May 6, 2006

It was Har"D"ley Worth it

If you look at the title of my blog you will notice that my first rule of finances is to live on less than you make. It is what I have always done and it has served me well from both a financial and a quality-of-life perspective. A second lesson that I learned is to never try to force something to happen, particularly if it involves a major financial event. Things will either fall into place or they won't. Too often we don't recognize that when things block us from getting something we covet, it is because it is not good for us. Life is shouting no and all we hear is yes. For instance, take the case of Ray and Steve, two guys I knew many years ago. Ray was shrewd and Steve was young and not too savvy. Ray was a Harley-Davidson man, not an outlaw biker guy, but definitely unconventional. Ray was the sort of fellow a young and impressionable guy finds appealing. Steve was drawn to Ray's swagger. Steve decided that he needed a Harley motorcycle too and, as luck would have it, Ray happened to have an extra one he was willing to sell for $2000. This was obviously many years ago, 1970 to be exact. There are some things about Steve's finances that you should know. He made about $120 per week, he pretty much defaulted on every financial commitment that he made and he often lived in his 1965 VW Beetle because he was habitually being kicked out of where he lived. He also had no money saved. Steve set about trying to get a loan to buy Ray's bike. He called all the usual places to no avail. He resorted to calling second-tier finance companies, he asked his family members and coworkers for a loan, he even asked Ray to carry the note. Everyone said no. The pursuit of the motorcycle consumed Steve. For a couple of weeks he plotted strategies to get his hands on $2000. He made calls throughout the day to various lenders, proposing various schemes. He made no progress. This should have been a message to Steve. Finally, he wore his father down. Steve's dad called a friend, the president of a small local credit union, and worked out a deal to get Steve a personal loan. Dad must have guaranteed it somehow. Steve gave Ray the money and picked up the used Harley. Steve was euphoric and proudly roared up to our building on it each morning...for about a week. Then the Harley died. Before the first payment was due, it gave up the ghost. Steve was crushed and asked Ray what he intended to do about it. Ray said he intended to do nothing. It turns out there is no warranty on a used Harley that you buy from a coworker. Steve managed to get the dead Harley to a motorcycle repair shop. The mechanic gave it a thorough inspection and announced that he could fix it for $800. As I mentioned earlier, that was almost 2 month's pay for Steve. So the motorcycle sat dead at Steve's dads house for a couple of months. What Steve also didn't know is that in a small city Harley guys tend to know one another. So Ray knew what was wrong with the dead bike and what it would take to fix it. One day, a short time later, Steve was lamenting his bad luck to a bunch of us at break. Ray asked Steve if he wanted to sell the dead Harley back to him. Steve jumped at the chance, but the catch was Ray only offered $500 for it. Still Steve reasoned that it was best to cut his loses. He sold. Since Steve had a signature loan on the bike there was no lien to clear. The deal was made. A few days later Ray roared up to work on the resurrected Harley. At break time Steve asked Ray about the repairs he had made. Ray, not content to have taken advantage of the kid, said he fixed it for $50. It was only 50 bucks in parts if you knew how to repair a Harley. See Ray was a Harley guy. Steve was out of his league. The next time you are pursuing something ask yourself, "Am I trying too hard?"

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