I think about money frequently, and not just in regards to business. In my household, I'm the designated CFO, so when a bill comes in, it's my role to evaluate it and pay it. Typically fees for recurring charges are negotiated in advance and predictable, like the cable or cell phone, and there's no argument. When I see an unexpected charge, I have a motto: I do not pay anything until I have a chance to argue about it.
I have a few rules about arguing with customer service reps. Firstly, I'm always polite and friendly. None of the mistakes are ever their fault, and I'm pretty sure customer service at a call center is one of the worst jobs this country has to offer. Secondly, you get a lot further in life with kindness than any other tactic. Third, I'm upfront about the problem and my desired resolution. If you just tell them the solution you'd like to see happen, they often just make it happen for you, rather than you waiting to hear what they'd offer. Lastly, I try to devise a solution that's fair to the business as well as to me. I'm not trying to fleece anyone.
So, whither the $2 charge? I recently took my daughter to the pediatrician because of some undefined pre-school illness, for which I paid a co-pay. They took her temperature, looked in her ears and mouth, prescribed something for her and sent her on her way. Months later, I received a bill in the mail for something coded "Noninvasive Ear and Mouth", which was billed to my insurance for $80, discounted to $2, which was passed on to me. I called the billing office, and they explained that this was the charge for taking my daughter's temperature.
What planet do we live on that doctors are charging insurance companies $80 for taking a temperature during a visit that you charged $250 for in the first place? Thanks to negotiated rates I paid much less, but is a temperature not included in that? What is included? Time for a call to my insurer. They claim that the code is actually for "Oximetry" (neither one of us knew what that meant), and if that meant taking a temperature, it shouldn't have been billed separately.
Another call to the pediatrician for an explanation of oximetry. More confusion. Eventually instead of trying to explain it to me they just took it off the bill. I suppose I'm glad to have it removed, but I'd rather understand why this happened in the first place. No matter where you stand on ACA, can we at least agree that insurance in our country is farcically broken?
Back to my original thesis: I argued over a $2 charge. Can I afford two measly dollars? Absolutely. It probably would have been easier for me to pay it, now that I know how long it took me to go through the process of understanding the bill that I'm no closer to understanding. But I am very careful about spending my money, especially as this one will likely come up repeatedly into the future.
When I embarked on my portfolio career I read an article that detailed a few habits of millionaires, and being fastidious about their money is one of them. They're not cheap, but they are careful about spending needlessly. In fact, the monetary habits of millionaires were a surprise to me in a few ways.
- They are more likely to hold JC Penney credit cards than any other socioeconomic bracket. This was a surprise to me, because I always pictured rich people shopping at places like Hermes and Neiman Marcus. I assumed I should be aspiring to shop there because they care more about quality and how the garments will last long-term over being seen at the right store or carrying a bag with an expensive name on it. They shop for price, as well, because spending within their means makes it easier for them to accumulate their wealth.
- They spend on quality, not flashy labels. Similar to the previous principle, they're less likely to be the kind of person on Instagram who's displaying all the fancy things they've purchased for everyone to gawk over (#tomford sunnies). They live modestly and pocket their cash for investing, so they can earn more with it. That's not to say that they don't enjoy their money - they definitely do. But they spend it when they've secured themselves very well, and not beforehand. They're very disciplined.
- They will argue over these tiny costs, because they quickly accumulate and add up to big costs. They guard their money carefully. They are also more likely than lower income households to clip coupons. Personally, I swap the coupon clipping for buying the generic brand of everything, and I think I come out ahead of the game, but I have a few tricks up my sleeve that I never refuse.
There are a couple more habits that I'll be sharing with my subscribers this week, so make sure you're signed up!
Time for your say in the comments section below. Let me know how you handle your costs, and how you feel about getting the most bang for your buck!