How's this for a nice simple rule?
- Don't Do Stupid Things
How much money do you spend because of plain old dumbness? Here are two small examples from my own recent life:
At my gym, there are half lockers, one above the other. I always use the top locker. When I go swimming, I usually take off my earrings and bracelets and leave them in the locker. A couple of weeks ago, when I was getting dressed after my shower, I went to pull something out of the locker and heard a little "plunk." It was one of my earrings, falling through a crack into the locker below mine-- which was locked. I peered through the crack and could see my earring, sitting right there, amidst some dust bunnies. I told the attendant it looked like the locker was abandoned, and in any case wasn't one allowed for overnight storage anyway, but she couldn't open it with a master key and she said she'd have to get permission to cut it off. I didn't have time to deal with that, so I just left-- the earring I'd lost was a favorite, but not at all valuable, so I figured I would just come back and try again to get into that locker after speaking to a manager.
But in the meantime, I felt naked! (Almost as bad as that day I forgot my underwear!) And I had a big meeting that day that I was dressed up for-- I felt like I couldn't go without earrings. So I stopped in a little store at lunch and bought the cheapest earrings I could tolerate, which were only $10.
The next day at the gym, I was still wearing those earrings, and took them off as usual when I went swimming. And later, when I was getting dressed, guess what? "Plunk." I did the same exact thing, dropping one of the new earrings in a different locked locker! Afterwards, I went to buy a pair of earrings again, this time super cheapo ones from Duane Reade for only $5-- but unfortunately they hurt my ears, so I only wore them once.
Bottom line, I always knew it was dumb to leave the earrings on the bottom of the locker where they could easily fall in that crack, but I did it anyway, even after losing them the first time. Ever since then, I've put my jewelry inside a shoe or even poked them through a sock to make sure they'd stay put! Fortunately, I only had to spend $15 on earrings as a result of this dumbness-- no great loss, and a reminder that it is probably a good thing that I don't own any expensive jewelry in the first place.
The other dumb thing happened last night. I went to see the Billie Jean King Cup at Madison Square Garden. I love watching tennis, especially the Williams sisters, so I was happy to go, even though $60 for a ticket to a sporting event is not usually my preferred way of spending money. It was actually Mortimer's idea, and he'd gotten a group together a while ago. Though Mortimer is a rabid sports fan, now that he's lost his job, I'm sure he'd rather have kept the cash too.
Before I got to my seat, I bought a beer-- this in itself is pretty dumb, when you consider that a beer costs $8.75 at MSG. One of my other friends bought a bottle of water and they don't let you keep the cap on the bottle-- apparently they're afraid you'll throw the cap at someone. Despite this, they put a lid on my cup of beer. We were talking about the likelihood of spillage and my friend was envying that I had a lid and asked if I wanted a straw, which I scornfully declined-- it just seems wrong to drink beer through a straw.
Back at my seat, I removed the lid and took a few sips of the beer. Then... I managed to spill it, partially on my bag but mostly on the back of a young man sitting in front of me. Of course I was mortified and apologizing profusely and trying to help him clean his jacket off with napkins. And he was a good sport about it, shaking it off and saying it was supposed to be waterproof anyway. But the woman sitting next to him, who I'd at first assumed must be his girlfriend, turned out to be his mother. She turned around and rather imperiously announced "He's going to have to have that dry-cleaned now!" So I said "ok, I'll give you something," and once there was a break between games, I apologized again and gave the guy ten dollars, which he thanked me for and then handed to his mother.
The rest of the evening was without any disasters, but the tennis dragged on a bit and I ended up leaving at about 11:15, in the middle of the 2nd set. (Serena went on to win, though I'd been rooting for Venus.)
So $60 for a ticket, $8.75 for a beer, and $10 for someone else's dry cleaning. It ended up feeling like kind of a dumb evening all around.
Of course, this is just one kind of dumb spending among many. We spend money on things we don't need, things that don't work, unresearched purchases that could have been gotten more cheaply. And then look at all this dumbness of people lending money they knew couldn't be paid back, and people plowing money into investments they should have known were too good to be true. Dumb, dumb, and dumber.
But does dumbness, on some level, actually drive our economy? I mean, if everyone only did the most smart, sensible thing, a whole lot of consumer products would never be purchased. And in every transaction, there is a buyer and a seller-- what benefits one doesn't usually benefit the other too, so somebody's got to be a little dumb or it would all grind to a halt.
But don't let that stop you from trying to be smarter!