Voices

Tricksters

Beware "the end of late fees" and other games peddlers play

Issue: "Big mouth on campus," March 12, 2005

Aimee is under the weather so I head to "Brickbuster" for her favorite flick. I learn from the helpful attendant that I needn't pay $8.45 for two movies if I subscribe to "Cine Pass." Now there are different kinds of "Pass" (depending on your option, you are entitled to 2 or 3 movies). You may swap up to six times in a 30-day period. No due dates. $14.99. (Of course that's for the first month only; another rate applies after that.) There is also a one-year plan that allows five films at a time (but only from the "floor," not the "new releases"). Large posters in the window boast "THE END OF LATE FEES," but beware: The state of New Jersey is presently suing the nation's largest movie rental company for "incomplete and inconsistent" advertising.

From there it's off to the XYZ apothecary for cure. The pharmacist advises I save a buck by buying the brand with the plain wrapper rather than the pretty one, identical in content. This I do, taking note of the receipt, at the bottom of which is affixed the "ExtraLove Coupon" entitling me to save $3 on any XYZ brand purchase of $12 or more. As I have several of these cash register emissions presently decomposing at the bottom of my handbag, I smartly resolve to file them henceforth with the bills. But that's no good because the café supply shopping receipts and undeposited checks (and one carousel ticket from "Peddlar's Village") already have dibs on that space.

Exiting, I spot on the end cap a special deal on "Whammo" detergent: "Buy one, get the second for a penny." I pass, reluctantly, because the jugs look to weigh about 20 pounds each, and there's only so much space in the washroom besides. I sulk away wondering why they can't just make the one container half price. But then again, I've never had a head for business.

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Child No. 3 has a birthday coming, so I swing by "Audio-Hut" and inquire about MP3 players. This becomes more complicated than I anticipated, so I pull out scrap paper (an XYZ "ExtraLove Coupon" from pocketbook purgatory) and start a crude flow-sheet comparing features. The clerk, not so helpful as the gal at "Brickbuster," says, "Uh-uh, you're doing research; I don't have time. See our website." This I dutifully do, going eeny-meeny-miny-mo all the way back to "Audio-Hut." I have psyched myself to part with the unconscionable sum of $129.99 (Why can't they call it $130?) when the cashier asks if I want the warranty with that. "How much extra?" I ask. "Thirty dollars, three years," he says, bored. Which I think is a lot like saying that $129.99 gets you an MP3 player that doesn't necessarily work, and $30 more gets you one that does.

I have always found clipping coupons demeaning, and a poor use of the Sabbath, which is when most of them come. I can always think of a dozen things more important at the moment than sifting through an encyclopedia of 5-and 10-cent savings stuffed into the Sunday Inquirer. I would like the "Wallcarts" and "Stop and Spends" of this country to pitch in for my trash bags if they're going to send unsolicited ads every day.

More trash bag fill is the "Entertainment 2004" book I bought from Glenside Elementary last year. It was bulging with two-for-one specials from "MacBurgers" and "Burger Bell" (useful as long as diners have a simultaneous hankering for the deluxe fish sandwich). In late fall I dusted off the book and yanked a fistful of coupons for "Majestic Cinema" and packed the car. The ticketer shook her head, and sure enough the fine print read, "Expires November 1st." The folks at "Entertainment 2004" HQ are uncanny about human nature, I thought.

They are cousins to the inventors of the rebate, who are counting on you to lose the UPC code. They are kin to telephone company executives who devise convoluted pricing structures mixing minutes and mileage and weekday and weekend and in-state and out-of-state and hidden fees and stealth exceptions, and forcing you to compare apples and oranges.

And all I can say is, aren't you glad God doesn't play games with us?

Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again. Follow Andrée on Twitter @Andreespeterson.

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