This week I had two money related things happen that are, in the grand scheme of things, not a big deal. But being that I’m a frugal person, I am not usually satisfied until I know I got the best possible deal. So in the day or so since these transactions, I have been irritated in trying to find a resolution.
The first was a visit to the dry cleaners. Seems simple enough. Not a place I usually stress about how much money I’m going to drop. I took in two throw pillow cases; in other words, something slightly fancier than the standard cotton thin material that one drools on in her sleep. They are from Pottery Barn, cost $79 for the pair and I waited over six months to buy them after careful consideration and online stalking. My husband and I returned from Alaska recently after hosting another successful round of guests through Airbnb. A few days later, I noticed there was what appeared to be a coffee stain on one of said pillow cases. Okay, fine. It was a family of five, younger girls, one slept on the couch; it happens. I read the cleaning directions and saw I could clean it myself in the washer, but being the freak that I am, I thought it would be better to dry clean them because the edges are a braided straw like material and I didn’t want to unravel it. After all, I said to myself “taking good care of your purchase is frugal in the long run because it will prevent you from having to replace the item too soon”. Made perfect sense in my head. And resale value is always a factor as well.
I go to the dry cleaners to pick up the cases and take them out of the wrapping to examine (see mention of “freak” above). I started doing this every visit because no matter where I go (yes, I’ve tried all four dry cleaners in my neighborhood!), someone messes up eventually. Sure enough, there was the very clear outline of the stain still on the WHITE pillow case and now a light pink dot in the middle that was not previously there. I pointed it out to the employee, who unsympathetically told me they could run it through again, free of charge, but to know that the pink dot means they already tried cleaning it at their maximum ability. Interesting that the indication of your best cleaning effort is to create a new stain…but I didn’t write the steam bath rules. Nor would this line of reasoning translate in conversation. She then tells me the total is $36.00 for the cleaning. Wait, what cleaning? If I were a cartoon my eyes would have popped three feet in front of my head while my limbs extended out to the sides as I floated in midair. “But the job is not done”, I argue. She explains, it is a common misconception when you bring your item to the cleaners, that it will be fully cleaned. Apparently! And get this…we are paying for their attempt to do the job right. No guarantees that they can do it. I would understand this policy better if we were talking about red wine or gum or some other notoriously difficult stain to remove. Every business has a disclaimer. But this? This was a standard, fresh, clearish-brown liquid that I may have been able to wipe out with a washcloth but I let the “quality” pull in me outweigh the frugal side of me. I was pretty peeved. I didn’t know what to do. Here I am in a mom and pop business, knowing full well that I am being way overcharged for something that isn’t even done right–dare I say damaged– and am left trying to argue my point to someone who isn’t directly answering my questions or acting like she cares. To be honest, had they completely removed the stains, I still would have been shocked at how expensive the job was. $36.00? That’s almost half of the price of what I paid for the pillow cases! Are they magical now? Do they fly through the air and grant wishes to little children? Will they cook me dinner? Collect my mail when I’m out of town? I begrudgingly paid the price, despite my hesitation (which in retrospect I wish I’d listened to) and felt defeated. I kept repeating how dissatisfied I was and that this should cost half of what it does; which was scary enough to say. If I had a second shot at that conversation, I would have refused to pay, asked to speak to a manager, tried to get a discount and then waited to pay until their second attempt to clean had been completed successfully.
Instead, I have to go back later this week to retrieve the maybe damaged/maybe cleaned pillow case that is already paid for on good faith (or pressure from the employee, “but it’s pick up day”)–and all I can do is ask if they will refund part of the price. I don’t know why they would. They have my money. But I don’t know what else to do to stand up for myself. I considered leaving an unfavorable Yelp review, but guilt got the better of me. I would have no problem doing that if we were talking about a bigger company, but I feel like it’s a harder choice when they are so small. What do you think, readers? Shouldn’t they be held accountable for poor customer service and an incomplete job that they tried to present to me as a polished package? Why wrap it all up like it’s done when you’re really hiding a stain under there? And what does accountability look like in a small neighborhood business? There’s no “higher up” to complain to in hopes of getting a gift card in the mail. Not to mention it’s family owned and operated, so even asking to speak to a manager is not exactly intimidating to them. I’m annoyed at the waste of money, but that’s not the point. You could hand me the $36.00 right now and that wouldn’t take away my frustration. It’s the principle of their business model and the fact that I messed up in a number of ways, rather than fight for what I believed to be the appropriate course of action. An important lesson here on the frugal side of things is maybe buying semi-expensive pillow cases was a mistake. Also in the shade of white. Or maybe I should have waited for a better deal so I wouldn’t care as much. If they were from somewhere inexpensive, I doubt I would be writing about this–or even had them dry cleaned to begin with. But my blog posts aren’t about great steals from bargain warehouse stores. They’re about buying quality products at an affordable price. Quality and frugality together–it is possible!
The second and less frustrating thing was with my normally great insurance company. Last year, my husband and I drove across the country and accumulated more miles on our car than usual. If you exceed 12,000 a year, you get a slight bump in your premium payments until your next odometer reading. For the last six months, we’ve been paying that increase of roughly $19.00 a month. I reported the odometer a few weeks back and we were well within our mileage limitations, so I expected to see our rate drop back to the old one starting this billing cycle. When the withdraw occurred this past week, I noticed it was still the exact same figure; so I wrote to the office to inquire. Perhaps they’ve slipped up, or perhaps it takes a month for the new rate to kick in. Both reasonable answers I would have accepted. Instead, my agent’s assistant tells me there have been statewide increases and “everyone is feeling it”, so that’s why my premium remained the same. Oh? That’s CRAZY that the same month my extra charge for mileage should have fallen off, this generic increase with no explanation apart from it being “statewide” kicks in…and for the EXACT same amount of money! I mean down to the penny. I replied asking for written proof that this was a real thing, which she only provided after I requested it twice–and even then, it was vague as vague could be. To me, it sounds like they simply have found a way to keep my rate higher without having to think. Unfortunately for them, all I do is think about this kind of stuff. I have found the office I deal with to be unhelpful in this situation, so, because it’s a huge organization—I feel comfortable going to the corporate level and trying to see what I can accomplish there. And apparently the answer is nothing! “We are just an extension of your local office”, they say. Wonderful! No help at all! Next step: switch offices. Once that is done I will pursue this further. Someone, somewhere in that company has to be able to explain why my rate is the exact same dollar amount. Don’t challenge a passionate frugal lady and expect to get away with it. We live for this stuff.
So to wrap this all up, what did I learn from this week’s frugal trials that could possibly help you?
- Poor customer service or lack of information does not mean the conversation is over, despite the fact that the employee wants it to be. Be bold.
- Think twice, or maybe five times before making nicer home purchases that aren’t important enough to justify (or make them, but then hide them when you have guests stay over).
- Pay attention to all of your bills. When there is even a slight change, pursue it until you receive the answer you needed.
- Do not walk away from a transaction until you feel satisfied in the outcome.
Good luck on your money saving adventures this week, friends!