Big decisions can be baffling. Big decisions involving money are even tougher.
What’s meaningful to you, might be mundane to the other side. What’s a lot of money to you, might be pocket change to the other side. What you think is rare, might just be plentiful in the world beyond your door.
I make most of my bad decisions quickly – every day I am making choices that I should not make, inconveniencing myself, my spouse, and the rest of you. I back out of my driveway without looking – bad choice. I drink 10 cups of coffee before 7am – bad choice. I wear underwear from another millennium – bad choice.
Seems my decision making gets better the longer it takes me to decide. It took me ten years to replace my last old car – but waiting worked. After twelve seasons, I finally replaced my orange Technica ski boots – but they were so good to begin with, the same model was still available. Most importantly, it took fifteen years to marry my bride.
She too makes big decisions slowly – so I was lucky she was unmarried when I finally figured out what I wanted in life. There she was, 1000 miles away, perfect for me.
Getting my love to Spokane was going to require not only a perfect engagement ring, but a four wheel drive vehicle – she needed one of each. We took advantage of a free afternoon in Bellevue to shop.
First stop was Tiffany. Lovely place if you like glass countertops and thousands of little lights. We tell the salesman what we are looking for – emerald cut diamond, platinum setting, nothing extreme. He shows us five options, and she tries-on three. They all look fantastic, especially number three. My bride is refined and has instincts, so she asks if she can use the powder room knowing I will use the opportunity to ask the price of the trinkets, which I do.
Number one – nice enough but not exactly what we wanted – was $22,500. Number two – big but maybe too bold – was $68,750 (or nothing for Carmella Soprano). Number three was in the sweet spot between them -- $47,000 – more than I could afford, but at least a round number, so I pretend that is the one we want. My love returns, and we take the salesman’s card and bid him adieu with “I will never see you again” enthusiasm, wondering if the Tiffany world is for me.
Second stop was Park Place Limited. If you are ever in Bellevue with time to kill, stop by Park Place Limited. For 40 years, this shop has sold the first Porsche to thousands of newly-minted Microsoft tech millionaires. Park Place even teaches these tech wheezers to drive manual transmission cars for a small fee. The shop and lot are an acre of desirable imported cars in every shape and size.
We make our way to the SUV section. There are the BMW X5’s – sturdy, purposeful, reliable. Over there are the Land Rovers – the “Landys” our salesman calls them. “You’ll each need your own wrench” he mentions by way of dissuasion. Then, in the corner are the Mercedes Gelandewagons. You’ve seen them, the G-Wagons – beefy and boxy, but not as ridiculous as the Hummer. Not an ordinary marshmallow Mercedes SUV – the G-Wagon is ready for anything.
The silver one catches our eye – it’s the AMG version. The G-Wagon is eight years old with 40,000 miles, but seems brand new to me. The salesman starts in on the features “It has stream crossing mode; it has bio-hazard filtration; it has self-parking….” Now I have to use the powder room. I come back and he is still going over the features “it has a rear-seat refrigerator; it has built-in luggage…” The car is undoubtedly impressive and would work quite well in Spokane. But would it be embarrassing – like “too much” embarrassing? Like Maserati on a dirt road embarrassing? I can’t exactly see my perfect girl in this beefy lane prowling machine, but she does have that side to her, so maybe it would work.
No need to be polite at Park Place Limited. “How much?” “Well, we had it at forty-nine, but for this weekend, we are selling it for $47,000.”
Forty-seven thousand dollars – same as the ring from thirty minutes ago!
$47,000 for the G-Wagon. $47,000 for the Tiffany ring.
The Tiffany ring has three parts: the diamond, the setting, and the band. None of the parts moves.
The G-Wagon has literally thousands upon thousands of moving parts. The thousands of parts are all interworking to provide thousands of options for operating the vehicle in thousands of settings in thousands of environments.
I picture the Mercedes and AMG engineers in lab coats discussing wiring harnesses and coefficients and fatigue testing. Then I picture the Tiffany jeweler with his dentist glasses and tweezers, making the ring in under an hour.
What makes something worth $47,000? Love? Safety? Having $47,000?
I risked the former by passing on both of the $47,000 offerings that day. Big decisions are slow for me. I might buy an AbbaZabba Bar on impulse, but not a G-Wagen.
Three months later, I had settled for a more perfect ring from a pre-revolutionary Iranian, and a less-perfect X5 from a corporate used car conglomerate, both for half the price. Half the price well spent – a risk that paid off.
All of it worked. The ring is wonderful and the bride remains proud to wear it. The used car is still used, but at least no one is judging her for it.
But in the end, the G-Wagen, for all of its intricacies and engineered moving parts will end up crushed and pulverized. Will the Tiffany ring ever be crushed and pulverized?
In the end, the simple $47,000 item will endure forever, and the complex $47,000 item will cease to exist.
Next time I’m facing a big decision, I’m going with the simple option.