Hi! What did you have for dinner tonight? Was it good? I hope so! Because I had butt. Well, not literal butt – rump roast is actually pretty tasty – but my dinner tasted like the south end of a northbound horse. Or the scent of the newest celebrity “designed” perfume. Or anything coming out of AskMen.com. Pick your favorite garbage analogy. (Okay, so to prove my point I just went to AskMen and clicked on the #1 story for today. It’s called “Why Masculinity Can’t Be Bought” and it’s actually really interesting. So maybe it’s time I forgive them for their awful “Subtle Ways to Tell Her She’s Getting Fat” piece? Nah.) Anyhow, back to my disgusting dinner. Thanks to the combination of 98 degree weather and my new workout called Shoving Stuff in Boxes That I Forget to Label Thereby Making Future Unpacking Like The Funnest Game Ever, the only thing I had time for was a scoop of protein powder mixed with cold water. (Plus we’re cleaning out our cabinets and we’re down to our “weird” food. Anyone want three jars of clam juice??)
Now this is not your average slightly icky powder. This stuff is hands down the vilest concoction I have ever tasted. It’s made up mostly of hemp (which you would think would make you, like, kinda floaty happy but it totally doesn’t), pea and brown rice proteins. It was then flavored to taste like “berry” but only if you’re talking about the kind of berries that deer poop. The mixture even turns a hideous shade of gritty brown to keep the streak (hah!) going. I held my nose and chugged the whole 18 ounces in one fell swoop to overcome my gag reflex.
So why oh why would I be doing this to myself? Especially when I had tasty food available to me! Did I have to review it? Was it especially healthy? Did someone I love make it? No, not particularly and heck to the no. I drank it because I spent $75 on the stupid canister. And I cannot waste it, especially when I spent that much money on it. (Seriously who spends $75 on protein powder?!)
Sunk cost fallacy in living color, my friends.
For those of you who’ve blocked out your college finance classes (and I’m totally not judging you for that – Macroeconomics made me want to impale my eyes with a 3-D bar chart), the sunk cost fallacy refers to any situation where you have paid for something but then no longer want it yet refuse to give it up because, duh, you paid for it. Even if holding on to the thing is costing you more money (or in my case, intestinal distress). The typical example given is to imagine you purchase a non-refundable movie ticket but you get to the movie and it totally blows. Do you leave and lose the cost of the ticket? Or do you stay and lose the cost of your time (and in the case of Tommy Boy, your sanity)? When you ask people what others should do, they generally recommend cutting the losses and moving on to what you really want. But surprisingly, if you look at what people usually do themselves, they often stick with it like white on rice.
Economists offer a lot of theories as to why people waste their time and money like this. First, there’s the pride issue. Giving up the item would prove you made a mistake and people really don’t like to admit their mistakes. (Charlie Sheen, anyone?) Next, there’s the thrift issue. Okay, so maybe you hate the movie but perhaps you can fashion a zingy new purse out of all the candy wrappers on the floor? That would be totally worth it! And lastly, there’s the dumb issue. We keep thinking of the money we spent as “ours” even though we gave it away to someone else. “Can’t waste MY money!” “Going to get MY money’s worth!” “Going to gag MYSELF with MY vile protein powder that I bought with MY hard-earned dough!” (Mmm… dough.)
And nowhere do I see the sunk cost fallacy more than in the health and fitness world. Consider that treadmill-turned-coat rack in your basement. That BOSU leaning up against your wall. Those pricey pants you bought for the brand name and then realized they make you look like a menstrual explosion Superfund site. The 5-lb bag of chia seeds you bought but never use because there is just not enough floss in the world to make them worth it. Or, my personal fave, the gym membership that you never use, feel horribly guilty about and yet still keeping paying monthly fees on. And yet no matter how embarrassing, annoying or even expensive these things get, we keep chugging the proverbial swill. (In my case that would be literal.)
So how do we break the cycle? Researchers suggest:
1. Acknowledge the money is gone and it’s not coming back. It’s not your money any more. You set it free, it didn’t return, clearly it was never meant to be yours. Or whatever that saying is. Do whatever you need to do to come to terms with that. Grieve, have a farewell party, throw sticky darts at the screen whenever the infomercial comes on.
2. Look at all the ways it is costing you now. Not only did my protein powder cost me $75 but it cost me to store it in my cupboard for the past year (it’s a big container!), it cost me in mental pain every time I saw it sitting on my shelf mocking me, it cost me in gustatory dissatisfaction. And it cost me in tummy aches. Because I have one now.
3. Make a decision. It’s amazing how much we can cause to happen simply by not making a decision. Because choosing not to do something is still making a choice. Tonight I finally realized that there is no way I am moving that thing to Denver just so it can take up space in a new house. So I’ve decided I’m chucking it.
4. Figure out what you did wrong so you can avoid it in the future. Really this whole situation could have been avoided had I tasted the stuff first. Or read up some reviews on it. Or stood up to the high-pressure salesman who talked me into it.
But first I’m going to start by brushing my teeth. I’m still picking hemp turdlets out of my gums! And then I’d best start reconsidering my shoe collection… especially that gorgeous pair of silver heels that hurt so badly to walk in that I call them “my sitting shoes.” (But I got them on a killer sale!!)
Make me feel better: Have any of you bought something that was a mistake but couldn’t let go of it because you paid good money for it? Or is it easy for you to weigh the pros and cons and give it up? (And if so, teach me your ways!)
*Do I win for longest title ever???