I did say that perhaps it's just that I, personally, am too much of a control freak. (Also, I'm usually the better haggler.)

In general, I guess I should have said: I'm sure there are couples out there who can afford to plunk down the money to completely pay off a car. I think in that case, well, you'd better know what the spouse wants. But, hey, I guess it's kosher. Also, if you have the whole amount in cash, yes, you can get an excellent deal. But I just generally assume most people are more likely to put down a down payment. That said, "most people" probably wouldn't buy a car for a partner to begin with so…

Oh and Mom (Donna): Not a Hyundai. A Lexus. With seat warmers. Just let me sand down the VIN numbers first and it's all yours.

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8 frugal zeitgeist November 26, 2009 at 12:42 am

My parents gave my sister a brand new car as her college graduation present. It was parked in the driveway and they just handed her the keys. She needed it and they could afford it; it was nice thing for them to do.

For me? They held off on a graduation present until I figured out where I was going to live after grad school. . . and then they paid off my grad school loans (roughly the same cost). They could afford it, and I've always tried to be worthy of their investment in me.

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9 D in Kansas November 26, 2009 at 12:52 am

Every once in awhile when my MIL is in a fiesty mood, she recounts the time that her ex-husband (my FIL) bought her a brand new minivan for her 40th b-day. She was pissed off to say the least, but there were a couple of reasons for that. 1.) She HATED minivans, which he was aware of. 2.) He traded in her Mercedes that she was in love with. It seems weird that he would go out and make such a big decision without consulting her and to not respect her enough to at least get her something that she would be semi content with. I guess that's why they've been divorced for 20 years.

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10 Abigail November 26, 2009 at 1:02 am

FZ, If your parents can afford such things, that's fabulous and by all means they should indulge in their kids as they see fit. But I think there's a big difference between parents giving their kid a car and that size gift between equals.

D, You have to love when MILs are feeling feisty. And it sounds like it's a miracle she didn't divorce him on the spot! Hopefully they're more content away from each other.

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12 Shevy November 26, 2009 at 9:20 am

ROTFLMAO at the comments between Donna & Abby! I also know a girl who got a car for her 16th birthday (a used one). And my mother gave me $3,000 for my 30th birthday, which I used as a down payment on a one year old Buick Century but neither my first hubby or my current one has ever considered buying me a car as a gift. The only way I'd buy a car for a family member is if I won the lottery. Even then, it would be "What kind of car do you want?" rather than "Surprise!".

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13 Theresa November 26, 2009 at 11:18 pm

Bobby has it right. My first thought would be…"okay, what is he preparing to tell me???" LOL
Would I like it?? Heck yah…..and he could work all the overtime to pay for it.

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14 Meg | CarsxGirl November 27, 2009 at 4:59 am

I got my 19 year old 240SX for my 21st birthday this year. :) Then again, it was a joint decision with my husband to get her… And he just called it my present after he started helping me mod her. For his 24th birthday later in the year, I got him new wheels for his car.

For this Christmas, we agreed to not spend money on each other because we pooled together and bought my baby her new engine. :P I'll still get hubby something small to wrap and put under the tree so he can open it on Christmas, but it won't be a whole lot.

She's no "Lexus," but she'll run circles around most when I'm done… (Besides, the only Toyota that I want is 23 years old. I sure wouldn't mind one for Christmas someday, though!)

Then again, we're car people…. It's what we're into and just what we do.

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15 Revanche November 29, 2009 at 2:12 am

I do know a number of people who were given cars as gifts, but it wasn't ever a surprise.

I could totally execute that kind of surprise, but doubt I could ever justify the financial part of it. Actually, if I could find and afford it, I could see picking up the SO's dream car…. ;) Truthfully, I would be peeved as all get out if someone else did it to me.

One, I'm really picky about expensive things, so being surprised by a new car I didn't pick isn't my idea of a *good* surprise. Two, I'd resolved not have a new car + new car insurance (!!) ever again if I have any say in the matter.

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