I have an irrational, lifelong fear of cockroaches. I can’t see them, I can’t deal with them, they scare the bejesus out of me. If I see one, my blood pressure shoots way up, and I run away to mommy.
Just kidding! In reality, rather than running to mommy, I’ll call my wife Lily and ask her to kill it. If she’s not available, I’ll have a protracted standoff with the roach, until I find a heavy magazine I can throw on it. Then, I’ll wait for Lily to become available, and beg her to throw it away because I can’t even deal with the body.
On the other hand, I can handle spiders, mice, and rats just fine. But roaches – oh, my!
This irrational fear has cost me money – lots of it! When we moved into our remodeled house, I saw a roach scurrying about. So, I totally freaked out and looked for a pest control service. Not just any service, mind you. The most expensive one. Because of this stupid fear, I started throwing away $120 per month on it:
I did this for more than a year…not my proudest moment.
But, when I finally came to my senses and hired a different company that cut that bill by about half -and I’m still probably paying too much, but I’m still deathly afraid of roaches- I learned a valuable life lesson: that irrational thoughts and fears can cost you loads of money. Here’s how that goes, and what I think is the antidote.
We All Have Irrational Fears and Negative Emotions
Hey, I’m the first to admit it. I have plenty of irrational fears and negative emotions that affect my decision-making. I’ve needlessly spent plenty of money and time on all sorts of gadgets and services to allay them – money and time that I could’ve directed to more productive pursuits and investments. Here’s some examples of things I think can lead to wasteful spending:
Driving Rather Than Flying
I think this is more an issue of not wanting to “lose control”. I usually fly rather than drive, but it’s because I’ve managed to convince myself that it’s safer, and that the time and (sometimes) money savings are worth it.
And indeed, it’s much safer. As to driving, and according to Fortune, stats show that, in the US, there are about 1.13 deaths per 100 million miles traveled. Contrast that to flying, where there are .35 accidents per 100 million miles. If I’m reading it right, it means that you’re about three times as likely to die when you travel a mile by motor vehicle, as you are to be involved in an accident (any accident, with or without injuries) on a US airline. In fact, the last fatal accident on a US airline before the recent Southwest tragedy was in February 2009, when 50 people lost their lives on a Colgan Air crash.
On the positive side, that means that not a single person died because of a US airline accident from 2010-2017. By contrast, about 40,200 people were killed in motor vehicle accidents in 2016 alone. You are, as a matter of fact, more likely to die of a lightning strike or bear attack than domestic air travel.
So, now I know that, at least from a safety perspective, every time I’ve driven rather than flown, I’ve acted irrationally and against my best interests. And if it’s been more expensive, I’ve also wasted my money (and time).
The Most Secure Home in the Neighborhood
This is a big one for me. I grew up in a place where crime was constantly on the news, and have lived close enough to dangerous areas to hear frequent gunfire. Now, I live in a nice, safe haven suburb of Miami, and in a gated community at that.
Yet, I’m still mega emotional about crime, even though I looked up some statistics and it looks like there’s only one reported crime within my neighborhood for the past six months (a car theft).
Like that matters to my emotional self! When we moved in, I personally set up 10 motion-sensing cameras outside the house, plus a comprehensive, sensor-rich alarm system inside. Also, we have hurricane-proof windows and doors, which means that it’s really hard to break them. Not even James Bond can break into my house. That’s right.
I’m pretty sure we have the most secure home in the community, but it was probably overkill. I mean, we spent like $1,700 on the system (even though it was mostly DIY), plus ongoing maintenance and monitoring fees.
Do you think all of the medical information available on the internet is a good thing? I think it generally is, but it’s turned me into something of a hypochondriac, always thinking I have some rare disease. This has led to plenty of doctor visits, and the co-pays, deductibles, and other expenses that go along with it.
Now don’t think I’m saying you shouldn’t go to the doctor – if you’re worried or have symptoms that you need checked out, it’s probably the wisest thing to do. But if it becomes excessive or obsessive, it can cost a pretty penny. One episode alone costs us over $700 about two years ago, and turned out to be nothing.
And this is not just my opinion. As PBS noted, “[s]ome experts estimate that at least $200 billion is wasted annually on excessive testing and treatment. This overly aggressive care also can harm patients, generating mistakes and injuries believed to cause 30,000 deaths each year”. Now I’m not saying doctors are wrong to order the tests and treatments – after all, it’s better to be safe than sorry, and I’m in no position to question individual care decisions.
I’m just saying that, in the aggregate, it seems that a lot more money than necessary is being spent in the healthcare system and that, if you use it too frequently, some of that money’s going to be coming from your pocket. I can’t tell anyone else what to do, but I personally try to keep my inner hypochondriac in check by pausing for a moment each time I feel a new itch or ache, and thinking about whether it really means I need to rush to the doctor’s office.
How to Control Spending Based on Irrational Fears and Negative Emotions
Simple – do the research, become a microexpert, and try to make rational decisions! I don’t always do it myself (I’m still probably overpaying for pest control and home security), but it’s definitely better to be informed than to be acting out of pure emotion. Sometimes, you may choose to override those negative emotions and irrational fears and take the logical, frugal route. Other times, you may decide your peace of mind, even if irrational, is worth the spend. Either way, I think an informed consumer is a wiser consumer.
Here’s to learning!
Have your irrational fears ever led you to overspend? Are you a hypochondriac, or afraid of flying, or have the most secure home around?