Drowning your sorrows is the only option when it costs extra to pay cash

''It's outrageous! They charged me a dollar fifty for actually going into their blasted shop with cash to pay their blasted telephone bill. It's nothing less than highway robbery! 'Pay online,' they said, whatever that means.''

My old mate George doesn't own a computer and has thus lost touch with reality.

He has cash in his wallet and has ''smoko'' and ''puts a bob'' on a horse. Pathetic, really.

''Get your act together, George,'' I told him.

''Let me tell you about how the real world works.''

As I told my tale, an expression of awakening horror spread over poor old George's face.

''The other day my trousers fell down in George St. Well, almost. The belt broke and I clutched the strides just in time. A menswear shop was nearby so I hobbled in. The young lady showed no interest in an older man clutching his trousers and stared at a screen on the shop wall. I coughed and asked, 'Belts?' She pointed to the rear. There I found another assistant engrossed in the screen but I saw the belts and grabbed one. It was long enough and priced at $19.95 - 'Made in China. Real Leather'.

Back to the counter where the assistant dragged her eyes from the screen to scan the price label and make a few entries on her calculator.'That'll be $29.50,' she announced.

'But the price tag says $19.95?'

'Oh, that's only the cost of the belt. It covers what the Chinese charge us, plus the shipping plus a small profit margin. It doesn't cover the cost of selling it to you in person.'

'What do you mean?'

'Well, there's the cost of keeping this shop in operation. The lease and other outgoings. We've worked it out at $4 for each hour a customer spends in the shop. You've been here 15 minutes, so that's 50 cents on your bill. Total so far $20.45. It's winter so we add 10% to cover the heating. Some people wander around the shop for hours just to keep warm and never buy anything. Total now $20.85. You've been assisted by two staff and we have to be paid. That's at the rate of $42 an hour and I gave you three minutes and Valerie spent seven minutes with you. Ten minutes is $7. Total so far $27.85. The computer tells me that that belt has been on the rack for eight months, a particularly unpopular style, if I may say so. So payment for space taken is 2 cents a day for 240 days. That's $4.80. Total $33.05. We spend $2 million a year on advertising. Have you seen our television ad featuring the free tie with every $500 suit sold? Your belt attracts a 55 cent levy to cover all that. Total now is $33.60.'

I should have stalked out then and there, but a man whose trousers are about to fall down is not in a good bargaining position when he's buying a belt.

With a sigh and a grim expression I handed over two $20 notes.'Oh dear,' muttered the girl. 'Cash. What about a credit card or eftpos?'

I explained that I always used cash.

She shrugged her shoulders and stabbed away at the calculator.

'That's $37.20 altogether then.'

She saw I was about to become violent so she explained as sweetly as she could, 'It's a great cost to us having to handle your money. This cash register costs over $1000 dollars. One of us has to go the bank each afternoon when there's cash in the place and as most of the banks are closing their branches that's a walk of two hundred metres these days for poor old Valerie. Imagine what that does to her in those high heels of hers. Her ACC charges are horrendous. With cash in the place we have to insure against theft and there's always the risk that these notes are forgeries. No doubt about it. Cash is a burden to us and we have to charge extra for it.'

I paid and slipped the belt on.

'Isn't there any way I could get something for the actual price and not have to pay for these extras?' I asked.

'Of course,' she beamed.

'Buy online at our website. That belt would have cost you only $19.95 plus $4 courier charge. Much cheaper. Let's see,' Punch, punch, punch.

'You'd have saved $13.05.'

'But if everybody used the website you'd have no shops and you'd be out of a job.'

'Great! That would be the happiest day of my life. Would you want to work in a dump like this?'''

As my tale ended, George was sobbing softly and I had to lead him to the nearest pub where, at least last time, the barman had accepted cash for a beer.

 - Jim Sullivan is a Dunedin writer and broadcaster.

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