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Cashiers Gone Wild

cash registerEver had one of those moments when you felt something was so obviously correct that it made you a little nervous that you were missing something? In those situations, I usually talk myself out of saying anything because I’m afraid of looking ridiculous if I’m wrong. Hey, what can I say? My personality naturally shies me away from conflict. But not this past weekend when I forced myself to speak up at the checkout register at a local eatery.

So it’s Friday night and we are eating out at a nationally known restaurant/bakery on our way to my daughter’s kindergarten graduation program. We are doing OK on time but any delay in the ordering or food delivery process could force us to eat quickly and rush off to graduation. I’m just hoping everything runs smoothly.

My wife and I have our four kids plus another child who we are watching for some close friends who are out of town for a few days. So there are seven of us in all. And seven people going out to eat creates one of the more interesting moments in parentdom. That’s right the stand-at-the-register-and-order moment.

Needless to say, it can be a little hectic. The kids are distracted by all the cool restaurant stuff. The youngest child is trying to climb the counter. Two others are pestering one another and that interaction turns into chase-around-daddy-time. My wife and I are trying to look at the overhead menu items and hold the situation together at the same time so we are not thoroughly humiliated by the stares coming from those in line behind us.

“OK…what do you want? WHAT DO YOU WANT!? Stop that! Can you just stand here? Hold my hand! Have you ordered your food yet? Tell her what you want. Did you get anything? No, you won’t eat that.” And so on, and so forth the conversation goes as the kids get more and more distracted and mommy and daddy get more and more frustrated.

This is when you just want to get the heck out of there so you can confine the kids in booth jail and control them for a bit. Plus I’m beginning to sweat because I can feel the stares burrowing into the back of my head from those in line behind us. It was in that moment that I just happened to catch something on the digital readout of the cash register.

Our bill had totaled $35. I had brought a Boy Scouts of America coupon card I recently purchased – the plastic fundraiser cards that have a dozen or so establishments signed up to offer various discounts. This particular store offered a 10% discount on the bill.

So I handed the card to the lady at the register. She presses a button on the register and in the midst of the kid chaos, sweat and mounting frustration I see $1.69 ring up as the discount. And immediately my mind flashes back to fifth grade math.

“Hmm…” my brain says, as I slowly reach for the ticket to sign for the transaction. “That doesn’t seem to look right. $35 times 10%…lets see…that’s $3.50 right?” I start to write my name on the receipt. “Am I seeing this right? What am I missing here?” Time is moving in slow motion now. “Surely the register didn’t make a mistake. Should I just let it go…?”

I almost did.

“Excuse me, what was my total bill?” I politely ask.

“$35” she replied.

“Well, the discount on the card was for 10%.” I get a blank stare from behind the register. “10% of $35 is not $1.69,” as I nervously turn to my Math degreed, soon to be CPA wife for a non-verbal cue of confirmation.

“Well, I just punched in the uniform discount code and that’s what came up. The uniform discount code is 10%.”

“But 10% of $35 is not $1.69″ I pleaded. My wife aggressively stepped forward at this point. “To get 10% all you do is move the decimal place one digit to the left. It’s $3.50!” My oldest daughter and I both turn at the same time to see steam coming off my wife’s head. My daughter says out loud, “My mom’s a CPA, she should know.”

“Well, I don’t know…that’s just what it came up with,” says the checkout girl. She then turns to the guy who is PREPARING OUR FOOD a station over and says, “Hey, isn’t the uniform discount 10%? What’s 10% of $35?”

“Uh…$3.50,” he says.

So you know what comes next. She’s confused…has to call the manager on duty over…explain the whole situation…he asks us questions…I show him the card…he takes out a calculator…he’s got to figure out how to rewrite the ticket to compensate for the error…I’m sweating more.

But I’m not letting this kind of incompetence go. Plus, my conspiracy theory mind is wondering if this might not be a scam I’ve just uncovered. You know, to take advantage of people who aren’t paying attention, who can’t do math or who have 5 kids they are trying to corral.

We eventually got the whole thing worked out and they refunded us the remainder in cash. And as I sat and ate my sandwich and chips, I wondered how many other people this happened to and how lucky I was to catch it. I was a glance away from not even seeing the discount and unknowingly signing away a few dollars in discounts.

It reinforced in my mind the need to be more alert at checkout time. I need to be doing things like making sure items only get scanned once, monitoring how my discounts or coupons are applied and counting to see if I get correct change.

Not to impugn all check out clerks but some are not the sharpest knives in the drawer. It’s our job as consumers to be alert and monitor those transactions. And if I have to make people in line behind me wait to correct something, so be it.

Do you catch yourself not paying attention at the cash register? What’s the worst mistake you have ever seen a checkout clerk make? 

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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  1. Being over rung or given the wrong discount it is a very common problem. I’ve worked registers on and off for a long time. Luckily, I know my math-and, I can count the money back! I hope they were nice while dealing with the situation. I love that you called it “booth jail!”

  2. We love booth jail! But we are kind and loving wardens. 🙂

    She wasn’t even processing in her mind what the discount should be. She was just following the code that popped out of her register and she didn’t seem to think that was wrong.

  3. I had to laugh out loud when reading your comment about trying to confining the kids to the booth jail, that’s something we as parents can completely identify with.

    Of course, when it comes to those discounts, I tend to be wary at checkouts with low paid clerks, they tend to not care if you get your whole discount or not. Best to stay on top of things like you did!

  4. Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says

    LOVE the comment by your daughter, LOL. 🙂 That is just classic! Brian, your story gave me total, nerve-wracking flashbacks to when our sweeties were that little. Our youngest is 7 now, so we’ve got them mostly under control, but restauranting when they were young like that always made me wonder if I might end up with a short stay in the looney bin afterwards. 🙂

  5. I would have totally spoken up. I am amazed at the lack of basic math skills in people today. The last time I flew with my daughter, I got her an ice cream at the airport (yes, it was probably too expensive, but we had a long layover). The person in front of me had a total of something like $6.10 and handed over a $20 plus a dime. The girl behind the register has already entered $20 into the register, which showed she was supposed to give the guy $13.90. She could not figure out to just put the money in and give the customer $14. She had to get the manager, who had to get the calculator…. basically like your story. Sometimes I have so little hope for the future!

    • “I am amazed at the lack of basic math skills in people today.” You said it. And living with a mathematician who taught for more than a decade, I heard this line all the time! In my opinion, much of it traces back to elementary or middle school when kids either a) had a poor math teacher, b) struggled and got down on themselves or c) just couldn’t see the point of it (like in Algebra). By the time they hit high school, they have checked out of Math completely and just do good enough to pass.

  6. Holly@ClubThrifty says

    That kind’ve stuff makes me crazy! I’m glad you got the correct discount in the end! I seem to always catch small mistakes like that….

  7. The saddest part of this whole story is that the clerk couldn’t do basic math. I am usually very vigilant at the register because of things like this. Nice job sticking to your guns.

  8. I absolutely catch cashiers making mistakes at the register (usually not scanning my coupons properly). I know it used to embarrass my bf when I’d correct them and catch their errors, now he OK with it, because all those “lost” dollars add up.

  9. John S @ Frugal Rules says

    Wow, I can so relate to your story and I now have a new term to use…booth jail! I hate situations like this and it never seems to fail it’s when the kids are absolutely nutty. I have had many of these situations and love it when I get to teach math to the cashier. 😉

  10. The Mom in me felt your pain – trying to corral rambunctious kids is hard work and honestly at times a bit embarrassing. Neon sign with *uncontrollable kids – look at bad parents* pointed at me. 🙂 In those moments, I might not have noticed the error either. I try to stay on top of those things, but kids can be a big distraction. Good for you for standing your ground. I smile a lot and lower my voice to a whisper, so the clerk has to lean forward. It seems to work!

  11. Mike@WeOnlyDoThisOnce says

    I’ve definitely been there before, and unfortunately was too distracted by other things to point out a mistake. Good call!

  12. The Happy Homeowner says

    I had to laugh at the scene you described, but good for you for pointing out the mistake. You’re right–being alert at checkout time is crucial. I’ve caught so many mistakes that way!

    • It was a hectic scene in the moment but comical when I reflect on it. I was just fortunate enough that my eyes were looking at the register at that moment. If she had handed me the ticket without me seeing the discount on the register, I would have signed off on the ticket and not caught it.

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