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A Horse of a Different Color is Still a Horse

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I, like many Generation Xers I imagine, was first introduced to a phrase "horse of a different" through Wizard of Oz. You know, when Dorothy says, "What kind of a horse is that? I've never seen a horse like that before!" And the driver responds, "No, and never will again, I fancy. There's only one of him, and he's it. He's the Horse of a Different Color you've heard tell about." The origin of "horse of a different color" seems to predate that usage by quite a bit. I think most people understand usage of the phrase to mean that it's another topic entirely from what the previous topic was.

Why all this talk of horses and colors? Well, I was reading a USA Today article that claims changing an item's tint drives consumers to bring the green. I think the article can be summed in the first three short paragraphs:

It doesn't really matter that Margie Leigh's granddaughter, Laura, got the pink iPod she so desperately wanted last Christmas "” at age 4. For the now-5-year-old, pink is out this holiday, and purple is in.

Grandma in Kentucky will be buying her granddaughter in Virginia a purple iPod this Christmas for one reason "” its color.

"I know it sounds crazy," says Leigh, who is retired. "But that's what she wants."

Margie Leigh, you are right about one thing here - it sounds crazy. Let's take a step back and look at what's going here. I am going to make some questionable generalizations because I don't have all the information available to me.

First off, let's address the child. I'm not one for picking on children and I shouldn't throw stones because I wanted Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star High Tops in a few different colors as well. Still, if I was lucky enough to get a walkman for my birthday, I didn't think about trading it in for one in a different color. Next year, I just wanted more music for it. So is the argument that iPods are the fashion accessories that Chuck Taylor's or Swatches were then? I would buy that if they didn't cost $150. If it's normal for a 4 or 5 year old to think that $200 electronics count as fashion in today's world, my wife and I might decide never to have children.

Now, let's address the grandmother. It does make a point that she's retired. Perhaps she's retired with all kinds of money - it's possible. If she's the average retired grandmother though, the last few months have been extremely stressful on her finances. I know, I'm having those kinds of talks with my mom who is nearing retirement. Many people have watched a third of their money disappear. Let's ignore this and assume that she's got lots of money and has budgeted well for this gift.

What example is the grandmother setting? She's teaching Laura that she can get what she wants, even if it's something that makes no sense. An iPod of a different color is still an iPod. This isn't like the horse of a different color saying at all. It has all the same features regardless of color (which, if you think about it, is true of horses). Furthermore, it's utter bovine-excrement that pink isn't in fashion. If it were Apple wouldn't be selling Pink iPods. And last I checked Barbie hasn't traded in all her pink dresses for a purple one (not that I keep up to date on Barbie).

If I'm Leigh here's what I would do. I would grab a 2-3 Silicone iPod Cases in various colors for $25-35. Then I'd get her a couple of iTunes Gift Cards. At this point, she would have spent around $80 and came away with what I would consider more value than just an iPod in a different color. She can either chose to use up the rest of her budget on other things, or what I think I might do, put some money aside in an account to save for Laura's first car in 10-12 years. Grandma Leigh wouldn't have to tell her that's what she is doing, but let me tell you, Laura is going to think she's the best grandma ever when she gets ready to buy that car and has a head start of $800-$1000.

I wonder if Laura is going to be selling off her old pink iPod or if it's going to be kept as a secondary one. If this is the case, and it's in good condition, she might get decent enough value for it to make this whole rant somewhat unnecessary.

Last updated on August 1, 2011.

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11 Responses to “A Horse of a Different Color is Still a Horse”

  1. Slacker says:

    My wife and I talk about how to teach kids the value of money, and little lessons such as this. Being the lazy guy that I am, I want to teach them in the easiest and most efficient way possible. The one consistent thing in my life I’ve learned is that the best way to learn a lesson is to experience it yourself. Therefore, if we force our kids to earn their money, even at the age of 4 by dressing themselves or behaving, (we can use representative things like paper clips) then they’ll probably not want to do silly things with their paper clips like waste 150 of them on a different color.

    Also, yay first comment!

    – Slacker

  2. Lori says:

    Man oh man… this child is being set-up to fail in her own financial life as she gets older. No matter how much money the grandmother has, she should teach responsible spending to her granddaughter. That is a gift… one that lasts forever.

    I’m shocked at how many parents/grandparents buy whatever the kid wants and then they are shocked when the kid grows up and completely melts down when others don’t do the same. See it a lot where I work as this new generation comes into the work force (I’m gen X). I almost feel bad for these people, as they were never taught differently and they are practically starting from scratch when they hit the real world.

  3. Tim says:

    fashion has no rationale to it, and let’s face it, these things have become synonymous with fashion as fashion accessories. people buy different earrings, so why not ipods?

  4. ChristianPF says:

    What if the horse is white, has a horn, and flies? Is it still a horse? ;)

    It never ceases to amaze me how seemingly insignificant things can change large buying decisions…

  5. jim says:

    Ahhhh predictably irrational we are. :)

  6. Miss M says:

    Aww man, that story scared me. I can understand some irrationality towards kids and money, but that is way over the line. Like you said, there are cheaper ways to change the color. Next year purple will be out, it’s an endless cycle. Also it’s a bad example for this kid, I can’t imagine giving a 4 year old an ipod. I don’t even have one!

  7. kosmo says:




    are you ****ing kidding?

    btw, the multi-colored cases immediately jumped into my head when I started reading this. Personally, I always think of my iPod as a blue iPod. It’s actually white, but has been in a blue case for years.

    It’s mindboggling that a 4/5 year old could be getting gifts like this. Maybe it’s just my upbringing – my parents never had that sort of cash to spend on gifts (and yet I managed to turn out reasonably well).

  8. I think grownups do it to their wallpaper and interior decorating as well. The craziest thing I heard was a radio commercial suggesting people to replace their entire sofa group because their guests had already seen the one from “last year”!

  9. kosmo says:

    I’m the kind of guy who insists on getting 120,000+ miles out of a car … definitely not the sort to replace a sofa group every year :)

    A couple of years ago, my wife made some sort of comment about trading in one of our cars (a 1998 Contour). This is my commuter car (70 mile daily round trip), has “only” 97K miles on it (had even less back then), and runs great. Replacing it because just because it was made in a previous millenium seemed a bit silly.

    (Our other car is a 2006, so it’s not as if we are driving two clunkers.)

  10. Slinky says:

    She’s going to grow up to be one of those people who upgrade to the latest car every year. Yikes.

    1. What the heck does a 4 year old need an iPod for anyway?
    2. Way to teach her bad habits.
    3. That’s an awful expensive Christmas present for anyone, let alone a 4 year old.

    4. I’m such a hypocrite because I’m getting an iPod touch for Christmas from my fiancee. Of course, it’s replacing my 5 year old dead palm and the cd walkman I got when I was 12 or so. :)

  11. kosmo says:

    The iPod Shuffle is $49. Hopefully that’s what she’s getting. Still quite pricey for a 4 year old, but not $200+

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