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.
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?
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.