big anniversary coming - wife wants to travel, I want to secretly buy her a car
April 10, 2008 11:54 AM   Subscribe

This summer marks a big wedding anniversary. I wanted to surprise my wife with a car. She is now talking about wanting to travel. Since both ideas require advance planning, how do I open this dialog with my wife, while trying to keep the element of surprise?

My wife has been driving minivans for the last 8 or so years. She is definitely ready to be out of minivan mode. I couldn't blame her. I would like to give her in something nicer and more fun to drive.

I was wanting to surprise her by handing her the keys on the morning of our tenth wedding anniversary.

She's now talking about wanting to travel and is starting to check airfares/destinations. Financially, I'm not comfortable with both the trip and the car. A possibility would be to spend less on a car and take a less-expensive trip.

We don't 'need' a car, nor is the purchase of a different car dependent upon selling our current van. I will, however, eventually sell the van and use the proceeds toward the new(to us) car. Its not like the van will be 'missing' for a few days leading up to our anniversary.

I've been wanting to give my wife a nicer vehicle for some time. Again, our current van is clean, running well, and paid for. Outside of wanting to do something special for my wife, there are no real concrete plans for replacing the van.

I've accepted the fact that plan A is probably not going to happen. The beans are going to have to be spilled. I need to open a dialog with my wife and let her know about my intentions while being respectful of her wanting to plan something. Any suggestions?

mods: anon because wife is a occasional visitor
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total)
Why not by her a nice car and then go on a road trip?
posted by pieoverdone at 12:04 PM on April 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

pieoverdone has it. Say "hey, honey, travelling by air is such a huge hassle what with TSA and all that rot, so how about we go on a fun roadtrip.. it'll be like college again, and we'll get to explore whatever we want at our own pace."

And then, on the day you leave, say "Well, I figured since we were going on a road trip we needed a great road trip car! Happy Birthday!"
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 12:07 PM on April 10, 2008

Why give her a car when she's said she wants to go on a trip? You may think she wants the car but that may just be what you want to give her. There is a big difference.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 12:08 PM on April 10, 2008 [3 favorites]

On or around the big day, get her bundled into the minivan and take her car-shopping. She needs to have input on that decision. You could print out some reviews of likely candidates in advance. Maybe work in a relevant youtube clip somehow. Maybe give her a homemade gift certificate redeemable for a new car.
posted by adamrice at 12:09 PM on April 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Since motor vehicles are major investments, I think you should talk with your wife about this, rather than surprise her. You are partners in life.
posted by Carol Anne at 12:09 PM on April 10, 2008

I would want to help pick out the car if I was going to be the one driving it every day. That's just me, though. If she's been looking at trips already, you've got a hint of where she'd like to go.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 12:10 PM on April 10, 2008

nth-ing that buying her a car without her input = bad idea...
The problem is this.. the thought is great, but what if she REALLY wanted the blue one.. it's not like buying her a coat - she cannot exchange it for "the same one but in blue please".

Although I do like the idea of a road trip with a new car (i.e. then she has something tangible once home from the vacation), I can't think of a way to get the "right" car without spilling the beans... (because.. "Hey Honey.. let's go on a road trip. By the way, maybe we should rent a fun car for it.. what do you like" might get her to tell you what she'd like to drive for a week, and not necessarily for a few years...)
posted by niteHawk at 12:30 PM on April 10, 2008

I would have thought you were my husband, except our tenth anniversary is this December, not this summer.

Cars, shmars. My husband wants to buy me a new car too. I have a perfectly nice car. It's paid for. Cars don't mean jack to me. I'd much rather go on a fabulous trip. If your wife is like me, the novelty of a "nice" car wears off quickly. You said she is definitely ready to get out of the van, but is it a huge priority for her? If she is truly longing to get out of the minivan, buy a car and still do a trip as others have mentioned. I'd much rather have memories of a wonderful trip on our tenth anniversary rather than car payments and "Oh yeah, that's the year we bought the blue Honda."
posted by LoriFLA at 12:44 PM on April 10, 2008 [3 favorites]

Here's the thing about a car: a car is something she has to have. You're going to buy her a car whether you buy her one for your anniversary or not. I don't know that a new car is necessarily the big romantic gesture for her that you think it is; it sounds like one of those surprises that is more fun to do than to receive. This article reminds me of your situation (except that the wife in this article doesn't want a trip the way your wife wants one).
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:03 PM on April 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Anon, honey, while the sentiment is lovely, the person here who really wants a new car? So totally you.

You cannot return a car and you cannot return a trip. And really, if you get it wrong, she has to pretend to be happy with it because of that, and God, that just sucks. BTDT, cried quietly in the bathroom every night of said trip and drove incredibly uncomfortable car for two years.

Lower your budget a bit and choose a car or a trip together. Spend the extra money on something you can surprise her with - a piece of jewellery or what have you - that you can put in the glove box or give her in your hotel room or over dinner or whatever.

Really, please, trust me.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:11 PM on April 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

It really is a lovely thought, but this might be a way to re-frame it. When you're married and give a big gift like this to your partner it's actually taking something away from her. Because the money that you have belongs to both of you equally, you should have an equal say in how to spend it. So when you make a major purchase like this without consulting her, you're actually taking away her chance to give input into what should be done with her own money.

The impulse to surprise her with something big is a fantastic and generous one, but since a car is a practical thing that she'll have to use every day, this would really be like buying her a vacuum cleaner or a toaster. If you both decide you need a new car, buy one together, and for your anniversary do some thinking about what smaller thing she really wants but wouldn't spring for for herself.
posted by MsMolly at 1:21 PM on April 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

Tell her you are taking control of the whole project. Tell her you are somehow on the no-fly list--perhaps you were a Young Trotskyite or something. Anyway, set up a road trip, so she thinks that's the gift.

Then tell her you want her to drive . . .
posted by Ironmouth at 1:24 PM on April 10, 2008

Ok, I'm going to be the devil's advocate here. He knows his wife, he's put alot of thought into this, he is obviously comfortable with the fact that she will be thrilled with a surprise new car!! I would LOVE to get a surprise new car for a gift. She is probably being practical and researching a gift for them both, which is fine but I think that if he wants to, and can afford to buy her a new car then he should go for it!! I love the car/road trip idea. The 10 year is a big milestone so you should do something outrageous!! Congrats and enjoy your surprise!!!
posted by pearlybob at 1:29 PM on April 10, 2008

Uh, seconding- and thirding- the opinions of : don't buy her a car.
a) not romantic
b) not what she's told you she wanted
posted by hulahulagirl at 1:31 PM on April 10, 2008

Think about this: you buy her the car, she doesn't like the one you chose, and then she still expects the vacation.

Don't make it a secret. Buy the car together, go on a road trip together.
posted by filmgeek at 1:32 PM on April 10, 2008

You don't know that she wants a new car, and you certainly don't know that she wants one as a birthday surprise, and you definitely don't know that she wants one more than she wants something else that costs tens of thousands of dollars. Moreover, you don't know what type or color or style of car she wants, or what tiny little details are important to her about the car she will be driving every day. She may have very specific beliefs about the placement of cupholders or the size of glove compartments or moonroofs or satellite radio or any one of dozens of details that vary widely among models.

Do not buy her a car without getting her input. If you want to buy her a car, put a model car (to represent the car you will shop for together) in a little wrapped box, and put the little box in a bigger wrapped box, and do that a dozen more times, and give that to her for her birthday, and let her have the fun of unwrapping the dozen boxes to find the car surprise. My parents did that for my grandmother for her birthday many years ago, and it was fun, while still allowing my grandmother to pick out the car she wanted. Or frankly, to say no to a car if it hadn't been what she really wanted.
posted by decathecting at 1:33 PM on April 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

I bought the wife a car as a surprise birthday gift a few years ago. I began by making smalltalk with her during a long car ride, telling her what my top 3 cars were and why. Of course she had to respond in kind. Then we talked about cars for awhile. You should be able to gauge her interest in a new car from that discussion, as well as the appropriate make, model and color.Bonus points for trim and finish. I couldn't afford her first choice, but luckily I could afford her #2. I was able to have the car delivered by the dealer complete with giant red bow on top. She loved it. Yes, she would have gotten a new car anyway, but really loved the surprise. Do it. And since you have to get her a car anyway don't be a tightass, while driving some day tell her the top three places you would like to visit some day, and make sure she responds in kind. You see the pattern.
posted by SMELLSLIKEFUN at 1:35 PM on April 10, 2008

"You don't know that she wants a new car, and you certainly don't know that she wants one as a birthday surprise, and you definitely don't know that she wants one more than she wants something else that costs tens of thousands of dollars."

...and you know he doesn't know all of this how, exactly?

Consider all of the cautions that she might want something besides a car. Then remember that none of these people know you (or your wife), and while I'm sure they mean well... their admonishments are littered with huge, unfounded assumptions. Take it all with a huge grain of salt.

If you can't figure out what kind of car she wants, or don't know all of the details, call a car dealership, see if they'd be willing to park one of their cars in your wife's driveway with a bow on it if you buy the car from them... then, once the surprise has passed, you can actually take her shopping to get her exactly what she wants.
posted by toomuchpete at 2:20 PM on April 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

I've never had a problem with dealer's letting me take home a car for a weekend. I have a very, very good feeling that if you go into the dealership, pick out the car and explain the situation, they'd be more than happy to oblige. They know very well that the chance of you not going through on the transaction is very low.
posted by geoff. at 2:28 PM on April 10, 2008

Financially, I'm not comfortable with both the trip and the car.

Unless you know whether your wife would prefer the trip, the car, or a cheaper trip and cheaper car, it's quite risky to buy her one of these as a surprise. This will take a big bite out of your finances and affect other things that can be purchased by your household, and the two of you need to be on the same page on this.

Even if she does want a car, you will need to find one that she likes. She should test drive any car she would be a regular driver on, especially a used car. I've found many a fine looking car has things that would make it terrible to drive on a daily basis, like seats that can't be adjusted well for someone with my height and build.
posted by yohko at 2:40 PM on April 10, 2008

I have no experience with the "surprise car gift", but a couple of people have suggested "DO BOTH! Buy a new car and then go on a road trip." If you are considering this option, make sure you check to make sure that there is no "breaking-in" period for the brand-new engine in your brand-new car. When I was in high school, we went on a family road-trip shortly after our (minivan) engine had been rebuilt, and it meant 50mph for the first couple hundred miles... mega-bummer
posted by misterbrandt at 3:33 PM on April 10, 2008

My ten year anniversary is coming up and I want to do something big for my wife, too. Specifically, I want to take her on a big trip. This, however, will require emptying our savings, which is something I'm sure she'll notice. My solution was to talk to my wife and say "Our anniversary is coming up and I want to do something that I know you will like, and it means I will be emptying our savings. Do I have your permission to do this?" Because my wife trusts me, she gave me the go ahead. This, however, will only work if you are ABSOLUTELY SURE you know which option (the trip or the car) she would prefer. If you don't know, you have to ask her.
posted by arcticwoman at 3:36 PM on April 10, 2008

The grand gesture idea is lovely -- really. But in the case of the car, I'm going to have to side with those who are saying 'totally impractical'. When I went out to look at new cars, 3 of the 4 cars I tested caused the muscles in my legs to cramp up and spasm -- which is not exactly a desirable behaviour in the leg that's currently pushing on your gas pedal. Needless to say, I bought the 4th car.

Now, that's an extreme case, but the comfort and appropriateness of a given car can be very dependent on the height, weight and shape of a person. If you buy her a car and the seatbelts happen to be set too high on the pillar, she'll spend the next few years being half-strangled every time she stops short. It's just not a practical surprise.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:59 PM on April 10, 2008

My father always told his children that they would have to buy their own cars. And we accepted that. At Xmas time during my senior year at college he took me to a car dealer, saying he was looking to buy a new car for himself and wanted my input. While I was there the salesperson kept asking me for my opinion on what young people wanted these days. I was uncharacteristically ignorant of what was going on until he came to school for my graduation and asked me to come down to see "his" new car. Of course, it was the car/model/color I had told the salesman I really liked. It was a true surprise.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 10:15 AM on April 11, 2008

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