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What’s nothing at first, can build into something big

May 16, 2010
By SANDY MICKELSON, Messenger staff writer

Suddenly I feel taken.

A few weeks back, we shopped at a local store for a leather belt for my husband. It wasn't hard to find, and the $11.96 price tag didn't hurt. He bought some pants and shirts too - kind of a shopping spree for him - and when he got home, he modeled his new clothes.

While he pulled on the jeans, I snipped the plastic price tag from the belt and saw the price again. A few minutes later, I looked at the cash register receipt and noticed the belt was rung up at $12 even, four cents higher than the tag said the price was.

Since the store is way on the other side of town - which makes my daughter laugh since she can't get out of her Denver, Colo., neighborhood in the six or seven miles it takes us to get way to the other side of town - I figured that four-cent irregularity wasn't important enough to go back to correct.

But I thought about it, and I talked about it, and suddenly thought I couldn't be so afraid of numbers not to figure up a thing or two, so I figured. And what I figured shocked the snot out of me.

If this store overcharges four cents, just four cents, on at least one item from every person shopping, that could count up to big bucks at the end of a year.

Consider if there are 500 shoppers every day, and that's not out of the realm of possibilities by any means, that means a four-cent overrun for every shopper would come up to $20 a day, and $20 a day for 365 days would be $7,300 a year.

Now, there often are many more shoppers than 500, though there likely are days when there aren't even 500. That really doesn't matter. What matters is how a seemingly trivial overrun turns into big money by the end of a year.

It reminds me of that question whether you'd want to receive a gift of $100,000 or the gift of a penny that would be doubled every day for a month. The hundred thou, you say quickly, especially if you're not so good with math and that kind of thinking. Spatial thinking, I think it's called.

I can't get you up to the whole amount because I've got just a small calculator, but one penny doubled in value every day for 26 days takes you up to $671,088.64, give or take a goof or two - but I don't think I goofed. Just think how much that would go up to in those last four days, considering there are just 30 days in that month. Who'da thought there could be such a huge amount from such a meager beginning?

That shows you what's to gain with just a four-cent overcharge - an overcharge practically no one would go back to correct.

And then, when we were eating out one night talking about that rotten belt, I noticed the price of a soda had gone up. But the glasses were big, I thought, so maybe it was worth the increase. Then I looked inside the glass, where there were four or five little things like braces that took up quite a bit of room in the glass, so I wasn't getting so much extra soda anyway.

I drank two big glasses of soda just because the refill was free and I felt like I actually got my money's worth. But not everyone will do that. Besides the increased price, that restaurant makes even more because it doesn't take as much soda to fill a glass with ridges inside, not to mention how full they cram the ice cubes.

Things like that just fry my patience. It's cheating is what it is.

That's just not right.

So long friends, until the next time when we're together.

Contact Sandy Mickelson at (515) 573-2141 or



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