Holiday, and Year Round, Savings

The best way to save is not to spend, of course. But failing that, it really helps if we don't unthinkingly let money slip through our fingers like sand on a beach.

The best way to save is not to spend, of course. But failing that, it really helps if we don’t unthinkingly let money slip through our fingers like sand on a beach. These thoughtless losses occur both at Christmas shopping time and, as you will see, the rest of the year as well. Let me share some of the ways that we can save thousands, literally, with little effort.

I was provoked into this kind of thinking when I bought a jacket for a deserving little girl that requested one through her letter to Santa/the Post Office, that I wrote about last week. (FYI — according to the Atlas of Giving, charitable donations rose 13% in 2013). I was happy to get the jacket on sale. Hey, charity or not, I am a Trained American Shopper. At the checkout stand, I was not given the discount that I was looking for. When I mentioned the discount to the clerk, she shrugged and re-did the transaction.

Was this part of her personal Christmas fund-raising program to overcharge everyone a bit and redo the ones that get caught, claiming a mistake or over sight, and pocketing the difference at the end of the day? Or was it faulty training and/or character development? The high rate of occurrence you find and the bored clerks you usually deal with when finding these “mistakes” leads one to lean toward the latter.

Then I went to a drugstore where I bought one item, not on sale. This time the clerk double-charged me, and I easily caught it. She shrugged and re-did the transaction. In 20 minutes I saved $20 on small-ticket items, just for paying attention.

The next couple of times that you buy something you might get my point by also watching how other customers conduct themselves at a checkout counter. I noticed few customers paying more than cursory attention. Distracted by thinking ahead to the next task, or other distraction, the customer’s trust factor was nice to see, but ignored the apparently high rate of “slippage” in routine transactions.

Another way that such things get by in our increasingly cash-less society is the surprisingly few number of people who ask for a credit card receipt. When I ask cashiers about this, they often tell me that “most” credit card users do not take, or ask, for a receipt. Aside from the above-mentioned kinds of errors, it also tells any potential miscreant employee pretty loudly which credit card to take advantage of.

The corollary to taking the receipt is reconciling the statement at the end of the month. Now you have transcription errors factored in as well as potential fraud. I am not paranoid to watch for these financial losses because I have seen so many errors over the years total into the thousands. Look carefully at restaurants and hotel bills, especially. And when you see errors, have you noticed that they are always in favor of their house, not yours? And don’t even get me started about errors in hospital and medical bills — fortunately, that’s already part of the national debate.

I don’t have the patience for coupon-clipping, nor for combing ads for sales to save money. And although I advocate for haggling, I only do it on big-ticket items. I find that I often waste money because of expedience, buying convenience through the day — e.g. paying for parking instead of wasting time looking for a street spot.

I waste my share of money, but I draw the line at just not looking at a bill, not getting a receipt or reconciling it at month’s end. I just hope that the thousands in errors that I’ve caught balance the thousands that I’ve probably missed elsewhere.

Happy Holidays!