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The Perception Of Loss

Say you spend a decent amount of money to make a flight or hotel reservation that you later aren't able to make use of. Would it make you sad? Would you feel like you've lost money? If so, why?

It recently occurred to me that people get upset by the idea of "losing" money more than missing the event involving the travel or stay. Deeply ingrained in the middle-class psyche is the idea that if you have spent money, you must gain a product or service (that you must make full use of), i.e. paisa vasool hona chaiye. It's what would bring them peace.

I must admit I have an arduous relationship with money. I guess the first time I experienced the charm of money was when I gave up firecrackers around 7-8th std in school. IIRC, my parents loved the idea of not purchasing firecrackers but weren't thrilled to handover the money to me — but I insisted. I guess I spent all that money on chocolates and ice-creams. I remember trying out all flavours of Kwality Walls' heavily advertised "Max" products and the ice-cream sandwich Biki Max.

In college, my goal each month was to spend my entire pocket money in exchange for comfort (and frankies). I balanced travelling home by bus with a rickshaw ride, sometimes to avoid a crowded bus and sometimes just to avoid having an awkward conversation with classmates waiting at the bus stop. I would walk all the way from college to the bus stop only to decide I needed a rick based on the situation. For that era, my pocket money was well above what I required, so I never faced a cash-crunch. Add to this the fact that I diligently bunked lectures once a week (continuing the school tradition of a mid-week off), things worked out well. I didn't bunk lectures to loiter around though... I simply slept in — "Mom, I'm not going today". 'nuf said.

So, here we are. Fiscally liberal me. Terrible at math, conserving money, or managing finances. I think of money as a means to be comfortable — and in extreme cases — to make living bearable.

If I were to book an expensive hotel and not be able to make it, I wouldn't feel bad. I'd be disappointed that my decision-making couldn't account for the risk factors that resulted in the cancellation, but if it's something that was totally unforeseeable, I would be perfectly okay with "losing" the money. It would not register as a loss at all.

Even from a purely fiscal standpoint, think what if you had made the trip — you'd spend on eating out, commuting around, etc. — while you'd spend a fraction of that amount if you just stayed home. Add to this the fatigue and harsh weather the outdoors have to offer. Given that you've already spent money on the reservation and have no refund available, 3 days in another town vs. 3 days with your usual lifestyle — what's more expensive? The deciding factor (for me) shall always be whether the experience is worth my time.

The way I see it, it's not money that is precious. It is time. It's how I choose to spend moments — waste time with pointless small talk at the bus stop Vs. rush home in a rick and do something more productive with my time (this includes sleep!).

Should I spend time doing things I don't like in order to conserve money? Or is it prudent to spend money to conserve time, so I can do more of the things I like?

There's also a balance in case of certain things. The Mumbai Metro is tedious during rush hour, but the time it saves is bloody great — I'm a huge fan. I've taken the metro just to get to Andheri East quickly and take a rick to the airport from there on. Local trains save you a lot of time too [but in my opinion] they aren't worth the hassle because of the barrage of non-sense and terrible human behaviour they expose you to.