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Emotion can be the enemy

Apparently, movies are the next to go in airlines’ attempts to make up for rising fuel prices. US Airways will be removing movie service on its flights November 1, and expects to save some $10,000,000 a year by doing so. They have also decided to start charging for beverages. And, of course, they were among the first–though not the only–to institute charges for checked luggage.

My husband and I just got back from a trip from Toledo to Seattle. On the way back, we discussed the merits of driving instead. His family lives in Toledo, mine in Seattle, and the distance is about 2400 miles. Driving would take about three days. (It’s possible to do it in two, but only in good weather without much sleep.) It would be more comfortable and flexible, but more troublesome and expensive: three days’ travel instead of six hours, needing at least one of us to be alert for all that driving, paying for hotels and food and gas.

Until the recent announcements, we never seriously thought about driving instead of flying. But now we are. What changed? The ticket price and the smaller seats and the luggage charges, yes; but mainly, it’s the beverages. Currently, beverages aren’t allowed through security lines unless they’re less than 3 oz. Once drinks are no longer free, our options are to buy from the airport, to buy from the airplane, to go thirsty for five hours in the arid plane air, or finagle a drink–bring an empty bottle and fill it with tap water in the airport bathrooms, for example.

This is not a big grievance. So I have to carry a bottle with me, or pony up two dollars for a drink. Is that really worth the enormous hassle of spending three days in the car, paying for two hotel stays and some 75 gallons of gas each way?

Logically, no. But logic and money don’t necessarily have a lot to do with each other. Here, what’s pushing us to think about avoiding the airlines is resentment: that we’re losing privileges we had before, through no fault of our own, and paying the same amount (or more) money for the experience. We feel cheated. We feel annoyed. We don’t want to deal with the entity that’s depriving us of what we had. But financially speaking, putting up with the loss of privileges is worth it. Two round-trip plane tickets cost about $800; driving the same distance costs about $600 each way. Plus there’s the matter of those extra two days of traveling. Four days and $400 is worth the hassle once we stopped to work it out; but the cost of going with our emotions wasn’t readily apparent until we did.

This balance–between money and emotion, logic and comfort–is present in most financial decisions you make. It’s less evident in most, but your emotions color most of what you do. Emotions were evolved as mechanisms for enhancing our survival, but evolution hasn’t caught up to Wall Street yet. Emotion is a continual opponent in our struggle to do our best for ourselves financially. There’s no real cure for it; all you can do is be aware that your emotional self is not necessarily your best self to consult on money matters. This is not to say that happiness and comfort aren’t worth paying for; they are. Sometimes. The key is in deciding how much they’re worth in each situation and acknowledging that that’s exactly what you’re paying for.