Penny Wise & Pound Foolish

No, this is not a Steven King’s IT related post.

The other day I took 100 bottles and cans to the local liquor store for a refund. Here in Michigan we pay a ten cent deposit on every soda pop, beer, and other beverage containers. It has been this way for as long as I can remember. The deposit makes a difference. After having spent 5+ years in a no deposit state (Oklahoma), a $0.05 state (Connecticut), and the afore mentioned ten cent Michigan, I follow the deposit refund options far more religiously in the Great Lakes State.

But that’s not the point of this post, either.

The point is that the other day I took 100 bottles and cans, some beer and some soda pop, to the local liquor store for a refund. That is $10 in a refund that I invariably spend on more soda pop and beer. I like high quality local breweries, so $10 will often not quite cover a six pack just in that. After having dropped the containers off the store employee in charge of returns, Robert, chased me down to admonish me for my containers.

The way the MI law is written, stores only have to accept containers that they sell. The stores with automatic return machines enforce this. That’s why I take mine back to this store – no machines policing the returns. The store itself offers a decent beer selection, albeit smaller and a little more expensive than the other stores where I shop. I always end up spending more in the store after a return run than the refund.

When Robert flagged me down and lectured me loudly in the store on how hard it is for him to get $0.10 on a bottle they don’t carry from the store’s distributor, I argued. Uninterested, he dug through every neatly packed bag (and I do rinse and orderly arrange things). After everything was reviewed only 12 bottles out of the 100 were questionable. Since I had in my hands two six packs of beer and one 12 pack of pop worth $23 before tax and deposit, Robert was arguing about 5% of my total spend with them on that trip, $1.20.

Again, Robert was not wrong. A store’s obligations under the program are laid out. While I argue that such limitations negatively impact the effectiveness of the law, the law is plainly written.

Nevertheless I put the $23 of stuff back on the shelf and walked out with $8.80 in deposits. I let Robert keep the extra bottles. I spent that $8.80 plus more at another store. That was a loss of $31.80 (the $23 I was going to buy plus the deposit I was entitled to) instead of a $21.80 in sales (presuming the store had to eat the $1.20).

Since I was treated so poorly I later returned another 27 containers for cash at that store on my way to another store where I spent $23 in more of the same. That’s over $50 dollars lost for the sake of $1.20. Once I exceed $120 dollars I will talk with the owners.

For me I spent next to nothing on the extra fuel since the other options are less than a mile away. I saved about $1.50 on my purchases.

This illustrates “Penny Wise & Pound Foolish” very well.

I would be a fool if I didn’t cast a critical eye on myself. What have I done that, in retrospect, was penny wise & pound foolish?

At work the big thing that leapt out at me, fit for public consumption, was being so far behind on my expense reports. It always takes more time to complete them the longer it takes me to do them. It takes money out of my pocket both in covering the expense in a timely fashion as well as in any late charges that I have to absorb.

At home I just went through a big refresh in various parts of my life, so it is too early to tell there.

“Penny Wise & Pound Foolish” is another way of describing the Law of Unintended Consequences. How much time and effort would it cost to ask “What happens if …?” before making a decision?

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About Paul

I’m a Detroit expat recently returned from Tokyo living in Chattanooga. I’m a consulting security professional and father of two. I promise that my views and politics are mine; not yours or my employer’s or anyone’s. I follow no party or affiliation or anything. My things are released under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license unless otherwise stated.

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