Saving money is on everybody’s minds these days. Often, we trade money for time or convenience, and in the current economy, many of us are taking a hard look at our expenses. But did you know that many staples of modern living are simply unneeded? Yes, snake oil salesmen are alive and well and routinely fooling the uninitiated in the 21st century. Following is a list of the top 10 items that science says people tend to waste money on.
10. Light Pollution
Every year, millions of dollars worth of electricity is needlessly directed towards the sky, illuminating the undersides of planes, birds, clouds, etc. This has made the view of the wonders of the night sky from urban and suburban America a distant memory for most, and the International Dark Sky Association has cited light pollution as a health risk to humans as well as a hazard to nocturnal wildlife. Studies supporting the safety and security benefits of nighttime lighting are sketchy at best, and some studies even suggest that over-lighting can have a negative effect in these areas.
9. Power Bands
These devices, which are currently popular in Australia, are pure snake oil. The idea is that these rubber band bracelets with holograms imbedded in them are somehow tuned to “body energy” or “vibrations.” In 2011, Australian skeptic Richard Saunders won a minor victory in making the producers of the Power Bands admit that they have no proven health effect. Still, that hasn’t stopped them from seeking new and more gullible markets, including the United States. The bands have recently graced the wrists of several celebrities, and some skeptics groups have fought back, marketing their own brand of placebo bracelets.
Electronic waste is just now entering public consciousness, as last year’s cell phone ends up in this (and the next several thousand) year’s waste dump. Part of the problem is systemic, as consumers demand ever-newer gadgets and gizmos. To provide a sustainable growth via Moore’s Law, consumers would have to demand that interchangeable and upgradable software becomes standard, while the hardware platform stays intact and reusable. Much of this e-waste ends up in third world countries, were it’s not only a security risk, but also exposes salvagers to hazardous materials.
Every year, millions of dollars are wasted on books, horoscopes, and the mistaken belief that we somehow have a privileged position in the universe. Of course, the modern science of astronomy does have roots in astrology. Most horoscopes, however, are so vague they could apply to anyone, as they prey on the premise that we all want to feel that our situation is somehow unique, where in fact the human condition is pretty much universal. I too, have been unlucky in love and feel I have a vast, untapped potential, just like you.
The medicinal practice of homeopathy is the notion that like cures like, and diluted tinctures are prepared to the same effect. The problem is that dilutions are made to such small amounts that below what’s known as a “12C” dilution, there’s roughly a 50 percent chance that even one molecule of the active substance exists in the mixture. Remember Avogadro’s’ number from high school chemistry, 6.022 x 1023? Proponents get around this by saying the water somehow has a “memory” of the original substance. Skeptics have thoroughly debunked this, holding pill parties where participants deliberately try to overdose on homeopathic sleeping pills.
5. Junk food
This is a fine example of the trade off of convenience versus money; the organic argument aside, we tend to waste money on over-packaged, calorie-laden, nutritionally devoid food. Manufacturers long ago hit on the winning formula of what sells; human taste buds love salt, sugar and fat. Cutting out soda, processed and convenience food can halve a family’s grocery budget.
4. Premium Gas
This one has sparked countless workplace debates. Some folks will swear that premium gas imparts a benefit in terms of miles per gallon, engine performance, etc. A majority of cars are designed to run fine on regular gas, and will not achieve a better performance on higher-octane fuel. Some engines use high compression and may call for a higher octane; high load or high performance engines may call for a higher octane to prevent pinging. Even in this circumstance, most new vehicles have anti-knock sensors installed to prevent preignition in the first place. Premium gas imparts no more energy than regular fuel, and only benefits lining the pockets of oil company CEO’s to the tune of about 20-30 cents a gallon.
3. Alkaline Batteries
As the use of portable devices has skyrocketed, so has the demand for batteries. Too many people, however, are still exclusively using alkaline batteries when a better, less costly alternative exists. A typical rechargeable battery may cost about five times as much as a comparable alkaline battery of the same type; that same battery, however, can be used up to 1,000 times at a negligible cost. In addition, that rechargeable battery will eliminate hundreds of its alkaline cousins leaking toxic waste back into the environment. And the really good news is that the newer generation of nickel metal hydride batteries aren’t subject to the memory loss phenomenon.
I’ll admit that I’ve fallen prey to this one. As our dietary habits deteriorate, more and more of us shell out money in the belief that multivitamin supplements provide an effective patch. A recent meta-analysis survey has suggested, however, that not only do vitamins impart a negligible benefit, they may even increase mortality rates. Perhaps if you’re pregnant, vitamins may be a good idea. The trouble is, most water-soluble vitamins such as vitamin C are simply flushed out of your system, while fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin A can build up to toxic levels. Hey, no less than Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling fell for this one.
1. Bottled Water
Our grandparents would find our purchase of bottled water as a household staple remarkable. Over the last century, America has worked to make its public water supply the safest and most potable in the world; convincing people that bottled water is a necessity was no small feat. Take a look around the next time you check out of your local warehouse store at how many carts are laden with cases of the stuff, all destined for centuries at the landfill. And it’s quite amusing to see some of the same people who complain about the high cost of gasoline willingly shell out $10 to $12 per gallon for bottled water, which often comes out of a common tap before being bottled.