A couple of weeks ago I was walking through NYC on my way to the bus station. I was walking through times square and I thought I felt someone tap my shoulder. Given the crowds of times square it’s not uncommon to bump into people, so I kept on with my race to make my bus without looking back. A block later, a female shouts out, “Sir!” I turn around and there is a lady pointing at the money that just fell out of my back pocket. She had tried to get my attention a minute ago to say that the money was about to fall out. I thanked her emphatically and made it to my bus home with a smile on my face.
A week later, the same thing happened. I recently started making salads in order to be healthier and bringing them to work. The reusable bowl-shaped container that I put in my bag gently works the money out of my back pocket with every step I take as it hits against my backside. This time a different lady tapped my shoulder as I was walking through Times Square. I turned around and she said the money was about to fall out of my pocket. I couldn’t help feeling wonder about the good people that are in the heart of NYC, a place that is otherwise known for it’s sharp elbows and swindlers looking to make a buck.
A few things have happened to me as I became a father, gotten older, and have a few bucks saved up for retirement. I find myself more focused on doing the right thing than I am putting my self interest first. I have always tried to follow the golden rule, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” But that applies to how you treat people. What I am talking about is what you do when no one else is looking. When you know you won’t get caught, what decision will you make?
I am in the process of refinancing my mortgage and I locked in a phenomenal rate. When I initially started talking to the loan representative, he said he would be able to match anyone else’s rate and then beat it by 0.25% if I moved money over to their bank. He said that all he needed was an email, something that he could send to his credit department for approval. I thought to myself, how tempting would it be for someone to take an email with a rate quote from someone else and upon forwarding the email, just change the rate? Yes, this is fraud and unethical, but who would know? Worst case they wouldn’t be able to match or if they did find out, what would they do?
Now on its surface, this seems like a clear black and white decision from right and wrong, but I bet you would be surprised how many people may opt for the shortcut. Afterall it is real dollars. Saving 1/8 of a point over the expected life of the loan would be thousands of dollars in savings. Away from the obvious reasons not to do such a thing as manipulating an email to your benefit, a less obvious reason is how would you expect your children to act? You can preach all you want, but you must set an example for your children by being a role model. Away from your kids, how do you want to perceive yourself? I made the right decision and shopped around for the best rate I could find. It took me a week and half of emailing back and forth and likely 4-8 hours of my time, but I found the best rate. Such a good rate that they were not able to match the exact terms, but they were able to offer me better terms on a different product that exceeded my expectations. Ultimately, I got a better deal than I anticipated and can hold my head up high that I did it the ethical way.
Now that I have ruled out email and mortgage fraud as acceptable behavior, let’s discuss something less severe. I have told you about my fireplace project. Sure, calling up a local person and having them install everything soup to nuts with white glove service would be nice, but what fund is that? Why work harder to earn money when you can shop around a little bit and save on the expense side. So that’s what I did. I found someone who was cheaper than everyone else by 2-3k. His price is so good, that it would cost me the same in materials to match his price. He is effectively doing the work for free from what my cost would be. His profit is built into the mark up of the materials and volume. I do not have access to his cost since I do not own a fireplace company.
With the lower cost comes work glove service, instead of white glove. I have to do such things as get the permit from the town myself. Let me tell you something, I have been in the delivery room of two child births, worked countless hours on wall street trading desks, and literally turned water into wine (this is my wine making hobby when you add grape skins and sugar to water to make wine, called second wine), yet none of them compare to getting a town permit. The form is incredibly confusing, the people who work at the building department are as helpful as an ice maker to an eskimo, and get this, it takes 30 days! The majority of people I spoke to said not to bother. How will they ever know? Yet, I knew it was the right thing to do. Not to mention the town is here to help and the town fire official making sure the job was done right is worth a lot. As well as making sure the insurance company will continue to ensure my home with a properly installed fireplace insert. Well after close to 60 days (don’t ask) and a lot of painful follow up calls, I got the permit!
So how do you know how to be a good person? Well, it’s simple. Warren Buffet has a simple rule, don’t do anything that you would not want on the front page of a newspaper. Would you want your child to do the thing that you are contemplating doing? Would your mother slap your hand if she knew? It’s that simple, we all know right from wrong, but ultimately, we have to force ourselves to do things the right way. Sure, shortcuts are easier and cheaper, but you need to think, if money or time was not a factor, how would that impact your decision.
A phenomenal post that I read by Mr. Money Moustache speaks of making a living through honesty. I especially appreciate his example of talking a customer out of redoing their kitchen and opting for a lower cost center island in its place. He also speaks how not be tempted by short term profits that alienate your trust from others, and to rather opt for building long term trust. Building a long-lasting relationship that people admire, and trust will give you many multiples of what a shortcut may provide.
Ultimately a good honest life will be rewarded. As people get older, they care more about being surrounded by good people. Not only will being honest help increase your self-worth but it will also build better relationships. I find that if can make the right decision while no one else is looking, then all other decisions are that much easier.