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 itâ€™s pretty certain someone found it. I donâ€™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.