Sunday, February 1, 2009

Wait's Second Law: $800 is the New $500

There's no greater buzz-kill for the new college graduate than having to spend part of your first adult paycheck on a vacuum cleaner. It's the first tangible sign that post-collegiate life is not all beer and roses. But at least it's only $100, unless you succumb to some highly alluring infomercial (in which case, I maintain, you didn't learn very much during college).

Before long, however, you learn the real truth. It's known as Wait's Law, and it's a universal law of economics: Everything in adult life costs $500. Plumbing repair? $500. Dishwasher gives out? $500. Replaster the kitchen ceiling when it caves in? $500. Your 10-year old buggy's right front CV joint clatters? $500. Attend your high school reunion? $500 for the plane ticket, overnight stay, drinks, guilty phone calls home, and dry cleaning afterward. Anniversary dinner and a show -- in New York or Chicago? Well, we don't want to sit in the back row, do we? Not after that reunion! $500. Doctor bills for two lab tests and a prescription? $500. Somehow, some way, "Baby needs new shoes" will translate into a $500 outlay. Iron law. Guaranteed.

Wait's Law was originally formulated in the 1980's and held throughout much of the 1990's. Since the turn of the millennium or so, however, there's been a disturbing trend documented in the scientific literature. Exceptions to Wait's Law have been increasingly reported, with the statistical bias clearly on the upside.

Our beloved 1992 Camry, a.k.a. The Silver Zloty, is indicative of this recent challenge to Wait's Law. Just one month after $800 in engine work, it then needed $800 in exhaust system repairs. The mechanic further recommends a replacement of the engine mounts. $800. (This last one will have to wait: thereby illustrating a second meaning of Wait's Law.)

We live farther from our respective hometowns now. Two round-trip tickets to either home for the holidays? $800. Hard drive crash? You can't really justify sinking more money into old technology, can you? New computer. $800. That plumbing repair back in 1999? Did you really expect it to hold for ten years? $800.

Evidently the world has changed. How can we reconcile these new data points with Wait's Law? Easy. Wait's Second Law: $800 is the new $500. Problem solved; universe explained. Alles in Ordnung.

Ask me about Wait's Third Law after the bank bailout is done.

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