Skip to main content
No. of Recommendations: 811
I've spent some time lately rereading some old posts, and stumbled across one of the more scornful debates from 2000: the case of the $12,000 harpsichord.

Many of you likely remember the subject, others may have heard reference to the infamous harpsichord but not known the history of it. It has, by now, entered the lexicon of the LBYM board, usually as a representation of a frivolous expenditure. So, indulge me a moment while I recap the story.

A little over a year ago, on the first of March, a user started a thread titled "The NOT so Dumb things that you bought?" There had been some discussions about dumb things we'd all spent money on (f)oolishly, but one user wanted to discuss things that may have been a little more expensive, but turned out to be well worth the money. (That thread starts here: ).

One user on that thread posted:
I bought a new, French double manual harpsichord, custom made for me by one of the world's most famous builders, for $12,201 in 1984.

This caused quite an uproar, even prompting another poster to say:
This is the "NOT" so Dumb things you bought thread. Try reposting. which the original poster replied:
OK, here goes. I bought a new, French double manual harpsichord, custom made for me by one of the world's most famous builders, for $12,201 in 1984.

Good enough for you?

The price tag was daunting for many people, as was the object that money was spent on. Most people wouldn't consider a harpsichord to be a necessity, or a luxury, or even a vaguely interesting item to have.

A few weeks later, on another thread, the poster explained his purchase a little more:

For me, the harpsichord decision was pretty easy. I had the money, and I had been looking at kits for at least 10 years. But I am not handy, and trying to build one myself would have resulted in an expensive piece of useless junk. The decision at the time was harpsichord vs. new car, and the old car, while tired, still got me to work.

Needless to say, the old car started putting out white smoke and needing a quart of oil every 200 miles, about 4 months after the harpsichord was delivered.

So when it was all over, I had a harpsichord and a new Renault Alliance. That was right for me. Another person would have preferred no musical instrument and a BMW. That's fine too, but it wouldn't have been fine for me, because cars for me are just transportation and not an attempt to express my personality or to demonstrate my riches. The music, on the other hand, is very important, for now I can hear Bach and Scarlatti as they might have heard it themselves, just less competently played.

As for how you get to have enough disposable cash to make either sort of decision, the tips on the board can help -- some. Obviously, clipping coupons is not going to put you into a BMW anytime soon. But they might pay for a special birthday meal, or tickets for the children to see "The Lion King" if it goes on tour, stuff like that.

For this poster, the harpsichord was of immense importance. No doubt such a purchase would make sense for very few people, but for someone who expresses this kind of interest in music and had a lifelong passion for it, it became understandable.

This was written over a year ago. Here is the update to that story:

The person who bought the harpsichord was JABoa.

Let that sink in a moment. This is the gentleman whose death last week was lamented far and wide across the Motley Fool boards. He was either 52 or 53 (I'm not sure when is birthday was).

Jim would be disappointed if someone didn't play the role of pedant with this information, so here goes: He said he bought that harpsichord in 1984 for $12,201. Let's say he had invested that money instead. Let's even be generous and say that he could have earned 12% on that money. That would have been an extra $83,773 in his bank account today.

Unfortunately, he met an untimely death. Now, do you suppose that during the past 17 years he got more happiness out of that harpsichord than he would have out of having several thousand dollars more in his savings?

Only he could have answered that, but considering that his love for music was highlighted in his obituary, I suspect he'd still pick the harpsichord.

Am I saying we should all drop what we are doing, quit saving, and spend spend spend since there may be no tomorrow? Not at all.

My message here is there are times to pick your battles. Cut out waste and save money where you can, but if there is something that feeds a personal passion, there is nothing wrong in figuring out a way to make a dream come true.

As with most things in life, you can have anything you want--you just can't have everything you want. Pick your battles, set your priorities, and go for the things on the top of your list.

As is often said around here, the "L" in "LBYM" stands for "living."


Print the post  


What was Your Dumbest Investment?
Share it with us -- and learn from others' stories of flubs.
When Life Gives You Lemons
We all have had hardships and made poor decisions. The important thing is how we respond and grow. Read the story of a Fool who started from nothing, and looks to gain everything.
Contact Us
Contact Customer Service and other Fool departments here.
Work for Fools?
Winner of the Washingtonian great places to work, and Glassdoor #1 Company to Work For 2015! Have access to all of TMF's online and email products for FREE, and be paid for your contributions to TMF! Click the link and start your Fool career.