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The $30,000 Tune-Up

Written by Hank Coleman - 4 Comments

The Tune-Up That Turned Into a $30,000 Impulse Purchase

A coworker of mine recently pulled into the parking lot at work in a brand new $30,000 pickup truck. I did a double take because he originally told me that he was taking his old car to a mechanic for a tune-up and to have a rattling sound checked out. When I asked him about the new purchase, he told me that he had been looking around on the dealership’s car lot while waiting on the service department to fix his old car when he fell in love with the new truck. That ended up being an incredibly expensive tune up in the end.

Impulse purchases add up

Even if you’re talking about smaller things, impromptu buying can wind up costing you hundreds of dollars (if not more) each year. Psychologist Paco Underhill estimated in his book, “Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping,” that almost 70% of all of our purchases are unplanned. Years later, University of Pennsylvania Wharton Business School professor David R. Bell conducted follow up research that refined the number of impulse purchases we make to closer to 20% of our total purchases throughout the year.

Even this lower number can add up to quite a substantial amount of money based on the sheer number of purchases that Americans make over the course of a year. One Consumer Reports poll of readers in 2009 found that 60% of the survey’s respondents admitted to buying things on a whim over the past year at a staggering average cost of $108 each time. If you made one impulse purchase per month at that rate over the course of an entire year, you would quickly bust your budget.

Compounding your problems

Bringing your car in for a simple tune up and buying a brand new truck on impulse may only be part of your problem. Many car buyers, like my coworker, compound their problem because they are upside down on their current car loan when they purchase the new car. So, they ultimately roll over the remainder of their old car’s note into their new loan.

If you do this, you’ll not only drive off the dealer’s lot with a car that is depreciating by the minute, but you’re also upside down on your new car from the very beginning. If you have get into a car accident, you could wind up having to pay for a portion of the repairs out of pocket unless you have “gap” insurance in place. Having to add new car insurance policies to protect poor purchasing decisions is not a good way to save on car insurance.

Avoiding temptation

If you know that you’re prone to impulsive purchasing, surrounding yourself with shiny and beautiful new cars is probably not the best idea. There are a few things that you can do to take your mind off of buying a new car when you hit the dealership for a tune-up. For starters, you should consider setting a spending limit with your spouse. To do this, simply define how much you can spend without first discussing the transaction.

If you don’t have a spouse or significant other to bounce the idea off beforehand, consider finding an accountability partner who can be your sounding board for important financial decisions. One of the best things that you can do is vow to sleep on any large purchase for a day or two before committing to it. Often, you will find that your desire for that shiny new whatever will cool off over time.

Finally, remove yourself from the situation before it even takes hold of you. There is nothing that says that you have to stay at the dealership and walk around while your car is getting serviced. Nor do you need to wander the mall for entertainment. If you keep yourself out of these situations in the first place, you’ll avoid the temptation to impulse spend and improve your wallet’s health in the end.

What is the largest purchase that you’ve ever made on an impulse? Looking back, what percentage of items that you buy everyday — at the grocery store for example — do you feel are impulse purchases? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Published on November 1st, 2011
Modified on February 17th, 2012 - 4 Comments
Filed under: Frugality

About the author: is a freelance writer who has written extensively for many financial websites and publications. Hank holds a Master's Degree in Finance and is actively pursuing Certified Financial Planner status.

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4 Responses to “The $30,000 Tune-Up”

  1. 1
    Steve Says:

    You can also avoid tempting areas altogether. Get the tune-up done at a mechanic instead of a dealer. Buy your groceries at a store that only sells food, not a combination food-general merchandise supercenter.

  2. 2
    Kolton Says:

    It’s important to note, and the article did talk about this in a way, but it is important to be able to control your emotions. Letting your emotions control you only results in bad decision making. Plus, impulse buying on credit is the worst possible finance situation.

  3. 3
    Jessica Says:

    My husband and I set a spending limit in discussions before we got married, but almost every other couple we’ve met who hears about this finds it odd and constricting (I’ve even heard “controlling”). We just want to be sure that purchases and spent money are in the best interest of our marriage as a partnership, so we’ve carefully put that into place.

    That said, I just can’t imagine buying something like that on an impulse anyway. Spending more than $25 without thinking about it and considering the financial ramifications seems weird to me. (I know that’s low for some people, but I’m saving for a specific reason right now, so it’s “This item or what I’m saving for?” when I think about it.)

  4. 4
    matt Says:

    Impulse buys are a hard thing to avoid for me. This blog hits very close to home with me as well. MY check engine light came on and instead of spending all the money to fix my older car I bought a brand new one. But mine set me back 42,000.

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