Is the Sunk Cost Fallacy Sinking Your Finances?
How hard is it to change directions when you’ve made a bad investment? Learn from your financial mistakes! Here are some places that you may be falling prey to the sunk cost fallacy.
My first insight into how tightly I could chain myself to a bad investment came when I was still just a kid. My parents had insisted I play an instrument. I’d chosen the clarinet, and I had to practice for 30 minutes a day. After years of this daily torture, it was clear to everyone involved that I would never be a clarinet virtuoso. Even the family dog howled in agony when I played. My parents finally relented and told me I could quit. I, on the other hand, gritted my teeth and kept going for another three years. Not because I liked it (I hated it, actually) but because I had already put in so much time that I couldn’t bear to stop.
According to Belsky and Gilovich, “This tendency is harmful for the simple reason that past mistakes shouldn’t lead you to make future ones. The past is past, and what matters is what is likely to happen from now on. So a person who turns down an offer for a house because the bid is lower than the original purchase price may be following one blunder (paying too much in the first place) with another (not getting out while the getting is good).”
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Retaining assets that have lost their value
Hanging onto an unsuccessful business, a car that frequently breaks down, or a stock that’s plummeting in value? Reassess that asset’s true value now (both financially and emotionally) to help you determine whether to hold tight or jump ship.
Sticking with bad financial choices
For years, I failed to participate in a plan at my company that would have allowed me to buy stock at a discounted price. Although this meant turning down a virtually guaranteed profit, failing to put the necessary money aside in the first year I worked there made it easier to justify skipping this during each subsequent year. It took me a decade to acknowledge the money I’d already wasted and take action to reverse my decision.
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Holding on to clutter
Got closets full of dated clothes, old toiletries, mismatched Tupperware, or other stuff you don’t use? Make a decision to use it now or donate, recycle, or sell it. Clutter may apply to your investments or financial records as well. If you’ve got a bunch of different little 401k funds from past employers, for example, it may behoove you to consolidate.
Shooting your happiness in the foot
Busting your butt for an apartment, nice clothes, or other material goals may have seemed like a reasonable idea when you were younger, for instance, but remember to regularly examine how much satisfaction your priorities are bringing you today. Continuing to climb the corporate ladder only makes sense if the top is still where you actually want to be.
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Reviewed November 2021
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