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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