Wastefulness Aversion


The price of a good that I regularly buy increased. And I was happy about it. Yes, you read that right. Paying more for the same thing actually made me happier. The good I'm talking about is a money order. Don't ask me why, but I regularly stop by Kroger's customer service desk to buy a money order of $999, and I pay for it using a visa gift card that has exactly $1000 on it.


For a long time, their money order fees was 88 cents. Which meant that I would have to pay $999.88 for each money order, leaving 12 cents remaining on my gift card (I don't like asking for a $999.12 money order). Anyway, so after getting this money order, I would put the gift card back in my pocket, thinking that I will empty it out later. Sometimes I would, but usually I would forget. So this gift card with a 12c balance would end up in the cup holder of my car. With time, these would start piling up. And one day, looking at a small collection of 12c gift cards, I would accept that I'm never going to use these, and dump them all in the trash. For some reason, this cycle would repeat. (Actually I think I know what the reason is. It is the few times when I would actually remember to empty out the 12 cents. I'd probably overestimate how responsible I am.)


OK so recently, Kroger increased their money order fees by exactly 12 cents, to a dollar. Which means that now I walk away from the customer service desk with zero dollars in my visa gift card. And now, as soon as I get my money order, I throw away the gift card, instead of saving it for future use. Oh, what a relief it is has been! I never realized how much stress that pile of 12c gift cards was causing me.


Everything is obvious in hindsight. So it's very obvious to me now that I should have never never attempted to utilize that 12c balance in the first place. Because clearly, the disutility from the attempt ended up being more than 12c.


So why did I? Why did I not throw the 12 cents away? Especially since I did not care enough about 12 cents to ask for a money order worth $999.12? The answer is wastefulness aversion. Look, foregoing 12 cents was never really the problem. It was the act of literally throwing money in the trash with my own hands. This act is what gives me a special kind of disutility, a disutility that I'm calling wastefulness aversion.


We experience wastefulness aversion pretty frequently. For example, when I was emptying out my apartment in Nashville, I just didn't want to throw some things away despite knowing that it was junk (e.g. a cracked bookshelf) and nobody would ever want it. It also seems that wastefulness aversion is partly why we give so much of our junk to Goodwill instead of throwing it in the trash.