“The Voucher is a Lie”


Click play to listen to the full chapter:


So, this happened …

I can’t read minds.

But I’m sure you’ve also noticed that sometimes, somehow you can imagine exactly what they said while they were talking about you, with surprising accuracy.

On this occasion, the conversation must have gone something like this:

“He’s such a difficult guy to buy for,” Mandy probably said about me while trying to choose a suitable gift for my birthday dinner that evening. “I don’t want to actually commit to something in case he doesn’t like it,” she probably justified to herself. “Why don’t we just let him choose,” she likely suggested.

“How much did you want to spend,” her boyfriend might have asked, trying to be useful, but failing to take a stance on anything either. I could imagine him shrugging as she told him that “about fifty dollars” feels right.

“But we can’t just give him $50 in cash,” she probably thought to herself, “because that’s a little crass.”

And then Mandy did what so many others have done, she went to the cashier at the front of the bookstore that she was wondering through, and just bought a voucher. And probably two minutes later, I imagine she would have been back outside in the fresh air.

After my celebration dinner, once I was back at home, I opened my various birthday gifts, including the envelope containing Mandy’s $50 voucher. I remember being grateful for the generosity of her gift (and those of the others). Thank you, I thought.

While my choice of what to order for the main meal was an excellent one (the Lamb Rogan Josh was amazing), I did make one really bad choice. Once all the desserts and coffees had arrived at the table, it seemed there was one extra coffee.

I could have left it on the table for someone else. I could have sent it back to the kitchen. But instead I pulled the cup towards me without thinking, and drank it.

Bad idea.

Later that night, lying in bed, still unable to sleep after two hours of tossing and turning, I was reminded of how bad an idea it was to have had that coffee so late.

But that’s not the only thing I realized was a bad idea. It’s amazing what random stuff your brain thinks about when it needs to sleep, but can’t. For example, that night my mind got fixated on the value of a voucher. Or at least, the missing value of a voucher.

That night, I realized that vouchers are a lie.

Mandy spent $50 dollars on my voucher. But she would have spent the same amount whether she’d given me $50 in cash or $50 in vouchers or a book set for $50. So that’s fine.

But what about for the recipient?

To me, the gift would only be worth $50 if I was able to use the full amount on stuff I actually wanted and would have spent money on anyway.

And further, so many vouchers have expiry dates. Seriously? You give them $50 in cash which will last forever, but in return you get something worth between $0 and $50, which suddenly ceases to be worth anything after a period of time. That’s crazy. It’s not like they will refund your money if you don’t spend the voucher on time. Nope, they’ve got your money, and you’ve got a worthless piece of paper (or QR code).

Yes, as I rolled around frustratedly unable to sleep, I saw clearly that the voucher is a lie.

At some point I fell asleep. It was a very restless night.

The next morning, I sat in the kitchen in a daze. Ironically, I was drinking coffee in an attempt to solve the tiredness caused by coffee just a few hours before.

Amongst the cards and wrapping paper strewn across the kitchen table, the voucher was staring up at me.

The voucher knew that, in all likelihood, it contained value that I would probably never unlock. I felt like it was mocking me.

“The voucher is a lie,” I whispered out loud to no-one in particular. Then I put my empty cup on top of the voucher, and left the room.

Simple Definition

The Voucher is a Lie: Vouchers are often worth less than their cost, sometimes being worth absolutely nothing. Of course, there are circumstances where the cost of buying a voucher can still be fully extracted. This is similar to other things in life where the value is less than the so-called face amount.

Summarizing what it means

Just to be clear, I have nothing against Mandy, or the thought that went behind buying the voucher, or the generosity of the people who buy vouchers. I have also bought vouchers as gifts for people. I know that my intent was good.

But the concept of vouchers doesn’t really make sense, other than for the organization issuing the vouchers.

Cash is cash. You can spend it on anything. And it lasts forever.

Vouchers are a lie. You can spent them on a limited number of things. And often you end up buying stuff you didn’t even want, but bought anyway just to use up the value. And if you don’t spend it all by the expiry date, then it’s – poof! – gone. Worthless.

In a literal sense, what I call a ‘voucher’ actually is a voucher. And the voucher is a lie.

Of course, there are not-literally-a-voucher concepts that behave the same way as an actual voucher, and we will also mention these.

Discussing what it means

WYSI(not always)WYG

A literal voucher

Remember that cash is cash. It will be worth the same amount in many years time, it doesn’t expire, and it can be spent anywhere on anything.

But that’s not necessarily true of vouchers. Sure, if you regularly shop at Amazon, and you have a $50 Amazon voucher that expires in a month, you will be able to spend the voucher as if it were cash. They are – in this situation – equivalent.

But if you have an Apple voucher, and you don’t generally buy music or apps from the Apple Store, then you can’t really argue that the voucher is truly worth $50. To avoid the expiry date, you’ll buy things that you didn’t really want or need, in which case – let’s be honest – you’re wasting the ‘money’.

And while you could sell the voucher to a friend to avoid totally wasting the value, would you be able to get the full $50 from them? Or would you have to offer them a bit of a discount in order to convince them to take it off your hands?

And stores know that vouchers are good for them. That’s why they usually don’t give you cash as change, if you spend less than the full amount. No, they want to lock you in to their store, at no cost to themselves.

The cash that was paid for the voucher wouldn’t trap you like this. It’s the voucher that’s a lie.

Why we choose vouchers

It might be culture …

Interestingly, as a “Westerner”, I grew up believing that giving cash is crass, it’s not really polite. So giving a voucher just felt more acceptable, even though it was probably worth less! Weird.

Yet in Asia, certainly in China, the culture is that giving cash (crisp notes in a red envelope) is a preferred way of giving gifts, and of receiving gifts.

So if you find yourself opting for vouchers when you know that vouchers are a lie, simply because that’s how you were raised, then it’s probably time to read #[Luxury Bridges], and internalize that lesson first!

It might be that you can’t decide …

Perhaps you’ve seen several possible gifts, but can’t decide which one to get. So you break the impasse by completely deviating away from what could have been a good gift, to buying a lie instead.

If that sounds like you, then it’s time to read both #[Chicken or Fish] and #[Cheese or Chocolate].

It might be laziness …

Perhaps you’re wondering through the store (whether bricks & mortar, or online) and suddenly you get bored looking for a gift. You’d probably find something nice if you looked a little longer, but you just … stop. And then you buy a lie.

If apathy is an issue for you, then now would be a great time to read #[Darth Vader’s little Lego head].

Not literally a voucher

Although I’ve been talking about vouchers specifically until now, there are some aspects of your life which might be similar in nature to a voucher.

They too might be a lie.

Take, for example, when you have access to an hour of someone’s time to help you. This is especially true when you’re paying for that hour, either to a contractor or a virtual assistant, for example.

You pay for an hour of time, to take work off your hands. But some of that hour is your handing the task over to them (which costs both of you time), and afterwards you spend a little time perhaps with a hand-over back to you. How much time did you really save?

I’m not saying you didn’t save any time or that it wasn’t worth it. Similarly, you might still get most or all of the value from a voucher. But you do need to appreciate that an hour of help may well be less than an hour of savings for you.

Also with a ‘time’ theme, what about parents who convince themselves that they spend an hour of quality time with their children every day, but in fact they are spending a fair amount of that time messaging on their phones?

Also under the “The Voucher is a lie” flag is when you travel across town to go to a gas station for a cheaper price, forgetting that you’re using more time and additional gas in order  to access the cheaper price.

Or when you buy 3-for-2, when you only need 1. Especially when it’s going to be a long time before you can use the second and third items.

Or when you have accumulated airmiles or free nights at a hotel, but then you try to actually spend them only to discover all the rules and subject-to’s and black-out dates that make it almost impossible to get something that you want. Sigh.

Even people are like vouchers

I’m not talking here about when people lie. That happens, and that’s a problem. But in “The Voucher is a Lie” we are looking at situations where what you see can be true, but in general circumstances, you’re not getting what you thought.

People might say they’re a “doctor” on their dating profile, but the common interpretation is likely to be an MD not a PhD. It’s not that it’s wrong or misleading, but just that it might not be how you’re reading the face value of their description.

Or perhaps the face value of what appears on someone’s CV might technically be true, but not how one might normally interpret it. For example:

  • Perhaps their title “Head of X” didn’t reflect the reality that there was only one member of the X team?
  • “I worked on D to achieve C” may sound like they are perfect to lead your own D project. Until you realize that their role in D was more administrative, and they didn’t even understand enough to know how D could achieve C.

We’ll explore some interesting variations on this theme in the Making it Personal section below.

Waving the voucher in the air

The point of this chapter is not to say that it’s wrong to buy vouchers, nor to say that a virtual assistant is bad value for money, nor that discounts are irrelevant.

The point is, when you face a situation where the real value of something is potentially less than the face value, then you should flag that moment with the #hashtag “The Voucher is a Lie”.

Having the awareness that what you see is not always what you get, allows you to make an informed decision about whether you should proceed or not. This ensures that you remain in control of what you do, and what you get.

Making it personal

Have a think about the following. And try not to be too lazy 🙂 You’ve reached the end of the chapter, so make a strong final effort to get value out of what you’ve already read!

  • What is your stance on buying vouchers?
  • What is your stance on getting vouchers?
  • Will you go out of your way to claim a voucher or a discount, just to avoid losing it, regardless of the cost (time or money) of getting it?

And what other examples can you think of in your own life, where you’re seeing value that you’re not actually getting?

If we think about you as a notional voucher, which part of your value probably won’t get unlocked?

  • Think about yourself as an employee. When someone hires you, what are they getting, and what are they not getting?
  • For example, perhaps you are a hard worker, but only when you have a micro-managing boss. Does your new employer know they need to carefully watch everything you do in order to get real value out of you?
  • And in a relationship, what value is probably not getting released?
  • Are you someone who is loving and affectionate when you feel the relationship is “at risk”, but when you’re super secure, you stop making the effort towards your partner?
  • When you spend an hour with your children, are they really getting an hour of your attention, or are you just physically near them during that time?

The #HashtagYourLife system is designed to increase your awareness of what’s going on around you, to give you a simple (and memorable) way to label things, and through this, to help cut down on the overwhelm you experience in life. You can get more of what you want.

Related stories

#[Luxury Bridges]

#[Chicken or Fish]

#[Cheese or Chocolate]

#[Darth Vader’s little Lego head]

Headline Picture Credit