You may well have made some financial mishaps at one time or another – by buying the wrong airline ticket, for instance, or forgetting to turn off auto-renew on a subscription. Still, you can rest assured that those goofs absolutely pale in comparison to the following monstrously expensive mistakes. Indeed, from the man who cost his company $9 billion to the $7.5 million fortune thrown away on a hard drive, these mix-ups will likely make you feel far better about the times that you’ve mishandled money.
20. China’s tower block collapse
In 2009 a tower block at Shanghai’s Lotus Riverside complex crumbled to the ground, principally because of its shaky foundations. As a result, dozens of apartments, some costing as much as $264 per square foot, were lost. And the property’s developer may have taken a further – and hugely expensive – financial hit after a number of investors in the project subsequently asked for their money back.
19. A lost Bitcoin fortune
Remember when Bitcoin first took off? Well, some of those wise enough to get in on the ground floor may now be millionaires, thanks to the cryptocurrency’s ballooning value. One man who isn’t enjoying the fruits of his labor, though, is James Howells. Why? Well, although the Welsh IT worker had mined 7,500 bitcoins back in 2009, he went on to inadvertently discard the hard drive on which he had stored them. And come 2013, those bitcoins had reached a value of $7.5 million. Ouch.
18. Ron Wayne’s Apple shares
You may not recognize Ron Wayne’s name, as he’s often glossed over when telling the story of Apple’s founding. Nevertheless, Wayne – along with Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak – was one of the original three founders of the tech giant. Unfortunately for him, though, one of Jobs’ decisions just rubbed him up the wrong way, and so he quit Apple and sold his 10 percent stake in the company back in 1976. At that time, the transaction netted Wayne just $800; if he had just held onto the shares until 2013, however, they would have grown to become worth $35 billion.
17. The fate of the Mars Climate Orbiter
In what may be the most calamitous mathematical mix-up of all time, NASA’s Mars Climate Orbiter was lost in 1999. That wasn’t down to the space probe’s mechanical failure, however. Instead, the two teams working on navigating the craft had used two different measurement systems during their calculations – one had gone imperial, the other metric. And the price of such an error? $327.6 million, all wasted. Oops.
16. The Millennium Bridge’s big flaw
To mark the new millennium in London, a brand new bridge was erected over the River Thames – the first of its kind to be opened in over a hundred years. Three days after its debut, however, the Millennium Bridge was closed again. Apparently, the engineers hadn’t accounted for all the people who’d be traveling over the walkway, and so the bridge had started swaying as they passed. And the cost to fix it was $6.6 million – over a third of the eye-watering $24.1 million already spent to create the bridge and put in place.
15. Russia’s sale of Alaska
As trade deals go, Russia’s sale of Alaska is surely up there with the worst. Yet when the territory was handed over to the U.S. back in 1867, it may have originally seemed like a good idea. After all, at that time, naval bureaucrats had totally destroyed the Alaskan economy. And as Russia was desperate to be free of its obligations there, the sale was subsequently made for a mere $7.2 million. Then the Klondike Gold Rush began in earnest – and by the 1910s, the U.S. had made back 100 times its original purchasing price.
14. Spain’s heavy submarine
In 2013 Spanish officials realized that there was a problem with their new $2.3 billion submarine: it was too heavy. More than 77 tons too heavy, in fact – all thanks to an erroneous decimal point from an engineer. And that tiny mistake was projected to cost around $11.9 million and take three years to put right. Oh dear.
13. Japan’s stock market error
Imagine being singlehandedly responsible for losing a company’s entire annual profit. That’s the nightmare that presented itself to one broker in Japan in 2005, who accidentally set J-Com’s share price to one yen for 610,000 shares, rather than 610,000 yen for one share. That fateful typo, moreover, cost the company at least 27 billion yen, or approximately $236 million: a figure almost equal to the previous financial year’s net profit of 28.1 billion yen.
12. The trains that were too fat
Ever spent $20.5 billion on 2,000 trains, only to realize that they were all too wide? Probably not, as it’s quite a specific problem to have. But in 2014 that’s exactly what happened to French train company SNCF, which discovered too late that its new vehicles were too big for some stations around the country. The gaffe cost in excess of $68 million to fix, with platforms widened in their hundreds to accommodate said trains.
11. Kurt Russell’s guitar destruction
If you’ve seen Quentin Tarantino’s 2015 movie The Hateful Eight, you may remember the scene where Kurt Russell’s character destroys a guitar. As it turns out, though, that wasn’t just any old guitar. Indeed, it was actually a priceless model from the 1870s, on loan from a museum in Pennsylvania. But nobody told Russell it was the real deal, and so he went ahead and smashed it to pieces. We’ll say it again: a priceless model. Yikes.
10. The $1 million comma
Thanks to an errant comma, a Canadian telecommunications contract ended somewhat prematurely in 2006 – to the tune of one million Canadian dollars ($888,000 USD). To wit, phone company Bell Aliant managed to escape its deal with cable provider Rogers Communications 12 months earlier than planned because a clause about renewals was ruled to also apply to the initial agreement. Grammar matters, folks.
9. Howie Hubler’s trading loss
The financial crisis of the late 2000s wasn’t a great time to be a bond trader. But, arguably, nobody in the field ended up having it worse than Howie Hubler. Why? Well, the Morgan Stanley employee was responsible for history’s biggest ever trading loss – to the tune of an astonishing $9 billion. That came after Hubler had sold insurance on AAA-rated mortgages that, in the end, were deemed as having no value.
8. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill
You know an oil spill’s bad when Hollywood makes a movie about it. And that was the case with the Deepwater Horizon disaster, which was given the dubious honor of being immortalized on film in 2016. The spill itself, meanwhile, remains the largest of its kind on record, with over 4.9 million barrels of oil having leaked into the Gulf of Mexico over several months in 2010. What’s more, it ended up costing BP in excess of $60.9 billion – and all thanks to cost-cutting measures and subpar cement.
7. New Jersey’s costly funding error
Remember, people: always triple-check your forms. And we bet that New Jersey officials were wishing they’d just done just that after having lost out on $400 million of education reform cash in 2010. That cruel blow was caused by an error in the state’s application form for “Race to the Top” funding, for which 4.8 points were docked during the federal competition. And to rub further salt into the wound, New Jersey ended up just three points away from winning the money.
6. The Space Shuttle Challenger launch
Space shuttle launches are, as you might imagine, inordinately expensive. So when they don’t go to plan, the consequences can be dire. Famously, the 1986 launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger was one such failure: on its tenth flight, the craft was fractured just 73 seconds after launch, leading to the tragic deaths of all seven people on board. And the financial implications of the disaster were almost as devastating as the loss of life: NASA then had to create a replacement shuttle, the Endeavour, which ended up costing around $1.7 billion.
5. The sinking of the Vasa
On August 10, 1628, Sweden launched its glamorous, costly new warship, the Vasa. On that very same day, though, the Vasa sank to the sea bed, having traveled just 4,000 feet or so from the shore. The top-heavy vessel had ultimately fallen foul of a gust of wind, and her demise was witnessed by many of those who had seen her set sail. Today, however, she’s the centerpiece of Stockholm’s Vasa Museum after having been salvaged back in 1961.
4. The lake destroyed by a sinkhole
Did you know that Louisiana’s Lake Peigneur was once just six feet deep? These days, however, it’s closer to 1,300 feet. And it’s all because of an accident in 1980, when an oil rig working for Texaco mistakenly drilled too far down into a mine situated underneath the lake’s waters. The salt pillars holding up the mine then collapsed, and a sinkhole subsequently started to form. As a result of the mishap, the local ecosystem was forever changed, and Texaco and the drilling company ended up paying out $44.8 million in compensation, too.
3. The Star Wars merchandise rights
Before the Star Wars franchise was the worldwide phenomenon that it is today, movie studios didn’t have much faith in George Lucas. Even 20th Century Fox, the studio funding A New Hope, thought that the first film of the original trilogy would be a bust – so it was happy to agree to sign over its merchandising rights to Lucas in exchange for a pay cut. In 1978 alone, however, Star Wars action figure sales came to $100 million. And by 2011 that total had grown to $3 billion, despite no movies in the sci-fi series being released that year. Whoops.
2. Excite passing on Google
Remember the internet company Excite? Probably not. After all, the firm was bought out by Ask Jeeves in 2004. But things could easily have been so much different, had Excite’s then-CEO George Bell not passed on acquiring Google for a measly $750,000. For some perspective, Google was valued at an incredible $498 billion in 2016.
1. Scott Thompson’s Yahoo! sell-off
One-time Yahoo! CEO Scott Thompson probably isn’t remembered very fondly by the company’s shareholders. Indeed, if Thompson hadn’t made a costly error in judgement, the online giant might well be worth more than double its current market value. Specifically, in 2012 he made the call to sell 20 percent of Yahoo!’s shares in Alibaba, an e-commerce business then valued at $30 billion. Unfortunately, though, Alibaba’s market cap grew to $264.9 billion as of May 2017. And Thompson’s ill-fated decision is thought to have subsequently lost Yahoo! a whopping $54 billion, according to a 2014 estimate.