Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Rule #20: Don't Be Dumb

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!


Anonymous said...

Your story of buying earings only to loose them and to replace them with earings you again lost reminded me of this link : http://www.storyofstuff.com/

I think this is a very good point. At the end of the month there's always a few things I spend money on that could probably be filed under this catagory. As annoying as it is, I don't know how valid it is to file this under "rules" as it is really just a part of being human.

Gord said...

True. A large part of the economy is driven by stupidity, ignorance and vanity. Fortunately, the great majority have no idea they are a part of it, so it won't end any time soon. After all, how would an idiot know they are an idiot? You, on the other hand, have realized the errors, and have learned and taught others....well done.

Anonymous said...

Our economy could just as effectively be fueled by cultural activities as by consumption. If this were to happen we would probably "work" less could experience a modern kind of cultural/intellectual renaissance.

But alas, this is a bit of a dream. But it is absolutely possible.

Deanna said...

There is a book called Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist at MIT. He writes about decision making and how it is normally driven by emotional impulses rather than anything rational. He's done tons of research on the subject, and he even devotes part of his book to our irrational spending behaviors (i.e., why we like 2 for 1 offers, even when we don't need the product). It's an interesting - and easy - read.

Anonymous said...

Your post made me laugh because I had to buy not one, but two shirts this week already (it is only Tuesday) because I forgot to bring a shirt to workout in at the gym 2X=x! So I've needlessly spent $22 so far. 1/2 of which is for a size large t-shirt that doesn't even fit.

Anonymous said...

"But does dumbness, on some level, actually drive our economy?"

I'd say it's because North Americans generally live for the present and have the cash to do it Spectacularly!

Not to worry, it's being fixed as I type. Sorry.

Anonymous said...

The opening of your post made me screech to a mental halt because this applies to me so much particularly now that I find myself unceremoniously relegated to the huddled masses aka the unemployed. But, I do stuff like this too - watch big purchases and then spend stupid little things that add up. Or I should say I used to. I am trying to be better about it now that the bear market has wiped out half my savings. I am not irresponsible with money and sounds like you are not either but I guess we can all do better, huh?

Like your blog. Thanks for writing and particularly for the rules.


Anonymous said...

I always put my earrings in my shoe when I used to go to the gym, and more times than not, I would step on them and hurt my foot. But..I never lost my earrings. I wouldn't have bought a new set, though. I would have gone without.

Predictably irrational is a great read.

Anonymous said...

If I never did stupid things, we'd probably have at least another $1000 paid down on our debt.

I get distracted from time to time and miss a payment: $30 late fee. (This was solved by paying with each check, so I keep better tabs on due dates and running balances.) I wear an old pair of shoes to visit the in-laws. They break and we have to buy news ones: $17 (though I love the shoes we bought so that's only a little bit rueful).

My husband forgets that just because he's not hungry now, he may, in fact, get hungry while we're out for the next three or so hours. So he has to buy some fast food once the crippling stomach pains kick in.

I guess it's just more proof of the "stupid tax."

frugal zeitgeist said...

My dumbassery has cost me a lot over the years. I've never had an earring problem, though - no pierced ears.

Anonymous said...

"And in every transaction, there is a buyer and a seller-- what benefits one doesn't usually benefit the other too..." But Madame X, you (buyer) and the seller BOTH benefited! You got cheap earrings easily so you wouldn't feel naked. Little store got a $10 sale. I guess I just want to point out that you had a need, and someone was there to fulfill it. If we never did dumb things we would just spend that "saved" money on smart stuff.

Anonymous said...

Actually they aren't worried you will throw the cap at someone, they are worried you will throw a full water bottle at someone - with the cap off the water would come out during the bottle's flight and not cause much damage.

Anonymous said...

The gym is DANGEROUS!!! I once had my car broken into at the gym because I left my gym bag on my seat (ironic, huh?!). It cost me $300 for a new window, a day's worth of work off (to fix the window) and about $150-$200 in my favorite gym clothes!!! :( I feel for you! GRRR if only I have enought money for my own HOME gym! :)

Anonymous said...

I can't even imagine also how much I've spent over the years replacing lost umbrellas, scarves and hats. This season alone 2 hats lost (including one which cost $80), 1 umbrella gone and 1 scarf.

mapgirl said...

I'm appalled by his mother demanding payment for spilled beer. If you don't want beer spilled on you, then don't go to a sporting event. Plain and simple.

Who goes around asking for money like that? BTW, most waterproofed stuff should NOT EVER BE DRY CLEANED. The solvents take off the waterproofing most of the time.

If he was wearing a wool or natural fabric jacket, then maybe offering payment would have been nice. But his mother demanding you offer something says a lot about her graces and manners.

Anonymous said...

Umm, why dont you get a small container to put those earrings in, and use it when you are in the gym.

--Seeking Lemonade

Anonymous said...

I'm sure I do dumb things to waste money, but mostly I waste my time... multiple trips to the hardware store or not checking store hours before going on a Sunday only to find a shop closed. ..and hey, time is money. Frustrating!

Frugal Gal said...

I tend to lose gloves at an average rate of one per year--one glove, not one pair. Last winter it was 3. Though all were black leather, all were the same hand! This year I was smart and bought 2 identical pairs at the same time, so of course I didn't lose any this season (so far--it's March).

I also tend to miss a pair of earmuffs at about the one pair a year rate. If they don't get lost on the bus, the headband breaks. Once a pair even got stolen.

I have learned to consider gloves and earmuffs as disposible purchases.

For some reason, gloves and earmuffs are the only things I tend to lose.