November 2005

Wheel of Jeopardy

By David Feela

The television made it look so much better, and my neighbor had already bought one. Naturally, I didn’t want to be the first to purchase it, but I also didn’t want to be the last.

Then I saw the ad again and I couldn’t believe my eyes: The sale price was outrageous! It was like an invitation, an omen, a rainbow that doubles back across the sky and ends up in my own back pocket.

All I had to decide was which way to make the payments.

I’ve always been partial to rebate offers, so I seriously considered that option. What’s nice about rebates is the feeling of having a little extra cash immediately after spending too much of it, the image of money growing on trees, just dangling over your head. Whoever engineered the concept of rebates must have been an angler. In the end, though, I figured I’d just spend the rebate money on accessories, so I decided to avoid that bait.

Of course, I could just refuse the cash back altogether and use the sum as money down, which is a great way to get my hands on some money without having to reach into my actual wallet. I seriously considered the idea, but out of habit I ended up reaching for my back pocket anyway. Its flatness made me realize I’d been losing a little financial weight.

Without any money down, which I really didn’t have, the company still wanted to do business. It offered zero percent interest for the first year. I tried to figure out how much cash the interest- free deal would save me when I realized I had to know way too much about interest: how it accrued and how it compounded, how it refinanced and how much principal remained once the interest free period concluded. I guess I got distracted; I knew if I thought about finance charges much longer, it didn’t matter where I placed the decimal point. I would be the one losing interest.

But if I wanted to look at the big picture, the salesman explained, I’d have to consider my total debt, which was why he recommended consolidating my bills into one payment, which could include the price of my new purchase. The consolidation fee was just a drop in the bucket compared to the money it would save me. I looked around for a bucket and imagined me stepping into it. Consolidation. It sounded too much like consolation, and the way things were going I was going to need a little cheering up.

I thought about leasing instead of buying, but then the extended warranty wasn’t an option. I asked about renting and the salesman laughed. I asked about no payments for a full year, see if I like the thing as much as I like it right now, and if I don’t, just return it and sell it to somebody else? The salesman excused himself, pretending he heard a telephone ring. Had I considered applying for a loan from my bank? Pay the total purchase price with a loan and knock an additional 10 percent off the already rock-bottom sales price.

Supposedly, I had enough equity to make the bank’s approval a moot point, and as I considered the list of everything I officially owned but was still paying on, I could see he was right about that. The house, the car, the new tires on the car, the high-definition flatscreen television, the 4-wheeler, the computer, the high-speed internet service provider that made me part owner of a satellite circling the globe, the cell phone, the riding lawnmower, the kitchen stove, the washer and dryer, the pop-up tent camper, the hunting rifle with scope, the surround sound Dolby theater system, and even the jacket on my back. The bank couldn’t afford to let a customer like me off the hook. I knew it was time for a decision. The sales department seemed to have thought of everything. And what’s that? You say I can always put money from my salary aside and wait to buy until I have saved enough? What kind of option is that?

I ought to report this whole outfit to the Better Business Bureau. I mean, what kind of fiscally responsible consumer would jeopardize his credit rating by paying with cash?

David Feela is a teacher at Montezuma-Cortez High School.