Best In Show
I'm fascinated every time I get aglimpse into one of these below-the-radarareas of specialized interest andactivity. Recently, the Westminster SogShow, the Super Bowl of such things,caught my eye on cable. Remember themovie and how it mockumentariedthis subculture? It got methinking, always a dangerous idea,about some of the financial subcultureswe sometimes encounter but shrug offwithout taking a second look. Whoknows, we could learn something, havesome fun, and maybe make a buck.
A good example of this kind ofhobby-like financial activity, which isavailable to all, is eBay. It's estimatedthat up to 40,000 people, you readright, now make their livings tradingfull-time on eBay. Of course, there arescam artists operating that you have towatch out for. I recently and painfullylearned that lesson, but that's a storycurrently for the authorities. But buyingand selling on eBay can be an eye-poppingexperience if you've neverdone it. eBay could make how we dobusiness into an entirely differentmodel all over the world, which helpsto explain its swelling share price.
Looking further into niche economicactivity, how about house swappers?There may be as many as 250,000Americans doing this every year. Lest youthink this is another activity spawned bythe net, Intervac (www.intervac-online.com) and Homelink (www.homelink.org)have been around for 50 years. TheInternet has just made them easier touse. These services have a fee, but thereis one free online clearing house (no punintended), HomeInvite.com. The basicidea in all of this is to save a lot of moneyon lodging when you travel, whether it'sfor a weekend or a whole summer.Again, you need to know the ins andouts, but the plan obviously works wellfor all or there wouldn't be a whole subcultureof Americans who wouldn'tlodge any other way. Some deals eveninclude the use of a car and/or boat.
Diamonds in the Rough
Next on our list of less-than-headlinefinancial life is the garage and estate salecrowd. Haven't you ever seen the wonderfulfinds on PBS' ?It's the number-one rated show on thatnetwork, by the way. Those early morningweekend crowds you see in yourneighborhood clustered around hand-letteredannouncements are pursuingthe valuable treasure lost in someoneelse's accumulation of junk. These folkare an interesting lot and might evenentertain you with stories of some oftheir finds and insights. While you're atit, don't forget their cousins, the fleamarkethounds. All are living proof that themercantile fire burns in all of us when wesmell a bargain, a profit, or a secret find.
The last financial subculture of thistype that comes to mind is the commercialauction. Whether it is the sing-songprofessional in a straw hat in a small-townsetting or the hushed tones at aSotheby's auction, this can be a fun, fascinatingway to spend an afternoon. Justlook in your newspaper or the for the location and time of yourlocal version. Oh, and that widespreadbelief that if you attend an auction andinadvertently swat a fly or scratch yournose you'll end up committed to buyingsome overpriced white elephant is just amyth. There really are bargains to be hadand the atmosphere can be electric.
These are but a few of the vibrant cornersof our economic culture that weoften overlook, unless we are alreadyhooked into one. They enrich our lives,literally and figuratively. Personal financeisn't just about taxes, 401(k)s, and realestate, you know. Check one out thisweekend and have some fun.
Jeff Brown, MD, CPE, a partneron the Stanford UniversityGraduate School of BusinessAlumni Consulting Team, is apracticing primary care physician.He welcomes questions andcomments at email@example.com.