Riding high, until sales tax hits

Sunday, July 9, 2006

SHE SAID: I should know by now that spur-of-the-moment purchases don't usually work out well for me.

Take that $65 fuschia sweater that shrank in the wash, for example.

Or that magnet maker/laminator/sticker maker all-in-one machine I just had to have when it was on sale at a local craft store. There was a reason it was on sale.

Last-minute buying is also how I ended up with roller blades two sizes too small ("I KNOW I can fit my feet in them if I just scrunch my toes!") After a while, those types of purchases start to add up. But I've never plopped down a really significant amount of money on a spur-of-the-moment purchase. Until Wednesday.

I bought a new car. About a half-hour after Bob bought a new car.

If you've ever met Little Red -- his 1994 Ford Probe with 175,000 miles on it -- you know Bob needed a new car, especially with his new commute to St. Louis.

I, on the other hand, did not NEED a new car, in the strictest definition of the term, but my pseudo-SUV's lack of four-wheel drive, the big dent in the passenger-side door and the poor gas mileage all made me frown from time to time.

And it just happened that a few local dealerships were waving the zero percent interest flag this week.

So we shopped around and then bought Bob's car, trading in Little Red (I was tempted to give her a good kick in the rear as we were leaving).

And then ... well, I can't quite recall exactly how it happened. Foggy chunks of memory come floating back ... of me behind the wheel doing a test drive, then me nodding my head yes and signing some paperwork.

Later, when the fog lifted, a slightly-panicky feeling set in. A queasy feeling, the kind I get when I know I've done something about which my parents would say, "What were you thinking?" A will-we-be-able-to-eat-for-the-next-six-years kind of feeling.

I think there's a 50-50 chance the answer to that question is no. But at least I'll have a sweet ride.

HE SAID: Zero percent. That's a good deal. A really good deal.

A deal that will save us thousands over the years.

Right? Right! That's how we justified our purchases. With Callie's trade-in, she'll be paying about $80 more per month for a vehicle that's 10 times better and will have a good resale value.

My car? Well, I needed a new car. Little Red (worth a whopping $1,000 to the dealer) wouldn't last much longer. We had in mind a monthly payment we could afford. We narrowed down our pick to a particular model. There were four on the lot. We got a fairly good deal -- with the zero percent financing -- and we nearly hit our monthly payment target.

But nonetheless we screwed up. Big time.

I trust Callie with many things. And she has proven trustworthy time after time. She is far more trustworthy than I. But this time I put too much trust in my cute and talented wife.

When I asked her -- no, warned her -- about sales tax, she told me all that stuff gets taken care of in the financing of the vehicle, or they do something with the taxes comparing it to the other vehicle. I asked her at least three times. I didn't understand her answer. These are complicated financial matters. Each time she told me not to worry.

And so I didn't. Her family consists of a band of buyers and traders. Her dad has a different vehicle every other week. I've had the same car for almost 10 years. I assumed she knew what she was talking about.

Then the phone call came, around 5 p.m., in St. Louis at my job. I was just bragging to a co-worker about my new ride.

There was a nervous laughter on the other end of the phone.

And when she told me that we'd have to pay big bucks, as in more than $2,000 for taxes, my head just about exploded.

Bless her heart, Callie almost got sick over the ordeal. It was one of those mistakes, Lord knows I've made 'em, that was so big you just can't get mad at the person who made it. You know, like the time when I was a teenager and swallowed a Coke tab and had to be rushed to the emergency room.

In the end, we decided not to put ourselves out for hire as hit men (though the trunk of my new car is big enough to hold a couple dead bodies, as the salesmen pointed out). And we decided not to hold up a convenience store. We decided to dip into our retirement. Uncle Sam needs his money. And he needs it within 30 days.

cmiller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 128

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