Death by a thousand cuts

2.5 minute read

You may have heard the phrase, “death by a thousand cuts.” The Chinese term is Lingchi. A torture technique used in China and Vietnam; the torturer removed pieces of flesh slowly during execution while the offender was tied to a tree. The pictures are graphic and terrible. What does this have to do with a financial blog post? Our finances can resemble this Lingchi process.

                Catastrophic financial situations happen: job loss, health problems, divorce, natural disaster, etc. People often recognize these events as the source of financial ruin. Here’s a different perspective. Some catastrophic events lie outside our control. The ability to avoid financial Lingchi is under our control. I went to the movies recently – Cut! by Cinemark and is an upscale movie and dining experience. Nice atmosphere with high ceilings, fancy light fixtures, arcade gaming, sports bar. No ticket counters. There’s bank of self-service kiosks to retrieve your tickets. No concession stands, clever, as that requires you order from the bar or your theater seat, where gratuity is expected.

                Reserved seating, which I really like. Eliminating the need to arrive at the theater an hour early to ensure good seats. They are leather, heated, and reclining – very nice. Below you can see the cost of that event for a family of four:

Lingchi. Your monthly movie night could easily cost you $150k over 25 years. Imagine the results of running this analysis on other areas of your life? Two big categories to consider: Entertainment and Food and Drink.

Entertainment – definition: form of activity that holds the attention and interest of an audience, or gives pleasure and delight.

For me the quality of entertainment found seated in a crowded movie theater, glued to the screen, holding it in fear of missing a critical part, silence with the people to the right or left, is low. I find enjoyment in other’s delight – can’t see that in the dark. I’m not even looking at the people I attended with. Higher quality entertainment is family or close friends gathered, warm glow of the light bouncing off the beautiful wooden table, close proximity to snacks and drinks, Alexa playing any music we want to hear and share with others. A fun board game that has us strategizing, haggling, plotting, pleading, scheming, negotiating, cooperating, celebrating, but most of enjoying interacting with each other. I’ll keep my 150k and build better entertainment and relationships.

Food and Drink

The human body requires calories. It doesn’t care whether those calories come from a high-end restaurant or your local supermarket. It doesn’t care whether you had to pay a tip to have your food delivered or whether you purchased the goods with coupons. If we ran analysis for dining out vs. at home over time – staggering results. Considerations: Cost of alcohol vs. water at a restaurant, tip vs. quick service, throw away food vs. take home leftovers, too large entrée vs. share an entrée. The decisions you make regarding how often you dine out, where and what you eat are hundreds of thousands of dollars over your lifetime.

The next time you are tempted to go down the defeatist path of “I can never get ahead financially” or commiserate with others on their situations. Control what you can control. And know that our financial outcomes in life are rarely decided by catastrophic events, but are more often by Lingchi. We’re allowing ourselves to be tied to a tree and tortured by clever marketers to die a slow death, when the ropes are loose…

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