A Tale Of Two Pianos: My Musical and Financial Journey Into Piano Ownership

Playing the piano is something I have always wanted to pursue. I love classical music and the piano is my favorite instrument.  My family is pretty musical as well and my mom graduated with a degree in music from a prestigious music oriented college. This year after graduating college myself I decided it was time to stop dreaming and start learning to play the piano.

I’m the kind of guy that wants to do it all myself and learn on my own, so I picked a song and began slowly banging away at it on my mother-in-laws piano. You see, we didn’t own a piano so that had always hindered my ability to learn it to some degree but at this point in my life we didn’t have the money in our budget for a piano so my mother-in-laws would have to be the start to my musical education.

My mother-in-law’s piano is fifteen years old but well maintained, aside from needing a tune. She has ten kids but only one of the ten kids, and neither of the parents in the family play the piano so it is in great condition. I had no audience while I practiced, so the tune was not necessarily important and I just began to play.

I started learning back in March of 2010. I finished learning my first song in April, and my second soon after. I couldn’t and still can’t read music at any great speed but I can interpret the sheet music and memorize the keys to play a tune. After a while practicing a song, I can memorize the song and play it in entirety.

Back to the story of the pianos. After seeing my progress over the course of a few months, I felt like it was time to get my own piano. I was practicing several hours a day at the in-laws and although they didn’t have a problem with this, it really felt bothersome to pack up the family and drive to the in-laws just so I could practice each day. I made a goal to practice every singe day for a year and didn’t miss a single day during this time.

So I went in to the local piano shop near my work, and started to play some really nice pianos there; Yamaha, Steinway, and Kawai..such beautiful pianos with great sound a touch. Call me naive but I had no idea pianos were so expensive! There would be no possible way to buy a new piano any time soon, and really no need seeing as I was only a beginner.

Then I discovered the more modern, digital pianos which had a fairly authentic, piano like feel and good sound to them. They needed less maintenance and are much cheaper so they seemed to be my best bet if I was to pursue buying a piano.

After about two months of playing the pianos in the piano store show room, once my envy of the baby grands had grown sufficient, the salesman offered me a great deal on a low end digital piano. This is where the real journey started.

Lesson learned: Set goals and stick to them – No one knows your own plans better than you do. The salesman at the piano store and I spoke many times in my long visits there about my goals and financial obligations that stood in the way of my purchasing a piano. He seemed to understand and was accepting, but he was still a salesman. If he ever got the chance to emphasize the fact that if I had a piano at home, I could play more often and progress much faster, he took the chance and ran with it. He knew that progress was a driving force for me, seeing how quickly I learned my first couple songs and he used that to convince me that buying a piano was the right decision.

I ended up buying this digital piano for about $1000 and I was very happy with the purchase. I still played everyday and it was a real adventure figuring out all the features of the new piano.

Coincidentally, while I was doing all this piano playing, a relative of mine lost his job and was moving his family out of state. The same week I bought the digital piano, these relatives offered us their standard upright piano.

Ouch, that stung. The joy I felt about the digital piano quickly faded into regret, guilt and disbelief. The piano store had a no returns policy and my wife had already been a little frustrated about the purchase, not because of the money, but because our house is small and it took a little shifting to accommodate the size of even the small digital piano. Now we would have to make room for a second, and full size, piano!

Lesson learned: You can never know what the future holds – My initial goal was to not buy a piano until we moved into a bigger house. No one knows what will come with time, and if I had waited, we would have been given one piano and been very happy with it.

It took several weeks for the second piano to be delivered to us and in that time we made room for it. When it arrived I instantly fell in love with it. It had a much better feel and even though it too was very out of tune like my mother-in-laws piano, it had a beautiful voice. The shiny digital piano fell into disuse.

Because of the guilt I felt about buying the digital piano, I felt the need to validate my decision and decided to keep both pianos but I was torn between them. I felt I had to play the digital piano because it cost more money, but I loved the real piano’s feel so in the end my goal to play daily suffered and I stopped playing either piano regularly.

Lesson learned: We all make mistakes but need to accept them and move on – I couldn’t accept the fact that I made the wrong decision in buying the digital piano. Had I acted earlier there was a possibility I could have returned the digital piano, regardless of the stores no return policy. The longer I let the mistake eat away at me, the older the piano got and the harder it would be for me to resell it.

Eventually I decided I had to do something about having two pianos and listed the digital piano for sale in the local classifieds. I knew that so much time had passed, I couldn’t possibly get the full amount I paid for it so I listed it at what I felt was a great price and waited for calls. Because I had waited so long before I listed it, I felt I had to sell it quickly to insure the value didn’t drop anymore. I didn’t want to be stuck with it now that I had decided to sell it.

Lesson learned: Situations don’t change, only your perception of them does – The urgency of getting rid of the piano drastically changed in my mind from a casual pace to that of the Tour de France. I had to sell it now! In reality the piano was still worth what I paid for it, and would still be worth that tomorrow and the day after. The money I paid for the piano wasn’t urgently needed back either as it came out of savings. I needed to be patient and put my emotions on the shelf.

In the end, after a few nibbles, and my dropping the price another $50 in the classifieds, I’m happy to say that a very excited young musician came and picked up the piano. She didn’t even negotiate the price I had listed, and she was ecstatic to find such a clean, new piano for that price. I lost $150 and learned some very important lessons that I hope I can remember next time a beautiful impulse buy surfaces on the horizon.

Have you experienced something similar in your life? How did you handle it?

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20 People have left comments on this post



» KNS_FinancialNo Gravatar said: { Sep 22, 2010 - 12:09:38 }

It sounds like your wife is a very wise woman, between the piano and the bank account! You couldn't have known that the other piano would be offered to you, but if you stuck to your initial plan and waiting for more space this would have been avoided.

Like you said, accepting your mistake and moving on is best! Thanks for sharing this. With being a former musician I can relate to much of this!
My recent post Exciting News for KNS Financial!

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Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

She is a smart one..if only I could figure that out before I botch something! :) Hopefully next time I can listen better.

Thanks for sharing. What instrument did you play? Did you do any music professionally?

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KNS_FinancialNo Gravatar Reply:

I played piano and tiny bit of bass guitar. Professionally, only in the sense of getting paid to play. I played for a few churches and Christian singing groups.
My recent post Roundup for the Week of 091910 – Stink Bugs Edition

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Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

I've never actually done anything in front of people in my life and now that I am developing a talent that people enjoy, I would love to be up on stage performing, professionally or otherwise. It will be quite a while before I hit that point, but I'm looking forward to performing for my church, friends and family.

» Jeff sustainlifeblogNo Gravatar said: { Sep 22, 2010 - 01:09:07 }

Great post jesse. I really like how you note the lessons learned (obviously after the fact) in the post. Sometimes lessons like these are learned the hard way, but are never forgotten. I think khaleef makes a good point: probably the best thing you did in this situation was not dwell on your mistake, but accept it as something that happened, try to remedy it and just let it go.

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Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

Thanks Jeff :) and I agree, sometimes the best lessons are learned the hard way, so you will never forget them.

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» youngandthriftyNo Gravatar said: { Sep 23, 2010 - 12:09:54 }

You're so wise Jesse! The best lessons are the ones learned the hard way, they "stick".

That's good that you can play the piano, I'm sure some beautiful music filled your home! I am so uncoordinated it's not even funny.

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Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

You give me far too much credit! I really do enjoy making music and hopefully I can get a little better, enough so that I can share it with you all :)

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» Phi VoNo Gravatar said: { Sep 24, 2010 - 06:09:56 }

Don't beat yourself up over $150. As long as you learned from it you'll be okay. I've lost far more money (not bragging about it – feel stupid actually) over far worse mistakes. We are human, and in that spirit we can grow and learn.
My recent post 5 Personal Finance Lessons From Wall Street- Money Never Sleeps

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Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

Thanks Phi, I agree, we have to move forward!

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» Penny FrugalistaNo Gravatar said: { Sep 24, 2010 - 10:09:59 }

I feel the same when I take my time, do my research and make a large purchase, only to see the price drop 2 weeks later or that a newer, better model is on the way in a few weeks. But you can’t foresee these things. I think you did the best you could in your given situation.

That being said, I hope you’re still playing the “real” piano! I learned to play as a kid, and while I’ll never give concerts, it’s something I enjoy immensely. When I had to get rid of my childhood piano (I donated it to a school in Newark, NJ), my now-husband bought me a digital piano to take its place. While only $400, it allows me to continue playing and takes up much less room, although nothing beats the way a real piano plays!

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Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

If only we could tell the future….

I am still playing and enjoying the piano. I love the feel of the keys and the beautiful music and serenity it brings into our home. I can only play a few songs but I like them and because my kids see me playing, I think they will take to music at an early age. One day they will realize how badly I play, but until then, I will be their example!

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» CaelaNo Gravatar said: { Sep 27, 2010 - 08:09:47 }

I definitely know about impulse buying with regret. My husband and I went over a friend's house and played on a Wii and thought it would be a great way to exercise and have fun! Our excitement turned into something we needed 'right away', and once we purchased it – after the first few weeks of excitement, it just sat here collecting dust. We were so upset at ourselves for the purchase – especially since the price of it dropped shortly afterwards by $50.

We try to do better as a result, but sometimes that irrational feeling of urgency still sneaks up. Thanks for sharing this!
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Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

Funny you should mention the Wii, we almost impulsively bought that too! Nintendo selling it as a weight management tool was genius :)

It only takes a couple really good burns from impulse buys for us to get the message :)

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» Duane ShinnNo Gravatar said: { Nov 21, 2010 - 01:11:09 }

It’s always good to hear a great piano story, I love to play the piano aswell. Your wife sounds like a wise woman, Thanks for sharing.

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Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

Glad you enjoyed it, and you look like quite the pianist from your avatar. If you have any tips, shoot em over! (And yes, she is quite wise ;) )

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