It has been a dreary week here on the East Coast – raining just about every one of the past 168 hours. Yet somehow, I forgot to pack my umbrella when I took the train to Washington DC yesterday. I walked to my hotel from Union Station during a lull in the rain, but after getting situated and finishing up some work, I saw that it was really starting to come down.
What to do? I could have stayed in my hotel room, but I wanted to use my spare hour to go for a walk on the National Mall. I knew that would be enjoyable. And so I wound up in that most overpriced of all places on the planet, the hotel gift shop, looking at a $20 umbrella.
On some level, this situation really annoyed me. I have at least half a dozen umbrellas at home, many of which cost less than $20. But then I started questioning my annoyance. For starters, why was I mad about a mildly overpriced umbrella, when the rate on my hotel room probably would have gone up or down by $20 depending on the day I booked it? I also realized that spending $20 on an umbrella would buy me an hour of exercise in a pretty place — something I enjoy. Indeed, I would probably enjoy that hour more than I’d enjoy, say, a $20 shirt. Because I had an umbrella, I would also probably walk to my event, rather than take a cab, so there were those costs to keep in mind too.
So I bought the umbrella, and wound up over in the botanical garden on the mall, enjoying the smells of the herb exhibit, and the wild mix of colors that early fall always brings. Did I do the right thing? I imagine so, but this is the kind of issue I’m pondering as I start to write my new book on money. We all have funny issues with our cash, like my reluctance to pay $20 for an umbrella when I didn’t call 10 hotels trying to negotiate a $20 cheaper rate. I’m curious if others have noticed these tendencies, and if you have any (small) money dilemmas that have made you think about why we spend the way we do.