Tonight, Diane and I were listening to a webcast on the topic of eliminating or trying to control the debt that we have all accumulated over the years. In the beginning, we heard a lot of great reminders about the first steps to tackle this mountain in front of us…payoff the smallest credit cards first, draft a budget and stick to it, keep a savings account for emergencies. What really struck me was when Jacquette Timmons also spent time discussing the emotional toll that this debt brings to us and, in turn, our families. Mostly, the toll is this shame that we carry thru our daily activities and how it impacts our decision making and our approach to life’s paths.
Last Friday night, Diane and I loaded up the car with the kids and made what came to be known to me as the “Drive of Shame”. We had poured over the budget since Christmas and realized that we did not have enough cash available to make it to the next paycheck. The bills have been paid, the utilities had been taken care of and the mortgages had been covered…but we did not have enough available to actually feed the family. We were still a week and a half away from the next paycheck with less than $100 in the account.
So, we had taken advantage of a couple of the wonderful After-Christmas sales to stock up for gifts on upcoming birthday parties or great deals on things we could use. Now, we hadn’t bought a lot of expensive things…a few dress shirts for me, a couple of new dresses for our daughter, and some shoes for our son. When we went thru these sacks, we made the determination that most of it had to go back to the stores. Having the cash for those purchases back into the account was the only way we were going to make it.
Instead of going out to eat for pizza as a family with friends or spending a quiet night with movies, we were traveling around the city to different stores to return our purchases. The first two stores went well where very few questions were asked and the amounts were starting to add up. Another hour later, at the third store, which shall remain nameless for this discussion…Kohl’s…I found myself arguing with the ladies behind the counter over $10 coupon we had used to make the original purchases. I still believe they are double dipping with this deal, but that is when I realized that our debt situation put me in a place where I was arguing with people over ten dollars on a Friday night while my family was out in the cold car waiting for my return. We were not having fun at home or enjoying the company of friends…we had put ourselves in a position where we had to go to extreme measures to put an extra $60 in the account. And, you have to understand that I am not this type of person…I rarely argue with strangers, even over money, and especially when I know the people behind the counter have little control over the situation. As I walked away defeated in my coupon plight, I am sure we were labeled as the difficult customer or the guy desperate enough to argue for small change. Whether that label was made out of disgust or desperation, it was not anything I would have ever put on myself.great deals on things we could use. Now, we hadn’t bought a lot of expensive things…a few dress shirts for me, a couple of new dresses for our daughter, and some shoes for our son. When we went thru these sacks, we made the determination that most of it had to go back to the stores. Having the cash for those purchases back into the account was the only way we were going to make it.
I wish there was a life lesson to tie this story to, but there isn’t one. Its part to show the shame sometimes you have to go thru while under this financial weight and its part to show the length we have to go just to reach the next paycheck. And, I hope, if anyone else has been in this position, they can relate and feel better because it happens to others. For the rest of you, hopefully this is your Al Bundy scenario where you just have to sit back and realize that “at least we don’t have it as bad as that guy”. Oh, and if you are ever in Kohl’s and think an item might be good, and we can always return it later if we don’t like it…take it from me and avoid that hassle.
Jack is sweet to say “our” and “we” but the truth is that I did all of the shopping. Why did I do it considering that we just started our blog a month ago and had totaled up our debt? There were many reasons. I thought we were good to go with the numbers to allow me a tiny bit of shopping. I wanted to spend a day shopping with girlfriends since it has been ages since I have a girl’s night out. And given our emergencies in November, you can say that I went on a binge after a month long spending fast. And we have a birthday coming up in March. But mostly because the deals were just too darn good to pass up!
Nothing was extravagant; shoes $5.15, Christmas ornaments $1.34 each, dress shirt $9.95, girl’s dress $6.95, office organizer $13.99, etc…. Each of these was in the range of 75 to 90 percent off the retail price. Everything still had tags and nestled in the same bags they came home in. I think they stayed that way because I knew deep down that they were probably going to go back and wanted to keep them in the same condition.
During the 90 minutes Drive of Shame, I went through a roller coaster of emotions. We aimed to keep the mood light between us as we drove along knowing the kids were with us. But privately I was first excited to see the $$ in credits adding, then sad to see a particular dress go back that the sales person had to physically tug it out of my hands a couple of times, grumpiness set in as the clock ticked on, nervous and frightened that the credits would not be enough for groceries, and finally just plain ticked at the whole situation. Physically I felt stressed while hunting for receipts and trying to match them to the items. Mentally I was kicking the butt of my 10-year younger self, repeatingly!
I knew I was in no shape to handle the last store. I had the potential be a cluster with three different receipts, one that already had a return, a coupon, and a cash-back bonus. So Jack heroically entered the store-that-shall-never-be-entered-again. Sure enough, three women ganged up against him to insist that $10.00 should be deducted from his total even though the computer said we should receive it as a credit. [The $10 coupon that I had used had already been previously deducted from an earlier return.]
Overall I learned several valuable lessons to help temper my emotions a bit:
- Ask yourself “do I really need xxx?” Can you get through your next day, week or month without it? Chances are that you will survive just fine.
- Make it a habit to put ALL receipts in a specific location. It will save you time and even money to have it within easy reach.
- Read the return policies thoroughly before entering the store. Carefully note if there are any exceptions for specialty items such as seasonal or electronics.
- If possible, print and carry with you the policies for a reference as we are all human and we all make mistakes and this goes for sales clerks too.
- Do not approach the returns desk with a you vs. them mentality. Chances are they have dealt with extremely unhappy people all day. Be their breath of fresh air!
- If you still feel that the return credit is not correct, kindly ask for management. Once management appears, ask to speak in private and keep the message focused upon the return. Do not lose sight of your goal by focusing on the emotions.
- If you are still unhappy upon leaving the store, immediately document the verbal exchange and names of the associates. This will allow regional management to follow-up on your request.
- Do something at home for free with your family. Remind yourself that it was for them that you went through this ordeal of returns.
- Commit to spending time with those who have even less. Someday soon when you are debt-free, it is these moments with your friends and the less fortunate that will warm your heart.
This emotional toll of debt burdens us in many ways, both physically and emotionally. Yes, there will be emergencies and events that will happen outside of your control to upset your financial plans. But it is the little things that we can do now that will help lessen the pain and allow you to enjoy the thrill of this roller coaster called Life that we are on.
Disclosure: MID is not being paid to reference Ms. Timmons nor her webinars or services. You can find more information on Jacquette M. Timmons and her work here: http://www.sterlingchoices.
Did you find yourself returning any holiday presents or after-holiday deals? What other lessons would you share about returns to a store?