Category Archives: Intelligent Consumerism

I Bought a Lemon

 

The first time I took on debt was the spring when I graduated from high school.  When I was a senior in high school, I was not 100% sure what I wanted to do with my life.  I knew that I would ultimately attend college, but I was not mature enough yet at the age of 18.

After talking about it with my parents, we decided that I was going to work for a year or two before I went to school.  They were not thrilled with the plan, but also did not want me to just go to college without a solid direction.  Looking back, I still think that was a good idea.

Since I was going to get a job, I needed a means of transportation.  I grew up in a part of Pennsylvania were public transportation was limited.  To get to work, I needed a car.

It was 1995, so all the online car buying resources were not available.  At that point, there was Consumer Reports and Edmunds.  As you will find out, I did not read those magazines.

I decided that I wanted a Jeep Wrangler.  I started shopping by looking in the classified ads in the newspaper.  After looking for about one week, I spotted a 1991 Jeep Wrangler with a hard top.  My dad and I took a ride down to this local used car lot to test drive it.

The Jeep was nice, but when we were at the lot, a different car caught my eye.  The other car was a 1986 Audi 5000 CS Turbo.  The salesman called it a 4-dood Porsche.  We test drove the car and we really liked it.  It was a solid driving car.

At the time, I had zero credit.  My dad agreed to co-sign for the loan.  He had one condition, he said if I missed a payment, he would sell the car.  I agreed to his terms and bought the car.

The car had less than 60K miles and only cost $6,500.  The loan payments were around $165 per month.  Because that it was a turbo, the insurance was higher than the car payment.

 

I had the car for about 2 months before the trouble began.  There were many issues, but the major issue was that if I was not driving with my foot on the throttle it would stall and not start back up.  When I was at a red light, I had to slip the car into neutral, put my left foot on the brake, and keep my right foot on the gas pedal.  Yes, very dangerous.

I took the car to a few different local mechanics and they did not know how to fix it.  I took it to a mechanic that specialized in European auto repairs.  He was not able to pin point the issue.

After I owned the car for about 4 months, I had to sell it.  My Mother was driving it on a major interstate highway when it stalled and would not start back up.  She was lucky to not have been injured or even killed.  The state police came and they called a flatbed to tow it away.  The car was simply not safe and had to be sold.

I took it to a dealer to find out what it was worth on a trade-in.  The dealer offered me $2,500.  I owed over $6000.  I did not want to lose $3,500.  At that time, $3,500 was a fortune because I was broke.

On my way home from the dealer, the car stalled at a major intersection.  I tried to start it for 15 minutes, but it would not restart.  This time the state police were not needed, but a flatbed was.

The car had to go.  I spoke to the owner of the car lot who offered me $2,500.  We worked out a trade for a 1986 Honda Accord with a bent frame and 115,000 miles.  The salesman told me to be careful with the car because it had a bent frame that causes it to drift to the right.

This whole situation truly had me upset.  I was not upset about losing the Audi.  What had me worried was the amount of Debt that I now had.  Plus, I felt that I had very little to show for it.

For the next four years, I had to make monthly payments on a $6,500 loan, but drive a $2,500 car.  This experience left a bad taste in my mouth when it came to debt.  I never missed a payment and paid the loan off.  I told myself that I would never get another car loan again.

The Honda lasted about 8 years.  My next few cars were hand-me-downs with well over 100K miles on them.  I received one from my parents and one from my wife.

I did not buy another car until I was 35 years old.  This time I did my due diligence and did some research before making the purchase.  That car was certified used Subaru with a 100K mile warranty.  I also paid cash.

Have you ever had a negative experience with debt?  If you have, please share your experience and what you learned from it.

Sirius XM: Getting Past No

Yesterday, when I was checking the mail to see what type of junk the postman delivered, I noticed a letter from Sirius XM Radio.  When I opened the letter, it was for my subscription renewal.  I have the Sirius XM All Access Plan.  The total that I owed was $273.  That was for the base price of $239 and $34 for a music royalty fee.

Wait, I know what you are thinking.  This guy has a blog about personal finance and financial Independence (FI), but he pays to listen to the radio in his car.  Many people are trying to find ways to reduce expenses like cutting the cable cord at home to eliminate a monthly bill?  Paying to listen to the radio in your car is just a waste of money when you can listen to terrestrial radio for free.

Yes, those are all valid points.  Before you judge me, please let me explain my situation.  My job requires that I travel in my car often.  I spend many hours in my car each week.  My journeys take me to Northern New Jersey, rural Pennsylvania, and the Southern Tier of New York.  Except for New Jersey, the traffic is not bad, but the driving is boring and the radio channels are terrible.  Having Sirius XM makes my traveling much more enjoyable.

Even though having Sirius XM adds pleasure to my weekly trips, I was not willing to pay $273 for the yearly subscription.  I knew that I did not spend that much the previous year, so I went and looked up my credit card statement from last summer.  It was only $136 after taxes and fees.

As of late, I have been reading many articles on different finance blogs about trying to reduce your bills.  Many authors simply suggest calling and asking for a price reduction.  I decided to give that a try because I do not want to have to shell out $273 to listen to Sirius XM.

When I called, I spoke with a Customer Service Representative named Daniel.  I told Daniel that I enjoy listening to Sirius XM.  The new price, however, was too expensive.  I asked if he could lower it.

Daniel informed me that Sirius XM had a new price structure.  He first offered me the price that I paid last year, but said that it did not come with the two Howard Stern channels or the NFL channel.  That offer was unacceptable because I enjoy those channels.

His second offer was a price of $199 for my current plan.  I told him that I like the programing that Sirius XM offers.  It makes my drive to work more pleasurable.  Never the less, it was just too expensive.

I asked him if I could have the same total price of $136 that I paid last year.  Sirius-XM must get many calls from customers who want to lower their bill.  They also seem to invest in some negotiation training.  Daniel asked what I would do if I could not have that price.  His response reminded me of the books Getting Past No and Getting to Yes by William Ury.  He was searching for my (BANTA) or best alternative to a negotiated agreement.  That is a theory made popular William Ury created as part of the Harvard Negotiation Project.

Getting Past NO, William Ury

Getting To Yes, William Ury

Even though I was impressed with his negotiation skills, I told him that I would not be able to afford the new price.  It was too expensive.  If I did not receive the price that I paid last year, I would have to cancel my subscription.

He was hesitant at first and said that my new price was almost half of what the new price was.  After he thought about it for a few seconds, he agreed to the total price of $136 after taxes and fees.  He did not want to lose me as a customer.

If this approach works with Sirius XM, what other bills can I call about and try to reduce?  I am now motivated to find out.  It was worth the little bit of effort to make the phone call.  The worst they can say is that they cannot reduce the bill.

The customer truly has the power during these negotiations.  The customer has the power to say no.  The customer has the freedom to simply walk away and take their business elsewhere.

Do you have any experiences of calling a company to have a bill reduced?