1 Fear-Based Spending | The Billfold

Fear-Based Spending


Let me start by saying that safety is good, and it is sensible to spend money on it. The auto industry howled miserably about the terrible increase in manufacturing costs that would accompany mandatory seatbelts, but it was probably worth it, because seatbelts save a lot of lives. But the line between prudent precaution and baseless fear can be hard to see, and can lead us to expend effort and money on the prevention of remote risks.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with an abundance of caution (except, you know, when there is), but it’s interesting to consider the sensible and not-so-sensible ways we spend money. I doubt anyone ever went broke buying a Brita water filter in New York City, but it is basically a waste of $25 in a city with some of the finest tap water in the country. And why spend an extra $100 to have a baby video monitor rather than an audio model? Have you ever watched a baby sleep? It is boring. (Besides, the audio version is perfectly adequate for sitting on your across-the-street neighbor’s stoop and having a margarita after your infant is in bed. Or so I’ve heard.)

And yet, we spend this money. Maybe this is OK, because it makes us feel better and sleep easier, even if we know the risks we’re protecting against are too remote to worry about. I’m not above conceding that it might be easier to buy peace of mind than to overcome irrational fears. After all, hand sanitizer is cheap and ebola is awful. But where is the line? Would you spend $3.49 a pop for a device that keeps your kid from getting his fingers pinched in a door, or just let your kid learn a valuable lesson for free? What about $14.95 for one of those hammer-knife car safety things that helps you cut your seatbelt, smash your window, and drag yourself from your overturned car before a huge fan of your mystery novels arrives to hold you hostage in a remote cabin? Do you pay extra when buying electronics for the extended warranty? What products or services do you, dear readers, spend money on even though you know deep down it’s a waste? How does fear affect your choices as a consumer?

(By the way, the ever-reliable SkyMall catalog is a treasure trove of weird safety items that are probably a waste of money. For example, a special backpack for escaping from a burning high-rise, $499-849; a set of lights to simulate the flicker of a television so people think you’re home, $40; and disposable “germ barriers,” “perfect for airplane head rests and great for hotel/public restroom countertops,” $12.99 for seven.)


Photo by the author.


18 Comments / Post A Comment

Sloane (#675)

I had one of those hammer-knife car safety things because I have had nightmares about having to rescue my family from a sinking car. But then the safety tool was confiscated when I was going through security at a courthouse (because of the tiny blade – so much danger), and I haven’t replaced it.

@Sloane The problem there, obviously, was that you failed to take the precaution of becoming a lawyer in a jurisdiction where lawyers can breeze through security while carrying contraband. It is a very expensive precaution, but TOTALLY WORTH IT.

chic noir (#713)

@Josh Michtom@facebook

Here that @jquick….she should have studied law(not stem).

chic noir (#713)

@chic noir *hear*

andnowlights (#2,902)

So every year for the last 15 years, my mom has done a “tool of the year” at Christmas for me, my brother, and my two cousins. This results in both of us having more tools than we really know what to do with (though they do come in handy!). Last Christmas, it was one of those hammer-seatbelt cutter things because my mom had run out of other ideas (the year before that was clamps) and I’m not going to lie, I feel better knowing I have it in the car. I would have maybe felt better having it two years ago when I lived in New Haven and went over more bridges, but I’m glad I have it now!

@andnowlights Tool of the year is such a good idea! How old do you think my nieces and nephews have to be before I can start sending them jumper cables and socket wrenches for birthdays and christmases? They’re 5, 3, 1, and T-2weeks right now. I’m putting that one in my back pocket though!

andnowlights (#2,902)

@Punk-assBookJockey The jumper cables I would hold off on til they’re driving age, ha ha, but I don’t see why you couldn’t start with screwdrivers and the like when the youngest is 5? I think the first year was a tool box in which to store the subsequent years’ tools. I will caution you against things that maybe aren’t as commonly used. It avoids the whole “living in an apartment with a handyman but having 3 toolboxes” problem.

potatopotato (#5,255)

@andnowlights: Ha, every Christmas my dad seems to have found a new no-batteries-required flashlight. I still have on with a cranky handle, and one that you charge using the same motion that you use on, ah, a ShakeWeight.

andnowlights (#2,902)

@potatopotato I have a crank-handled one! I… have never used it so I don’t even know if it works, but it’s there if we need it, I guess!

@andnowlights Yeah you are probably right. Actually a good basic toolbox is probably a good gift for a kid graduating college or moving out on their own or getting married or whatever!

andnowlights (#2,902)

@Punk-assBookJockey One of the tool boxes actually was a wedding present, I think? From my husband’s side that didn’t know about our already insane tool collection!

chic noir (#713)

I LOVE this post. I think over a lifetime we spend so much money on what ifs. Like what about people have have car insurance over twenty years and are never in an accident.

BTW I’m not against car insurance. I just like dreaming about what I could do with the money instead.

Personally I would advise any and everyone to pat for the extended warranty if you have a kindle. I’m on my third kindle. My prior kindles stopped working within a year.

@chic noir ahhh I so wish I had known this because back when I felt flush with cash I bought my ma one, she loved it, and then hers died and so did the second one! Must be some hardcore reading, which I can support.

potatopotato (#5,255)

@chic noir: Dude, I SELL car insurance, and it’s a total gamble. The whole point is that you buy a really good policy and hope you never need it, but you wanna cover your ass in case you do. I drank the Kool-Aid on this one though, because I get to talk to all the people who are mid-crisis and putting in their claims.

People who buy shitty policies and I try to explain that it doesn’t do them much good aside from keep them street legal, and they always go, “Oh, I don’t want to get in an accident, trust me. It’s the last thing I wanna do.” NO SHIT. Nobody goes out looking to smash into something. I always make a permanent note in their file that I tried to talk them out of state minimum coverage, because I don’t want them coming back angry that they’re on the hook for the Lexus they just took out sliding on ice, asking why I didn’t warn them.

chic noir (#713)

@potatopotato – Yea Elizabeth Warren says you should always get full coverage for any car.

Elsajeni (#1,763)

I think the only thing I’ve ever paid for extended protection on was my router, because the guy at the store explained to me that “these things tend to slow down over time, and it’s basically undiagnosable and unfixable, so if you buy the 3-year protection plan and bring it in, like, 2 years and 10 months from now and tell us you’re having connection issues, we’ll just give you a new one.” Joke’s on me, I moved out of state after 2 and a half years and missed my chance at a free router.

EmilyAnomaly (#4,238)

A radon test kit. Seemed like a good idea but I have yet to open it up and use it.

Last year, I paid $7 per biweekly paycheck for an employee benefit that was sold to me as discounted legal assistance. I actually needed legal help for a dicey living situation, but the discounted hourly rates were still higher than my student loan payments, so I never used it.

acid burn (#113)

I will say that we have a Brita filter (and just finally got a shiny new one) because it makes the water taste better, even though our water is totally safe to drink. But also I’ve been doing some emergency training for my neighborhood association, and part of that is putting together an emergency kit, and that stuff can get PRICEY. I’ve definitely fallen down some Amazon window-shopping rabbit holes in the process. Do I need the ultra-deluxe emergency radio that has a digital tuner and cell-phone charger, or can I make do with the cheap hand-crank kind? And in addition to all the first aid kits and duct tape and canned food, they want you to do things like put together a two-bucket toilet system in case of a major disaster that wipes out all the plumbing, and… I just really don’t think I’m going to go that far.

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