Monday, November 19, 2007

What was your most recent poor money choice?

I pride myself on keeping within the limits of my spending plan, which enables me to save nearly 16% of my gross income (not including 401k and Roth IRA contributions). One of the harder sections is my "dining out" budget. It is not large ($50 per month) and I am generally in a squeeze by the time half the month is over. However, I came under budget in October so I was happy to go to a movie with a friend and treat him to lunch. (The theater serves pizza so we watched "Elizabeth: The Golden Age" and consumed our lunch. ) It was a bit expensive for one meal, but I was glad to spend time with my friend.

However, the poor choices came on the heels of that more-expensive-than-average meal. One of the local pizza joints had a coupon for $10 for a 15" two-topping pizza. I had just eaten pizza, but the coupon expired in a couple days. It was a good deal and I thought I recalled the pizza was quite good. (I had it once before ironically with the movie-attending friend.) Since the theater pizza pie was nothing special, I was tempted to order the pizza. I told myself it was better to save the money, that just because I had a coupon did not mean I had to use it. I resisted for about two days before I called up the pizza place and placed an order for pickup. It's about nine blocks away so I thought "I can combine getting gas with picking up pizza." In fact, the gas station/convenience store is two storefronts over from the pizza parlor.

To back up a bit, the price of gas had just recently took a jump. I had $2.77/gallon gas in my tank and most places were around $3.09/gallon. As I drove home from work prior to ordering the pizza, I passed a station that had $3.09/gallon, but decided I did not want to make a left turn into the place to get gas. So I went home, ordered the pizza and decided to make it a dual trip--gas and food.

I was surprised to find the gas at the convenience store at $3.14/gallon. I figured gas would go up another nickel overnight and while I was kicking myself a bit for not getting gas an hour earlier, I thought it was going to go up again so no big deal. I filled the tank, walked over to the pizza place, paid for my pizza and drove home. End of story, right?

Um, no. Turns out I chose the most expensive gas on my driving route. My usual gas station did not raise its price to $3.14 for another three days! The cheaper price taunted me for the next three work days! I lost out about $0.50, but my spending plan for gas is a bit tight as I am trying not to increase the budgeted amount for another two months. And the pizza--not so great. It was more than I needed, did not taste like I remembered and combined with the overpriced gas, really soured me on my lack of fiscal control.

Moral of the story: Get gas the first time I need to fill (even if I have to turn left onto a busy highway) and forget the carryout pizza even with a coupon. I could have saved myself $11 if I had only thrown the coupon away. That is $11 that could be used for house maintenance, future investing or saving for new used auto.

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