money health weekly


There's More to Life Than Spreadsheets and Calculators


"You know, I don't understand math at all."

-"Calvin" in Calvin and Hobbes


I'm carefully looking over all the teams that are in the March Madness basketball tournament. It's 2006 and I've never filled out a bracket before. I work in an office of about 20 people and at least 18 of them are fascinated with office pools and March Madness is the grand poobah of office pools.

I don't watch basketball, but I also don't want to be the only person in the office who doesn't participate. So I do what anybody in my position would do; I pretend that I am a huge college basketball fan and I fill out a bracket. Since I don't know anything about basketball in general and college basketball specifically, I find a spreadsheet that I can use to randomly pick the winners, using the ranking and records as inputs (it will select a 1 seed more often than a 16 seed). It's designed to help people pick winners using algorithms - which is a fancy word for equation. There is no emotion involved. There is no picking based on team mascots or colors. There is no bias toward your alma mater. Just probability.

The thing is, I run the program several times until I find an output that I like. One of my coworkers went to Duke and another went to Florida. Naturally, I want the Blue Devils and the Gators to make it. Then I make some adjustments to some earlier games to reflect the fact that "I haven't heard of these colleges so I can't pick them."

I didn't win.

This spreadsheet was designed to take emotion out of decision-making. I added it back in. It turns out, making decisions based strictly on spreadsheets and calculators is near impossible.

Let me tell you something you already know; the same thing applies to money.

math only accounts for a small portion of financial health