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Measure Twice, Cut Once

Farming runs in my blood and I was driving tractors and old farm trucks long before I ever took a Drivers Ed course in highschool. The one lesson I learned earlier in life was that if something was broke you fixed it – no argument. At a moments notice as a farmer you could be a plumber, electrician, carpenter, mechanic, mason, machinist, roofer or welder. Why pay someone else to do for you if you can do it yourself. It might not look pretty, but if it works and lets you keep going for the day, week or the remainder of the season then you’ve done a good job. I’ve been exposed to a wide variety of projects that required crude skills and often they did the job until something could be replaced or fixed with the proper amount of time. Although my individual work might not be on par with any professional, I can still get the job done if needed.

My father and I this summer renovated my parents’ kitchen and decided to install the two large rear windows by on our own instead of paying to have them installed. We quickly realized that we made a tragic mistake in assuming the new kitchen was my parents new kitchen; instead of realising it was my mothers’. Long story short: there was no way she would allow either of us to install the new windows and called her oldest brother to come and help instead.

My uncle is a carpenter by trade with almost 40 years of experience both independently and as a corporate foreman. To simply be in his presence shows you quickly how meagre your own skills are regardless of the practice you might have had on your own. He let me do some things to help out, but for the most part I just watched, learned and took in as much knowledge as I could with the hopes of someday tackling my own home improvements with his same skill and dexterity.

But what might this have to do with an investing blog…talking about carpentry? For readers who know me well, I can usually find that the simple lessons from everyday life help me to gain a different perspective on improving my investment techniques.

What I learned from watching him work was that even with 40 years of experience, he still did everything by the book. There were no shortcuts, need to rush or impatience on how he performed with either window. Even though I had seen many people do things to cut corners, he made sure to reinforce that you do things a certain way for very specific reasons. Even with infinite patience and an abundance of skill, I was surprised that he didn’t cut any corners in order to finish quicker. My business mind thought for a moment that he could complete more projects and in turn make more money in a smaller amount of time if he didn’t take as much time in being so meticulous. He surprised me with a comment that he wouldn’t have been in business long if he had ever done that.

“People pay for quality, plain & simple. There’s a framework for the trade through which standards are present for good reason and although someone might do a job cheaper, you have to ask yourself – Am I getting what I pay for?”

In today’s market environment, we’ve seen how cutting corners, taking the easy road and cheating on fundamentals has led to volatility. Sometimes you get what you pay for and surprised when you find out later that something wasn’t worth what you maybe thought it was originally. You can’t shortcut quality. You can try as hard as you want to find a substitute for paying the right amount for a product, service or investment, but in the end you’re likely to find that you’re unhappy with your choice or that you would have been better to pay a little extra now than suffer the consequences later. Even as a DIY investor, sometimes you have to put on many different hats (like a farmer) in order to succeed in a changing market environment. That flexibility can be crucial when everyone else is doing things wrong and the temptation to follow is visible all around you.

Measure twice, cut once. It was a phrase I heard him repeat over and over again as he carefully took measurements, double-checked and finally made a cut that fit perfectly into place. Of late when I’ve been considering new stocks for my Value Portfolio and doing research, I’ve found myself thinking back to this line. Cutting corners might seem like the easy and convenient choice and it might even cut down on time. But taking the time to look back on my initial research has shown me some flaws in my own analysis that I didn’t realize were there before. Some might call it over-kill, but every time I’m back at my parents and preparing a meal for Sunday dinner, I look out those two large windows and admire the workmanship that went into them. Investing is like carpentry, even if few see the similarities.

Hmm, cooking and investing? That’s another post for the future.

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