Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


Why you should always review the bill

Three simple rules that will always save you money:

  1. Always double-check your receipts
  2. Always reconcile your credit-card statement
  3. Never sign a credit-card slip without reading and tallying the bill first.

Three times I’ve caught charges on my credit-card statement that are ten bucks higher than the receipt I still had on hand to cross-check. Why? Because those restaurants have people who are adding that money onto the charge and pocketing the cash. (I shared this with an actor friend who told me that at one restaurant the manager would coach new servers in this scam and split the proceeds with them. For reasons you can gather, actors know a great deal about the inner workings of restaurants. My friend declined to participate, and eventually the manager was caught.) In all three cases, I reported the charges to the bank issuing the card and the customer-service rep on the other end of the line removed the charges — after sighing knowingly. It’s not a new scam.

Why do I bring this up now? Because I just picked up my car from the dealer, where I had dropped it off this morning for a routine oil change and 25,000 miles inspection. On my desk I have the estimate from this morning:   oil change, multi-point inspection, some other checking and topping off, $74.95. Later, while I was in a meeting, my assistant texted me that the dealer wanted to swap out the air filter too (which I had expected), and I okayed that. But imagine my surprise when I picked up the car 45 minutes ago and was presented with a bill of… $179-something.

“$179-something for an oil change and an air filter?” I said to the cashier.

“That’s what it says here.” (As though I couldn’t read it.)

“What did you change the oil with? Weapons-grade plutonium?”

She called back to the service department, they conferred briefly over the phone, and one minute later the same woman presented me with a new invoice — for $107.74.  So I was saving 40% basically just for asking. But I have a rule of thumb when it comes to money:  Off by a penny, off by a pound. It either balances or it doesn’t. Wrong is wrong.

“Let me see the other invoice,” I said.

“I already threw it away.”

“Then please get it out of there so I can see it.”

She handed it over and I compared the old one with the new one line by line. I couldn’t find any difference until I came to the line itemizing the oil change. The first time around, the labor was $72. Now it was $12. Through the wonders of a customer asking what this was about, it had now taken less time to change the oil. I like to ask questions, but until now I didn’t realize the full extent of my power to affect the space-time continuum by doing so. Now I have a greater empathy for the characters on “Lost.”

Will I go back to this dealer? Maybe, for a warranty operation where there’s no charge. Because I certainly don’t trust them with my money any more.

One Response to “Why you should always review the bill”

  1. leewochner.com » Blog Archive » Why you should always review the bill, example #2 Says:

    […] our last installment, I saved $72 by reading my auto service bill. Here’s the story, and as cautionary tales go, I think it’s a timeless […]

Leave a Reply