Monday, October 25, 2010

Trying not to void my warranty

“Dude, I wanted to get your opinion. I just bought an extended warranty on my new laptop,” my buddy Johnny told me over the phone as I strolled around the neighborhood with my two minions, one on a leash and the other in a stroller.

“I might have to hang up on you,” I replied. It’s the standard warning I give when I’m using the earpiece for my cell phone. If a friendly neighbor approaches, I’ll quickly hang up on my friend so that they don’t have to listen to my awkward attempts at neighborly banter.

I’ve learned that if I don’t hang up, I’ll have to try to carry on a normal conversation with the person in front of me while a little voice in my ear is saying, “Tell her you think her hedges look stupid.”

Plus, if the neighbor doesn’t notice the earpiece, I’ll feel like I’m being deceptive, like a spy, or the good-looking guy in a romantic comedy who’s getting secret advice from the not-as-good-looking guy who will end up with the girl in the end, after she gets over being tricked by the earpiece thing.

In this case, though, I was going to hang up on Johnny just on principal. Extended warranties make a lot of sense if you want to support your local laptop store, like dropping money into a street performer’s violin case. Otherwise, it sure seems like the average person would do better turning down those warranties as a rule. When something explodes that would have been covered, you can fix it using all the money you’ve saved from a lifetime of not being ripped off by extended warranties, then buy yourself a congressman with the leftovers.

“How much did the laptop cost?” I asked him.

“$500,” he replied.

“How much did the warranty cost?” I asked.

“$200,” he said, and I scanned the immediate area to see if anyone would hear me scream, “Oh, the humanity!” at the top of my lungs.

Johnny was buying a new laptop in the first place because he’d left his old one in the backseat of his car with his windows rolled down and the doors unlocked. This would have been fine if he’d been parking in a vault at the Federal Reserve rather than a parking deck at the King of Prussia Mall, the New Home of the World’s Luckiest Laptop Thief. Unlike the store that sold him the warranty, though, the thief didn’t have Johnny’s permission to rob him.

I’ve been thinking about Johnny’s experiences as my wife Kara and I have started looking at life insurance, which is basically an extended warranty on ourselves.

We’re starting to feel irresponsible for having a baby and no life insurance beyond what our jobs provide, though I have enjoyed the savings we’ve racked up by not dying. By its nature, purchasing life insurance invites procrastination: the more you live, the more you save.

But eventually, we have to face the fact that the responsible thing to do is to call an insurance company and say, “I bet you 25 bucks a month I’m going to die unexpectedly.”

“Oh yeah? Well I’ll bet you 250 grand you won’t!” they will reply.

Actually, when I called the insurance company we use for our house and our cars to bet against our own longevity, the agent cheerily responded, “Great. We’ll send the nurse to your house next week.”

“The nurse?” I asked.

“To take your blood pressure, height and weight, and to take urine and blood samples,” he replied.

I hope it was clear that we just wanted to purchase insurance, not enter the plot of a dystopian novel. But apparently, life insurance rates are based in part on your health, which bodes well for us, since we always blot the grease off the pizza first.

You can bet against Mike Todd at


  1. Excellent column. Stupid friend. How does Johnny wake up and put his clothes on every morning?

  2. To be fair to Johnny, leaving something in the backseat is seriously an awesome improvement over leaving something (or lots of things) on the TOP of the car, and then driving away...