Sunk Cost Fallacy – Suffer or Buy Another?

I just bought a harness, and sadly it is uncomfortable. I’m not rolling in dough and feel obligated just to keep using the POS.

I just bought a harness, and sadly it is uncomfortable and the buckle in the back that is supposed to prevent the leg loops from falling down lets them fall down, and when I climb it feels like I’m carrying a load back there, if you know what I mean. I’m not rolling in dough and feel obligated just to keep using the POS. Help!

—Miles Cranbrooke


You have fallen prey to the “Sunk Cost Fallacy.” In your mind you are obligated to keep wearing a harness that “rides you like a wire fence” as LBJ liked to say, because it would be wasteful to discard it. In fact, it is wasteful for you to keep wearing it.

If you had paid nothing for the harness, would you keep wearing it?

Imagine that you have spent $200 to see an off-Broadway production of “Cats.” At the end of the first act, when Grizabella sings a sour rendition of “Memory,” you realize that the play, and perhaps all musicals with the exception of “Phantom,” don’t gas up your tank. You want to leave, but don’t want to waste $200, your sunk cost. So, you miserably sit there and get your money’s worth.

This is wrong thinking, and you don’t realize it because your brain is wired for loss aversion. You have, in essence, a hoarder’s mentality, one that only sees past costs and doesn’t recognize present or future costs. Consequently, you can’t let go of anything. You’d rather live among piles of old toasters, burger wrappers, broken televisions, headless dolls, and assorted tchotchkes than accept that you would be better off without that junk.

An aversion to loss can be advantageous, but in the case of “Cats” and your harness it is illogical because regardless of what you do, you aren’t getting your money back. Toughing it out actually increases your costs. Your time and happiness are valuable. As they say, time is money and you can’t buy happiness. The longer you sit there, or hang, the more your costs increase. Don’t climb in that harness one more second. Give it away to someone who has an even jankier rig—the act of giving will be inexplicably satisfying, reducing your emotional expense—and buy a model that will make you happy. While you are in the housecleaning mode take a moment to evaluate your job and relationship with your S.O. Are you hanging onto them only because of your past investment of time? Consider the options.

Gear Guy has spoken!


This article appeared in Rock and Ice issue 244 (August 2017).