The First Piece of Financial Advice I Ever Received

by Ryan Guina

When I was younger, my brothers and I collected baseball cards. When I say collected, I mean we had thousands of them between the three of us. We would swap them, sort them, talk about them, and look forward to the next time we could go to the drug store to buy a new pack of them. I remember looking through the plastic wrap and looking for a Jose Canseco or Mark McGwire card – two of my favorite players at the time. When we found those we knew we had hit the jackpot!

Something is only worth what someone is willing to pay

I used to spend hours sorting the cards and memorizing the stats of certain players. My brothers and I would also buy the occasional Beckett Magazine, which is the most widely recognized price guide for sports cards. Even as kids we knew it was more frugal to split the cost and share the magazine.

I knew the price each of my cards was listed for in the Beckett, if certain players or cards were trending up or down, who was hot, who was cold, and whether I should make the trade or not. It was actually similar to a “stock market for kids,” but instead of using the NYSE ticker prices, card values were based on the valuation from the Beckett Magazine. We were kids, and considered even half a dollar was a lot of money. This lead to a lot of heated arguments and haggling argue over something as little as a 20¢ difference in total “valuation” and claim one person was trying to rip the other person off. I smile thinking about it. 🙂

One day, I remember proudly telling my grandmother about my baseball card collection and how much it was worth. I was young, and just like with all kids, having something valuable was important to me. It made me feel more like an adult, I guess. I don’t remember how much I told my grandmother my card was worth, being the big “adult” that I was, I told her that my card collection was worth a lot of money. And according to the Beckett Magazine and the math I had done, it was worth a lot of money.

You see, even the “common card” had value – usually around 3-5¢ at the time. And I had hundreds of them! A common card is a card that has little value other than to help complete a set. I also had several rookie cards of players like Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, Bo Jackson, and others whose cards were worth $1, $2, or even $3 dollars! That’s a lot of money to a kid, and a great return on an investment of a 35¢ pack of baseball cards.

I’ll never forget what my grandmother told me. It broke my heart.

“Something is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it.”

“But, Grandma, my card collection is worth a lot of money!”

“No buts,” she replied. “Something is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it.”

Of course, I didn’t want to believe her. I couldn’t believe her. I mean, the Beckett said it was worth “x” amount, so it had to be! I did the math so many times I knew it by heart. I had tallied it up in a spiral notebook. Column after neat little column. Her statement destroyed my fundamental belief in the system. And even though I didn’t want to believe her, I knew she had to be right. Even as a kid, I guess I knew there is no magical valuation for “things.” If there was a magical valuation system, people would just take their baseball card collection to to bank whenever they needed cash. Or sell their GI Joe action figures, Barbie dolls, or My Little Pony collection. You would always be able to buy and sell a car at “Blue Book value,” and a house would always sell for what it was appraised for. But that is just not the case.

I’ve always remembered that bit of financial wisdom, and I try to use it whenever I go into any negotiations. This is great to remember when buying a car, house, or any other item that does not have a fixed price tag.

“Something is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it.” Great advice for anyone, at any age. Thanks, Grandma! 🙂


Published or updated January 26, 2009.
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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kyle

Great advice from your Grandma. I use to be a big time collector when I was a kid as well. I wish I had sold that 1986 Donruss Canseco rookie when somebody was willing to pay $100 for it! Now it is a common I am sure. Oh well, I guess you have to be willing to part with stuff when there is a market for it as well.


2 Ryan

I think the Canseco card still has a few dollars value now, but not nearly as much as its peak value. I’m sure the reason it still has a high value is because of people our age who collected then and couldn’t afford one buy them for the nostalgia. 🙂


3 dong

I think there’s a corollary to this;

Being truly wealthy is valuing the things you have more than other people value them….


4 Ryan

Wow, Dong. That’s a very nice way of putting things. That’s a great outlook on life too.


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