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The 10 craziest money blunders of 2010

Welcome to the inaugural edition of the Penner awards.

By Karen Datko Dec 31, 2010 1:56PM

This guest post comes from Len Penzo at Len Penzo dot Com.


As 2010 comes to a close, I think it is only appropriate that I share my picks for the 10 dumbest money stories of the past year, highlighting some of the most dumbfounding displays of numismatic naiveté 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 when 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!


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.


The curse of the cursed money curse (or something like that).

Recipients: Laura Santini, Rosann Santini, an unnamed woman from Park Ridge, Ill., and an unnamed couple from South Holland, Ill.
Background: A mother-and-daughter fortune-telling team was arrested after they allegedly convinced 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, police said, they absconded with the cash and took off to Scottsdale, Ariz. Imagine that.
The moral of the story: P.T. Barnum was right.


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 10 years. Today, at age 59, he is now, in his own words, "basically broke."
The moral of the story: Apparently, $10 million doesn't go as far as it used to.


And you thought government pensions were the bomb.

Recipients: Robert Rizzo, Randy Adams, Angela Spaccia, et al.
Background: This past summer, in a stunning example of government compensation run amok, the Los Angeles Times revealed that Rizzo was drawing a salary of about $800,000 per year as the city manager of tiny Bell, Calif. -- 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 assistant city manager. Even the city council members were generously paid, with most earning $100,000 per year for the part-time positions.
The moral of the story: In a democracy, people get the government they deserve.


The IRS finally puts "Passenger 57" on hiatus.

Recipient: Wesley Snipes
Background: After being convicted in 2008 of failing to file tax returns, Snipes finally began his three-year prison sentence. "According to U.S. prosecutors, the actor failed to file any tax returns for at least a decade, and owed $2.7 million in taxes on $13.8 million in income from 1999 to 2001 alone," The Associated Press said.
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.


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 $8,000. Matthews then made another $160 wager, with the same odds, that he'd live to see June 2009. He did, winning another $8,000 in the process. 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."


Ignore the tomatometer at your own peril.  

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 plunking down a pretty penny at the theater, we got to see for ourselves that "Little Fockers" is, indeed, an absolute and embarrassing stink bomb. At press time, Rotten Tomatoes' tomatometer for "Little Fockers" was only at 11%. 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 wrote, "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.


Creative ways to lose your life savings (Part 1).

Recipient: An unnamed 68-year-old man from Southend, Essex, Great Britain
Background: A man lost about $125,000 when he placed it on the roof of his car and then drove off. The man used to keep his savings 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.


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 about $102,000 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 had happened, the suitcase had already been 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'.


The $1,500 wiener wager.

Recipient: Colin Moffatt
Background: Last April, Moffatt lost a $1,500 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.


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