Category Archives: Money

Money money money (isn’t funny)

When I was a kid, opening my first bank account was pretty much one of the most exciting days of my (then) tender life. It wasn’t so much that I was saving money. After all, that just meant that I wasn’t going to be able to spend all my pocket money on cola bottles that week. No, the thrilling part was that I was opening an account with the Midland Bank, who had pioneered the concept of giving kids a whole lot of cheap tatsome special gifts to encourage them to become savers. Presumably on the basis that today’s young savers are tomorrow’s victims of an extortionate charge for going ten pencefourteen cents overdrawn.

As a Griffin Saver, I became the proud owner of a dictionary, a couple of folders, a pencil case (containing a protracter, a pair of compasses and one of those set square things that people only really used when they couldn’t find their ruler), a badge, and a tiny sports bag that you could fit one trainersneaker in. I didn’t care though – it was beyond exciting to get the goodies, and to be considered grown up enough to have a bank account.

As I grew older, I got a succession of stuff for opening various accounts in the UK, including CDs and a Young Person’s Railcard (for the Americans among you, this is a discount card for travel on this thing we have in Britain called “a useful network of railways”). Basically the message was that banks loved me, and would bend over backwards for my custom.

In the United States, I think it’s fair to say that things are a little different. I’d have been lucky to get a little vial of toe nail clippings from my bank when I opened my account. Infact, I couldn’t even open an account because I didn’t have a social security number at the time, so I had to have my name put on The Special One’s account and hope that she doesn’t decide to do a runner with my lifelong collection of 20p pieces. I can’t get a credit card because I’ve got no credit history, and like most people in the US, I get charged a small fortune if I even accidentally walk past another bank’s cashpointATM machine.

But the customer service is something else. Trying to make a small purchase yesterday, I found out that my Chase card (name and shame, I say) had been cancelled and so I called up the bank to question why. It turns out that a couple of months ago I had used my card at a place where they had subsequently had a fraud transaction, and so they cancelled my card as a precaution. Of course, they didn’t bother to tell me. I mean, why would they, it’s not like I needed to know.

To be fair to her, the woman speaking to me on the phone couldn’t have been less apologetic if she tried. She first shouted at me that they had written to me (they hadn’t), and then attempted to get me off the phone at all costs. I think it was all she could do not to yell “well, you should just count yourself lucky that we haven’t p**sed all your money up a wall on dodgy mortgages given to people who can barely sign their name.”

Obviously I slammed the phone down on her. I said ‘thank you’ first though. I’m British, not a barbarian.

The great New York breakfast robbery

After about fifteen years of not eating breakfast (unless consuming my own body weight in sausage and bacon on the morning after the night before), I’ve recently taken up cereal. It’s hardly a lifestyle choice, more a doctor-enforced measure to counteract years of eating Iceland’s CJD Burgers, but actually it’s been nowhere near as painful as I’d imagined.

To be honest, even when I ate breakfast, I was never much of a fan of cereal. When we were kids, Little Sis and I used to get excited about the occasional appearance of a variety pack of cereals, but I think that was largely due to our fascination with the tiny boxes that looked exactly like scaled down versions of the real thing. We probably used to fight over who had the Sugar Puffs, although I must admit that my preoccupation was always with ensuring that I never had to eat the Coco Pops. I never did understand why ‘turning the milk brown’ was given as a unique selling point of that stuff. I don’t like milk at the best of times, but at least let it be white if I’ve got to drink it.

The cereal section of most grocery stores in America seems to be bigger than most supermarkets back home. As in ‘bigger than the supermarkets themselves’. It can take a good twenty minutes just to take in all the choices. But after your first visit to the cereal aisle, you quickly realise that the choice is illusory. Because when it comes down to it, all you have to decide is whether you want your cereal to taste of sugar or cardboard. Whether it’s made by familiar names like Kelloggs or Nestle, or the slightly more exotic Kashi or Peace Valley, there’s simply a straight selection between sickly sweet cinnamony frosted weird-coloured honey glazed crunchy stuff, or recycled cereal boxes that have ironically been turned into cereal themselves. With occasinal raisins thrown in to break up the paper-based monotony.

Once you’ve realised that, it’s just a matter of choosing between the two styles, and then picking the box with the nicest design on it.

I’ve taken to buying my cereal from a corner deli across the road from where I work, but I’ve finally decided that this has to stop. In part it’s because I don’t like the designs on their slightly more limited range cardboard cereals, and partly because their cereals are about $2 more expensive than the same thing in a normal grocery store.

But mainly it’s because they keep stealing a penny from me.

My personal cardboard selection costs $4.99 at this store. Every single time I go there, they tell me that the cereal costs $4.99 and I hand over a $5 note. And then I wait for the change. The change never comes. They just look at me blankly, and then call on the next customer to step forward.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t need the single cent, and I’m not trying to be some kind of latter day Scrooge. I’ve never even asked that they hand it over. But there’s a principle at stake – why don’t they just label the box with a $5 price tag, instead of making me feel like I’ve been duped every time?

Or maybe it’s just that the dollar is so worthless these days that they think the penny has no use to anyone?

Especially to a namby pamby cardboard cereal muncher like me.