Trading Off Inconvenience Now vs. Inconvenience Later

Shapes: Marshmallow Pyramids
Credit: flickr / John-Morgan

I finished reading Dear Undercover Economist (Amazon) last week. It’s an interesting book, well I think so – but then I have an AS in Economics and briefly thought that’s what I should study at university.

But, the idea of applying economics to life appeals to me. In economics, actors (people) are assumed to be completely rational. In reality, we rarely are, but being a bit more rational could be a good thing.

One letter in particular interested me – whether or not to reverse park. In particular – this paragraph:

There is another consideration: you are trading off reversing under conditions of certainty versus reversing under conditions of uncertainty. You do not know what the car park may look like in an hour, whether it will be crowded, or whether you will be in a hurry. Having to reverse out under adverse circumstances is a low- risk but high-impact event. My advice is position yourself ready to leave at a moment’s notice: the car park at Safeway can be an unpredictable place.

I did actually reverse park the other day, only the second time I have since I started driving an enormous car on the wrong side of the road. The first time I’d had some magical stuff called “Powerade”.

Anyway, this was perhaps particularly relevant to me because I’ve been having a total nightmare leaving the gym I used to attend – Goodlife. Of course they did the usual (apparently very standard for them) thing of not actually cancelling my membership and continuing to charge me. But worse has been the personal training thing.

Back in the summer I bought training to rehab post dislocated-kneecap and dislocated shoulder. Expensive, but seemed like a better deal than ending up back in physio. They wanted to sell me 90 sessions. I wanted to buy 20.

Economic theory would really have helped me here.

Instead, I negotiated. I explained that there was a good chance I was leaving Ottawa. I said 40 sessions was the maximum I would end up using based on 2x a week with my travel schedule and an estimated departure date of the start of December. The fitness manager never spoke to me herself, but instead relayed messages to me via my trainer. Eventually, I managed to get them down to 60 sessions with a promise that they would deal with selling any extra if I left.

This now seems completely stupid, but such was their level of unreasonableness it seemed I had won a concession. There was a chance that I would remain in Ottawa and so I traded off inconvenience now for inconvenience later. I asked for the agreement to sell any sessions in writing, and got some meaningless bumf which I wasn’t happy about, but I was told “don’t worry, she’ll take care of it”. And I was fed up of arguing with them, so I didn’t.

Later came – I moved and decided that I was going to switch gyms when I moved, given that promise and given how much I disliked their model (I want to train with someone 1x a week to rehab and keep from more injuries, not 3x a week).

The reality of it has been so bad. I gave over a month’s notice, and got a cheque for about 2/3 of my sessions days before I left. The fitness manager told me the sessions were sold, I’d get a email money transfer any day now. Of course, that didn’t happen.Of course, she didn’t answer the phone. Or return my calls. After about 2 weeks I got an email, which I responded to being less than happy. Her response was disgustingly rude. Customer service were initially helpful, but the fitness manager didn’t admit (of course) to promising to sell the sessions and the letter was meaningless – I remember being unhappy with it, but I read it again and was completely furious at myself.

Anyway, some important things I’ve learned.

  1. Never buy anything from Goodlife (well, d’uh).
  2. A concession is a concession, it’s not getting what you want. I bought 3x as many sessions as I wanted – objectively, it is completely stupid. In the midst of negotiation, it came to see like a reasonable agreement. It wasn’t.
  3. Never believe anything anyone is telling you when they are trying to sell you something – if it’s not in writing, it’s no deal.
  4. Think more like an economist.

Wondering why the picture of marshmallows? It’s because I always think of marshmallows when I think about delayed gratification, because of this experiment.

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