Why I Hyperventilated at the Car Dealership:
A Live Case Study in Making Money Decisions

written by Bari Tessler May 6, 2014

You know all of these practices I teach? Money dates, deep visioning, financial “quickies” with your sweetie, …? Well, I actually practice them! Like, on a daily basis. And as soon as I announced a mini-reprieve from writing articles, our little family had a real-life money encounter that was too rich to keep from you all.

Welcome to a live case study, straight from the pages of our life. It’s how our little family finally solved our 3-year-old riddle:

To Nissan Leaf or NOT to Nissan Leaf?

Forest and I have debated this BIG money question for the past 3 years. Should we buy a second car (a Nissan Leaf) or not? OK, a little longer — we first test-drove a Nissan Leaf (their 100% electric car) 4 years ago. And Forest has obsessed over electric cars since he was 10 years old!

Here’s the backstory …

Seven years ago, we became a one car family — and this was perfect for us at the time. When we made this decision, I was pregnant with Noah and simplicity was the name of our game. Plus, Boulder is so tiny, it’s fairly easy to get by with just one car.

I’ve been proud of our One Car Feat. Our shared Toyota Prius is one way we’ve reduced our carbon footprint. And she’s been fabulous for roadtrips (which we love). And, she’s paid in full.

BUT there were some downsides to our One Car Lifestyle. Namely: it only worked because Forest was willing to commute around town on his bike. While I’m safe and dry and comfy in the Prius, Forest has to bike to do errands or work in a cafe — through the boiling summer heat and freezing winter snow storms.

Now, Forest is an accomplished cyclist, but all this bike-commuting is in addition to the 100+ miles he rides each week as part of his regular cycling training. He’s become increasingly tired of freezing his tushie to do errands or go to a cafe workspace in the winter. And for me, it’s sunk in more and more just how challenging and not-so-fun it’s become for him.

So we’ve pondered getting a second car much harder this year. For the past many months, Forest has focused his Ultra Smart Researcher gifts on the merits of the Nissan Leaf: he dove into email conversations with 8 different dealerships, looking for the best pricing, interest rates, and Googled around hunting for the best negotiation strategies. (We both hate high-pressure marketing, and wanted to be prepared as we walked into the Big Dealership.)

The Little Party that Turned into a Big Day

A couple weeks ago, we started our day at a goat party!

You see, our friend, Johnny Jenkins, owns The Laughing Goat cafes in Boulder. (We go there all the time to work and get the very best, mochas around — with single origin, fair trade chocolate.)

To celebrate the anniversary of one of Johnny’s cafes, my marketing genius husband concocted the idea of a goat party: replete with live music and live goats from Goats to Go. (My hubby is the King of ideas like this!) Everyone had a blast, especially the kids, who got to feed hay to the goats.


That’s Johnny Jenkins, the owner of The Laughing Goat, and our boy Noah, saying hi to the goaties.

So they we were, enjoying the live goats, the mochas, and great music. Forest looks over at the used “green” car lot next to the cafe, Green Eyed Motors, and notices not one, but two Nissan Leaf cars. And they’re the exact blue color he’d been searching for!

Forest strolls over to the lot. No pressure — just gentle curiosity. He starts comparing the cost of buying a used Leaf versus leasing a new one. He talks pricing and interest rates with the owner. And he finds out that because these Nissan Leafs came from California, they’re considered “new” (or newly licensed) in Colorado. That means a significant tax rebate: hard not to shrug off $4,100!

When Forest rejoins us at the cafe, he brings some numbers with him. He pulls out his iPhone and does some research: on the tax rebate, tax strategy, leasing vs. buying, etc.

Meanwhile, Noah’s hanging with the goats, and we’re all continuing to enjoy a nice, relaxing day.

At some point, Forest asks me if I want to test drive the car, “just for fun.” Uh-huh. I see where this is going …

But I say “sure, I’ll take it for a drive.” I’d never driven one before, and it felt very similar to our Prius — only smoother and even more quiet.

After the test drive, Forest asked me if I liked it. I say, “yes!” and he points out the huge grin on my face.

We saunter back over to Green Eyed Motors and I realize how very un-dealership the place was (in the best feeling way!). We meet the owner, Luke, and Forest ran some numbers with him and talked about financing options.

Forest was super calm the entire time. I could see he wasn’t serious about buying a car today. He just wanted to do a bit more research. After all, he’s been waiting to get a Leaf for 4 years (and has been dreaming of having an all-electric car for 32 years!) so he’s become very patient about this!

We sit down with Luke and give him our social security numbers so he can look up our credit scores. We had just recently checked our scores on Credit Karma, so I knew exactly what they were and felt really good about that part of our finances. We discussed pricing and financing. I watched Forest and how calmly he was sitting there, taking the information in and continuing to be Zen about it all …

But me? I did the opposite of Zen: I absolutely started hyperventilating.

Yes. I have strong feelings about big purchases! It can stir up so much for me — even after doing this money work for years.

I do not like quick money decisions! I don’t like when I find myself faced with one. And I’ve been very intentional about not creating those high-pressure, gotta-buy-it-now situations for my community when we open up our programs and services. As this purchase started becoming a real possibility, a lot of anxiety came up for me.

Luke, the wonderfully laid back owner of Green Eyed Motors, was simply fabulous — and just as calm as my wonderful husband. He was a papa, and we’d seen him with his son at the goat party earlier in the day.

When we explained that Forest was my COO, he asked what my title was. I paused for a minute, and he gave me a knowing look. “The Queen?” he asked. “Ooooh,” I thought. “this guy is good! He knows how to talk to Boulder ladies!”

Even more importantly, Luke took all the pressure off of us, mentioning that he loved these electric cars and would be getting more in — so if now wasn’t right for us, we could simply come back when we were ready.

Forest didn’t pressure me, either. He said, “Why don’t we step out and talk about this somewhere else, Love? It’s not good to make a big money decision in the dealership.” Yes, he played his cards just right with me.

I realized how anxious I was getting, and knew I needed to remove myself from the situation to get some breathing and thinking room.

“I’m going to the bathroom,” I announced.

Now, I’ve learned that the bathroom is a wonderful place for me to do Body Check-Ins (I’m serious!). I calmed my body and mind. I stepped into a more grounded + clear space.

After a few moments, I emerged with a plan. I told my husband, “OK! In order to make this decision, let’s please discuss how this choice fits in with our goals: short-term, mid-term, and long-term.”

And right then and there, in the middle of the car dealership (which, remember, didn’t feel like a dealership), Forest and I had a full-on Couples Money Date.

You see — sometimes we plan our Money Dates. We put them on the calendar, bring chocolate, and make a ritual out of it. But spontaneous, life-is-happening-right-now-so-let’s-talk money dates are wonderful, too!

After a little while, Forest and I emerged with a calm, clear decision. Remember: we’d been trying to solve this riddle for 3 years! And the time had arrived.

Our 20 minute conversation. 3 years in the making. Here’s what we discussed:

Short-term money goals:

  • Do we have the cash flow for this, right now? Yes.
  • Will this stretch us in an uncomfortable way, with cash flow? No.

Mid-term money goals:

  • How does this fit in with our yearly cash flow? With our 2 year plan? Pretty well, actually! We’ve recently chosen to continue to rent in our ideal location Victorian house for the next two years, to lock in a very small rent increase. Our other car is paid off. And we’re about to pay off our business debt, which will open up more cash flow in the next few months.

Long term Money-Life Goals:

  • Where are we right now, in the grand scheme of our lives? Where are we headed — and does this financial decision support our vision? Our family’s newest, biggest dream is buying land on the edge of Boulder and building an earthship. For Forest, having an electric car plugged into the earthship’s solar panels and wind generator is a big part of this dream. Imagine: living in a house that gives us the water, heat, cooling, some food, and all the energy we need — including fuel for our electric car!
  • Does this purchase contribute to our dream? Or does the larger goal take a hit? We had a great talk about this. While the cash for the electric car could be tucked away for this larger dream, we realized our immediate and mid-term needs, desires and values were just as important. Our larger dream about the earthship is going to require a lot cash, so this purchase won’t affect the larger goal that significantly. 


  • Is this aligned with things that truly matter to us? Yes! Electric car = lowering our ecological footprint. Plus, we get to plug it in at solar powered electric vehicle charging stations around town, which sounds like a ton of family fun to us!

Needs + Wants:

  • Do we need this? While we’ve done great with just one car for the past 7 years, I could really tell how hard it’s become for Forest to commute (even just to the cafe) on his bike in the snow. The desires for safety and warmth and convenience were pushing this from an idle “it’d be nice” into a much stronger need-want.

And the moral of the story …

We left the dealership with our brand-new (used) Nissan Leaf! This was an absolute dream come true for Forest.

As we drove the car home, Noah led the way, waiving triumphant fists and shouting a big “Wahoo! Wahoo!” Later that night, we went to our friends’ engagement party (right around the corner from our house) and hopped in the car again, just to enjoy driving around the block a few times and do a few more rounds of, “Wahoo! Wahoo!”

It felt wonderful to have a new car. It was a family dream 3 years in the making. But here’s what made it feel most wonderful of all: knowing it was a well-planned, clear and grounded money decision.

Golden Gems for Family Money Decisions:

1. Do a Body Check-In. Always and forever the Body Check-In.
2. Ask the important questions.
3. Do the research.
4. Consider designating money for spontaneous splurges/decisions (big or small).
5. Take a break from the conversation if you need to! If you need to step back, take a breath, and get grounded, give yourself permission.
6. Talk about short, mid, and long-term money goals. Talk about your values, your needs, and your desires.
7. Once you’ve decided, do one last Body Check-In to make sure it all feels right and great.
8. Celebrate!

Now, there’s one last bit to this story that I’ll leave you with. A week after the purchase, Forest wrote this on Facebook, which will show you just how long he’s been waiting for this car:

I was 10 years old when it happened. The year was 1982. My small hands held the final product of the day’s project.

With hope and pure wonder fluttering in my heart, I slowly moved the magical contraption into the stream of warm summer sun that filtered through the living room window onto the soft couch where I sat.

Without hesitation, the white, three bladed propeller at the top of my solar powered windmill began to spin with a tiny roar.

Time stood still. Magic was happening right in my hands. Actual magic.

Light from a star that burned 93,000,000 miles from that couch was being transformed into electricity, which turned the small silver motor, which spun the blades of the windmill.

Right there, on that summer day in 1982, I set the strongest intention my little 10 year old heart could muster: one day I would own a fully electric car that would run on sunlight.

Last night, the dream of that boy inside me came true.

We pulled into a parking lot in town and I couldn’t believe my eyes: a solar powered electric vehicle charging station…and it was available.

I pulled under the large panels with my mouth wide open. I parked the car, grabbed the charge cord, and plugged in our Nissan Leaf.

Without hesitation, sunlight began pouring into its batteries, and after a lovely date with my stunning wife, the 10-year-old me drove the little blue car home.

With pure wonder, I watched the world roll by in a car that was running on sunshine; its motor spinning with a tiny roar.

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