We were changing the oil on her 2005 Cadillac DeVille. The normal price for this service would be $29.95. Ms. Moneybags, though, wasn't feeling that. She took it upon herself to hit up the service manager: Did we have any coupons she could use? Thirty dollars was high. Too high for an oil change.
"Oh, I think we can find something for you," Service Manager said. "I have a $19.95 coupon about to go out in the mail. I'll let you have your service at that price."
"Oh, thank you so much!" Ms. Moneybags said. She headed for our waiting room.
Fast-forward about thirty minutes. Her car's service was almost done. Ms. Moneybags was now speaking with her service advisor about purchasing a new vehicle — she just wanted his input on things. You know — a view from the service side of it. What cars don't suck? What cars won't leave her stranded on the side of the highway?
You know ... small details like that.
So he suggested a certain car, or perhaps another. She inquired as to the price on the first car.
"Oh, I don't know," our Advisor said. "I'm not in sales, obviously. But you're probably looking at about twenty-three thousand. Maybe twenty-four."
Ms. Moneybags eyes went wide. "Wow!" she said. "That's all? I wonder if — I mean, I wish I knew what the payment would be on that."
At this point, of course, Service Advisor (probably sensing an exit ramp to the conversation) deferred to me.
"Let's ask Michael," he said. "He can probably give us an idea on that."
Of course. Certainly I could. I may be The Warranty Guy, but everyone I work with also knows me as The Money Guy.
Also, they know I have spreadsheets.
So Service Advisor pointed the way. Ms. Moneybags ambled over to my desk.
"Suppose I buy a car for twenty-three thousand," she said. "I put down ten thousand. What will my payments be?"
"I'll need a bit more info than that," I said. "What interest rate do you think you'll be paying? For how long do you want to finance the car?"
"I'm sure I don't know," she huffed. "Just put in some numbers. Can't you do that? Just put in some numbers and see what the payment is?"
"I can, but I have no idea what interest rate you can get. Here — I'll just plug in a rate of six percent. I'll set the term at three years."
"No, I want five years. Do five years."
"Ummm ... okay." I found a suitable spreadsheet and began typing. "Five years it is."
Within moments Excel had churned out fresh-whipped, number-crunched goodness. "Financing thirteen thousand, at an interest rate of 6 percent, for 5 years ... your payment would be around $252 per month. Ballpark."
"WOW!" she said again. "That's all? That's great!"
I shrugged. Conscience, I guess, got the best of me. Remember: I'm not in sales.
"Care to know how much you'll be paying in interest?" I asked.
"No, no," she said. "It's not important."
And off she went.
I blinked. And sat there. And sat there some more.
She was serious.
Again I say: SHE WAS SERIOUS.
THE INTEREST WAS NOT IMPORTANT.
See that? It would be almost $2,100.
Welcome to the Brave New American Car Buyer. Same as the Old American Car Buyer.
Truly, it is all about the payments.
Oh well. As the bankers say on the internets:
All your cash flow are belong to us.