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Is Assuming the Worst Keeping You From Saving Money?

I wrote an article for US News & World Report a while back entitled “How to Save Money By Stretching Your Comfort Level” in which I challenged readers to reconsider their typical approach as consumers.

I find that we often get trapped into patterns of spending that don’t always serve us best, simply out of habit. So I wrote a piece designed to get people thinking critically about their spending behavior by offering some alternative approaches- some fairly basic, like getting a roommate; others a bit more out of the box, like couchsurfing.

I fully understood that not everyone would be comfortable with every suggestion- believe me, I know that not everyone’s as crazy as me- but the point was to get people challenging their assumptions and limitations on savings.

Is Assuming the Worst Keeping You From Saving Money?

Assuming the Worst

Well… let me tell you about the firestorm that ensued in the comments section (as it often does when these articles get picked up by major media outlets)

In response to biking instead of driving (if it’s a feasible option)…

  • You will be murdered.

Fun fact: in the first year of NYC’s bike share program, Citibike, there were 8.75 million bike trips and ZERO fatalities.

 

In response to getting haircuts at beauty schools for free…

  • You will not be able to get a job or boyfriend as you will repel people.

Apparently I’m repellent because I get my hair cut for free- shhh, don’t tell my boyfriend (or various employers).

 

In response to working out outdoors instead of a gym…

  • Outdoor exercise will increase your risk of being mugged or raped.

I probably would have assaulted myself if I had to do my marathon training on a treadmill.

 

In response to the suggestion of a roommate….

  • What if you wind up living with a criminal who steals all of your stuff or brings home untrustworthy acquaintances?

I get that adult professionals having roommates is atypical outside of big cities like NYC, but if anything, this perfectly illustrates my point.   You seriously can’t open up your worldview the slightest bit to consider a new normal that is practically standard elsewhere in your own country?

 

If I lost them on getting a roommate or becoming a hair model you can imagine how well couchsurfing went over.

  • You will be sexually assaulted.

Like I said, I know I’m pushing the borders of the average person’s comfort level with this one, but if you’re serious about saving, should you not at least investigate the cheaper options before discounting them altogether? There is a scale between staying at a Hilton and couchsurfing- can I at least reset your low so that you can find something in the middle- like airbnb?

Challenging Assumptions

As I wrote in the piece, “I can give you a million ideas and ways to save more money, but you have to be willing to step outside your comfort zone, at least to consider the alternative.”

Unfortunately, what I found going through the comments is that people don’t take the time consider the alternative because they’re too quick to assume the worst- often in a way that really makes me question sanity. I kid you not, I had people in the comments going bezerk about government conspiracy- all because I suggested saving money by using coupons and riding a bike.

Now I concede that there is always a risk of worst case scenario- the awful haircut that repels, being mugged while running outside, assault from a couchsurfing host (though I have yet to encounter such problems)- but that’s true of anything.

If I were to always assume worst-case scenario, I probably wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning. I certainly wouldn’t live in New York City and I’d probably never get on a plane.

Our knowledge gained from personal experience allows us to act in spite of the risk of worst-case scenario. When we don’t have personal experience to draw upon, we can use critical thinking and research to better assess risk. For example, a two second google search of “chance of dying in a plane crash” reveals that the odds are 1 in 11 million- and so, people continue flying.

Unfortunately, the comments above suggest that many consumers immediately jump to assuming the worst rather than taking the two minutes to do some research, and thus, they dismiss the possibility of a new savings technique before even considering it.

So to consumers everywhere, I challenge you to reconsider your assumptions. I’m not saying you have to ditch your gym membership or get a roommate to save money- but consider it, do the research, redefine your idea of what’s normal- then make a conscious and informed choice about how you want to proceed.

Don’t just use your critical thinking skills to remain skeptical, employ them to figure out if and how new savings methods and techniques might work for you. Never become so convinced that you have the only right way of approaching something that you block yourself from ever learning anything- whether it’s saving money or otherwise.

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59 responses to “Is Assuming the Worst Keeping You From Saving Money?

  1. Good post, Stefanie!
    I think the things you mentioned are just typical excuses. If someone doesn’t want a roommate, for example, they will come up with any reason not to get one!

    1. What blows my mind is when people really buy into and believe their own bullshit. They lose sight of the fact that they’re just making excuses and go totally die hard and crazy.

  2. “You will be murdered.”

    I’m still laughing at this.

    Seriously though, you can save a ton of money and wind up having some really awesome experiences by opening yourself up to new things. I have one cousin who is up for anything when we travel together and because of that we’re able to disappear to crazy places in the world, stay in hostels, meet really interesting people and take longer trips because we’re spending less. I have a best friend who absolutely requires hotels, first world accommodations and English – our adventures are much shorter, irritatingly expensive and rarely as exciting.

  3. Good points…I find myself pretty frugal but some things stretch my comfort levels. That’s one good thing about reading blogs…I hear other real life people talk about their experiences and it doesn’t feel as scary and when I see others can do it…I’ll try it too. Yea…I guess I’m a follower not a leader…

  4. People are too funny.

    I can’t say I wasn’t one to assume the worst because I was. The first time I heard about Airbnb I was very skeptical. “I will get killed for sure. Here’s where I’m staying. If I don’t call you in 13 hours call the police and come get my dismembered body.” I now love Airbnb, but I’m still skeptical about a lot of things. This is something I might have to work on.

  5. Wow, loved reading these comments. You must have had a few chuckles! You can’t force people to be frugal or take control of their money. These people obviously weren’t ready for a change yet. But, you did your part and showed them there was another way to live.

  6. If I invest my money I will lose it all in the market. Well that is one potential outcome, but not likely if you are in it for the long haul. We are the only ones that prevent ourselves from taking on life and becoming wealthy. Only you can change your future and ambition….other people likely aren’t going to force you to become something you are not willing to do for yourself.

  7. I see what you’re saying for sure, although I’ve had that nightmare haircut where I cried for days. I think with shorter hair it’s more noticeable than longer hair. I’ve considered making my place an air bnb thing but I only have my couch to offer, still I’m sure some people would still do it, but there is something inside me that can’t pull the trigger…still I give things careful thought before I dismiss them. My parents are notorious for assuming the worst.

  8. All good examples. Another I see pop up all too frequently is the assumption that Social Security will pay out $0 when we’re seniors. Not even the Heritage foundation projects a situation that dire. This would be all well and good if it just made people save more… but I also see people — even PF bloggers! — using it to put far too much money into pre-tax accounts. Meh….

    1. Sounds like it might be a good assumption, even if misguided, but I see what you’re saying. I really wonder what the numbers will be by the time I hit 70 (I intend to hold off as long as possible to get max payout… obviously 😉 )

  9. To be honest, I’m very pessimistic and often assume things will go wrong. It’s a bad habit I need to break. I appreciate it when people – like yourself – challenge “worst-case” assumptions and prove that the s*** won’t always hit the fan.

  10. Wow, those comments are just a tad on the crazy side! I have a habit of assuming the worst will happen, but my mind did not go THAT far! Who equates riding a bike with being murdered? Yikes. While I get paranoid every now and again (and I go with my gut), you can’t live your life in fear like that, regardless of the implications it may have on your bank account. That’s just unhealthy.

  11. Ugh, people are crazy on the internet. These are extreme examples, but your base point is a great one. I’m glad we stepped out of our comfort zone for a few frugal ideas like canceling cable, moving, sharing a car, and using Republic Wireless. Having these past successes leaves me more open to trying new things in the future as well. Some things don’t work out, but everything’s reversible!

  12. Love this! I think many people like to assume the worst will happen so that they can justify their spending.

    Whenever I tell people that we used to have roommates they would always bring up the most ridiculous things about why it was a bad idea. It got annoying quick!

  13. Some people are just looking for an argument and can’t help throwing out contrary opinions whenever the opportunity presents itself. It’s like some form of comment-box-related Tourettes.

  14. I am careful with my person HOWEVER I spend time vetting unusual options for: travel, housing, and transportation. I have on a regular basis: stayed at hostels, rode my bike, and taken the bus to numerous destinations. You can never be 100% safe even in: a car or a hotel. You have to practice due diligence. On AirBnB you have ratings (and you scan your ID into the system) for hostels you see information on the location/safety/etc. And lastly, you use your COMMON SENSE.

    1. Exactly. So many of these alternatives have review systems to ensure that the worst case scenario doesn’t happen. That’s why I used them in the first place- good reviews!

  15. I love this post and I would add that one of the great assumptions amongst many in the United States is that the game is rigged, the stock market is fixed, they can’t get ahead in life, and the 1% will always win. Perhaps, that is why we have so many people spend money on stuff. If they just challenge that assumption and being saving early, read a little, and not listen to the nightly news every waking moment then they might be better off.

  16. I had one of my AOL posts get attention and the comments section cracked me up. It was most people fighting against each other within the comments. I can’t believe how many people are concerned about the violent crimes that will ensue as a result of cost cutting measures. Too funny!

  17. LMAO What kind of people read these articles? Every comment is about some kind of personal attack. Either they’ve all been mugged / assaulted or they are recluses because they’re afraid of same. Although, I still can’t quite get the attraction for people offering up their places for couch surfing. I am too young to have been a hippie, otherwise I might ‘get’ it. 😉

    1. I got into couchsurfing when I was just about losing my mind having to share my room on tour with a snoorer. I needed an alternative I could afford, but that would also allow me to actually sleep. I’m so glad I “stumbled” upon it. It’s a great resource and used by all kinds of people of all ages.

  18. This is hilarious! I do think being negative or assuming the worst costs people money. I found a flight to Rio several years ago for $484 — a fluke after a plane crash. My mom BEGGED me not to go as Rio is “unsafe”. I went anyway and had a blast. I promise you I’ll never find that cheap of a flight again, unless I travel hack. I find it empowering to find ways to save money and you just need common sense. I feel like this is the same for people that always say, “Well, I could NEVER do that.” They really just don’t want to try.

  19. I’ve never thought about fear taking people’s savings away, but this is great. I can’t believe how people can live their life in fear. No matter what you believe, there is a such thing as faith (in God, people, plants or whatever) and we all have faith in a lot of things everyday (pilots, other drivers on the road, the people who make our food, etc.). We only start to lose faith when we step outside our comfort zone and try new things, but that may be where the money saving is at!

  20. It’s actually funny how people can be *that* paranoid. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m probably younger than people who commented on your article so I’m more care free, but they seriously need to broaden their horizon. The worst thing could happen if you’re unlucky, but the chances are, you’ll be like a lot of people out there who do all these things and are still fine until this day, so I think there’s no reason to not do these things because of safety issues.

  21. Depending on where you live, getting mugged or attacked while running is a truly valid concern. Just running around small cities in New Jersey I had objects/food thrown at me out car windows.

  22. I would agree with you that fear is holding a lot of people back from trying your suggestions but not just fear of what might happen but fear of any change, so they make up possible worst case scenarios in their heads as to why not even try.
    You never know what’s going to happen by putting yourself out there. I like to think that if you have good karma and you listen to your gut if a situation doesn’t seem right, thinks will turn out okay.

  23. It sounds like an awful lot of commentators are severely risk adverse! Living with strangers isn’t really that much different than going on a first date. He/she could be a murder/mugger etc – you just take that tiny miniscule risk

  24. Those comments are hilarious… and quite sad! Are people really that out of touch with reality?
    But I’ve heard plenty of ridiculous excuses come out of people’s mouth when they are trying to justify doing or not doing something.
    I’ve considered trying to rent out our extra room on airbnb but I think it would be against our rental agreement. Guess I should read it over (all 30 pages of it… seriously these rental agreements in England have as much paperwork as buying a house in the states LOL). Great post!

  25. I remember the first time I went to Manhattan for a work project — my parents were so worried it’d be too dangerous for me to walk safely on the streets. Six months later I had my mom fly out for the weekend and we walked all over town — she loved it. 🙂
    The reality is we can make a case for ANY place or situation can being dangerous if we try hard enough — but that makes for a sad life. I like a happy medium approach.

  26. A life full oh fear is not a life worth living. Financially and otherwise.

    P.S. I am a couch surfing survivor 😉

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