August 28, 2007

The Lottery; better than Bottled Water.

You've probably heard of The Motley Fool; and if you listen to NPR, you might have heard them discuss the lottery during one of their many broadcasts. And perhaps you remember they have another name for lottery: "the stupid tax."

They call it "the stupid tax," because only stupid people play pay it. Your odds of winning the lottery are extremely poor. Or, as the Motley Fool puts it:
"You'll never win the lottery. Not "The Big One." Not in your lifetime."

So in terms of investing, playing the lottery is basically the same as throwing your money away, only you get the benefit of crushing depression when you read the paper to see if your number came up.

Which brings us to BOTTLED WATER.

I suspect that most of you reading this have a bottle of water nearby. Maybe you went to a vending machine to get it, or perhaps when you gassed up your car you picked on up. Maybe you bought a couple of cases when they were on sale at Publix, or Home Depot.


First, we must determine WHY you are drinking water from a plastic bottle that cost you $1 to $3, instead of drinking the unlimited supply you get free from your own faucet.

It's better than tap water because it comes from [fill in the blank];

Most of you probably believe that bottled water is better than tap water. You probably believe that bottled water is carefully drawn from a pure mountain spring, or collected from some remote glacier as run-off from global warming. It's "all natural", while your tap water is "man-made" via some industrial process you don't quite understand.

Which only means you haven't actually read the small print on the label, or you don't read the news. Gwan, read the label; you'll find that virtually every bottle will have a disclaimer. And that disclaimer translates roughly as "we turned on the tap and filled the bottle."

Some water DOES, in fact, come from remote springs. Perrier, for example. Oops.

In 1990, Perrier had to recall its product because it had been contaminated with benzene. How? Perrier says that it was "an accident during the filtering process."

That's right; 'Nature's Soft Drink' goes through a "filtering process" in a place where, apparently, you can sometimes find benzene.

It's safer than tap water because it hasn't been processed.

Well, as noted above, Perrier IS filtered, even though it comes from a spring.

In fact, ALL bottled water starts as tap water. Every plastic-encased ounce of it. That's what the teensy-weensy print on the label tells you - if you get out a magnifying glass to read it.

It's safer than tap water; tap water in the United States just isn't very good.

Well, no. The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) did a study on bottled water.

And their findings?

"While most of the tested waters were found to be of high quality, some brands were contaminated: about one-third of the waters tested contained levels of contamination -- including synthetic organic chemicals, bacteria, and arsenic -- in at least one sample that exceeded allowable limits under either state or bottled water industry standards or guidelines."
OK, but if bottle water had these problems, tap water would be worse, right?

"Even when bottled waters are covered by the FDA's rules, they are subject to less rigorous testing and purity standards than those which apply to city tap water."
And it gets worse:
"...bottled water is required to be tested less frequently than city tap water for bacteria and chemical contaminants. In addition, bottled water rules allow for some contamination by E. coli or fecal coliform (which indicate possible contamination with fecal matter), contrary to tap water rules"
The bottom line is that the water from your tap undergoes more testing to a much more rigorous standard than the bottle of water you bought at the vending machine. And it also means that the Federal Government says it's ok if there's some crap in your $2 bottle of Evian.

Bottled water tastes better.

Well, I have to admit, you may be right. I don't like the taste of the water out of my tap. While tap-water is guaranteed not to contain fecal matter or bacteria or industrial contaminants, it does taste like they've added a little chlorine to it. Which they have, of course; that's how they keep bacteria and algae and fungus from growing in it.

Which is why I bought a water filter for my tap. I paid $25 for it 15 years ago, and I replace the $4 filter three or four times a year. Which means that I've paid about $17 a year for the last 15 years for water of better quality than you've been purchasing by the case at Publix.

In fact, it's very likely that you spend as much in a week on water as I spend in a year.

And hurricanes? I have several camping jugs. I fill them the day before the storm. If the storm passes (or doesn't knock out the water), I use it up until the jugs are empty.

Tap water will last for days, if stored in a clean and tightly sealed container.


Ah, right, what does the lottery have to do with bottled water? I didn't forget that, honest.

The lottery is basically a tax for stupid people; you give money to the government, and they use most of it underwrite education-related things. And they give a small amount of it to some sucker who uses it to go into debt.

People who purchase water are basically paying money for a product inferior to one that their tax dollars have already delivered to their homes in huge quantities. That money goes to huge corporations who distribute it to really wealthy people who probably don't pay nearly as much income tax as you or I.

Either way, you're simply throwing away your money, but at least the lottery pays for school supplies. Oh, wait, teachers do that. Um, lottery money builds schools- no, that's property tax money.

Whatever. Go get yourself a water filter for your filter, and use it to refill your empty bottles. You'll save a fortune, and have better water to drink.

And you can smugly watch the stupid people fill their carts up with cases of bottled water while tucking their lottery tickets into their pockets.

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