Saving Money at the Risk of Personal Safety – Balance?

by Darwin on January 19, 2011

When is taking on risk to the personal safety of yourself or others worth saving money?  This weekend, somewhat on a whim, my wife suggested we go skiing.  We already had a trip planned in a couple weeks and would need to be doing a seasonal rental anyway, so she suggested we go pick up our stuff early and hit the slopes on Sunday.  So, Saturday night, we stopped by the ski shop and picked up some skis and boots.  While there, the sales guy highlighted that these days, all adults now wear helmets while skiing (we already had one for our son).  He showed us a cracked helmet from one of his friends and said if it weren’t for that helmet, his friend would probably be dead.  My wife and I immediately had some differences.  It was Saturday night and we were on our way to another appointment.  We either had to buy helmets on the spot in order to have one each for skiing the next day or “risk it” and ski without helmets since we were leaving first thing in the morning Sunday to ski.

At a high level, my wife was immediately swayed by this guy’s story of the life-saving helmet and is of the mindset “If we DON’T buy a helmet, this will be the one trip where someone needed it and has a serious injury”.  My thinking was the following:

  • Agreed, these days, more people ARE wearing helmets and I should probably get one for skiing – but would 1 day make a difference?
  • We have been skiing for 10 years without helmets and never had an incident.
  • Helmets are becoming a new norm just recently, kind of how bike helmets came into favor for kids over the past several years.  I grew up without wearing a helmet to ride a bike.  If I rode a bike one day after helmets become the norm on bikes, was I really taking on any more true risk? Or perceived risk?
  • Primarily, do I need to immediately buy one on the spot as a hard sell without comparing pricing or trying to get a better deal elsewhere before our bigger trip?

I’m actually very much into safety.  I don’t like taking significant, unnecessary risks – nor do I like subjecting my family to undue risk.  In my estimation, skiing for one additional day to make it ten years and a day didn’t present a substantial incremental risk for me.  If I knew the pricing was reasonable and I couldn’t save money elsewhere, I would have just bought a helmet on the spot.  I didn’t know that though.  As it turns out, while most helmets were over $100, my wife was able to get a youth helmet for $60 that fit her and seemed like a fair price.  So, she bought a helmet and I didn’t.

We skied, we survived and when we returned, I went to Dick’s and got a helmet for $55, saving me $45.  So, I basically “risked my life” for a day of skiing for $45.  I viewed the risk as low, but I’m not so naive to state that skiing presents no risks, especially on a busy holiday weekend.  In hindsight, I’m glad I got her the helmet day of, because I didn’t want her to feel like I put money ahead of her safety, but for my personal decision, I didn’t feel I needed it and the ski shop was a ripoff for adult male helmets.  I got the same brand for almost half as much elsewhere.

This got me thinking about some other perceived risks my wife and I have discussed on other occasions:

  • The Volvo -My wife sees these Volvo commercials and she’s convinced that a Volvo is this magical car that ensures survival in any type of car crash and it’s the only safe car.  But they’re expensive.  She drives a Honda Odyssey which did pretty well in safety tests from my vantage point.  Do we all need to drive Volvos? Or is this marketing gone wild?
  • Using Used Car Seats – I wouldn’t advocate this.  While our kids grow out of car seats quickly, it might be tempting for some to buy and sell car seats at garage sales or Craigslist.  I don’t suggest it.  While the odds are high that these things last for a decade or more and would hold up in a crash, I just don’t know enough about their prior use, whether it was in an accident before and more.  This is a case where I wouldn’t take the risk to save money – and I don’t know anyone who ever did.
  • Buying Dented Cans – We know someone who buys dented cans at a discount from the grocery store.  I had hinted at it once to my wife, but not too seriously.  We read some report somewhere that people sometimes end up getting a can with some nasty bacterial infection in the food and they get pretty sick.  So, while you could save a few bucks a week if you eat canned food, we agreed it wasn’t worth the risk.

What Are Some Risk vs. Savings Conflicts You’ve Had?

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