Exploit Sunk Costs

A while back, I bought a one-month Kindle Unlimited subscription for $9.99. You probably know the deal: through Kindle Unlimited, you can read as many Kindle e-books as you want for just that one $9.99 payment, but only certain books participate in this program, so you don’t exactly gain access to all of the latest and greatest best-sellers.

Once I paid my $9.99, I was highly motivated to start reading. Within two weeks, though, I had blasted through about two dozen ebooks about everything from teaching to mathematics to marketing. By now, I was realizing that the selection of ebooks participating in Kindle Unlimited was fairly weak. I had already read most of what had caught my eye.

But I was committed. I had paid the $9.99, and by golly, I was going to make the most of it.

By the end of week 3, I was reading material of incredibly iffy quality. Finally it hit me: I was wasting my time. My sunk costs of just $9.99 were driving me to read books I would never otherwise give a second glance. To not read for even one day felt like throwing away 33 cents, and it was causing me to waste time worth far more than that.

We all know what they say: Ignore sunk costs. The $9.99 had already been spent, and as a result, it should no longer influence my decision-making process. If a book wasn’t worth reading, the optimal thing for me to do was to not read it. So I stopped. By the final week of my Kindle Unlimited subscription, I even went ahead and paid for a better book that I actually did want to read. I finally managed to ignore sunk costs.

Knowing how difficult it is to ignore sunk costs (even for just 33 cents per day), we can actually use sunk costs to our advantage. Want to get in shape, but can’t find the motivation to work out regularly? Buy a one-month membership to a local gym. Now you’ll be compelled to go just to avoid wasting money. Want to guarantee that you’ll lose weight? Place a bet on it and your chances of success will soar.

Ignore sunk costs is good advice, but here at The Data-Driven Life, we advise you to take it one step further: Exploit sunk costs.