sunk costs and the act of letting go

October 17th, 2008

Sunk Costs and The Act Of Letting Go

A number of years ago, at least 6, maybe more, I bought myself a bottle of really decadent (for me) body lotion at Bath and Body Works.  This was smack dab in the middle of my “If it is on sale it must be a good deal” phase of life, when I would buy things simply because they were on sale and I wanted them.  Never mind the actual cost or if it was a reasonable cost compared to similar items elsewhere, or if I even needed it.

(This is the frame of mind I work to vigilantly avoid in my new stocking up and couponing phase, hence the spreadsheets and calculations of unit price costs.)

Anyhow, this body lotion was called “Pure Silk” and it has a price tag on it of $17.50 for a 6.5 ounce bottle.  It’s a pretty bottle, but still.   I know I didn’t pay $17.50 for it, because I never paid full price for anything there (does anyone?), but I am sure it wasn’t cheap.  The problem is, I never even liked the stuff.  I liked it in the store, but when I got it home and used it on my legs it seriously seemed to leave a film behind on them I could almost peel off.  It was icky, and I didn’t like it.

But it was expensive, and I convinced myself I would learn to like it because I had spent so much money on it.

Looking back, I am sure I could have brought it back to the store and exchanged it for something else.  But I either didn’t realize that at the time, or I for some reason didn’t want to.  And I’ve kept this lotion for years now, every so often pulling it out and using it, thinking I would like it better.  And the same thing happens, I hate it, and I put it away.  Because I spent so much for it in the first place, in my head I had convinced myself that I needed to use it.

No more.  The lotion is a sunk cost, meaning I will never recoup what I spent for it no matter how much I use it or don’t use it.  Once I bought it, that was it, the money was spent.  And I am finally okay with that.  At the time I might have been able to recover my losses by returning it, but that is water under the bridge and it isn’t even made any more.  So instead of keeping it, adding to my endless clutter and forcing myself to use it every so often to justify buying it in the first place, I am finally done with hanging on to the lotion.  I took it out last night, and I threw it away.  I don’t like it, I don’t want it, I have more lotion anyway than I can use in a lifetime, and I don’t need it.  Out it goes.

What sunk cost in your own life are you holding on to that maybe you should let go of?

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25 Responses to “Sunk Costs and The Act Of Letting Go”

  1. Its so funny how we have to give ourselves permission to throw away our garbage! I wrote about that once on my blog too. I said that after moving 4 times in 4 years I’ve learned finally that it is ok to throw trash out! good for you gal you’re on your way!

  2. This is an easy one for me. My burberry bag that sits in my closet every spring and summer. I bought it in my mid 20′s as a sign of ‘I have arrived’ but it wasn’t the exact one I wanted…..and then I moved to England where the novacheck is referred to as ‘chav’ so I never used it. Fast forward to’s been used twice in 6 years and since it wasn’t the bag I **really** wanted…I don’t feel inclined to use it!

    It needs to go!

  3. Last winter, during one of our few cold spells, I bought a heavy ski jacket that I really couldn’t afford, at Sports Authority. It kept me warm, but fit badly and was very uncomfortable. This summer, at the 1/2 price sale at a local thrift store, I found a beautiful down alternative jacket that fit and is so comfortable, for $4.00! So, My expensive ski jacket will be donated to Coats for Kids and I’ll enjoy my “new” thrift store jacket.

    Live and learn, always!

  4. If I threw out all of the things I bought on “sale” that I didn’t need, I’d potentially never be clothed again!

    I have several pairs of shoes that are like that. One pair in particular are some Skechers that had the heel crack after 3 months. I couldn’t get Skechers to send me a new or replacement pair, so I’m stuck with them. And since it snows a lot where I live, they get used in warm months only.

    They need to go!

  5. Good point, I’m quite good about letting go of mistake purchases but there are some that hang around and haunt me- tonight I will finally get rid of the strappy heeled shoes I bought for my salsa class. I never wear heels in real life and I’m not sure I could do half my steps in them.
    Time to accept that I will remain the only girl in flat shoes and add them to my charity pile.

  6. I can totally relate to where you are coming from. I hate throwing anything away that still has some life left in it. I had a tube of toothpaste that I was a little allergic to, it was a new brand for me and something in it burned the tip of my tongue. I didn’t want to just throw away a tube of toothpaste so I started alternating it with another brand that didn’t bother me. Finally, last week, after 2/3rds was used up, I realized how stupid I was being and thru it out. The tip of my tongue was grateful;)

  7. I finally am getting past that problem, but it has taken a LOT of years….
    I have talked myself into the ‘good side’ of taking things to one of the 3 charity operated thrift stores in our little town. It has helped a lot, but the down side of taking things to the thrift stores is that I usually also buy something while I am there :( haha!

  8. I have a DKNY pink dress coat that I bought during my shopaholic days. Let’s just say the coat cost more than my monthly rent back then. The coat is fun, but it pills all the time. I keep telling myself to make it last for one more season, but this may be the year I let myself dump it! Good post!

  9. That’s what we use our annual Yard Sale for…. unfortunately there’s always some perfectly good “free” items. It IS an interesting study in human nature to watch and see who will take these things ;-)

  10. Food…I buy it thinking I will make this really cool and interesting recipe and then it sits in the pantry or the refridgerator. I do that alot! But now that I am making a weekly menu. I am getting out of that habit, because the meals are already planned!

    Good Post!

  11. Good post! I’m going to throw away that sunscreen I got for free (FREE!) that gives me hives. (Yes, I keep thinking I’ll find a use for it.)

  12. My sunk cost is my Turbojam DVDs. I was feeling fat and saw this exercise/dance program on TV. I thought it was perfect. In a moment of weakness (and fatness), I ordered the DVDs. I used it maybe 2-3 times but that’s it. It’s just not for me. I think it’s time to list it on eBay or Craigslist.

  13. After reading this, I’ve decided to throw out my shampoo. I’m not brand-loyal and generally speaking, I don’t notice any difference, but this one – supposedly a “volumizer” – left my hair feeling lank and looking dirty within 12 hours. So tomorrow I’m hitting the weekly sales at Rite Aid with my coupons and will use the bad shampoo as shower gel til it’s done. Why didn’t I think of this before I read your post…ugh.

  14. RY, New York, NY Says:

    October 18th, 2008 at 5:40 pm

    La Perla that I will never squeeze myself into-brand new with tags -must be over 10 years ago that I bought that, but I keep on telling myself that this sunk cost is one day going to be passed onto my daughter who might actually get some wear out of it. So not entirely lost money yet

  15. Hmm something seems to be amiss here. When you bought the body lotion, it is supposed to replace the regular one that you use. By throwing it out, you will be buying another lotion, which even if cheaper is still an additional expense.

  16. @ Jan – I’m not buying any additional lotion. I have other lotions. The point isn’t the cost of the lotion, it is that I am keeping something just because it cost money when in fact I will never use it. If it was donate-able I would donate it.

  17. This is an oldie but a goodie.

    CVS had a wrapped pack of shampoo and conditioner for 78 cents! What a bargain. I basically paid 78 cents for water! My hair was so oily even with a daily washing (I do this w/Sauve all the time for a $1 a bottle w/no oil). Even so I REFUSED to throw the bottles away until they were GONE…and considering its just hubby and I that took a LONG time.

    Well after we were able to buy and use new I had a co-worker say to me “Your hair looks different…did you cut it?” I said “NO” She says “oh well maybe its because its clean”


  18. We never want to admit that we have made a mistake or stupid decision, and I can relate to hanging on to things just to protect myself from the reality that I made a poor purchase. I can totally relate to you, Susan, with the shampoo… I’ve done things like that too. And I am still holding on my to a couple pairs of my “skinny jeans”. They are just so beautiful, they were expensive, and I hardly got to wear them. I know that I’ll never fit into them again, but I can’t bring myself to get rid!

  19. Oh yes, and then there are the sexy dresses that are too tight and I feel too self-conscious to wear… including a $200 one from Guess? that I wore out one night very briefly. I think I need to let go.

  20. PS Gail Vaz-Oxlade had a similar article on her blog today – don’t know if you all say it – called “Regrets”. You might want to read it. :)

  21. I remember that Pure Silk crap. My sister-in-law gave it to me for a graduation gift and said she went through the stuff like water, but I hated it. You’re right about the filmy feeling. I kept it for over two years though “because it was a gift.” Thank God I let it go…


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