When I wrote a recent column about buying local, it reminded me of an incident with an old neighbor of mine who received a lesson on the subject. He went to great lengths, literally, to save money on a new car purchase, and found that the effort and expense were in vain.
In the late 1970s, I lived across the street from an older couple who were frugal, to say the least. They lived pretty well, with a nice house, a Florida condo, and two cars, including one luxury model, but they needlessly worked very hard to hang on to their money. For example, they usually drove their compact car to Florida instead of their luxury car because it was cheaper on gas. It was not uncommon for the lady of the house to ask to ride to the grocery with my wife, again to save gas. The husband would spend the entire summer sitting for endless hours on a small stool in his yard, digging out crabgrass with a homemade tool because he would not pay for lawn service or chemicals.
I had two cars plus a city car, but only a two car garage, so while they were in Florida for the winter, I would park my personal car in their garage in exchange for looking after their house.
One year, they drove their big car to Florida in the fall. The following February, I looked across the street one morning and saw a brand new luxury car parked in their driveway. Obviously, it was the neighbor, and he had bought a new car. I went across the street and asked if they needed me to remove my car from their garage. He explained that they had just stopped in for the night, on their way back to Florida after picking up the new car in Michigan.
He went on to tell me that he had run an ad (free of course) in a Florida shopper newspaper and sold his car. He then went to a dealer and tried to make a deal on a new one, but he refused to pay the $800 freight charge. A condo neighbor then told him of a dealership in Michigan that sold cars with no freight charge. He called that dealer, and negotiated a price over the phone. He was beaming because they had flown to Michigan, bought the car, and saved the $800 freight. He also told me exactly what he had paid for the car.
My built-in calculator was crunching numbers as he talked, and totaling up several hundred dollars on airline tickets, cab fares, gasoline to Florida, food, and at least one night in a motel besides the night they spent at their own house. I felt that they really hadn’t saved that much.
At that time, that make of luxury car didn’t have all the extra gadgets like today; they came fully equipped, with very few additional options. In May, I went to the local dealer and bought a car just like theirs, except for the color, with an identical sticker price, plus a freight charge of about $300. I too had sold my old car, and after discounts, I bought the new one for just $27 more, including the freight, than the neighbor had paid.
Shortly after the neighbor arrived home from Florida a couple of weeks later, I was washing my car in my driveway. He came over and said, “I see you bought a car just like mine.”
“Yes, exactly the same, except the color,” I replied.
“Where did you buy it?”
When I told him I bought it at the local dealer, he asked, “How much did you pay for it”?
When I gave him the figure, I could see that he too was doing the math in his head, and soon realized that he had spent hundreds of dollars on travel, in order to save just $27 compared to what I had paid. He looked stunned, stared straight ahead for a moment, then turned and trudged back across the street without a word.
We never talked about cars again.
Don Stratton is a retired inspector for the Lima Police Department. He writes a guest column for The Lima News, often focusing on police matters.