I’ve gotten a good handle on my personal debt. For many years after I climbed out of my debt hole, I didn’t use a credit card at all. I really didn’t want one, again. I no longer liked them.
When I became an independent contractor, however, I saw how a credit card might make my life easier. Could I operate without one? Yes. It’s inconvenient, but it can be done. However, I’m more disciplined now. I use a credit card for my expenses and pay the bill in full at the end of every month.
There’s a level of satisfaction with having mastery over my credit card when previously I didn’t. I usually abstain from silly purchases, those caused by emotion when my higher self is not in control. I pass on those purchases that put me into a worse financial position due to forgetting the concept of “need versus want” and letting myself become overwhelmed by some desire.
This is not one of those stories...
Left Alone to My Own Devices
Last spring break, my girlfriend had a quick three-day trip planned with our son and daughter. They were going to do some fun things like visit the science center and aquarium. I told myself I couldn’t attend due to work. This was before my awakening with The 4-Hour Workweek.
They left on Thursday afternoon and would return on Sunday evening.
When Saturday morning came around, I woke up early as I usually do. I had the house to myself. I was excited to mow the lawn, but it was still a little damp from morning dew.
I grabbed my book and headed to Jacobs Java in North Spokane, a building I had recently purchased with my partners. I bought a hot chocolate and enjoyed some quiet reading.
As I headed home, one of my favorite places caught my eye: 4000 Holes. It’s Spokane’s best music store. I realized I hadn’t looked for an album in a long time. I have a turntable hooked to a Sonos wireless speaker and a small album collection. Many of them are from my childhood or from friends who know I have turntable.
I spent a solid hour there flipping through albums. You can often buy a classic album for $10 which is a great deal and nice way to spend a night reminiscing.
That didn’t happen this day.
I had found a crazy Westwood One studio recording of a Sammy Hagar interview on the radio. They were interviewing him for Standing Hampton, my favorite Sammy album of all time. The LP was $24.95.
With that find, my adrenaline started pumping. I found a couple more albums I just had to have. I couldn't believe my good fortune!
“Will that be cash or credit?” Bob, the owner of 4000 Holes, asked.
I handed him my credit card and he handed me a receipt to sign for $79 worth of vinyl.
When I returned home, I put the albums down and headed to the kitchen for a snack. I paused for a moment and considered what I was about to do. Inside our pantry was the boy’s Easter haul which included a large bag of peanut M&M’s. I would never touch his marshmallow Peeps or any of that other stuff, but those pastel-colored peanut M&M’s were a weakness of mine. He would never notice just a couple missing.
It was time to mow the lawn. My yard has become my obsession. Anyone who knew me previously is often shocked to hear that. I once hated lawn work, but now I love hanging out it in my backyard.
I tend to trim with the weed whacker first and then crosscut the lawn (yes, I’m that guy). The lawn looked fantastic when I was done. I sat in the backyard with a sandwich to enjoy my handiwork.
Then a thought ran through my mind: Do you know what this backyard needs? It needs some music.
Since my girlfriend wasn’t around to tell me that was a silly idea, I finished my sandwich, grabbed my keys, a few more peanut M&Ms and headed to Best Buy.
Guess what I found there, much to my pleasant surprise? Outdoor speakers!
I carefully read the specifications on the boxes. I talked with the salespeople who really didn’t know anything but tried to convince me they did. I hemmed and hawed as I walked around the store, talking myself in and out of the purchase.
The Start of a Great Weekend
“Will that be cash or credit?” the employee asked me.
I handed her my Fidelity Rewards card. I’m going to get 2% back on this I was thinking to myself. Like somehow that was going to make this purchase balance out in the end.
The speakers and some Monster cable came to over $250.
Did I need Monster cable, that super-thick heavy duty speaker wire that audiophiles use on their stereo systems?
Of course, I did!
The speakers are going to be outside. The thick cable is going to hold up better, I told myself.
I really didn’t need that pricey speaker cable, but I was so jacked up in the moment, that my heart was racing. I hadn’t made an emotional purchase like that in ages. I was so excited.
My next stop was Lowe’s. I needed to figure out how to hide the cabling along the back of the house. I bought some cabling tracks, guessing how much I needed and raced home.
When I got there, I headed to the basement after making a swing through the kitchen for a few more peanut M&Ms.
I located an old stereo receiver that was tucked in a corner of the basement. It hadn’t been used in awhile, but I was glad I kept it. I switched to the Sonos wireless speaker a couple years prior.
Before Sonos, I had two speakers hooked up to the receiver to pump out my music collection. I’d purchased these speakers when I was 20 years-old and in the army. They stood as high as my hip and weighed about a ton each. My girlfriend never appreciated them the way I did for some reason. They looked like a relic from an 80’s frat party which is why I sort of liked them. However, to minimize my stuff (in other words, grow up) I donated them to Goodwill. My only hope is the speakers ended up in some other guy’s house whose girlfriend is now telling him how much she hates them. That would be the circle of life.
Back to the outdoor speakers…
I grabbed my ladder, power screwdriver and set to work. I set the hanger on the back of the house. It was an odd sensation drilling into my home to hang a speaker. I’d never done something like this before and it felt like I was getting away with something naughty. I was giddy.
My neighbor saw what I was doing from his raised deck. “Looks like we’re going to have a party in the neighborhood tonight,” he called over. I waved back, unable to speak due to my excitement.
The wiring was a slow, tedious process as I ran it along the edge of the house, securing it as I went. I wanted it to disappear completely into the background of the structure, but that wasn’t going to happen. It looks fine, but I always want it to be better.
I hooked up the second speaker and repeated the process. It was slow, but I kept imagining how great the music was going to sound in the back yard.
Then I ran into a snag. I needed to get the wire back inside the garage where I planned to put the receiver. I had to drill through the exterior wall of my house to do this. I’d never done that before. Something new was about to happen!
I returned to Lowes and bought a 12” long drill bit.
While driving home, my girlfriend called.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
I told her about the project, my voice full of excitement.
“You’re doing what?”
“I’m putting speakers on the back of the house. We can rock out all summer long. It’s going to be awesome!” I was yelling at the top of my lungs in my car. Seriously, why she puts up with me, I have no idea.
“Can you wait to do that until I get home?”
“Nope. I’m the king of my castle and I can do what I want while you’re away.”
Now, guys, I’m going to share some helpful advice. Never tell your lady that you’re the king of the castle and never do what I did next.
“I’m not sure I’m going to like it. Please wait,” she asked, very nicely.
I began singing over and over, “I’m the king of my castle. I’m the king of my castle.”
I was acting like a demented 8 year-old.
“What’s wrong with you?” she asked which has become a popular refrain in our household.
The conversation ended shortly after that, my enthusiasm not diminished in the least.
When I got home, I grabbed another small handful of peanut M&Ms and set up for the next step in my job. I punched a hole through the wall into the garage, pushed the wires through and realized I forgot something to secure the wires once they were inside. I have a finished garage and this looked tacky.
I shrugged my shoulders. A problem for another time.
With a quick spin of the fingers, the wires were plugged into the receiver and the speakers were live. I plugged my iPad into the stereo and blasted Sammy Hagar into the back yard. I’m sure the neighbors were not pleased that my girlfriend decided to leave me home alone.
I spent the remainder of the afternoon lounging in the hammock, listening to music and drinking a couple beers. Every now and then I’d get up to change a song on the iPad. I fired up the grill and cooked a hamburger while the sun was setting. Everything about this experience felt perfect.
How Do You Improve on Perfection?
“Will that be cash or charge?”
I was back at Best Buy the next morning handing the cashier my credit card again. This time the bill was slightly less, but still came in over $200.
I needed another pair of speakers albeit the next size down.
You see, every time I walked into the garage to change the music I couldn’t hear what I was listening to. It only made sense I put speakers in there, too. This was the natural progression. A moral imperative as they say, whatever that means.
I ran to Lowes and bought more tracking to hide the wires for the new speakers and the wire mess that I’d left from the previous day.
When my girlfriend called, I didn’t tell her about the second set of speakers. I knew I was going to have to figure some way to explain it. My best bet was to keep quiet. I tried to keep the conversation focused on her trip.
“What are you eating?” she asked.
“Some candy,” I said, while hurriedly swallowing the M&M’s I had been chewing.
She lowered her voice so the boy wouldn’t hear. “Don’t eat his Easter candy.”
“Okay,” I said, staring at the candy-coated peanuts still in my hand.
Time to Face the Music
When my family returned that afternoon, music was playing in the garage and the backyard. I was reclining in the hammock, enjoying the fruits of my labor. The cold ice tea in my hand was going well with the blues of Keb Mo.
It was a perfect day.
I helped bring in the bags from their trip and then returned outside.
Shortly, my girlfriend came out with a receipt. The look on her face wasn’t one of happiness. I sat up before she got to me, knowing this wasn’t going to go well.
“You bought $79 worth of albums at 4000 Holes?”
“The turntable isn’t even hooked up to the new speakers, right?”
“Well, no. I listened to them inside.”
“What did you buy?” she asked.
“I bought a rare Sammy Hagar …”
“I don’t want to know,” she said, shaking her head. My fanboy love of the Red Rocker is lost on her.
“How much did the speakers cost?”
“You said we were on budget lock down,” she said. Her eyes lasered in on me. “I was very careful on this trip not to go off budget.” She then crossed her arms. Oh, man, she crossed her arms! She was about ready to lower the boom. “Tell me how much were the speakers?”
“About $500,” I said, softly.
Her mouth slowly opened and she stared at me for a bit before saying, “You’re like an 8 year-old with a credit card.”
“I’m not that bad,” I said
She held the receipt up as evidence.
“I’m having a good year at work,” I said, weakly trying to come up with some defense to the budget lock down which we were (are) living under.
“That shouldn’t matter,” she said, being the voice of reason. “You’re the one always saying we’re trying to build something.” I hate when she wins arguments with calmness and maturity. It’s irritating.
The boy suddenly burst outside with a concerned look on his face, “Where are all my Easter M&Ms?”
I swear the entire neighborhood stopped at that moment. It was like every lawn mower turned off, every barking dog suddenly went silent and any car that was moving quietly pulled to the side of the street. The universe had abruptly turned against me.
My girlfriend faced the boy. “What happened?”
His face flushed. “All of my peanut M&Ms are gone. The Easter Bunny brought me a full bag and now they’re all gone.”
She turned back to me. It was like every detective movie where the key piece of evidence was found that put the bad guy away.
She shook her head. “What’s wrong with you?”
“I don’t know,” I said, giving the only honest answer I could.
Have you ever gone wildly off budget?
Did you ever pay the piper with your
partner who remained on budget?