A thought just occurred to me as I was browsing through the list of weekly giveaways from Tip Hero. Some of these are for fairly small prizes, like a $100 gift card, while others are for really big items, like a car, a cruise, or a big lump sum in cash. As I looked through these, I reflected, as I do every week, that most of them really didn't interest me, but what struck me this time was that the ones that did appeal to me were all the smaller prizes. Winning a $50 Barnes & Noble gift card, for instance, would actually make me a lot happier than winning $10,000 in cash. This may not seem to make much sense, because with $10,000 you could buy the equivalent of 200 gift cards. But the thing is, if I won $10,000, that isn't what I'd do with it. If I suddenly had an extra $10,000 in the bank, it would merely be an extra $10,000 in the bank—nice to have, but not really exciting. But a $50 Barnes & Noble gift card would be $50 that could only be spent at Barnes & Noble. I wouldn't have the option of putting it sensibly away in the bank; I would have to spend it frivolously, on the sorts of things they sell at Barnes & Noble—books, games, music. In other words, the $50 prize would be $50 worth of fun money, as opposed to $10,000 worth of useful money. And fun money is, well, more fun.
Intellectually, of course, I know that if I won a larger prize, there would be no reason not to take $50 of the money and spend it on something frivolous. Skimming $50 off the top of a $10,000 prize would still leave plenty of money to set aside for a rainy day, or pay down the mortgage, or whatever. But I know I can't be trusted to do it. I might tell myself I was going to spend the money, or some portion of it, on something fun, but when it came time to withdraw the mad money from the account, I'd just think, "Well, there's really nothing I need at Barnes & Noble," and I wouldn't bother to do it. The advantage of the gift card is that it forces me to spend frivolously, when my own conscience won't do it.
How pathetic is it that I have to trick myself into listening to my id instead of my superego?