Reflections of a Financial Tough Guy

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When I was growing up on Long Island in the late 1970s, my favorite band was a local bar band called the Good Rats. And without a doubt, my favorite Rat song was Tough Guys. If you care to listen to the song that greatly stimulated my fifteen-year-old brain, here it is.

Admittedly, the Rats aren’t for everyone. But look at it from the perspective of a fifteen-year-old Long Island boy. The band was named after rodents. The lead singer was a guy called Peppi Marchello. And they freakin’ had a great song about something a lot of fifteen-year-old boys aspired to be—tough guys.

I certainly wanted to be a tough guy. I loved the big-screen tough guys—Eastwood, De Niro, Stallone, Douglas, and George C. Scott. I loved the real-life tough guys too—Jack Lambert, Jack Tatum, Joe Frazier, Willis Reed, and Dave Schultz. But the town I grew up in wasn’t exactly conducive to honing one’s grit. It was way too idyllic. No vice. No poverty. No hoodlums. Just a lot of nice Jewish kids prepping for the SAT.

Of course, I could have become a tough guy. But becoming a tough guy in such a meek environment seemed rather pointless. I didn’t want to lord over future accountants and dentists. I wanted to right wrongs. I wanted to clobber the bad guys. So I just had to face reality. My environment conspired against me. My dreams of becoming a tough guy were never going to be fulfilled.

Or were they?

The Birth of a Financial Tough Guy

Once I moved down to Charlotte ten years ago, something changed. As my financial security grew, my financial timidity waned.

The first indication of this came in 2008 when Mrs. G. and I bought our 2004 Camry from a dealership. After agreeing upon a price, and after informing the salesperson I would be paying cash, I did something I never would have done back in New York. I told the salesperson that when I came to pick up the car, two things were going to happen. I was going to hand him a check, and he was going to hand me the keys. That’s it. I didn’t want to waste my time with another guy at the dealership trying to sell me a warranty I didn’t want. I then told him that those terms weren’t negotiable, and if he couldn’t make it happen, I would take my business elsewhere. He made it happen. Cash talks.

A couple of years after buying the Camry, our back-up vehicle, a 1997 Jeep, began having issues with its horn. It wouldn’t work. And apparently a vehicle can’t pass a state inspection without a functioning horn. So I took it to a mechanic and he told me it would cost over a $1,000 to fix. And, again, I did something I never would have done back in New York. Because I never owned two vehicles before! I told the mechanic, “Screw it. I’m not spending a thousand bucks to fix a horn. I’d rather sell the Jeep for parts.” I thanked the mechanic for his time and turned to exit the shop. But before I got to the door, that $1,000 repair bill suddenly dropped to $300. He miraculously found a used version of the part he needed for the repair. Imagine that.

From 2012 on, my financial boldness really picked up. It started soon after I read a book called Wired For War. The book had mentioned two cutting-edge companies: Aerovironment (drones) and iRobot (robots). I looked up their stock prices and saw they were both trading for under $20. I brought this to the attention of Mrs. Groovy and suggested that they might make a nice speculative trade. She agreed and we invested an insane amount in each company: $25,000. It was absurd. But I didn’t care. I had a two-year emergency fund and was more than half way to the Mustachean Threshold. And in the end, it all worked out. A year later, both stocks had doubled in price and Mrs. Groovy and I walked away with a $55K capital gain.

In 2013 my company closed the Charlotte office. It allowed me to work remotely because it didn’t know what the heck I did. In 2014, it wanted to know. So every month I would fly to Dallas and show the programmers what I did. I knew I was a dead man walking, but I didn’t care. In fact, when they couldn’t figure out how to write the SQL code to transfer the final component of my job to Dallas, I spent a weekend writing it for them.

Again, I was super cooperative and super helpful because I didn’t care. My emergency fund was just as robust and I was even closer to the Mustachean Threshold. But my co-workers in Dallas didn’t know that. They thought I was the coolest guy around. After all, I was helping them build the gallows to hang me. And because they admired my intrepidness, they were determined to help me. Two weeks before my last day, they got wind of an opening in our company’s Midwest region. A week later I was flown to Chicago for an interview. A day after the interview, I was offered the job. My new boss told me she never heard such glowing reviews.

Just before I started flying to Dallas on a monthly basis, I got another stock idea. While surfing the net, I came across an article in the MIT Technology Review about an impending lithium shortage. I then did a little online research and discovered a publicly traded lithium concern in Nevada called Western Lithium. It was trading for $0.17 a share. I brought the MIT Technology Review article and Western Lithium to the attention of Mrs. Groovy and suggested that Western Lithium might do even more for our net worth than Aerovironment and iRobot did. She agreed. So over the course of 2014 and 2015, we threw nearly $24K at Western Lithium. We now own 72,000 shares of a penny stock, which is freakin’ nuts. But right now I look like a genius. Western Lithium has since merged with an Argentinian lithium company and is now called Lithium Americas. It’s trading at $0.78 a share.

Let me conclude with one more financial swashbuckling story. About a month ago, I was getting the tires on the Camry replaced, and the mechanic told me that the engine mounts were close to failure and needed to be replaced. He also told me the job would cost over a thousand dollars. I immediately said no. I didn’t even know what the eff engine mounts were. They weren’t getting replaced. When they blew up, I would get a new car.

Now, I realize that driving around with ready-to-explode engine mounts isn’t nearly as daring as throwing $24K at unproven lithium miners. But I included this story because this was when it finally hit me. I am a tough guy. Not a tough guy in a pugilistic sense, but in a pecuniary sense. I am a FINANCIAL TOUGH GUY. My emergency fund and growing net worth have allowed me to grow one impressive set of cojones.

So hooray for me. A childhood dream has been realized. And, now, whenever I hear Peppi belt out the following lines, I know he’s singing about me.

“Tough guys. Always been my kind of men. Just doing the things that I can’t.”

Final Thoughts

Okay, let’s be real. Telling a mechanic that I’m not going to replace the engine mounts is not nearly as cool as beating the crap out of some bully. I get that. But at this point in my life, I’m taking it. It’s the closest I’m getting to being a real tough guy.

And don’t worry about my tough-guy status going to my head. I know my place. In fact, I’m not even the toughest member of the household. That distinction easily belongs to Mrs. Groovy. When the markets dropped five percent over two days last week after the Brexit vote, I suggested to Mrs. Groovy that it was probably a good time to move $10K out of cash and into the market. Without hesitation, Mrs. Groovy said, “Wimp. Put $20K in.”

 

 

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25 Comments

  1. Great story to read. You sure have some financial cojones…
    Nice to read that both Mr. and Mrs. are so into investing in penny stocks.
    Maybe, one day when I drive a Tesla 3 (the only car I really care about – marketing is strong ) I will think of this story again!

    • Mr. Groovy

      Hey, Mr. Amber. You’ll have to send me a picture of you cruising in your Tesla 3. We dabble in individual stocks on occasion. Right now we have a few thousand invested in a company called Organovo. It’s a 3D bio-printing concern in San Diego and it is trying make human livers. It took a dive a couple of years ago and is only now coming back. We’ll hold onto it for a few more years and see what happens. It’s currently trading around $4/share. Lithium Americas is the only penny stock we ever invested in. Investing in it is a total gamble that will not likely make us wildly rich. There are some good signs, though. It recently signed a joint venture with SQM, the largest lithium player in the world, to bring its Argentinian reserves into production. And the world’s elite are very concerned about global warming. So I think governments will be doing everything they can to mainstream electric cars and solar. Only time will tell, of course. But I’m certainly not counting on it.

  2. “Okay, let’s be real. Telling a mechanic that I’m not going to replace the engine mounts is not nearly as cool as beating the crap out of some bully. ”

    I think it’s WAY cooler. Plus, if you beat up a bully it’s likely that you’ll still have a sore hand. And if his teeth cut your hand you’ll get a nasty infection. Eww.

    • Mr. Groovy

      I love the way your mind works, Julie. I didn’t think of the downside to righting the world’s petty wrongs. Excellent point!

  3. Another excellent article ! You and Mrs. Groovy are prolific writers.It’s hard for me to keep up ! LOL

    On a serious note, I lost well over 100,000 in the murky world of junior mining stocks.Almost lost my wife of 25 years too.When these type of stocks go south they go in a hurry and the losses are gut wrenching. Tough for me to recover from a blow like that especially in my fifties.

    Western Lithium has more than tripled in price.You may want to consider selling enough shares to cover your initial investment.Let the rest of it ride and see what happens.Playing with house money so to speak.

    JMHO

    • Mr. Groovy

      I hear ya, Bobby. It is best stay very far away from junior mining stocks. Mrs. Groovy and I don’t even include our Lithium Americas “investment” in our net worth calculation. We consider it our lottery ticket. If electric cars start gaining some traction, and the guys at Lithium Americas can actually produce some battery-grade lithium, we’ll have a lot of money to do some good. If not, we’ll have a cautionary tale to share with the FI blogoshpere. Thanks for sharing your concerns, Bobby. I really appreciate it.

    • Mrs. Groovy

      I know it’s been rough for you, Bobby, recovering from that blow. We discuss an exit strategy for cashing in on growth but we’re OK with letting our investment ride for now. We put in a little over $20K but the rest of our money is held conservatively in index funds – 50/50 allocation between stocks and bonds. Thanks for your concern. It’s definitely a gamble but it’s added some excitement to our (pathetic) lives.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Excellent, Penny. I’m sure you’ll be getting your tough-gal status soon enough. In the meantime, I wouldn’t mess with you. You’re pretty badass already.

  4. I would rather be a financial tough guy any day! Money talks and your cash reserves allow you to do what you want.

    Love the car dealership story, it’s crazy how long it takes to say “no” to all the sales pitches

    • Mr. Groovy

      Here’s a quick story for you, Chris. The first encounter Mrs. Groovy ever had with a car salesman lasted about twenty minutes. She stormed out of the dealership and referred to the salesman as a “c**k-sucking vulture.” I never heard Mrs. G. utter such hate. But that’s what these salespeople and dealerships do to you. They make you crazed.

  5. I love these stories! I won’t be a tough gal for a few more years, but I currently take less shit at work because I have the emotional FU fund to back me up.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Nice, ZJ. I love it. That emotional FU fund is good to have. And when co-workers and employers see that it’s well stocked, they leave you alone.

  6. Cool post! I think all of this could be distilled down to one primary concept: confidence. You had the confidence to say no to unnecessary work, and the balls to stand up to a car salesman and demand that he work around YOUR terms, rather than you HIS. At work, you had the gumption to actually make it easier for your position to be eliminated because you knew that if it did happen, you’d get another job. After all, you’re a skilled IT guy with development skills, and companies like employing skilled IT guys with development skills (and I rather enjoy writing sub-queries that actually work on the first try without creating a cartesian product).

    You are a financial tough guy, but you’re also just plain confident, and confidence is absolutely one of those traits that get people to amazing places. You expect things to go right and they do. You know the difference between a want and a need.

    Basically, you actually know how to think…and that can be a rare quality these days.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Hey, Steve. Thank you for your kind words and analysis. Your analysis nailed it. As I was writing the post, I had the inkling that I was writing as much about confidence as financial moxie. Confidence and thinking can take you to amazing places. Great summation. Awesome hearing from you, Steve. It’s always great when a fellow subquery-lover stops by to share his two cents. Cheers.

  7. Great post. Financial security is a great thing to have and it allows you so much freedom in being “tough”, cutting through the BS, and taking chances. Glad you got to be the tough guy after all, and found yourself a tough gal in the process.

    • Mr. Groovy

      “Cutting through the BS.” What a great way to put things. When I was financially less secure, I always seemed to make less than optimal decisions. Just why I can’t say. Was I too fatalistic? Where the stakes of making a mistake too high, and that psyched me out? Only when I got my financial act together was I able to “cut through the BS.” I’m sure behavioral economists have a name for this phenomenon. Thanks for stopping by, Gary. Love your insights. And, yes, I really lucked out with Mrs. G. She’s one tough Brooklyn gal.

  8. Sara Houser

    I heard you recently on a finance podcast and I love your Long Island accent and your good humor. I’ve just started reading your blog and really enjoy your wife too. When the big retirement happens, promise me that you will both consider doing a podcast. I would subscribe in a heartbeat.
    Sara H.

    • Mr. Groovy

      You’re too kind, Sara! When I hear my Noo Yawk accent, I cringe. Mrs. Groovy is definitely the secret sauce of this blog. And funny you should mention a podcast. Mrs. Groovy and I are actually kicking around the idea, and we think we have a rather interesting theme. We’ll keep you posted. Thanks for stopping by, Sara. You made our day.

  9. Fun stories, Mr. Groovy. Haggling (or at least knowing how to push back on aggressive salespeople) is such a great skill to build. The more flexible you are — and if they figure out that you’re truly willing to walk away — the better.

    I really wish I knew more about engines and repairs to be able to gauge automotive BS. I don’t have much interest in learning, though, so instead I’ll often turn down one mechanic’s quotes, then see if the next place I visit finds the same issue. Often, I never hear it mentioned again!

    • Mr. Groovy

      You are so right. Being willing to walk away is one way of leveling the playing field with your mechanic. And I too curse my ignorance when it comes to cars. Without a solid foundation in engines and repairs, it’s next to impossible to gauge the automotive BS. So now, like you, my only defense is to say no and see what the next guy says. And just as you’ve experienced, if one guy says the “johnson rod” is shot, the next guy says it’s fine. Whether this is too funny or too sad, I can’t say. Thanks for stopping by, Matt. Love your wisdom.

  10. I like that attitude with car dealerships and mechanics. When I realized I was done with my Hyundai and that dealership, was when the mechanic was pointing out all of these “small” $200 repairs here and there and cleaning the valves because they “don’t have fuel filters anymore”.

    I said, really, no filter anywhere, and he said, well on the pump, and I said, so there is a filter? He replied, well yes but the valves are designed to get cleaned every 15k miles, and I laughed and said no self respecting engineer is going to design a component for a vehicle that needs to be cleaned by a mechanic every 15k miles, that’s ludicrous.
    Needless to say, a lot of that spawned me to downgrade to a cheaper car to maintain and fit my needs better.

    When I got that new car I did a similar thing as you, I told the dealer what it would take to come down on his offer for us to buy, and then I also told them when I picked it up, I’d be there on lunch break and need to be out of the door in 20 minutes or less. From the time I got onto the lot to driving off, was 15 minutes, and that was doing the paperwork, swiping the credit card, and trading keys. Yep, it was low enough that we were like, why not get some points off of it and used our card. 🙂

    It’s nice having flexibility to be confident.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Agreed. Never heard of a mechanic needing to clean a component every 15K miles. Talk about trying to take advantage of one’s asymmetrical knowledge. And I thought it was only the evil one-percent who took advantage of the middle-class? You’ve shared a lot of wisdom here, Mr. SSC. “Think like an engineer.” “Downgrade to a cheaper car.” “If you have the money, put the expense on your credit card and get the points.” Awesome. I like the cut of your jib, sir.

  11. I enjoyed reading this.

    There is a fine line I think between financial discipline and financial toughness. I would argue buying on a dip is merely financial discipline. Tried and tested. It works.

    Your penny stock investment – glad it worked out for you. There are a thousand stories and more as you know that tells a different story.

    Toughness with car dealerships. I love it. It is slowly changing both with car buying and repair. More folks are just not taking their crap any more.

    I like to think of the Twisted Sister song ” we ain’t gonna take it any more” when I interact with a car dealership.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Agreed. Buying dips is financial discipline. Buying dips that keep dipping (aka 2008) is financial toughness. And, yes, I totally agree with you that investing in penny stocks is not exactly wise. In fact, it’s down-right stupid. But as Mrs. Groovy says, our lithium mine is our lottery ticket. If it hits, awesome. If it doesn’t, oh well. And thank you for bringing up Twisted Sister. “We ain’t gonna take it” is the attitude to take to any car dealership. Loved Twisted Sister. They were another Long Island bar band. I thought the Rats were better, but the music world thought otherwise. Thanks for stopping by, Mr. Pie. It’s always great hearing from you.