Beware The Four Horsemen of Personal Finance


Reverend Len from the First United Church of Our Lady of Blessed Household Finances is back in his pulpit and I know you all know what that means…

Yep. It’s time for another homily for my small but faithful congregation!

I’ve already showed you how faithfully following my ten commandments of personal finance will guarantee you financial freedom.

Can I get an Amen, people!?

I’ve also explained the evils of the seven deadly sins of personal finance and how they can quickly lead you astray.

Now let me hear a Hallelujah, brothers and sisters!

This week I’d like to talk to you about the righteousness of sticking to your budget and the biggest obstacles to that pious goal.

Many of you in my congregation that still find yourselves living from paycheck to paycheck may be surprised to learn that the source of your money strife might be directly traced to the Four Horsemen of Personal Finance.

These riders of pecuniary doom are closely related to the four horsemen found in the Book of Revelation that unleash pestilence, war, famine and death.

Ironically, although most people avoid the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse like the, um, plague, many people happily invite the Four Horsemen of Personal Finance into their lives with open arms.

But be wary, my brothers and sisters! For the Four Horsemen of Personal Finance can unleash Armageddon on the household budget, thereby impairing one’s ability to save any appreciable amount of money for the future. And we all know that without a healthy nest egg, your future flexibility and lifestyle choices will be greatly diminished.

Can I have another Hallelujah!

Beware the Four Horsemen of Personal Finance and the misery they can bring to your budget:

The White Horse: Cigarettes

Why the White Horse? Well, cigarettes are white, aren’t they?

Nothing good ever comes from these things. They are ridiculously expensive and the impact on your budget is directly proportional to your level of addiction. Not only that, they are bad for your health — they don’t call them cancer sticks for nothing, people.

The Red Horse: Lottery Tickets

Why the Red Horse? That’s the ink color your accountant will most likely be using if you have an addiction to playing the lottery.

Talk about a sucker’s bet. The odds of winning any significant amount of money playing the lottery are astronomical. You have much better odds of being struck by lightning than winning the jackpot. Even so, I know people who play the lottery every single day. The reality is they’d be much better off investing that money instead. Over a ten year period, somebody who put $25 per week into a savings account with a modest 4.5% interest rate compounded monthly would have $16,417. Meanwhile, a person who spends $25 per week on lottery tickets has to win $13,000 over that same period just to break even. That, my friends, is why they call lotteries a tax on the stupid.

The Black Horse: Alcohol

Why the Black Horse? Jack Daniels didn’t choose a black label because it was fashionable.

Those of you going out for cocktails once or twice per week know how expensive mixed drinks are. And if you’re buying beer or wine, those aren’t much cheaper. If you’re lucky you’re like me and get a good buzz after a couple drinks. If you’re a more, um, hearty drinker like my friend The Fresh One, well, I hope you have a couple of Benjamins in your wallet to get you through the weekend. For a lot of people, soft drinks aren’t as socially liberating but at least they’re three to five times less expensive – and refills are often free.

The Pale Horse: Dining Out

Why the Pale Horse? Next time you eat a plate of bad clams, look in the mirror.

I’ve already shown in another post how, on a per meal basis, dining out is horrendously expensive when compared to eating home-cooked meals. In fact, my previous research showed that it is five times more expensive! So why would anybody on a tight budget choose to eat at restaurants more than once or twice a month? (But when you do, don’t forget to search restaurants for the best deals, making sure to choose appropriate times — like early bird specials — for ensuring the smallest hit to your budget!)

And with that, brothers and sisters, my homily is over. Now go out, slay those Four Horsemen of Personal Finance, and always remember to keep thy budget holy.



  1. 1

    Scooter says

    Great post! Absolutely need to get a handle on that black horse. Definitely the cause of a lot of wasted income.

    • 2


      @Steven and Debra: Thanks! But I have to say, you two really know how to take the romanticism out of escapism. LOL (Great point though!)
      @Scooter: I know I literally pissed away a lot of money in my twenties riding that black horse. Glad you enjoyed the post.

  2. 3


    nice conception of horses , but u really cant control yourself when you are out, especially the pale horse and white horse , nice good euphemism

  3. 6


    Great post! Sometimes we don’t realize just how expensive our habits can be. I like to dine out, though. It’s my secret sin. But we go to lunch instead of dinner, and that is much less expensive.

  4. 7


    Len, I almost tuned out when you told me that I should brace myself for another homily. An older women once whispered to me as the rabbi carried on and on, “You give a rabbi a microphone and he doesn’t shut up.” I am sure reverends and priests operate the same way.

    I am glad that I stuck it out. All four dark horseman can be pretty pricey. I don’t drink mixed drinks that often and not that much beer or wine, either, because the high prices irk the living you know what out of me. For the price of one pint that I drink in 30 minutes, I can often buy a six-pack which lasts me at least a week.

  5. 9


    At the risk of being overly obsequious; this post was sooo enjoyable to read. I love the analogy and the picture!!! Of course, I agree. My last cigarette was when I was 18 (about 100 years ago), I have NEVER bought a lottery ticket, eating out (well, 1 vice out of 4 isn’t too bad- but we don’t over do it!).AND here is my 2 cents worth about drinking; 1-2 times/year out, or when someone else is buying…. got a bunch of free licquor from my father in law, buy cheap wine & mix it with generic fruit water (tastes pretty good). And don’t drink too often!

    • 10


      @Miranda: We like to dine out too. Everything in moderation though! When we were first starting out we’d go out to a restaurant for dinner something like once every other month. Now that our budget is not so constrained, we tend to eat dinner out at restaurants one to two times per month.
      @Ctreit: I’m glad you stuck it out too. The last thing I want to do is bore my readers! I drink about a six-pack of beer per month. The Honeybee, well, she loves her Jack & Diet Cokes – but lucky for us Rite Aid drugs (of all places) has some really good prices on Jack Daniels!
      @20s: I think the pale horse affects more people than any other.
      @Barb: What’s wrong with being obsequious? Who doesn’t love the Giant Sequious-es! 😉 Anyway, it sounds like you”ve got those horsemen under control. Re: your cheap wine & generic fruit water recipe… sorry but I’ll have to pass on that one. I’m not a wine connoisseur by any means, Barb, but that is getting just a bit too close to Pruno for my tastes. LOL

  6. 11


    I wish my husband would listen to you about the Lotto Tickets. Drives me bonkers that he buys a California combo every week.

    And dining out is a very, very expensive one. Its good to keep track of how often one eats out. I found out in my past, my family was spending $1200 for food (eating out and grocery shopping combined). A family of four does not need to use this much money to eat deliciously.

    • 12


      Ouch! Yeah, that CA combo – that’s $10 per week, isn’t it? You should record money spent vs. money returned and keep your hubby up to date on the returns!! While I think everybody should try and get out to eat once in a while, you are so right. We cook great meals at home on a daily basis – planned a couple weeks in advance, of course! – for a fraction of what it costs to eat out.

  7. 13


    The way we solved our dining out issue was to learn to cook great pasta from Jamie Oliver’s cookbooks. Also learn to make great salads with simple extra virgin olive oil + balsamic vinegrette dressing…Once we learned how to whip up something fast, there is less temptation to go out on a whim. Plus it becomes painful to order the usual spaghetti dish and salad when you know you can make on quickly and for much cheaper and actually taste good.

    But once in a while, a good steak would not hurt I guess!

    • 14


      The Honeybee and I use olive oil and red wine vinegar as a salad dressing quite often. When we go to Italian joints, I always make sure I get something a bit more complex than simple spaghetti. I love it when I can find a good chicken scalopini, for example. Or home made ravioli. By the way, isn’t Jamie Oliver the guy who cooks in the nude, Mr. CC? (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

  8. 15


    As usual, you made my day. Although I am not getting trampled on by any of the four-horsemen, I definitely know some friends who are. In lieu of those four horsemen riding around unbridled, my recommendation to my friends would be: Donate the proceeds to me as a goodwill offering so that I can immediately become debt free! Can I get an Amen and a Hallelujah on that!

  9. 19

    McClure says

    I can’t tell when this article was written, but please tell me where you can find a savings account with 4% interest? From what I’ve seen, you’re lucky to get 1% these days. (which almost makes the lottery more viable!)

  10. 20

    OnlineSunshine says

    Cigarettes-don’t smoke
    Lottery-don’t play
    Alcohol-I buy hard alcohol in California (half the price of my state) and drink at home so it’smuch cheaper
    Dining out-I’ve learned to make restaurant copycat recipes at home so after I’ve had it once out, I can make it cheaper and home and enjoy the fact that mine is healthier and cheaper.

  11. 21

    kevin says

    I smoke. Pack a day. Have done so since I was in 7th grade. (54 yrs old now)
    I’m resigned to the fact that this will be the death of me.
    I drink. (4 or 5) 12 OZ Heineken’s a night. Help’s me relax. I Love beer!!!
    Don’t gamble anymore. But I used to. I once added up my losses from the casions in Atlantic city. Lost 10% of my take home pay that year. That was the end of that.
    Eat out maybe once a week. Get take-out.
    Oh well, let’s not forget that I curse like a sailor on leave, spit and fart in public too. What the heck….

  12. 25

    Mindimoo says

    Lotteries are a strange thing. It’s sad that people pin their hopes on them so much. I figure my very occasional $1-2 spent on a ticket (i.e. when I’m feeling lucky) is all I need. Hey, if I’m meant to win I’ll win with my measly $1 ticket – I don’t have to go spending hundreds every year/week/day – doesn’t increase your chanced by much at all.

    • 26

      Len Penzo says

      With the exception of smoking, I partake in the others to some degree too (with the lottery being the rarest for me). As you know, Mindimoo, the secret is doing these things in moderation. The trouble is, all four of these vices can become addicting — which makes it a lot harder to control costs.

  13. 27

    Ben says

    I have to admit, my wife and I do not smoke, drink, buy lottery tickets, nor do we dine out. My wife is a wonderful cook and she loves to cook. We eat at home all the time. A few years ago, I was asked by a lottery corporation to do some statistical calculations on the odds of this new lottery they were planning to sell and the odds are horrible. I never understood why people play lotteries.

    • 28

      Len Penzo says

      Wow. How do you do it, Ben? :-)

      I don’t think I could get by without at least a little drinking and gambling. Or, especially, eating out at a restaurant a couple times per month!

  14. 29

    Lisa P says

    The Pale Horse is trampling me to an early death, I’m sure! Would you be so kind as to provide a link to the earlier article you reference re: dining out, please?

  15. 31

    Melissa says

    I try not to suffer from any of these, but sadly I am someone who indulges in these vices. However, I go out to eat maybe once a week – not too bad. The smoking and drinking are tougher though – I’m a server and that’s the way most of us deal with our stress: by having some drinks after work and relaxing with a cigarette. I have cut my drinking back though (yay me) to about 2 each time I go out which is a big decrease from how many I used to consume. Although my consumption of these things is not nearly as bad as my significant other’s. He works in a bar and will stay after his shift to have some drinks which leads to smoking. And he enjoys dining out too (which I guess can be good for me because it means I don’t have to pay for it – hehe). Playing the lottery isn’t something I tend to indulge in very often (the jackpot has to be pretty high for me to even consider buying a ticket). Casino? We go usually three or four times a year – I bring my little bit of money with me and once I either win it back, make a decent increase in a short time, or lose it all, I stop. These four horsemen are pretty tough to get away from. I’m doing pretty good at staying away from two of them, but the White and Black Horsemen somehow seem to rope me back in just when I think I’m about to escape!

  16. 33

    Chef Lynnie says

    Hi Len,

    Great writing – I am new to your site but know that I need it! I am earning a decent salary relative to most of the country except I am living in the San Francisco Bay area – moved here for my career…oh well, live and learn!

    Having said that, with your sage wisdom, advice, and humor, I know I can beat the financial pitfalls of life in Silicon Valley!…

    Thanks for the great messages…I will keep reading:)

    Chef Lynnie

  17. 35

    Sue G says

    There is only one thing in my life I regret: starting smoking 45 yrs ago.
    This filthy habit now costs $15 per day. Yes, that is more than $5000 per year! Not to mention the damage to our health and our home. I’ve tried at minimum of 20 times to quit.

    When I see a teen smoking I want to go slap that cig right out of his/her mouth or hand and tell them STOP! It will ruin you financially.

  18. 36

    Fencedin says

    I avoid all the Horsemen as a habit (don’t drink, smoke, or go out to dine except on special occasions), but I don’t see any problem with buying the occasional lottery ticket. By that I mean perhaps one $1 ticket once in a while. I know I have a better chance of being struck by lightning, but you can’t win if you don’t buy a ticket–and plenty of people have won! I would never be a regular buyer of multiple tickets–that is truly throwing money away.


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