Funny about Money

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. ―Edmund Burke

How much of your time will you spend for a few bucks?

How do I love thee…?

So on the way home from getting gasoline (because tomorrow I have to drive halfway to Timbuktu), I stop by the neighborhood Walmart grocery store and pick up five pounds of sugar and several packages of frozen veggies. At the bakery in that strip mall, I grab a couple of palmiers, a fattening treat of which I’m unduly fond.

When I get home, I realize the Walmart cashier has put those few little grocery items into not one but two plastic bags, which at Walmart they just leave on the bag dispenser for the hoi polloi to disconnect and carry off themselves. I’ve left a five-pound bag of sugar at the Walmart.

Which brings us to the Question of the Day: Would you jump back in your car, drive back to the Walmart, park, stand in line with your receipt in hand, haggle with the clerk, and try to get them to give you the abandoned sugar?

The sugar cost less than $2.00.

I have not one, not two, but three projects in hand today, paying between $4 and $10 a page. All the clients are in a ball-busting hurry to get done.

Ultimately, I decided to write off the cost of the sugar. It would, I think, cost more to drive back up there and beg for the sugar than to pay two bucks for air. There’s no guarantee that Walmart would agree to let me have a bag of sugar — for all they know, I’m running a scam. Something to do with drugs, no doubt.

But assuming they did, I’m earning something between $30 and $60 an hour just now, depending on which project I’m laboring over. Twenty minutes or half an hour of my time devoted to retrieving five pounds of sugar would mean that bag of sugar would cost between $10 and $20: most expensive sugar on the planet!

No.

Tomorrow’s trip back from Timbuktu will take me past a Trader Joe, a Sprout’s, and a Safeway. Each of them will charge considerably more than Walmart, of course. But even at, say, $3.50 for a bag of sugar, that’s still a bargain compared to the value of my time when I’m actually working.

How do you feel about that kind of trade-off? Spend a half-hour to run back to a Walmart and try to retrieve a forgotten two-dollar item? Or stay in front of the computer to earn five to ten times that much?

Image: DepositPhotos, © ajafoto

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10 Comments

  1. Even though the math CLEARLY says that letting it go is the smart thing to do, it would just nag at me anyway. I’d probably try a phone call, while working, to see if they’d refund the money. They probably wouldn’t.

    • Some stores around here will set aside forgotten items, at least for a few hours, so that if you show up and say “I left [yada yada] at THAT cash register [pointing at the correct line],” they’ll give it to you.

      But a Walmart? Why do I doubt it….

  2. I think this is a perfect example of the sunk cost fallacy. Logically, it makes the most sense to abandon the sugar, as the cost of retrieving it is higher than the cost of replacing it. But you’ve sunk the two dollars into it, so it feels like you’re losing something by letting it go.

    I’d recommend letting it go. But I have to admit I’d have a hard time not going back for it, and even if I made the decision not to, it would nag at me for a long time afterward. Aren’t we humans weird?

    • It is annoying…and it was especially annoying today, when a) the first store I went to (a Trader Joe) didn’t carry sugar in quantities appropriate for reloading hummingbird feeders, so I had to stop by YET ANOTHER store on the way home from this morning’s meeting; b) a five-pound bag at Safeway is four pounds; and c) a four-pound bag “marked down” in SUCH A SMOKIN’ DEAL is almost a buck more than Walmart’s.

      I ended up wasting time anyway, because I had to go to two stores, not one, to find the sugar, and I had to pay more to get the stuff. Pisseth me offeth!

  3. Many stores, if you call the same day, will note this in a log and you can pick it up on your next visit. If you had your receipt, you could have called and they could have confirmed with the cashier that there was indeed a missed bag of sugar, and this would have made it easier to verify. You made the right choice from the sounds of it, but something to consider for next time.

    • Yeah, I’ve done that in the past. But this is a Walmart, not a Safeway. In the first place, I kinda doubt a Walmart will have that level of customer service, and in the second place, it’s located in — let’s be frank — a drug-infested slum.

      Once, years ago — not at a Walmart — a cashier accused me of trying to steal an item I was trying to return, even though I had a receipt. Her reasoning was that because I hadn’t brought it back _in the store’s bag_ I must have lifted it off the shelf.

      Given the Walmart’s locale and clientele, it would be reasonable for management to figure I was trying to pull a fast one. WHO needs that kind of hassle? I should know better than to shop there…was trying to save a few pennies. This a.m. a similar bag of store-brand sugar was almost dollar more at the Safeway.

      But…penny-wise and pound-foolish: Safeway clerks remove the bags from the bag dispenser and hand them to the customer, or load them into your shopping cart. All they have to do is save you from leaving one item behind to cover the surcharge you pay for the privilege of shopping there.

  4. I do most of my grocery shopping at a Walmart Neighborhood Market and I’ve yet to have any issues with customer service. Occasionally, a cashier will charge me twice for an item which has taught me to always look over the receipt before walking out. Saves aggravation, time AND gas.
    Anyway, one time a unfamiliar cashier charged me twice for one item and thrice for another. These were a couple of the more expensive items, too! I immediately asked for a refund (nearly $18) and the customer service employee had this reaction to my request that told me that this was not the first time he’d made a “mistake.” I think he did it deliberately but why? That was also the last time I saw him, so I hope he got fired.

    • One thing you have to say, WM’s neighborhood markets are far more pleasant places to shop than the original Walmart warehouses. By and large, the employees don’t seem to be as miserable in their jobs as the workers in the Walmart near my son’s house.

      I’ve been impressed, too, with the variety of their stock — some of it things you’d expect to find in an upscale store, and some of it really great ethnic stuff (I got a package of frozen fire-roasted Hatch chilies yesterday…hot diggety!). Their prices on beer: significantly better than other nearby grocers (though I haven’t compared at Total Wine).

      Still, one has the sense that the management and operation is kind of minimalist. That leads me to feel skeptical about whether they’d accept a claim that I had “forgotten” a package of sugar. Possibly, though, an unjustified skepticism.

  5. Free bag of Sugar? I sure the very next customer walked off with your purchase.