The Pokémon Effect

The Covid year (2020) brought us many new terms; one is stimulus. Middle and lower-class America (singles earning under 75k and married couples under 150k for the stimulus payments) were given money last year. The purpose of the tax-free gift from the government was to stimulate the economy by propping up consumer spending when many have lost income. Last year we were given $5800 – family of four earning under 150k. The timing of these two payments was great. One was in April 2020 and the other January 2021. Initially, the first one went into savings and provided us added security when Sarah’s income was temporarily reduced. A few months later we faced a difficult decision – Sarah returns back to her part-time job and our kids to school. Or, we chart a new path – homeschooling. We chose the new path – reducing her income dramatically. Looking back, one of the contributing factors was the healthy savings account. The margin provided confidence; it’s been a great decision. A couple months later we faced the urgent need to replace our roof. It was leaking and causing damage. The 20-year-old roof was at the end of its life. Unfortunately for us even with some insurance proceeds, due to our high deductible the total out of pocket to us was over 9k. That first round of stimulus helped us replace the roof without borrowing. In the first week of 2021 the second stimulus round arrived while our property tax bill was due. Again, great timing for us because we had needed some of the earmarked savings for property taxes for the roof. This round helped us avoid having to raid brokerage assets to meet the tax obligation.

Why give our story with the 2020 stimulus? My son and I had a recent experience that I will never forget and more importantly I hope he doesn’t either. One evening he was looking at his Pokémon cards and mentioned that he had some cards that were valuable. We looked them up. For his satisfaction, I hoped they were worth some money, but I’d grown up in the 80s and 90s in the heyday of collectible sports cards and knew that the true value was only what someone else was willing to pay. To my surprise, eBay and some other card trading sites indicated that at least one of these cards was worth some real money – the holographic Charizard. We found transaction history of a few selling in the $100 – $150 range. He wanted to cash in. The next day we posted it on eBay. We had some initial interest, but no offers. Two days later a buyer requested more pictures. And then a curious message – I noticed your profile is in my region, if I drive to meet you will you take $110? Strange and a little unnerving that this guy wanted to meet to do a Pokémon deal, but it was a good offer and I figured if the deal was squirrely, my son and I would take his card and go home. We arranged a neutral rendezvous location – Kroger parking lot. While waiting in the parking lot, I wondered what kind of person would drive 2+ hours round-trip in rush-hour traffic to pay $110 for a Charizard Pokémon card – we soon find out. A guy in his 30s showed up in a rough, 15–20-year-old Honda. I’m not judging the man’s car. I have a similarly aged Pontiac Grand Am, but it does help set the scene. He reached out the window and opened the car door, explaining that the handle was broken. The car was filled with paper material of some sort, weighing the front and back seats down quite a bit. He carefully looked at the card, commenting he needed this card to finish his binder. He was tired of spending so much money on packs only to still lack the elusive Holographic Charizard. My son shared he pulled it out of a of a pack. The buyer told us a friend had pulled three out the same way – jeez friend, just help your pal out with a dang Charizard. In the end my son got the $110 (which is a lot of money to an 8-year-old), observed how others might have different financial priorities, experienced the power of a free-market transaction through the internet’s wide net. He has held on to that $100 for a month now – maybe he’s saving for something large, maybe because this is the largest amount of cash he’s held in his hands, maybe he felt the sting of having to give something up for the cash. Whatever the reason, I hope this is a formative money lesson for him.

In the end, I can’t confirm it, but this transaction occurred awfully close the our most recent stimulus cash infusion. Was this Charizard bought with stimulus money?

As for me, I learned a valuable lesson too. I’m off to cash in my retirement assets, I’ve got some Pokémon packs to buy. Happy hunting!

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