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dalepetrie's avatar

Please tell me your definition of "fair" using the following "real world" math problem?

Asked by dalepetrie (17920 points ) October 4th, 2012

This will be a complex “word problem” which will use your math and reasoning skills to test your personal concept of equity and fairness. Note however, this question, though based on a real world occurrence, is entirely hypothetical, the answer you give can not be “right” or “wrong”, it will not affect anyone’s behavior in the real world or change anything that has happened or will happen, and is simply a “fun” thinking exercise, if you are the type of person who believes that this kind of analytical thinking is “fun”. So, here goes.

One Sunday afternoon while helping my 11 year old son with a rather repressive amount of homework, I decided to give him a “fun” break between problems and take him out of the house for about an hour so he could tackle his remaining homework with a fresh mind and a positive attitude. I chose to take him to Game Stop to look at used video games, and I told him if he wanted to buy any games, he would have to spend his own money. Now I certainly buy my son plenty of things including video games, particularly for birthdays, Christmas and to reward accomplishments, but I don’t just buy him whatever video game he wants just because he wants it. And certainly I want to teach him the value of money by making him spend his own money on his own wants.

There was one particular video game on which he had his heart set, and was hoping they would have, though being a new game, I told him even if they did, it could cost $50 even used. He said he’d be happy to pay $50 for the game, and sure enough we found it for $44.99 plus tax, which is 7.125% where I live. Were that to have been the only purchase, this game would have been $48.20, slightly less than the $50.00 I quoted him. He handed me a $50 bill, and I intended to give him the change.

Consideration 1 – for me this is not a consideration, but for some it might be – transportation. Some might say to be fair, since the whole point of going to the store was to do something nice for him, it’s costing me money and he should reimburse me. The estimated fuel costs for this round trip for my vehicle come out to be $2.38 while the estimated “reimbursement” value, i.e. what I could claim for total transportation costs per the IRS deduction value would be $5.68. Personally, I would never expect my child to pay for any transportation, but I’m interested in YOUR assessment of fair.

So, back to the story. Game Stop has a rewards program that costs $14.99 per year (not taxed), and it entitles you to 10% off used video games plus a subscription to Game Informer magazine. On his game alone, this membership, which I did not have as I haven’t been in the habit of buying too many games from Game Stop, would have saved him $4.50 plus tax, or $4.82. He however had no interest in the magazine and would never have considered buying the membership given that he doesn’t buy most of his own games. But I, sensing a deal, realized that there was another game I was interested in, which was also $44.99, and it occurred to me that with these two games alone, I’ve already have saved nearly ⅔ the price of the membership, which would “pay for itself” with just one or two more games.

As it happened, there was another game in which my son was also interested, this one was available for $37.99 plus tax, or $40.70, but were I to purchase the discount card, that price would have dropped to $34.19 plus tax or $36.63.

Consideration #2 – At this point, were my son to have purchased both games at the sticker price, it would have cost him $88.89. If one of us were to purchase the discount card for $14.99, it would have cost him $80.00, a savings of $8.89, but in net, a cost of $6.10, were he to have purchased the card himself.

By me buying my game and saving 10%, I would be able to save $4.82 of this $6.10, making the cost of a one year discount card plus magazine subscription only $1.28. So, my consideration is that I would only need to spend $12.80 including tax, or $11.95 plus tax on a single game at any time in the next year for the membership to pay for itself overall. But as you can see, how to split the cost of the membership, the benefit of the discounts and such, is making this all the more complex.

Consideration 3 – He may play my game and I may play his, but mostly he will play his games and I will play mine. We will both probably look at the magazine when it comes but neither of us really cares that much about it. If he buys any more games with his own money I will let him use the discount, and if I buy any more games either for myself, for him as a gift or for anyone else, I will use the discount.

Now, the final enticement, which made it a no brainer for me to buy this membership was that they were running a promotion. Sign up for the membership now, register it online and in a couple days, you will receive a coupon for a buy 2 used games, get one free. To sweeten the deal, I would have been allowed to either buy all 3 games and come back with the coupon and my receipt to get a refund for the lowest price of the 3 games (which as you recall was $36.63 with tax), or just come back and pick out a game if I bought the two. I opted for the former deal, and purchased the 3 games @ $115.17 plus $8.21 in tax or $123.38, plus $14.99 for the membership, or $138.37. My son had paid me $50, making my out of pocket $88.37, and knowing I would get a refund of $36.63, my total out of pocket was $51.74. Now, had I purchased only the game, it would have been $48.20, and had I purchased the game plus the membership, I would have spent $58.37, but I would have gotten a coupon for buy 2 get 1 free on a future purchase.

Consideration 4 – Neither of us had any other games we wanted between now and when the coupon ends.

Now, to make matters more complicated , on my return, the two games which had been $44.99 ($40.49 with the discount) had changed in price to $37.99 (or $34.19 with the discount) plus tax of course. So, in addition to the $36.63, they also price adjusted each game downward by $7 less 10% plus tax, aka $6.75 each or $13.50 total, giving me a grand total refund of $50.13. This makes my out of pocket $38.24.

So, I think that’s fair, because I’m not one to quibble over a few bucks, even with an adult, certainly not with my own child. In the end, if I’d gone into that store and just bought that one game, it would have cost me $48.20, and not only did I get that game for $9.96 LESS, but I also get 10% off my purchases for a year, AND a magazine subscription, plus I get to play 2 other games my son bought if I want. I’m happy, he’s happy, and I think it’s fair.

But one could say, wait a minute, he paid $25 per game, you paid $38.24. To be 100% fair, the TOTAL cost of the 3 games plus the discount being $88.24 should be split 3 ways, me paying $29.41 and him paying $58.83, so he should pay me an additional $8.83. Add $5.68 to that for transportation and he owes you $14.51. Or maybe since I bought a game as well, I should eat ⅓ of the transportation cost and make it $12.62. Or possibly one could say that making him pay for wear and tear, maintenance, cost of the car etc. isn’t intrinsically “fair” as I own the car and would have to pay for these things anyway, so maybe he owes me ⅔ of the cost of just the gas, making it $10.41.

Or, one could say, I would have paid $48.20 for my game, so being a “good guy”, I really should only expect him to pay the difference between the total cost of the 3 games plus the membership less $48.20, or $40.04, so I owe him $9.96 (the amount I saved because of the membership, because after all, he bought it).

Or you could go with the position that it was my idea to buy the membership, he should pay what he would have paid for both games with NO benefit of the discount ($88.90…even though total out of pocket for all 3 games was only $88.24), plus the full cost of transportation INCLUDING wear and tear, so he should actually “owe” me $43.92. Hell, for that matter, you could factor in the cost of the second trip and he’d end up owing me $48.60. Though I can’t imagine anyone on Fluther coming up with this answer, believe me, I’ve known people petty enough to say that would be “fair”.

By my figuring depending on your definition of fair, the real answer is somewhere between I paid $10 too little or $10 too much. My definition of fair is that we’re both happy, we both got a great deal, and even though I paid a bit more for my game than he did for either of his, and even though I paid for the gas, I’ll probably reap more rewards from having this membership, even if it’s only because of the money I’ll save on gifts for him. And as I’m not one to quibble over ten bucks, this seems in a way “more than fair” to both of us in every possible way.

Bottom line is, the purchase is made, we’ve both paid what we’re going to pay, and as far as my son and I go, there is no haggling, he doesn’t feel cheated, nor do I, and I do not feel as though I’ve cheated him and don’t believe he feels he’s cheated me.

But, I asked this question, because I’m kind of a math geek and I love to play with numbers, but also, I like to know how people think. Tell me what YOU think is fair and why, show me your thought process, do the calculations and support your opinion. And have fun…if this does not sound like a fun exercise to you, by all means, do NOT bother yourself with it.

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18 Answers

Lightlyseared's avatar

Is there an abridged version of this problem?

CWOTUS's avatar

It was unfair of you to expect us to read a fairly long post simply to ask “what is fair?”

I think, based on the way you seem to have trained your mind and the way you’re training his, that it should be fairly obvious that when you’re old and infirm he’ll be feeding you generic dog food from time to time. Fair’s fair.

Seek's avatar

Sorry, dyscalculic. By the time I got to the end of the post I forgot what the numbers were.

LuckyGuy's avatar

I think you need to include the calories spent walking in the store and the health benefits you both reaped during the outing. That trip and its resultant exercise might be just enough to delay or avert an illness in the future.

snowberry's avatar

I would not have charged for transportation. That’s stupid, and takes away the “fun” purpose of the outing.

I would have purchased the membership, waited until he was out of eyesight and hearing in another part of the store, and purchased MY item(s), and discretely hidden them in my satchel. He then would have purchased his game with his money. I would have saved the other game for a special gift or surprise for him.

wundayatta's avatar

I think you took too long a break from homework, and he is going to be staying up too late to do his homework tonight, and your wife will think you should feel guilty and she’ll tell you not to encourage him to spend so much time playing games, and then you’ll have that same old fight again about the value of games in developing how y our son thinks and you won’t be getting any that night.

yWhat’s fair? You’r the adult. If it’s something you value and can afford, You pay. Period. In my household, he wouldn’t be paying for any of the game. Of course, in my household, we don’t have any game consoles or any games, and I have a 12 year old boy. He’s simply not interested.

He did ask for Adobe Photoshop, and he got that for Christmas. Now he wants a Samsung Galaxy Nexus, but he needs to pay for that himself. We’ll pay for a basic cell phone. Anything more comes from him.

dalepetrie's avatar

Again, everyone….just meant to be a fun exercise (if you find such things fun). I made it as complex and threw in as many variables as I could as I want to see your thought processes. If it’s too long for you to read, then skip it.

Trillian's avatar

^^Will do. Thanks.

Tropical_Willie's avatar

42 is always the answer.

Just ask Douglas Adams.

augustlan's avatar

Hey, guys… @dalepetrie is a CPA, if I’m remembering correctly. Numbers are fun for him!

I’m in your corner, @dalepetrie. I wouldn’t quibble over the few dollars back and forth. As the parent, you decided to purchase the membership, so I’d take that out of the equation altogether. Even thought it will benefit both of you, you were the the decider, you should be the payer, too. Ditto with transportation/gas. It was your idea to take him to the store, but even if it wasn’t, transportation is just a parental expense, so far as I’m concerned. Part of the cost of doing business.

In this instance, mathematically fair (to me) would be that each of you pay for your own games, whatever the discounted prices turned out to be. In a broader sense of the word ‘fair’, even if you’d paid for everything (willingly), so long as both of you were happy with the outcome, that would be fair, too.

zenvelo's avatar

First of all, it was your idea, so the transport costs are yours and yours alone.

Second of all, giving a kid a break by going to Gamestop and then telling him he can’t expect you to buy him a game is like taking him to a strip club but telling him he has to cover the two drink minimum.

Both of those moves are what I would call “dickish”.

And third, going through all those machinations to save a few bucks for the games YOU want but telling him he already committed to pay $50 so he’s out may be a Pareto Optimal solution, but it is extra dickish for you to not share the benefits despite using his capital to establish the basis of your savings.

Your son should have realized what you were doing and then said “I’ll come back to get the game I want when it is on sale, and you are out of your deal.”

Next time, don’t be a calculating tool with your son.

Kayak8's avatar

Let’s say he owes you $10. Let’s say he is 11. Let’s say I am too tired to do this kind of math over a video game because I do it every day at work. Let’s subtract his age from $10 and you owe him a buck for putting up with all this!

Jaxk's avatar

Wow, if I was the kid, I be wishing I was back home doing my homework. You said you’d take him to the store to get a video game and all of sudden you’re figuring out his share of the national debt. If he’s 11, where did he get that money to begin with? And have you decided to make him pay his share of the income tax on the fifty bucks?

He should pay for his game minus any discount you decide to get. All the rest of this crap is yours.

augustlan's avatar

Did you guys miss the part where he said he didn’t actually do all this calculating with his son, and isn’t actually worried about the few dollars here and there? This is a math/fairness hypothetical…

glacial's avatar

It sounds to me like the original deal was that he pay for one game. Whether he pays for the second game depends on who was pushing for the purchase of the second game. If he was saying “Oh yeah, I’ve got to have this one too”, then it gets added to his total. If you were saying “We should get this too, it’s a great deal”, then you should pay.

I think you should bear the cost of the membership, since it is only of benefit to you – he is buying one game, and the cost of the membership would not be worth it for that purchase. In other words, he wouldn’t be buying it if he were doing this himself.

However, since you did buy the membership, I think you should pass on the savings to your son – not because it is “fair”, but because not to do so seems cheap, or as if you are trying to take profit from the deal. (Not saying that is what you were thinking, that’s just how it would feel to me.) Likewise, if the retail price dropped for a game that he purchased, you should pass on that savings to him. Transportation costs… just no.

These are the decisions I would make even if I were in the same situation with an adult, under the circumtances you describe. In a way, you’re sort of “hosting” the purchase, and the other person, as your “guest”, gets away with a lot. However, the scenario you describe would probably not occur between adults – it’s more likely you would have agreed on a “fairer” deal before entering the store, and you wouldn’t have the pressure of being the person who buys more games in future for your friend.

Kayak8's avatar

@augustlan Can you see where in a 1,829 word question (I counted), I might miss a small detail in my 53 word (I counted) answer?

Dutchess_III's avatar

Is there a prize for Longest Post Ever?

flutherother's avatar

You said in your question you wanted to teach your son the value of money by making him spend his own money on his own wants but you didn’t allow him to do this. He saw the game he wanted and he had the money to pay for it but you didn’t let him. You confused matters with your own wants and this is what I think was unfair. And your son ended up getting no change from his $50.

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