The Right Tools and Experience

One of the joys of having our office at Five Points is the endless opportunity it provides to meet colorful people. Yesterday provided another one.

About closing time, I heard some discussing the scene in our front parking as they headed out the door. Seems there was a guy with a flat tire, trunk open, busily tossing out stuff to uncover his spare and creating what looked like a yard sale of hunting and fishing equipment around his car. A few minutes later, when everyone was gone and the office was quiet, I wrapped up from my day and started locking up. When I got to the front door, I saw that our friend was no closer to accomplishing his goal. In fact, he looked to be drowning in the task.

As I approached the car to offer a hand, a high powered rifle lying on the bricks, pointed my way, immediately caught my gaze. Just as quickly, my attention was diverted to the rather large guy moving aimlessly about the mess in nothing but a bathing suit, dripping wet in the sweltering 95 degree heat. He looked both frantic and defeated. When I offered to help, he told me that AAA had been called, but they were delayed due to high call volume. As we shook hands he introduced himself as Patrick.

There was no jack under the car and the the front wheel was hanging by only a very loose lug nut. Patrick sat down and proceeded to position himself dangerously far under the precarious front end to position the jack under the axle. Now there’s an unwritten rule among guys that you don’t offer advice when it is not asked for, especially when the target of that advice is big, overheated, more than a little rattled, and did I mention had a least one powerful weapon close by? But, throwing caution to the wind, I asked: have you tried putting the jack under the chassis?

His response was reassuringly calm, saying that he had tried that, but the flimsy thing had snapped out of its slot, leaving his front end and wheel in its current unstable position. As he cranked and fidgeted unsuccessfully to position the jack, he said, “you know, when that AAA guy gets here with his hydraulic jack, he’ll have this thing fixed in five minutes.”

That was it. My new friend, like all of us at times, realized he had the wrong tool and was over his head in his current predicament, yet he battled on hoping against hope that he might prevail on his own. As I listened and debated whether to run up the street to the corner auto shop to get a jack or to stand by in case the car fell on him, the cavalry arrived in a 1995 Ford Escort that looked like a balled-up piece of aluminum foil. An eager young man, weighing all of 140 pounds, popped out, yanked a shiny hydraulic jack from his trunk, and he went to work on that tire. In under five minutes he was gone and the spare tire was securely installed.

As I helped Patrick reload his trunk, he asked what I did. Aware that my dress clothes were dampening in the 95 degree heat, I attempted to abbreviate my explanation respectfully, but he continued with good, yet specific questions about investing. I remembered Geoff’s opening words in last Friday’s Brief and thought they would provide Patrick just the perspective he needed. I said that “good financial planning is the process of making smart financial decisions over and over again. With time, these smart decisions compound on each other to give you the freedom to do more of the things that are important you.” He asked for my card and promised to come by soon with his wife to learn more.

Naturally wired and reinforced by our American ‘independent spirit,’ we often to try it our way before seeking the best tools and experience to solve both small and large issues. Sometimes we find we are very good at it, others we fail miserably. But given that financial planning is arguably one of the most important areas of our life, and that good planning can effectively ensure that we will achieve more of the things that are important in our lives, why settle for less? We have the right tools and experience and are eager to help.