Rich Man, Poor Man

Last Tuesday I was going through my morning routine, which usually entails eating breakfast and browsing my local Craigslist classifieds. There was a time when I had Craigslist alerts set up, so I would get an automatic email for specific items, but these days I genuinely enjoy scrolling for the first 30 minutes of my day, picking through the scams to identify any gems.

In 2009, when our business was just starting to grow legs, I made the decision to downsize my life in order to focus 100% of my time, and cash, on it. For some people this might mean fewer vacations or borrowing your friend’s Netflix password. In my case it meant selling my car, and motorcycles, and abandoning my garage.

I grew up having to work on cars outside, in a covered car-port, no walls and no garage. In the winter it was brutal but I still loved every minute of tinkering, regardless of the temperature. When I moved to California, in 2005, my dreams were of a design job, a corner office, and a collection of cool cars. First came the job and then, shortly after, I moved into a place that had a small, but usable, garage. After experiencing the size of garage my money could afford me, my dreams around ‘collecting’ cars seemed more distant. I settled for one car, a used Mustang GT.


Building an engine in the shed circa 1998 while the car was outside in the snow

Fast forward two years, and the business had started to take off. I began to realize that, if I wanted to take a stab at growing something big, I would have to abandon my short-lived, middle-class lifestyle and dive into absolute poverty. I didn’t care about the lack of ski trips, but what I was going to miss was the time I got to spend tinkering on cars. I felt like I had worked hard to get to a place I had always wanted to be, with my own garage. And now I had to give it up for a studio apartment. Bummer. But, in my heart, I thought there might be a chance – if I stopped spending money and time on my hobbies and focused all my attention on my business – that, one day, I’d be able to afford myself a bigger garage, with cooler toys.

That brings us to today. I’m sitting in my underwear, eating yogurt, when I stumble upon this gem. A 1991 Mazda Miata. It hasn’t run since 2003 and has four flat tires. The good news is the seller has it listed for $900, and the hardtop (the roof) alone is worth $1000.  I emailed the person advertizing immediately. If this car checks out I’ll have a different vehicle to drive Monday through Friday, making a total of 5 :) I click ‘send’ and offer of $600. He accepts within a few minutes! Because I don’t have a job anymore, and hardly any plans for the day, I hook up the trailer, jump in the truck, and head over to pick up my prize.


All red Miatas eventually fade to pink given enough sun

After struggling with a friend, for an hour or so, to get the car unburied from the owner’s garage, and having his mom sign over the title to me, we finally have it on the trailer and headed over to my workshop. At the shop more fun was in store. As I’m thinking about how to troubleshoot and get the Miata running, a kid, probably 19 years old, walks past the open door and yells in. ‘Hey, you selling any of these?’ ‘I have always wanted a Miata..’

Two hours later I’ve traded him one of my other Miatas, which I bought for $900 (another good deal I found on cragislist)  in exchange for a late model SUV, that I should be able to sell for around $4,000. Later that day a friend, who I had told about my Craigslist Miata, found someone who wants to buy the motor out of the car: he is willing to pay $600. So, on the SUV trade, I’ve made $3,100. I’ll sell the motor from the Miata I bought today for $600, and I’ve still got the body plus a hardtop worth $1,000. It’s Tuesday and go to bed net positive $4,700.


The SUV (Mitsubishi Endeavor). It was sold in less than 48 hours.

In the age of Amazon FBA businesses, and recurring revenue models, it all probably sounds very silly, and a hard way to make a dollar. Especially since I know how to make a lot more money online. But ‘more money’ isn’t always the answer for me lately. Sometimes I want to work with my hands. And, strangely enough, sometimes I want to show up in random people’s garages and spend the morning digging out a $600 Miata.  

img_8998Building an engine this year, in a proper garage!

Adam Carolla has a joke about ‘Rich Man, Poor Man’. The essence of this is: that rich and poor people have a lot in common, despite a disparity in dollars. For example, Rich Man, Poor Man … both have 10 cars in their driveway. Rich Man, Poor Man..spend all day in their bathrobe. Rich Man, Poor Man … take their dog with them everywhere.

The real joke for me, however, cuts too close to the bone to be entirely funny because it misses the mild desperation of being stuck in the middle, not rich and not poor. It describes the time I was working in my design job, spending what little free time I did have in the garage, and still only having a few hundred dollars to my name at the end of the year. I decided last Tuesday that, if I’m ever financially disadvantaged again, I won’t be broke and also and working from 9-5.

If I end up with only $200 in my bank account at the end the year after flipping cars on Craigslist, I will be proud to say that I was pursuing my passion by taking weeks of vacation and spending the majority of my waking hours doing exactly what I had dreamed about.

After all, collecting Miatas is still car collecting…