02/26/2015 01:37 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

5 Essential Life Lessons We Learned From Beanie Babies


To commemorate Throwback Thursday today, we harken back to one of our favorite obsessions: Beanie Babies. With the help of author Zac Bissonnette, whose book "The Great Beanie Baby Bubble: Mass Delusion and the Dark Side of Cute" is being released Tuesday, March 3, we offer you these five things we learned about life from those adorable little buggers:

1. Be an individual.
At the height of the Beanie Babies craze, more than a billion animals were sold and half of Americans had at least one Beanie Baby. The little animals contributed almost 10 percent of eBay's total sales. Beanie Babies were thought of as an investment: A self-published price guide predicting what each animal would be worth in 10 years sold more than three million copies, according to Bissonnette.

The entirely predictable outcome of this was devastating: Everyone was chasing Beanie Babies, which guaranteed that too many would be sold and, more importantly, too many would be preserved in mint condition -- making them all worthless, instead of the retirement goldmine they were supposed to be, Bissonnette said.

Follow your own passions and interests. Don't let the crowd dictate your priorities. Extraordinary results are never found in doing what everyone else is doing.

2. Don't believe everything you read.
In the late 1990s, a cottage industry blossomed around the notion that Beanie Babies were a great long-term investment. There was even a magazine called Mary Beth's Beanbag World, started by a self-described soccer mom that had more than a million monthly paid subscribers. The most important section was the market analysis pages that predicted ever-rising prices for the animals, said Bissonnette. In one issue, a staff writer for the magazine explained that low interest rates would continue to drive Beanie sales. One columnist wrote that “the Beanie market has consistently bucked the odds, and evidence of this continues as 1998 nears a close. The demand in the market for current and retired Beanies almost always exceeds supply, making a mockery of those calling the Beanie phenomenon a fad.”

The problem, of course, was that these experts had no idea what they were talking about. But somehow, seeing their prognostications in a magazine with large circulation made them seem true.

Lesson learned: Stay skeptical.

3. Your kids probably won't want all the stuff you've accumulated.
It's hard to come to terms with this but, in general: No one will ever be as attached to the property you've accumulated as you are, and leaving art, collectibles and other property to your heirs can make dividing up an estate complicated, expensive, and rife with acrimony. Just ask this pair of divorcees, who had to divide up their Beanie Baby collection in front of a judge.

When possible, turn your property into cash before you leave it to your heirs. The division of property will be more equitable and transparent, and relationships are less likely to be ruined. Plus we don't need to remind you how hoarding starts,do we?

4. Don't get greedy; pay your taxes.
In a single year, Ty Warner, the man who created Beanie Babies, earned a pre-tax income of more than $700 million. Now 70 years old, he has used that money to assemble one of the most spectacular real estate portfolios in the world -- including The Four Seasons Hotels in New York City and Santa Barbara, along with a $150 million estate in Montecito, California.

And yet, Warner's lifestyle is threatened by his decision to hide a portion of his wealth in an off-shore bank account, thus evading millions of dollars in taxes. He pleaded guilty to a felony and was sentenced to probation, but the government appealed that sentence and there remains a possibility that he will spend a portion of his golden years in federal prison. Bottom line: Don't let greed spoil your well-earned winnings.

5. Never be ashamed to cuddle with a stuffed animal.
Almost 15 years after the collapse of the Beanie Babies craze, the little animals that were once supposed to be the ticket to riches are back to being just little stuffed animals. But that's not such a bad thing: Adults can benefit from the comfort provided by stuffed animals too. Scientists say so!

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