Friday, November 25, 2011

Not much slack

I like to try new things, be it new experiences or building some new gizmo. The problem is that I’ve never had much room for failure. If my time and energy is invested in something, it’d better work well enough to justify the resources.

When I was first striking out on my own, I made some hard nosed decisions based on my limited resources. After High School, I went to the local community college. My grades were good enough to go too better schools, but those schools were expensive. As it turned out, after one semester, I dropped out of the community college. My savings were all gone. The courses were challenging enough that I had to quit my part time job. Lack of sleep was really getting to me.

College is supposed to be this great stimulating experience where we can entertain new ideas and deepen our appreciation for the world. It should be a time to experience new philosophies and study the great thinkers of the past. When I was 18 it was all about getting a return on my investment. Back then, I didn’t think my potential income would justify going into debt. I was probably right.

Other kids picked the right ancestors. They could go to the good schools without worrying about working to pay for it. Changing majors and schools was no big deal. It didn’t matter if the credits didn’t transfer and it took a couple more years for the degree. Some could do fun things like take year off and backpack through Europe. Deep family pockets guaranteed things would not go too badly. You need time to find the career you truly love, no problem. Run out of money on your backpacking tour? Daddy will wire you more and pay for the plane ticket home.

When I cut the roof off the lake cabin and replaced it with a dome, it had to work. It was a big roll of the dice. Had I made some major error in my calculations: structural or financial, we’d have huge debt and no place to live.

Solar energy had to work. It would have really stressed the budget if it didn’t. My system was only about as expensive as a decent new snowmobile, but I couldn’t afford one of those either.

When I bought an old Mercedes Benz to experiment with waste veggie oil, it had to work. My wife needed that car to go to her job. In fact, she was driving it back and forth to work long before I got all the bugs out of the system. She’d put in a 12 hour day, then find herself bleeding air out of fuel lines on the side of the road.

Fortunately, my experiments that have fallen flat have cost me little cash. My failed waste vegetable oil heater cost me less than $20. That was mostly for saw blades, welding rods, and nuts and bolts. The rest of the materials were from things most people would have sent to the dump. It’s failure wasn’t due to the materials, but because of a poor fuel feed design.

Working class people don’t have much slack for failure. They buy a house, because they are told property values will always go up. The don’t. Don’t worry about being able to afford the house, as over time your wages will go up. Those don’t go up either. Kids take on huge college debt to get that good paying job that isn’t there. The working class never fully recover from those failures.

They have no extra resources to recover. If something doesn’t work out just right, it’s disaster. If you are upper class, not only do you have your own resources, family wealth, and you have access to lines of credit that regular people can’t even conceive.

When you don’t have money, you’d better have brains. Thanks to the Internet information is available. However, you have to be able to sift though that information and judge it’s value. You have to know what you don’t know and figure out how to learn it. You plan things in great detail in hopes that everything will go right. Even so, sometimes there are circumstances beyond your control. Maybe it’s a small detail you had no way of knowing, a defective part, or the fact that something successful on one place might not work as well at your place.

Quite a few of us have been doing a lot with little. We’ve had years of working without a net. I’m curious to see how well the rich would do with our limited resources.



  1. "I’m curious to see how well the rich would do with our limited resources. "

    They would do just fine, thats how they became rich...they used the resources they had to acquire more resources.

  2. Perhaps, perhaps not. It's easy to turn 10 million into 20 million. It's hard to turn $100 into $200.

  3. I, too, only went to college for two years because of finances. It didn't keep me down either. It took a couple of working years to get started on my career and then I worked my way up until I had degreed engineers working for me. I believe college is way over rated.

  4. know the saying '..desperation is a powerful motivator.' is amazing the things you can do when you have no choice but to succeed..when things I do fail on our end it is due to lack of effort or thought..and those 2 are usually tightly coupled with low cost. I know I wish I had some of the skills you have. Never dropped out of university but then again it was only 2000 a year..but I did work full time and go to school part-time to pay for is cheaper in canada I think.