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Ask Dave

Should I Surprise My Husband With a New Car?

Mary wants to buy a car for her husband as a surprise. She expects to spend $36,000, and they have a $1,000 purchase limit with each other. Would it be okay to do this even though they haven't discussed it?

QUESTION: Mary in New York would like to buy a newer car for her husband with money out of her business as a surprise. She expects to spend $36,000, and they have a $1,000 purchase limit with each other. Would it be okay to do this even though they haven’t discussed it beforehand? Mary makes about $500,000 a year. Dave doesn’t see any reason not to do this with a couple of exceptions.

ANSWER: Since you’re not the sole decision maker but the predominant decision maker and the income earner and you have tons of money and you’re in excellent condition, there’s no reason at all to not do this except for possibly two. Let’s just make sure they’re not there.

One is a very positive thing, and it’s very simple. My wife likes surprises. I don’t, so I would not be thrilled with this purchase—not because I wouldn’t like to have a nice new car. I just really don’t like surprises. I’m a planner. Little ones, I can stomach and go along with and have fun with. But big ones are hard for me. I don’t like surprises in my business. I just don’t like surprises. When I turned 50, my daughters showed up with balloons and my wife, and they took me on a hot air balloon ride. That was a surprise. That’s a little nice, sweet surprise, and that’s not a big deal. It was two hours of my day in the afternoon. It’s not a problem. I loved doing it. It was sweet of them. I liked the whole thing. But in general … Different people are wired differently.

The second one is a hard one. In situations like yours—and I’ve counseled with many, many couples over the years—where the wife is the breadwinner and the husband has decided to stay at home, there are situations where men have become very comfortable with that and are comfortable in their masculinity in a role reversal situation, and then there are situations like yours where he struggles with that severely. As you probably know, there are only two types. There are very few people in the middle. There are ones who are really comfortable with it, and everything’s cool. And then there are others and it’s boiling right under the surface. If that’s the case and you gave him a car, that would be like rubbing his nose in it.

I think since he’s okay with surprises, he’s comfortable in the role reversal model, and all that kind of stuff—and you’ve got tons of money, you guys are killing it—I don’t think there’s anything stopping you from doing this. I would do it.