This is a guest post from Michael H. It's the story I alluded to when I first wrote about the third stage of personal finance. I was afraid to run this story when Michael submitted it last year. I thought it encouraged foolish behavior. Now I understand that it does no such thing. Instead, it points to goals, and the reasons for our frugality and saving.
For the past 10 years, our family has gone camping with our friends Mark and Lizzie and their children. It's really Lizzie's family trip, and we just tag along.
Lizzie's dad, David, always brings a little vintage 1972 olive-colored motor boat that can barely pull one skier — or possibly two people on sea-biscuits. Every year on the camping trip, David has to tinker with the motor to even get it started. This year the motor was not cooperating at all. After a few hours of David and his brother Jim trying to get the motor out of first gear, they had finally called it quits. There would be no boating activities for this year's camping trip.
My wife and our kids arrived late for the weekend and noticed that Lizzie's husband Mark and her cousin Gary were not at the campground. When we asked where they were, Lizzie told us about the frustrations with the boat. Gary and Mark had driven to the closest city to rent a boat.
After about five hours with no signs of Gary and Mark, we were all wondering what could have taken them so long. Soon, however, we observed Gary's truck backing down the boatramp with a shiny yellow speedboat.
Mark came over to the group and was immediately bombarded with questions.
“Where did you rent the boat?” someone asked.
“You'll have to ask Gary,” said Mark.
“That looks brand new. Did you buy a boat?” asked another.
“You'll have to ask Gary,” replied Mark.
“What really happened in town?” asked Gary's wife.
“You'll have to ask Gary,” replied Mark. The whole group was confused.
Money and marriage
As I walked over to the dock with Mark, he told me that he had just witnessed an amazing thing.
On their drive to the city, Gary had mentioned his appreciation of David and Jim for the many years they had spent getting the little boat ready for the camping trip and the countless hours of energy trying to fix it so it would work just right for the kids and grandkids. Gary did not want David and Jim to have to do this any more. Gary said that he wanted to put an end to the stress and challenge of it all, and that he and Mark were going into town to buy a boat.
With a few cell phone calls to friends in the city, Gary knew his destination. He walked into the dealership and asked about three different boats. After hearing about the third boat, Gary asked what they wanted for it. Gary thought for a moment and made an offer lower than the asking price. The salesman went back to his manager and a deal was struck. Gary said he would be back with a cashier's check.
Gary and Mark went across the street to a branch of Gary's bank and pulled the money off an open line of credit, received the check, went back across the street and went through the process of registering the boat and learning how to operate it. They then drove back to the lake with Gary's new boat.
As Mark and I were walking, I asked him what was the most expensive thing he had purchased with out discussing it with his wife. He mentioned a stereo that cost $300. I jokingly replied for me it was a 50 cent pack of gum. We pulled the boat around to where the family was located. We were all fixated on how Gary's wife, Sally, would react to the boat. There wasn't a notable response.
Gary invited several people on board and took the boat out on the lake. As he pulled away, Sally explained that she trusts Gary and knew that he must have had a good reason for buying the boat. She also said they had been talking about buying a boat for years and it had just never happened. She mentioned that when Gary has his mind set on something, he is going to do it, and that approach has not failed them during their 20 years of marriage. She was not alarmed or shocked by this event.
I talked with Gary later. He told me that he wasn't really worried about Sally's reaction. He wouldn't have purchased the boat if he thought she would be upset. Instead, he was worried about how David and Jim would view the purchase. Would they see it as disrespectful to their efforts all of these years? Or would they understand that now they did not have deal with the hassles of such a frustrating event year after year?
He quickly got his answer. David and Jim were more than happy to be the first drivers and pull Gary behind his new boat. Both the smiles of David and Jim (and Gary for that matter) brought more satisfaction than any money could buy.
The means justify the ends
As a successful small business owner, Gary had the means to make this purchase. He had purchased the boat on a Saturday with his line of credit, and then reallocated his finances to pay off the line of credit that next week. He also talked about the use and enjoyment he and his family would receive from the purchase. Regardless of your approval of the purchase of a boat, Gary has worked his whole life building a business and putting himself in a financial situation to make this surprise purchase.
As I've shared this story with others, I've been asked if I was jealous of Gary purchasing a boat. I'm always quick to say “no”. If I had the money, I would not choose to buy a boat, but the question makes me think. Is there a purchase or donation (for myself or others) that I would choose to make that could provide a sincere and authentic feeling of joy and happiness that Gary experienced? If there were — and I could afford it — I'd do it.