Sensationalizing Risk

Modern media has a way of sensationalizing things, if you haven’t noticed.  This is probably because it works, it’s good for views, which is good for advertising dollars.

Combine that with the phenomenon of things going viral on social media, and you have our current media landscape.  A messy and distracting soup of clickbait, nonsense, cute cat videos, with some actual real substantive things mixed in.  You of course are left to your own vices to find substance.  But hey, at least the cat videos are good.

One of the most sensationalized topics of all is child safety.

 

*News-flash: There are things out there that can injure or even kill your children, and dammit, you need to know about all of those things.

As if knowing about them will magically prevent them and assure your child makes it to adulthood with nary a scratch or scar.  Sure, in some cases knowledge can perhaps prevent injury or even death, but don’t fool yourself into thinking you can eliminate risk from your child’s life.  If you want to put your kid in a bubble, go at it.  I can guarantee though he/she won’t be fun at parties later in life….

Anyhoo, two weeks ago the news surfaced that mini blinds, of all things, have injured and even killed children.  Of course so have stairs, dogs, trees, lawn darts, and amusement park rides.  And don’t forget water.  But because a good viral click-bait story was apparently needed on that particular day, some genius decided to implant terror in the minds of decent mini blind owning parents across the world by publishing these numbers.

Between 1990 and 2015, nearly 17,000 kids younger than 6 were injured from mini blinds, and 271 died.

It worked.  It immediately trended to the top of Facebook and Twitter.  And like famished sharks discovering a whale carcass, major TV news outlets then swarmed on it.  They no doubt felt self congratulatory – not because they had silly notions of helping anyone, but because they knew they just boosted ratings.

Here’s the deal – 17,053 children under 6 years old died in car crashes during that same period!!  Car crashes are the leading cause of death in children!

When’s the last time that story went viral?

 

So, for kids under six years old, there were 271 deaths from mini blinds, and 17053 from car crashes from 1990-2015.  Hmmm…..I was always good at math, but even if I wasn’t this seems to reveal crucial information about relative risk between the two….

 

blinds

Stealth Evil Doer

I can comically see a frantic, mini blind owning but otherwise peace-loving parent, after seeing the viral sensationalism of the day,  taking down said mini blinds and driving them back to the store with kid in tow to exchange.  Of course not realizing that they and their kid are far more likely to get seriously hurt or die during the drive than they are by the newly ostracized, evil doer blinds.

Now before anyone accuses me of being a heartless inconsiderate jerk, in no way am I diminishing the deaths of 271 kids over a 26 year period.  Those are real families that lost kids and that’s tragic.  I’m simply stating facts that there are far more serious day to day threats to children that, for various reasons, get ignored.

I guess they don’t make good click-bait.

 

 

To Get To Financial Independence, You Need To Examine Your Risks Honestly and Objectively

What are the perceived risks that can hijack your journey to FI?  Are they the real risks to worry about?  How do you know?

Sure, the stock market can and likely will correct, probably in a big way.  You can’t of course predict when, but you can diversify your investments better to mitigate some of that real risk.

But it’s easy to get blindsided by perceived risks that are far less likely than real ones….  Let’s take the 2008 recession as an example.  As the market kept plummeting and things kept looking worse, the perception was that there was no end.  Most thought it would keep going and accordingly pulled money out of stocks.

Well, the risk of that endless plummet was not real, it couldn’t have been (unless you believed in the end of America and capitalism in general, which at the time you may well have).

But the perceived risk made people behave in a way that they took real risks.  What were the real risks they took?  They missed out on all or part of the huge boom in stocks that took place in the years after the recession.

 

Immediate Threat Or Long-Term Threat?

Most people seem to focus on the possible short-term threats to their financial security, and ignore the longer term ones.

Moobs

A lot of my buddies work for the federal government, and for whatever reason they’re often worried about losing their jobs. First off, you have to try very hard to get fired from a federal job, it’s well documented.  And secondly, federal government layoffs are pretty rare, and frankly not worth worrying about.  It’s a very minor risk.

What’s their real risk?  Most of them don’t have enough savings and don’t even have emergency funds!!  I know because they told me.  Yet they’re worried about being laid off from a government job….

Maybe your real risks are in figuring out how you’re going to pay for care for an elderly parent (my situation actually).  Or maybe you have a 2 year old and your real risk is to pay for college 16 years down the road.  But don’t let the near-term risk of a stock market downturn (again, which is increasingly likely) divert your attention from those real risks.

As stated before, sure, you need to prepare and position yourself for that market downturn with a low cost and well diversified portfolio.  There are plenty of posts from personal finance bloggers that go in great detail on how to do this.  But don’t let that near-term risk blindside you (pun intended) to bigger risks down the road.

In sum, there are indeed tons of risks in life.  To stay on track financially you should assess the likelihood of a particular risk as compared to others – especially with the timelines involved, and act accordingly.  I’m no guru but I’m pretty sure that approach works for lots of things in life.

Your turn – What are some real and perceived risks in your financial life?  Chime in below!

 

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25 Responses

  1. Right now my main one is my old cat. His “elderly-ness” costs me so much each month, and that’s just standard care, let alone any medical emergencies he might have. I LOVE my cat to death but when he passes on, my monthly budget will breathe a sigh of relief. Is that terrible to say? I really do love him. lol!

    • Accidental Fire says:

      No that’s not terrible. A friend of mine has a cat with cancer, and the bills are unbelievable. He and his wife are considering putting her down, but she’s still not too bad off yet. He knows I’m into finances and he asked me for book recommendations this weekend as his money situation has taken quite a hit.

      Good luck with yours and thanks for the comment!

      • I’m right there with you on the very expensive vet bills. Our dog is only 7 though, so I’m crossing my fingers we have a good bit of time with her yet. Double crossing my fingers that beyond the $150/mo medications we’re done with the vet bills in the thousands. We have slowly worked our way down from 8 pets to 4 and honestly it has been a relief.

  2. This is such a good post. Fear, not common sense is driving our conversations these day. In a similar vein, there is a complete uproar over opioids and the deaths they cause in the US. I’m not saying opioids aren’t a problem, but they were responsible for around 65,000 deaths last year (a terrible figure indeed). However, cigarettes were responsible for the death of 480,000 PEOPLE LAST YEAR!? Yet you can buy cigarettes anywhere and no one seems to be talking about this tragedy anymore. I guess death by cigarettes isn’t sensational enough for the press…

    • Accidental Fire says:

      Yep it seems whenever you bring up something that causes more deaths people think you’re discounting the lesser threat. The opioid situation is bad for sure, but as you say deaths from smoking are far worse and are so hard to even fully track that they might be understated. Same with obesity. More than 33% of adults are obese, and the medical community still does not fully understand all the nefarious ways that being obese shortens your life. Diabetes is the easy face of it but it’s far far more sinister than that.

      Thanks for the compliment and for stopping by!

  3. Kate says:

    I work for a public job, and there is real risk in losing the job due to budget cuts (among other events). I have lost a job in my career thrice over now due to no fault of my own and that of markets/budgets despite walking out the door with huge praises. My husband has as well. It is a real thing for public employees, and one in which I think higher ups pray on that fear sometimes more than we think.
    Instead of that worry hanging over my head, I chose to put more into saving for that rainy day, plus lowering expenses, and we can survive on one salary now. So, while I do think you may be mistaken on your friend’s fears, I do agree that they shouldn’t sit on that worry but instead do something to hedge their bets.
    Great blog, I’m enjoying it!

    • Accidental Fire says:

      You make a great point Kate – I should have specified that most of my friends are in the Dept. of Defense which is way less likely to experience any kind of layoff. I realize that some non-DoD federal jobs are coming under scrutiny in this administration. And of course other public sector such as State and Municipal jobs are probably all over the map.

      So yeah, didn’t mean to brush that off and sorry to hear about your current and past situations with losing jobs. Sounds like you are taking a very wise approach though by preparing yourself in case it happens again. The power of having money stashed away is an amazing thing!

      Thanks so much for the kinds words and for your thoughtful comment!

  4. Busy Mom says:

    I agree with everything you said. I just read an article that said that collecting social security at 62 could cause mortality, or something to that effect. It linked to a paper, but I had to pay $5 to get it, and so I didn’t.

    Half the time, articles don’t distinguish between cause and effect, or whether it could be by chance. And by the time it gets to the layman, it is so sensationalized that they make decisions based on that.

    • Accidental Fire says:

      Wow, most clickbait is at least free, you found folks who are charging for it…

      You’re absolutely right, the media landscape is a million miles wide and a millimeter deep. It’s 5 word headlines that, intentionally or not, mislead people. Unfortunately we’ve got to play investigator to get complete information. But hey, in the grand scheme of things we can do that in our pj’s with a small tablet that weighs 14 ounces, so that part is kinda cool 🙂

  5. MrWow says:

    It’s your basic can’t see the forest through the trees type thing.

    We know folks that whine and cry about not having money, but can’t seem to figure out how to make dinner for themselves, or understand that you old shoes work just fine.

    I don’t get it. It’s silly.

    I remember when I went sky diving. The guy strapped to my back says, “You are the most calm first time sky diver I’ve ever met” to which I replied, “How many times have you done this today?” “4” Ha. He’s done it 4 times earlier today, and I’m supposed to be worried?

    People don’t understand math and probability. It’s amazing. Ahh. What can you do?

    • Accidental Fire says:

      Reminds me of that Simpson’s episode with Malibu Stacy “Math is so hard!”.

      Love the story about skydiving, That’s my approach to things, be very pragmatic. I mean, sure sometimes people get killed skydiving, but overall it’s not that dangerous, Same as rock climbing and mountaineering which are passions of mine. As long as you’re prepared and informed about what you’re getting into, they’re probably not as dangerous as being in a car on American roads where 40,000 people get killed each year.

      Thanks for the comment!

  6. Joe says:

    Well, the mini blinds aren’t great. Parents just need to be aware and keep those chords out of reach. It’s not new news, right? I’ve heard of this issue long ago.
    Financial risks are tough too. It’s just easier to focus on the short term and ignore the long term ones. Most people would rather deal with issues 10 years down the road. By that time, it might be too late, though.
    We have some of the same worries too. Parents aren’t well off. We’ll just have to save and help them when they need it. College savings is another problem. We’re saving and investing so it will be easier for our kid. Who knows how much college would cost in 11 years.

    • Accidental Fire says:

      Scary point on what college will cost in 11 years. I’m guessing it can’t possibly keep going up as fast as it has in comparison to inflation and median wages. If it does, in 11 years you’ll be looking at $90,000 tuition for some schools. Something has to give.

      And yes, most folks do just look short term, It’s hard to convince a 24 year old who’s just starting out in the working world to put hard-earned money away to their 401k for retirement. “Retirement?”…. that’s for old people!

      Thanks for the comment Joe!

  7. Susan says:

    I like to say “Don’t avoid risk, it’s too risky!”. I think missed opportunity is the biggest risk. Your article here is so important. And the opposite is also true — some people, like government workers, think they are so secure, and may fail to prepare by saving and investing, or keeping their skills sharp.

    In general, the fear that is out there keeps a lot of people from doing many of the best things in life. Like backpacking, for instance. Or quitting your job!

    • Accidental Fire says:

      Avoiding risk is indeed risky! And you make a great point about being complacent and not continuing professional development. That is another form of slow and long-term risky behavior.

      Thanks for the great comment and for subscribing!

  8. Mr. Groovy says:

    Great post, AF. Had to laugh about your buddies who work for the fed. I worked for a municipality on Long Island for 21 years, and that fear of being fired that you described affected my co-workers as well. It was almost impossible to get fired from my municipality. I had co-workers who failed drug tests, disappeared for the afternoon to see a movie, and even visited houses of ill repute while on the clock, and none of them got fired. And, yet, I never saw a more timid and risk-adverse bunch than my co-workers. No one ever wanted to make a decision, take responsibility for something, or sign anything. And it was all because they were afraid of getting “fired.” Thanks again for this sobering look at risk, my friend. Cheers.

    • Accidental Fire says:

      Wow. That’s unbelievable about your old coworkers, but I’ve heard similar stories. My buddy sometimes says “I could set the place on fire and not get fired”. Sad.

      Merry Christmas dude, and thanks for helping me get started with this blog!

  9. Risk aversion is tricky. It can keep you from generating the wealth you need to retire early, if ratcheted up too high, or, it can save you from non-sense like BitCoin. Finding that balance is the key. Real estate for example, can be risky. So can stocks or other securities. Take the risk factor out by doing your homework and diversifying. And when it comes to mini-blinds, just take those ugly things down and put up curtains!!!

    • Accidental Fire says:

      Yes, it’s about balance like most things in life. I’m a lazy investor, so index funds all the way, but I still have to decide between stocks and bonds as far as risk.

      But can’t kids get suffocated by curtains if they fall down!!!! That might be on the local news one night 🙂

      Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

  10. frugalmoneyman says:

    Terrific Post!

    One of the craziest things I see, in terms of your post, happens around this time of year. The average person rushes towards their favorite stores/Amazon on Black Friday & Cyber Monday because they are having 25-50% off deals. The excitement that strikes our consumer side during these sales is euphoric. On the flip side though, if the market corrects or turns into a bear market and their favorite companies are on sale for those exact same discounts, we put on our tin foil hats and hide in our basements.

    Risk in the market will always be there, but consistent investing in the market will ALWAYS lead you ahead in the long-term.

    Great post and Happy Holidays!

    • Accidental Fire says:

      Exactly man!! It is a strange dichotomy how people see those two things differently. When the best companies in the world are on sale it’s crickets, but oh lordy that sweater that will be out of fashion in 3 years is the best deal running at 30% off!

      Thanks for the compliment and Happy Holidays to you!

  11. nice and so useful info.
    thank you to the writer for sharing..

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