The Penner Awards: The 10 Craziest Money Blunders of 2010

As 2010 comes to a close, I think it is only appropriate that I share my picks for the ten dumbest money stories of the past year, highlighting some of the most dumbfounding displays of numismatical naivete and financial ineptitude known to man.

That’s right, folks.   Welcome to the inaugural edition of the Penner awards!   Ba-da-bing!

Now I know what you’re thinking: Hey, Len, so why on earth should you be the one to give out such a prestigious award?

Well, as I see it, I have two very good reasons: 1) I’ve made plenty of stupid money mistakes myself over the years; and 2) It’s that barren no-man’s land between Christmas and New Year’s Day where precious readers are few and far between, and so I’m really desperate for any angle right now that might bring in an extra pair of eyeballs or two.   (So please tell your friends all about this piece, would ya?)

Now let’s give out some Penners!

1. The Bucket List Blunder

Recipient: Dave Ismay
Background: The 64-year-old comedian wasn’t amused after being told by his doctor that he had an incurable liver disease and only three months to live. Undaunted, he prepared a bucket list and was well on the way to spending his life savings — including a $40,500 Mercedes — when 10 weeks later he got the news that the original terminal diagnosis was in error and that his condition was treatable.   Oops.
The Moral of the Story: Always be sure to get a second opinion before spending your life savings.

2. The Curse of the Cursed Money Curse (or Something Like That)

Recipients: Laura Santini, Rose Santini, an unnamed woman from Park Ridge, Illinois, and an unnamed couple from South Holland, Illinois
Background: A mother-and-daughter fortune telling team were arrested after allegedly convincing two, well, to be kind let’s just say “unwitting,” parties to turn over a combined total of more than $100,000 because their money was supposedly cursed.   The fortune tellers promised that they would “cleanse” the money and then return it.   Instead, they allegedly absconded with the cash and took off to Scottsdale, Arizona.   Imagine that.
The Moral of the Story: P.T. Barnum was right.

3. The $10 Million Dollar Man (Not)

Recipient: Nick Martin
Background: Man inherits $10 million (after taxes) and immediately goes on a spending binge — for the next ten years.   Today, at age 59, he is now essentially broke and on the verge of bankruptcy.
The Moral of the Story: Apparently, ten million dollars doesn’t go as far as it used to.

4. And You Thought Government Pensions Were the Bomb

Recipients: Robert Rizzo, Randy Adams, Angela Spaccia, Oscar Hernandez, et al.
Background: This past summer, in a stunning example of government corruption run amok, the Los Angeles Times revealed that Rizzo was drawing a salary of $800,000 per year as the city manager of tiny Bell, California — a 2.5 square mile town in Los Angeles County.   The Times also found that Adams was earning $457,000 per year as the police chief, and Spaccia almost $400,000 as the assistant city manager.     Even the city council members were generously paid, with most members earning $100,000 per year for the part-time positions.
The Moral of the Story: In a democracy, people get the government they deserve.

5. The IRS Finally Puts “Passenger 57” on Hiatus

Recipient: Wesley Snipes
Background: After being convicted in 2008 for federal tax evasion, Snipes finally began his three-year prison sentence.     The actor failed to pay any income taxes for a decade, including $38 million in income earned between 1999 and 2004 alone.
The Moral of the Story: You can protest the federal income tax law all you want but, if you’re smart, you’ll still pay up.

6. The Man Who Gambled On His Life — and Lost

Recipient: Jon Matthews
Background: After being diagnosed with mesothelioma in April 2006 and told he would be dead by the end of the year, Matthews placed a $160 wager with a British bookie that he would still be alive in June of 2008.   He made it and, at 50-1 odds, won $8000.   Matthews then made another $160 wager, with the same odds, that he’d live to see June 2009.   He did, winning another $8000 in the process.   Feeling pretty good about himself, Matthews then decided to press his luck with another $160 bet — this time with odds of 100-1 — that would net him a cool $16,000 assuming he could make it to June 2010.   Unfortunately for Matthews, he died a month short of the payoff date.
The Moral of the Story: Kenny Rogers wasn’t kidding when he said “you’ve got to know when to fold ’em.”

7. One Focked Up Movie

Recipients: Everybody and anybody who was stupid enough to buy a movie ticket to see Little Fockers
Background: My father-in-law, Tony, warned us that the movie reviews for Little Fockers were terrible.   Did the Honeybee and I listen to his sage advice?   Nooooooooo!   After plucking down a pretty penny at the theater, we got to see for ourselves that Little Fockers was, indeed, an absolute and embarrassing stink bomb.   At press time, Rotten Tomatoes’ tomatometer for Little Fockers was only at 11 percent.   Eleven percent!   In hindsight it’s all so obvious; a movie franchise usually jumps the shark by the second sequel anyway.   I think movie reviewer Matt Brunson said it best when he noted that, “Enough is enough. This franchise has run its course and made its millions, but now it’s time for it to fock off.”   Amen, brother.
The Moral of the Story: When it comes to movie reviews, never doubt the tomatometer — or your father-in-law.   Never.

8. Creative Ways to Lose Your Life Savings (Part 1)

Recipient: An unnamed 68 year old man from Southend, Essex, Britain
Background: A man lost approximately $120,000 when he placed it on the roof of his car and then drove off.   The man used to keep the money under his bed, but eventually decided the car was more secure.   According to the man, “We found some of the small bags empty in the street, so it’s pretty certain someone found it. I don’t hold out much hope of getting it back.”   Heh.   Ya think?
The Moral of the Story: It’s official.   Storing your life savings under the bed is definitely much safer than keeping it on the roof of your car — especially if you plan on driving anywhere.

9. Creative Ways to Lose Your Life Savings (Part 2)

Recipients: An unnamed elderly couple from Melbourne, Australia
Background: A man sewed his life savings of approximately $90,000 into the lining of an old suitcase, but didn’t tell his wife.   His wife ultimately donated the suitcase to a Salvation Army store.   By the time the husband found out what happened, the suitcase was already sold.     Thankfully, most of the money was eventually recovered.
The Moral of the Story: It never pays to keep secrets from the wife.     Just sayin’.

10. The $1500 Wiener Wager

Recipient: Colin Moffatt
Background: This past May, Moffatt lost a $1500 bet after his friend successfully downed 450 hot dogs in a single month.   For the record, his friend ended up spending about $400 on hot dogs and buns.
The Moral of the Story: It’s probably safe to say Moffatt didn’t relish paying the money but, hey, a bet is a bet.


  1. 4


    Hilarious. As for the Fockers sequel, I always say it’s best to wait for most movies to come out on DVD. At least it’s not nearly as much of a loss if the movie just stinks!

  2. 7


    I don’t know how you do it Len or where you find this stuff but you always manage to create such interesting reads. As far as the Fockers movie, I have not seen it and don’t think I will spend money on tickets to see it. It is definitely a $3 rental.

  3. 8


    The story about the man wrongly diagnosed with a terminal liver disease appeared on the news a few months ago. My flatmate was having lunch and saw it. Incredible!!

  4. 10


    Wow, that wrong diagnosis one was incredible! I hope he got a good price for the Mercedes when he sold it. On the plus side, he’s still breathing.

    I was amazed at those CA salaries. In Texas, some mayors work for free.

    Thanks for the warning about Little Fockers, but I already had a bad feeling from the billboards around here.

  5. 11


    Len, thanks for the link. And no thanks for the link to the Santini mother/daughter team (you should warn your readers that the link contains photos.)

    I read the story, and I mean this sincerely: What law did they break? Is it illegal to tell someone their kids will die if they don’t give you $100,000? Or is it illegal to accept the money if some idiots insist on giving it to you? The Santinis didn’t say they were going to kill the kids themselves, I assume.

    I’d love to know how that went down. The Santinis must have tried this on other customers before someone finally agreed to it. The Santinis probably had to bite their tongues when the unnamed couple said yes.

    • 12


      I know, those photos were scary, Greg.

      Yes, I know where you’re coming from regarding the law, but I am sure some lawyer out there can come up with a logical explanation.

      I’m just shocked that they could even pull off such a stunt.

  6. 13


    @Olivia: Glad you enjoyed it!
    @Bret: Poor girl. I’m sure she’ll recover in a few days or so. If she wants to get better sooner, have her watch Tropic Thunder or Talledega Nights once or twice. That should do the trick.
    @Amanda: Cool! I appreciate it. Thanks!
    @Little House: No, no, no! Please, for the love of Baby Jesus, don’t even rent this one.
    @Jenna: It’s no joke. And to think I was in Scottsdale, AZ, a few months ago. I could have possibly run into those ladies.
    @20Something: Do it and you’ll get yourself a Penner next year.
    @MissT: Nope. Fockers is definitely NOT worth even a $3 rental fee. Please trust me on this.
    @Nona: Feliz Año Nuevo, prima! Como esta? Si, era una historia triste. (Happy New Year, cousin! How are you? It was a sad story.)
    @Jeff: I thought that story was actually touching. The bookie said he believed the bets were partly responsible for extending the gentleman’s life as long as it did. I tend to agree.
    @Jennifer: The CA salaries here are really unreal. Even the school superintendent of my kids’ modest school district makes over a $250,000 per year, plus all the other perks that come with it like car allowance, pension bennies, etc.

  7. 15


    ha ha ha…just discovered your site – laughing out loud thinks I’ve lost it. Looking forward to catching up on old posts and reading your new ones. Happy New Year!

  8. 16


    I don’t know if I should be surprised that there are 10 winners or more surprised that there are only ten! There are too many of these crazy stories out there. Great choices!

  9. 17

    Everyday tips says

    Great post. I remember Nick Martin! I can’t imagine having to go find work after having ten million. Heck I feel bad spending money on shoes yesterday without using a coupon!

    I am glad you didn’t try to defend the Fockers movie. You can’t fight the tomatomometer.

    Happy new year!

  10. 18


    No wonder California is broke. I hope reporters break more of these stories..if there are any left. Our city counselors make $7000/year as a token for the time they take out of their day jobs.

    Funny stories. At least the comedian has plenty of material from his life experience. His little escapade might pay off in publicity alone.

  11. 19


    My favorite line: “It never pays to keep secrets from the wife. Just sayin’.” Hahaha, good one! Gosh I would not put that much money in a suitcase! I remember one of my aunt was always carrying her money in her purse. I don’t know how she could live that way, she was holding her purse like the last treasure of the world. She never told us she put that money in it, but we all knew it. What a stressful habit!

  12. 20


    You have once again proven that real life is much more bizarre than what anyone could conceive in their mind. Thanks for keeping me entertained and informed. I am going to immediately remove those bags of money from the roof of my car. Should I sew them into the lining of that old coat I never wear?

  13. 21


    Hi Len, Had a bit of trouble getting through the article after the first one :) . That guy, spending his whole life savings made me way too nervous. And Wesley Snipes, fun actor, stupid money manager. Have a great new year. And for a movie recommend, you must see “The Fighter,” really awesome!

  14. 22


    On “7. One Focked Up Movie”

    I never rent, borrow or see a movie that is less than a 5 at

    I’ll have to check out for future movies too!

    Thanks for the great indirect tip 😉

    Here’s wishing you and your family a great New Year!!!

  15. 23


    @Darwin: Awesome. Glad to help. Everyone should be titillated now and then.
    @Economia: Enjoy! :-)
    @Krants: It was a tough job to narrow the list down to ten. I’m surprised I only made it once!
    @Everyday: The tomatometer should never be ignored.
    @FirstGen: I think Mr. Ismay will make more from this than he lost.
    @DoNotWait: I sometimes wonder if most people who store their money in unconventional ways even realize there are much more secure places out there to store money called… banks!
    @Joe: I think a coat lining is safer than the roof of your car. Glad to help out. 😉
    @Barb: Happy New Year to you too, Girlfriend! The Fighter… I’ll check it out! It can’t be worse than “Little Fockers.”
    @Money: I love imdb. It is a go-to resource for me. I prefer the tomatometer, though, for movie-watching authority.

  16. 24

    sewingirl says

    True story Len, My Hubbys Grandfather was known to complain later in life, that his favorite savings method, burying cash in the backyard in a glass canning jar, was becoming too time consuming. It seems that the bills would get moldy after a few years, and he would have to dig them up, put them thru the WASHING MACHINE, dry and rebury them! He was in his 90’s when he finally passed away, and I’m sure that more than one family member stepped out the back door, looked at that 2+ acre backyard (it was a farm) shook their head, and stepped back inside. You’re right, you can’t make this stuff up!

  17. 25


    Why did Nick Martin take 10 years to spend $10 million?

    I worked for 30 years for a government agency giving away your tax dollars. I noticed early on tht one “rule” for poor people is — When You Get a Check, Spend IT ASAP.

    Not surprisingly true of small welfare checks, but just as true for large insurance checks or other five or six figure lump sums received. Buy drinks for everyone in the bar every night. Give ten thousand to relatives. Be a big shot for once in your life.

    If you’re broke tomorrow, so what? It’s your natural state, because you were born poor.

    Therefore, although I never saw anyone receive and blow $10 million, I’m not surprised someone has.

    I am surprised by the salaries paid by the city in California. Before too long the state is going to go broke and beg the rest of the country to bail them out. What’s really sad is that we will.

  18. 26


    Hilarious! Looks like Passenger 57 is getting his. Will avoid the Fockers and I also recommend the Fighter. Some of your other stories reminded me of a woman who kept her life savings in a mattress. Then one day her husband throws it out to surprise her with a new one. I remember them digging around the garbage dump, can’t recall if they found it. Don’t go to sleep on your money! :)

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