Try Before You Buy

You see a car you like in the lot and the salesman, all smiles, hands you the keys and says, “Take it for a test drive. No obligation.” You’re delighted because you know you’re not really going to buy the car, just take it for a spin, and it’s not going to cost you a dime.

You climb in and there’s that new car smell. The engine leaps to life at the turn of the key – not like that clunker you’re driving now. The acceleration is quick, the steering smooth. You head for the highway ramp and for the first time in years you’re not flooring the gas to merge with traffic. “This is nice,” you say out loud. But you’re still just taking it for a “free” spin, planning to drop the keys back in the salesman’s hand when you return.

By the end of the test drive you’re not so sure, your face falls as you catch sight of your rusting heap waiting to reclaim you, and you’re mentally making readjustments to your budget. The salesman has the paperwork out – low monthly payments from now until eternity – and before you realize it you’ve tied the knot on a new car. Sure there were two or three models you were going to test drive besides the one you just bought, but you’re here and it’s suddenly a lot harder to get out of the feeling that sometime during the test drive you fell into a commitment with this particular vehicle, and what’s one car compared to another, anyway? Sigh. Here you are. Here you will stay.

“Try before you buy” looks like a buyer’s dream but it only works if the buyer has a very strong constitution. You have to have the guts to say “No thanks” if you think that this isn’t the best deal for you. It means shouldering disappointment, having to wait longer for the new item, and accepting a certain amount of implied guilt: the other party, even though they promised you a no-commitment trial, is now looking reproachfully at you as if to say, “If you weren’t going to buy in, why did you lead me on?” There’s a reason that “Try before you buy” is so prevalent in the marketplace: it encourages consumers to buy, even when buying is a bad choice for them.

However just because something is bad for you, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have the right to choose to do it. Although you might want to be informed of the risks.

Statistics Canada is a good place to go for information on risk.

For example, most of the people I come in contact with in my practice believe that living common-law is a good idea, a sort of “try before you buy” into a marriage. But the facts say otherwise:

“Living common-law is … strongly associated with a first marital breakdown. In fact, the risk is 50% higher among people who lived with their partner before the wedding than among those who did not. This finding is supported by recent Canadian research which clearly shows that marriages preceded by a common-law union are distinctly less stable than those that began at the altar, possibly because the tradition of marriage is less important to people who have participated in non- traditional conjugal relationships.” (1)

Living common-law before marriage makes the marriage more likely to fail – fifty percent more likely. Thirty-eight percent of all marriages in Canada eventually end in divorce (better than in the U.S., where the divorce rate is closer to 50%). If you live common-law before you marry, the chances of your marriage ending in divorce increase to 57%.

I think the problem here is “Try before you buy”. Moving in together seems a relatively easy thing to do, sort of like a free test drive. But as soon as you move in together, you give up your independence. Maybe you sold your home or let your lease go, and got rid of that extra bed, stove, and fridge. So now you’re sort of stuck together. If it doesn’t work out, you’ll have to buy a new stove and fridge. Who has that kind of money? Then, like the customer at the end of the test drive, you’re committed to a Ford, even though you’re starting to wish that maybe you’d held out until you tried the Jaguar down the street.

If you’re already living common-law, what should you do? Have a strong constitution. Don’t just fall into the commitment. Think about it. Thinking it wasn’t such a good idea? Start saving up for your own fridge and stove, and hold out for a better vehicle.

This is a controversial topic, I know. I publish my thoughts with some trepidation. StatsCan lost their budget after publishing such things. Have I offended you? Do you think I make a point?  What’s the upside of living common-law? Email me. I’d love to hear from you.

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1. Warren Clark and Susan Crompton (2006), Til Death Do Us Part? The Risk of First and Second Marriage Dissolution. Canadian Social Trends Summer 2006, p. 24. Available online, http://www.statcan.gc.ca/access_acces/archive.action?loc=/pub/11-008-x/11-008-x2006001-eng.pdfhttp://www.statcan.gc.ca/access_acces/archive.action?loc=/pub/11-008-x/11-008-x2006001-eng.pdf

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