Budgets & Bass Clarinets

By: David Smyth, June 10, 2019

Finally, the kids are out of school! Now, I don't know about your house, but in my house, the kids being on summer break means I don't have to get up at 5:30 in the morning every day. For a few months, I can sleep in to the lazy hour of 7 a.m.! During this first week of no school, I've gotten more eight-hour sleep nights than I have on a weekday for the last 6 months. It's amazing how much better you feel when you get that elusive recommended amount. Also amazing is how much nicer my kids are when they've gotten enough sleep!
As a parent of three boys, I can tell you that, while I'm happy they've all completed another grade level, we're now facing the never-ending saga of trying to keep them busy while I work. Michael is kindergarten-bound and has started summer basketball at the YMCA. Ridley, who's middle-school bound, is simply spending his time celebrating the fact that school is over! Gates will be starting high school in the fall, and he's decided to spend his summer at music camps and learning how to be in the marching band. In fact, next week he'll be at the Foster Music Camp at EKU receiving instruction on the bass clarinet, which he's played since fifth grade. In addition, he'll be joining the Frederick Douglas High School band and will spend three weeks in late July at rehearsals before school starts in August. He is so excited about this challenging opportunity.

That said, I have a funny budgeting story that happened this week with Gates. We all know that we're supposed to save for summer vacations and camps for the kids, right? But even Dave-the-financial-planner can get blindsided when I realized that band camp starts on Sunday, and Gates had turned in his rented instrument to the middle school on the last day.

So, off we went to the music store for a bass clarinet. I'll be honest - he's been playing this instrument since fifth grade, but I had no idea about the economic price structure of bass clarinets. Back when the band director told Gates he thought he'd be good at that instrument, and that they needed one, and then when Gates made the all-star band, I noticed other parents giving me a knowing smile. I thought they were just impressed by my kid, but I now know that those were smiles of knowing that I'm about to invest a small fortune into my son's musical career!

Seriously, this felt like walking into a boat show where they tell you that the $250,000 boat can be yours for monthly payments of $350 for 480 months. The store had in stock a bass clarinet much like the one Gates had played in middle school that was available to buy or rent. I thought I was looking at maybe $500 or $1,000. Um, no. Try $3,600! I said to Gates, "I love you son, but really?!" I asked the salesman if he had any used bass clarinets, and he said no, but that they tended to hold their value anyway. I then asked how long this instrument would last for Gates, and he replied that it should be good for a couple years. If I had dentures, they would have flown out at this point.

So, then what? This time, I'm thinking maybe a five or six grand instrument when it's time to upgrade. Then the guy told me to add a 1 to that number. The base model alone is 13 grand, I learned. After scraping my jaw off the floor, I looked back at Gates. "So, in a couple of years, will you want a car, or a bass clarinet?" His answer? "I'll tell you in a couple years!" Faced with the decision about buying an instrument that he may need to upgrade in a couple of years anyway, I decided that the best bet was to rent this one for $87 per month - including the $4 lost/damaged/stolen protection of course.
As he rang us up, the nice music store man did tell us that, if Gates can continue to progress with the bass clarinet and become a professional musician, he'll be in a strong position to play for the rest of his life. Apparently there aren't that many bass clarinetists, so if you're decent, you can pretty much have a job in the symphony of your choice. That's good to hear, but it didn't make me feel any more enthusiastic about potentially spending the equivalent of what would have been a really sweet first car!
But, it's a passion for Gates, and who knows where this could take him? I know parents whose kids are in baseball and other sports that travel around and come with equipment costs. This was quite the wake-up call that music can add up just as fast! Another funny side note, my youngest, Michael, 6, was along on this shopping trip when he spotted an Airboard Jr. that he just had to play. "Dad? Today, my life has changed for the better," he announced. "Gates has a bass clarinet, Ridley plays violin, and now I can play this!" I had to laugh.
My message today folks, is that, as you blow your summer budgets on the metaphorical bass clarinets in your life, remember that it happens to all of us - even financial planners! If you do have some unforeseen expenses arise this summer, please, feel free to give us a call. We'll help you adjust the rest of your budget so your overall plan can stay on track. Let's compare stories.

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