Beth Dolinar

Column Beth Dolinar

Beth Dolinar has been writing her column about life, both hers and the rest of ours, for over 20 years. When not on the page, she produces Emmy-winning documentaries for public television, teaches writing to university students, and enjoys her two growing children.

Buck-ing the fees

May 29, 2014

We’re all being nickel-and-dimed these days – it’s why utility and phone bills are three and four pages every month. The companies include a line item for every last little one- or two-buck charge. I stopped reading all of that a long time ago because it’s just so irritating. But it’s been an especially bad week for me.

I decided it was time to bring in the carpet cleaners, and called the two major companies. The second company was a little less expensive. I was ready to book the work when the salesman on the phone lobbed a little grenade at me at the last minute.

“There’s a nine-dollar charge for gasoline,” he said.

I added a nine to the numbers I was jotting on a notebook, and started to add it all up. And then I looked at that nine again and reacted. Nein!

“No to the nine dollars,” I said.

“That’s what we have to charge to cover the cost of fuel,” he said.

I explained that I was well aware that gasoline’s near four bucks a gallon.

“But isn’t that what your profit margin is for?” I asked. “To cover what it costs to do business?”

The man didn’t say anything, but his silence felt noisy.

“I have to drive to work, but I don’t expect my employer to increase my pay because life’s getting more expensive,” I said. “You should see what my new snow tires cost this winter, but I didn’t charge them for that.”

What exactly was the customer-service philosophy involved in this? If they had just upped the quote nine dollars without mentioning it as a separate item, I wouldn’t have known, and I would likely have booked the job because it was still cheaper than the competitor.

But there it was, that 9 in blue ink on the page in front of me.

“Sorry, I’m not paying that,” I said. “If you waive that charge, I’ll book the work. Otherwise, I’m going with the other guys.”

It was the second time in a week I was needled with a stupid little charge. Away from home and my computer for the day, I needed my checking account balance in a hurry. I called the bank’s customer service line, waited for a good five minutes, and finally was connected with a phone teller. She spent another minute or so asking my name, account number, last four of my social and my ATM pin.

“OK, I have your information here,” she said. “How may I help you?”

“I’d like my checking account balance, please,” I said.

“There will be a charge of one dollar to give you that information,” she said.

“A dollar? But you have my information right there in front of you,” I said. “We just went through that. I’m sure you’re looking at my balance.”

“Yes, but we will deduct a dollar from your account if I tell you,” she said.

Oh, come on.

She said I could get that information free of charge by starting over and going through the automated banking system.

“They outta tell me that when I’m waiting for a live person to answer my call,” I said. At one point I was number eight in line. There was plenty of time to interrupt the Barry Manilow music to tell me it takes a dollar’s worth of effort for you to tell me what on that day was, sadly, a three-digit figure. It’s not like it would take her a whole eight seconds to read off all the digits in my checking account balance.

I asked her to send me back to the automated line. It was worth the extra hassle just to keep them from getting the dollar.

And the carpet cleaning guy? He removed the nine-dollar charge, and I booked the work.

I saved ten bucks this week. Ten bucks is not much, but it’s the principle.

Beth Dolinar can be reached at



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