I made a big trip to the grocery store last week. Over small-talk with the chatty clerk, I paid with my debit card, requesting $20 back in cash. After several minutes discussing the interminable Oregon rain, I picked up my bags and drove home.
As I put away the groceries, I realized that I’d never received the $20 cash back that I’d requested. I cursed myself for being a fool and then drove back to the store. “Your forgot to give me my $20,” I told Mr. Chatterbox, showing him my receipt.
“No I didn’t,” he said. “I never forget to give change. You must have misplaced it.”
“I don’t think so,” I said. “You never gave me the cash.”
“I’m sure I gave it to you,” he said. “Besides, I’m busy.” He waved his hand to indicate the long line at his checkstand.
But I wasn’t going to back down — not over $20. The clerk called over a manager, who closed the register, pulled out the cash box, and then took it to the back room to count it. She came out five minutes later and handed me a $20 bill. “You were right,” she said. [time-link title=”(Read about why many online shoppers in Russia still use cash)” url=http://techland.time.com/2011/05/18/why-do-most-online-shoppers-in-russia-still-pay-in-cash/]
I used to be bad with money. As part of that, I would have let this slide. Instead of driving back to the store and standing my ground, I would have written off the $20 as lost.
Over the past few years, however, I’ve become my own most vocal supporter. In fact, one of my mantras is: Nobody cares more about your money than you do. I’ve learned to take responsibility for my own financial situation instead of trusting that others have my best interests at heart.
From talking about money with hundreds of people, it’s clear that I’m not the only one who’s been afraid to stand up for himself. If you’re ready to take some small steps toward self-reliance, try these tips:
- Check every receipt and bill you receive. This can be tedious, and most of the time everything will be fine. But errors occur more often than you’d think. It only takes a few seconds to scan a bill or receipt, so make it a habit.
- Ask questions. If something seems wrong, ask about it. If you’re at a store, talk to a manager. If you’re at home, call customer service. Last winter, I noticed I was being charged for text messages sent to my mobile wireless modem. When I called to question this, I learned I’d accidentally changed one of the default settings on the device. Switching it back saved me a couple of bucks per month.
- Get a second opinion. When you receive financial advice — whether it’s from a friend, a financial adviser, or even a personal finance blog — don’t just blindly accept what you’re told. Do more research. Listen to advice, but make up your own mind.
- Never make a financial decision under time pressure. If somebody tells you this is a limited-time offer and you need to act fast or you’ll miss out, then miss out. That’s almost always the best choice. (Creating time pressure is one of the oldest tricks in the book, and an easy way to get people to go against their own best interest.)
One final note: Fair is fair. While you should absolutely take a stand when you’re overcharged, be willing to admit when a mistake is made in your favor. If you buy three potted petunias at the garden store but are only charged for one, be honest about it. [time-link title=”(Read about Visa’s digital wallet system)” url=http://techland.time.com/2011/05/11/visa-unveils-digital-wallet-system/]
From my experience, most stores are shocked and appreciative when a customer reveals such an error. And, in fact, it’s not uncommon for a merchant to say “don’t worry about it” and let you keep those extra two petunias for free.