As we have lived our life together, we have seen events that were once major and tension producing become rather ordinary things that we handle easily. As we talked about how that came about we recognized at least two things that are important. One is that we have learned to listen to the other and truly hear what they say behind the words. The other is that when you truly listen you can detect that something is very important to your spouse and give up your own preference out of love and respect for him/her. These things came to our minds because of an event last week that requires us to make a major financial decision.
Last week Rita’s car (well, we call it Rita’s car because it is the car she drives most often) started making noises that indicated potential problems. We took it to our local repair shop and had them check it out. They discovered a $500+ repair needing immediate fixing and a second, more expensive, repair that could be delayed. We had the necessary repair done, and began a discussion about how much we should spend on a car that is 11 years old and has over 100 thousand miles, but still is worth several thousand dollars in sale or trade.
In our lives we have had many discussions about cars and their purchase. I can still remember how excited we were when we bought our first new car. Through the years we have purchased some cars that were exciting but more were utilitarian, like a used full sized van when the kids were growing up. We have had multiple discussions about future cars. Before I retired we had come to the decision that we would tuck enough money away to replace Bob’s car with a new one so that we would have a reliable vehicle for the extensive driving we do as we travel to visit our families, vacation and give our workshops. We got that car last year. We hoped that we could keep my car for a number of years longer for local driving. While it doesn’t get a lot of miles, in many respects it is our primary car and we both drive it locally. We started the discussion by agreeing that it should be a utilitarian vehicle. In past discussions I usually listened to Bob’s logical reasons to purchase a particular car even if I would be the primary driver. I would give a few suggestions as to color and few creature comforts I wanted—such as air conditioning and a radio. In later years those comforts became heated seats and a nicer stereo system. Sometimes those discussions left us with some tension because neither of us knew exactly what the other wanted in terms of affordability or luxuries.
Some years ago, after I had driven it for many miles, we passed my first new car to one of our children and purchased a nicer used car for me. Bob looked for a safe and reliable car for me, but the one we purchased didn’t live up to expectations. I drove 50+ miles round trip each day to work and the vehicle didn’t handle well on wet or snow covered roads. Bob was doing some consulting work at the time and had purchased a nice luxury car for himself . On a long trip I commented on how much I liked driving his car, so we decided to explore purchasing a similar one for me. We had the money, always Bob’s concern, and we found a low-miles car of the same brand and model as his, with the luxury items I liked.
That vehicle is now old and high mileage and repair costs and reliability questions have led us to consider replacing it. In our casual discussions about that next car, our thinking was mostly of low cost, high fuel economy and practicality. This time, as I listened to Rita, I began to realize that, while she was interested in fuel economy, she is now driving small numbers of miles which mitigates that issue. She wanted a car that she would feel comfortable driving long distances by herself. She would likely have it for a long time and there were a few luxury things she wanted. We agreed that we wanted to be rid of the uncertainties and reliability issues of a high-mileage car. Since we both like to drive the brand and model we now have and I drive it as much as she does, we will look for a newer version of that brand and model. We looked at our finances and put a cap on the cost of the car we buy. Savings accounts are paying little interest, so we will be ahead over time to pay cash and then rebuild the savings, instead of making loan payments. As always, I will do the searching and negotiate with the seller. (I’ve spotted a possibility.)
We share this with you because it gives us a chance to reflect a bit on how we interact in making decisions in our marriage. As I look back at the process I just described, it all sounds very rational and straight-forward, but it isn’t as much as it seems. Budget decisions get down to allocation of resources and it’s easy to have very different priorities. Newer cars have features that the old car didn’t. We may have to give up features that one of us would like in order to stay within our budget. Fortunately, although we each have a list of features we would really like to have, mine centers around safety, performance and electronics while Rita is more focused on features like color (my new car is blue because she doesn’t like most red ones), comfort and heated seats. She lets me know her non-negotiable items and she will check out a car before I start work on a deal (I have NO interest in working the deal!).
If this process sounds smooth and easy, to our surprise, it was. All the time we’ve spent over many years learning to trust each other, listen to each other and our readiness to give up something one of us would like because something else is important to the other has made decision making easier and less stressful for us.
Please add a comment below about how you make decisions.