Our Spring blog series includes excerpts and simple financial lessons from the book In A Most Delightful Way, by our founder and CEO, James Twining, CFP®. The book aims to explore and simplify concepts based on the author’s own recollection of his early life and storied career path. The formula includes a story or anecdote (the “Spoonful of Sugar”) as well as “medicine” in the form of a lesson learned. Request a copy of the book anytime from your FP Inc. advisor or staff member.
Spoonful of Sugar: You’re Fired!
By James B. Twining
Following our honeymoon, my new bride and I drove on to California. I still had no idea what I would do for a living, so for work I did exactly what I had done in school: I tried one thing, then the next; hopping around from job to job trying to find the field that was right for me. I wasn’t particularly qualified or experienced in anything. Among other jobs, I worked on a crew that laid ceramic tile, and I installed storm windows. None of these held much promise for me as a career, nor did they capture my imagination or tax my creative ability.
Eventually, I landed a sales job with R.W. Smith, a seller of restaurant supplies in old town San Diego. We had a large retail showroom full of commercial restaurant equipment and every imaginable item for the restaurant industry: Freezers, refrigerators, ranges, dishwashers, tables, chairs, flatware, plates, glasses, you name it. For the first time in my life, I was being paid a living wage, so Jeanne and I celebrated by buying a piano at the local mall. It was a nice piano, and it came with the monthly payments to prove it.
There were four of us on the sales floor at R.W. Smith, and we were responsible for keeping the displays looking good and selling supplies to the restaurant owners who came in. These were usually small ticket items, as was reflected by our commissions.
It didn’t take long before I realized that the most important part of my job (as the most junior, inside salesman) was simply to keep the coffee pot full of fresh coffee. Like many businesses, this one ran on caffeine, and if the pot was empty or the coffee wasn’t just right, I heard about it.
One day I was stacking long-stemmed champagne glasses on a display shelf, but instead of stacking them a few courses high, I stacked them about six courses up, and the entire column of glasses was teetering like a skyscraper in an earthquake. One false move and the entire thing would come crashing down.
Just then, my boss Bonnie came by and asked me a question.
“You’re bored, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” I replied, “very.”
Bonnie said, “You don’t like it here much, do you?”
“No, not really.” I said.
“OK Jamie, I’m sorry, but you’re fired.”
And that was that. After eight months of making coffee and selling plates and flatware, I was on the pavement again. Bonnie had just done me a tremendous favor, but it didn’t feel that way at the time. As I dragged my sorry arse up the steps to our apartment to tell Jeanne the bad news, a big truck pulled up behind me and two men unloaded my new piano, complete with the $230 per month payments, and hauled it into our apartment.
Later that night, I read the lengthy contract I had signed when I bought the piano. To my chagrin I saw that I had bought not only a piano, but life insurance as well. Over the coming months, I struggled to make those monthly payments, and every time I did, I swore I would never get into debt again.
The Medicine: Before you become emotionally invested in a major purchase, ask for copies of the contract you will be required to sign. Bring it home, read it, and only continue with the purchase if you are satisfied. This will help you avoid making impulse decisions.
For complex purchases such as a home, enlist the expertise of an attorney to review the contracts.
If you tend to get into trouble with credit card overuse, consider putting all your credit cards into a mason jar full of water and store the jar in your freezer. Your impulse to buy something you don’t need will cool off as your credit cards thaw. A more drastic measure is to simply cut up your credit cards and discontinue using them. I used to have a quart jar full of cut up credit cards in my office. The idea was that my clients who had gotten into credit card trouble would cut up their cards and put them in my jar. What people didn’t realize was that half of the credit cards were my own!