As 2011 finally comes to a close, it’s time for the second annual Penner Awards, a celebration of the year’s ten most dumbfounding displays of numismatical naivete and financial ineptitude known to man.
So why am I giving out such a dubiously prestigious award?
Well, as I see it, I have two very good reasons. First, I’ve made plenty of stupid money mistakes myself over the years. Second, if not me, who?
Besides, nobody seemed to quibble after I passed out the 2010 Penner Awards.
Okay, enough babble, folks. Let’s give out some Penners!
1. Fool if You Think It’s Over
Recipient: Kobe Bryant
Background: If the reports that claim Kobe didn’t get a prenup before marrying his soon-to-be ex-wife are true, then the Los Angeles Lakers superstar could be on the hook for at least $75 million — plus additional spousal support payments for the rest of his life. I know.
The Bottom Line: You can bet this never would have happened if Kobe had married Kim Kardashian.
2. Maybe They Should Have Picked Another Planet?
Recipient: The guy at Disney Studios who green-lit Mars Needs Moms
Background: Disney budgeted $150 million for this 2011 film based upon the children’s book about a boy who sets out to save his mom after she gets abducted by Martians. Since being released on March 11th, the film has managed to take in only $39 million, making Mars Needs Moms the box-office flop of the year — and the fifth biggest ever, after adjusting for inflation.
The Bottom Line: Don’t count on a “Mars Needs Moms” ride being offered at Disneyland anytime soon.
3. Well, It’s the Thought That Counts
Recipients: Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada)
Background: In April Congress finally passed a $3.55 trillion budget with great fanfare, heralding a relatively meager $38 billion in spending cuts. Upon closer scrutiny, however, the CBO found that the actual savings amounted to only $353 million. To put that in perspective, that’s equivalent to a household with a $50,000 budget cutting annual expenditures by $4.96.
The Bottom Line: On the bright side, they say a journey of a thousands miles always starts with a single step.
4. Bake Me Another Cupcake, Cupcake
Recipient: Rachel Brown
Background: The baker from Berkshire, England, lost over $19,000 — her profits for the entire year — after she was forced to make 102,000 cupcakes, thanks to a poorly-planned “75% off” Groupon deal that went awry. “Without doubt, it was my worst ever business decision,” Brown told the BBC. One can only hope so.
The Bottom Line: I’m not going to sugar coat it; by any measure, $19,000 is a lot of dough. Even for a baker.
5. The High Price of a Little “Us” Time
Recipient: Jimmy McMillan
Background: The New York man who ran for governor on the Rent is Too Damn High ticket may end up getting evicted from his rent-controlled Manhattan apartment because he temporarily stopped living there so his adult son could enjoy a little privacy. But why would McMillan risk forfeiting his $872 monthly rent-controlled apartment in a neighborhood where flats can reportedly fetch upwards of four times that amount? Mr. McMillan’s reply: “I want a grandkid.”
The Bottom Line: With privacy apparently in such short supply, perhaps adoption would have been a more financially savvy option.
6. This is a Stick-up! (No, really.)
Recipient: Richard Verone
Background: The North Carolina man surrendered to police after robbing a bank for $1. After demanding the lone dollar from a teller, Varone took the loot and sat himself down on the bank’s sofa until police arrived. Why would anyone do that, you ask? To get free healthcare in prison, of course. Explained Varone: “I’m sort of a logical person, and that was my logic.” Makes sense to me.
The Bottom Line: Obviously, prison healthcare is a lot better than logic would otherwise suggest.
7. Death and (Refunded) Taxes
Recipient: IRS Commissioner Douglas H. Shulman
Background: A lawsuit filed by the federal government this year disclosed that the IRS was tricked into paying out $12.1 million in fraudulent tax refund claims to 5,108 dead people in 2009 and 2010. Yes, the same IRS that never misses a chance to tell the living they’ve under-reported their income by $1.63.
The Bottom Line: To paraphrase Will Rogers, this is just more proof that the IRS has made more liars out of Americans than golf.
8. That Turned Out to Be One Very Expensive Suit
Recipient: An unnamed Illinois man
Background: An 80-year-old man contributed more than he intended to a Goodwill store in Moline, Illinois, after belatedly realizing he had left $13,000 in the pocket of a suit he donated. Although he’s offering a $1000 reward, the money has not been recovered.
The Bottom Line: Apparently, there are still people out there who have never heard of banks.
9. And You Thought Losing Your Lease On Life Was Bad
Recipients: Spanish cemetery owners
Background: A cemetery in Zaragoza, Spain has been threatening evictions of its dead for non-payment of rented burial sites. Rather than sell them outright, many Spanish cemeteries — get this — now only lease grave sites for periods of 5 or 49 years. Genius. According to the city’s planning manager, Were not doing it to make money or empty graves but rather to improve management. Right.
The Bottom Line: In Spain, apparently there’s no such thing as a final resting place.
10. That’s the Ticket! (Or not.)
Recipient: An unidentified person who plays the Georgia Lottery
Background: On June 29th of this year, somebody walked into the Pilot Travel Center in Tallapoosa, Georgia, and bought a state lottery ticket that correctly matched all six numbers, including the Powerball. Unfortunately, the prize wasn’t claimed within the mandated 180-day window, and so on December 26th the winning ticket — and the $77 million grand prize — unceremoniously expired.
The Bottom Line: Now you know the elusive answer to the question: What’s the only thing dumber than playing the lottery?