Sunday, September 14, 2014

Would you report being undercharged?

Few of us would hesitate to correct a store clerk if we found he or she had charged us too much for an item, returned too little change, or failed to ring up the correct price of a sale item.

About a month ago, I lined up in a food court at a local mall to purchase a soup, sandwich and drink combo listed on the menu at $7.99. I was the first customer of the day and the young man behind the counter admitted he didn't know how to ring up meal combinations, so he called over a more senior member of his crew. She rang me up and told me the total was $10.68.

I pointed to the menu and observed that even with sales tax, the total should be well under $10. She looked at the menu, eyed me again me, and said, "I know, but that's what the register says."

A few moments of silence passed as I waited for her to correct the error. Nothing. So I canceled my order and told her I wasn't willing to pay more than the listed price for the item.

"Sorry," she said.

I skipped lunch - likely the healthier thing to do anyway.

Like most of you, I'm not inclined to let being overcharged go unnoticed. But how many readers would call attention to an error made in their favor?

While it's nice to believe most would report being undercharged, but there are those who would simply chalk it up to good fortune - even if undeserved. If you're among those who'd do the honest thing and point out an error in your favor, what if you knew that doing so might mean an employee received a reprimand or worse? What would you do?

Years, ago, J.W., of Russells Point, Ohio, writes that he faced just such a scenario. J.W. and his family were buying goods at a local grocery store. After they got out to the parking lot, J.W. noticed on the sales slip that the clerk had rung up a 10-lb. bag of potatoes. He was pretty certain they had purchased a 25-lb. sack. J.W. checked his groceries and confirmed that the clerk had charged him for a less-expensive item. He went back in the store to get the matter corrected.

"The sales girl was furious that I'd called her attention to the error," writes J.W. She explained, angrily, that if the customer wanted her to correct the price she'd have to call her manager. "She was afraid she'd get fired," writes J.W.

Without hesitation, J.W. did the right thing and told her he wanted to pay the correct amount and that she should call her manager if that's what was needed to get it done.

"I wasn't about to let it go by."

Following J.W.'s example, I didn't let my food court experience go by, either. I emailed the company on the form provided on its website and explained what happened. A representative acknowledged my plight and offered my next meal on the house. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

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Sunday, September 07, 2014

Never assume you know the deal without all the facts

Over dinner on a late summer evening with friends, the conversation at L.S.'s house turns to professional baseball. L.S.'s home-town team is doing well in the standings and tickets are hard to come by.

One dinner guest happens to have season tickets to the home games. After L.S. mentions that his oldest grandchild has become quite a fan of the team, the dinner guest reveals that he has tickets for an upcoming game - one he won't be able to attend due to a conflict.

"Sweet!" L.S. thinks. He and the grandchild can take in a game.

"Are you interested?" the dinner guest asks.

Without hesitation, L.S. say, "Yes!"

L.S. promptly calls his grandson to see if the date is free and ask the boy's parents if he can be out on a school night. The child is excited and his parents are excited for him to see his first professional baseball game.

"All set," L.S. tells his dinner guest.

"Terrific," the guest responds. "I can drop off the tickets later this week. I'll give them to you at face value."

Suddenly, L.S. feels stupid. He'd thought, foolishly, that the dinner guest was giving him the tickets. But the guest clearly thinks he's doing L.S. a favor by only charging him face value since the games are sold out.

He's got great seats and the face value of the tickets reflects that greatness -- $125 per ticket.

L.S.'s grandson is already excited about the game and L.S. doesn't want to disappoint him. L.S. also doesn't want to seem like a cheapskate, nor does he want to make his guest feel bad by suggesting that he assumed the tickets would be free.

The tickets would cost more than L.S. ever would normally have spent on a sporting event. Buying them would put a significant dent in his monthly expense budget.

What's the right thing to do?

If L.S. truly can't afford the tickets and buying them would cause financial hardship, he should tell his friend the price is a bit steep and pass on the opportunity. The next step would be to tell his grandson the deal fell through -- a potentially difficult task, but better to temporarily disappoint him than go into hock to attend a baseball game.

However, if L.S. can afford the tickets and wants to take his grandson to the game, the right thing is to pay his friend face value.

Suggesting that the friend should simply hand over the tickets for nothing or sell them to L.S. at a discount would put the friend in an awkward position. After all, while he could have been clearer when making the offer, he never said the tickets would be free.

It's always best to be clear on the cost before making commitments. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Consult neighbor before sprucing up her messy yard

After spending a couple of hours weeding and sprucing up her own yard this summer, A.L. looked over at her neighbor's house, the two-family building next door, and noticed the overgrown shrubs, weeds growing just a few feet from the foundation, and grass that needed a good trim.

The houses in A.L.'s neighborhood are close together, and her yard touches on the neighbor's yard. Aside from regularly mowing the entire lawn between their houses -- a portion of which belongs to the neighbor -- A.L. is uncertain how to improve the rest of the neighbor's yard, which goes untended.

The owner of the house next door does not live there and rents out each of the apartments. Several roommates live in each unit. These neighbors are nice, quiet, respectful people, A.L. says. She hasn't seen the owner of the house for months.

It would probably take A.L. an extra hour or so to mow the rest of the neighbor's lawn, do some weeding and trim the unruly hedges. Other than mowing between their houses, however, the only other things she's ever done are to prune an overgrown rose bush that caught the garments of anyone walking on the side lawn, and remove a dead azalea bush.

A.L. knows the neighbor's yard would look a lot better -- as would the neighborhood -- if she just want ahead and spruced up the property herself.

A.L. said that a neighbor down the street was once fined $50 by the city for letting the weeds in his yard grow so high that they partially blocked the public sidewalk. Her next-door neighbor's overgrown plants, however, are confined to the yard. (When the neighbor who was fined took ill, A.L. cut back his weeds so he wouldn't be fined again.)

"Is it my responsibility to look after (my neighbor's) yard?" A.L. asks. "Would it be wrong if I just walked over there and spent some time cleaning up the place?"

It's obviously not A.L.'s responsibility to maintain her neighbor's yard. And while it might seem neighborly to simply take care of the mess, this would be inappropriate. It is her neighbor's responsibility to decide how she wants the yard maintained...or not maintained. If A.L.'s attitude is that her neighbor would never notice any work she did, this is not justification for tending to her neighbor's property.

The right thing, if A.L. really believes the neighbor's lawn maintenance issue should be addressed, is to talk to the owner of the house. She can choose how to broach the subject, perhaps letting the owner know that since she last visited, the weeds, shrubs and lawn have gotten out of control. A.L. could then offer to mow the lawn and do some basic weeding. She should be sure to clear all such work with the owner before doing anything.

However, if the homeowner takes A.L. up on her offer, she might then expect A.L. to take permanent responsibility for maintaining the yard at her rental house. This already seems to be the case with the side yard they share. Such an arrangement may be fine with A.L., but the right thing to do is talk with her neighbor before taking on the task. 

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Sunday, August 24, 2014

College alum stands firm: If you want my money, treat me right

K.S., a reader from the Midwest, "had a great time studying and teaching" at her alma mater, but she whenever she's solicited for donations to the annual fund, she refuses.

While K.S. was working on a graduate degree in the mid-1990s, she also taught writing classes to freshmen and sophomores at the university. She continued teaching for a year after she completed her degree, then resigned to accept a new job in a new town.

After leaving the university, K.S. received two additional paychecks. Recognizing that they were sent in error, she returned the checks and explained that she was not entitled to them.

Shortly afterward, K.S. received a call from a university representative who told her that in addition to the checks she returned, she also had to repay the money that had been withheld from the two checks for taxes.

K.S. pointed out that it was not her responsibility to recover that money from the government, but rather the university's since it had made the error. University officials disagreed. Complicating matters, when the university sent her W2 indicating her earnings for that year, it included the two erroneously issued checks K.S. had returned. The university refused to issue a corrected W2 until K.S. repaid the university the money it had withheld from the two checks for taxes.

K.S. then called the IRS, which told her that all the university had to do was to call the IRS to recover the tax money it had withheld. She conveyed that information to the university, but was told they still wanted her to repay the money herself.

Since K.S. didn't have the money to hire a lawyer, she writes that a representative from the IRS helped her file her taxes by using her pay stubs from the university, rather than the incorrect W2.

"Everything turned out all right in the end," writes K.S. But because the university tried to make her pay for its mistake, she declines to send donations.

Should K.S.'s experience with university administrators over the erroneously sent paychecks outweigh the fact that her experience studying and teaching at the school were great? Since the years of positive experiences far outweigh the time it took to deal with this one negative incident, does K.S. owe it to the school to overlook what happened?

The right thing for K.S. to do is weigh her experience. If her final experience with her former employer soured her on how it treated a recent graduate, she has every right to turn her back. Of course, even if that experience had never happened, K.S. has no obligation to donate funds to her alma mater. How she decides to allocate any charitable contributions is up to her.

The university in question would do well to remember that it's not just the alumni affairs office that should consider how it treats the people once they leave the school. The right thing would have been for school officials to have worked with K.S. to resolve the problem, rather than forcing her to turn to the IRS for help. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

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