The Checkout

Say What You Mean, Round 2

Last week, I posted an item about my Canada trip, mostly discussing the things I read on the trip. I want to revisit that item for a couple of reasons:

1. As I noted on a comment I posted late in the chat, I stand corrected about my criticism of the tree nut allergy warning on peanuts. I appreciate all your notes and comments and realize that those allergic to walnuts, pecans and other tree nuts, could wrongly assume that a bag of peanuts may be safe because they are not grown on trees.


2. Many of you also commented on my criticism of the notes left in hotel rooms, asking guests to be kind to the environment by reusing our towels. As you may recall, I agreed with that principle but objected--and still do--to the supposedly altruistic way the hotels are portraying what really is an attempt to control their costs. I guarantee you if there was a cheaper, but non-environmentally-friendly way to keep hotel rooms clean, the hotels would adopt that.

My blog item prompted Washington Post reporter Christopher Lee, to send me an e-mail about the posted prices of items that I suspect will sparka whole new round of conversation and ideas. Here it is:

"I read your post about hotels and other organizations meaning what they say. For some reason, it made me think about something I noticed on a recent trip to Germany for the World Cup: The posted prices for goods are the prices you pay. In other words, the tax is included in the price. It has always annoyed me that this isn't done in the United States. Why let stores get away with advertising a toaster oven for $29.99, when sales taxes mean you will pay five to 10 percent more than that? It's not like paying the tax is optional. One benefit to sellers, obviously, is that not including the tax in the quoted price makes their merchandise appear cheaper than it really is. That probably means that people buy more of it than they would at the higher, tax-included price.

In Germany, people rarely use credit cards for everyday purchases (groceries, meals, small items), instead paying for most things in cash. So the German consumer would care a lot about knowing whether what's in his wallet will cover the cost of what's on the checkout counter. (True, U.S. consumers need only to mentally compute the tax and add that to the price, but, really, who does that?) In the U.S., in contrast, we use credit cards for every little thing, even cups of coffee at Starbucks. If we want something, we buy it, no matter how much cash we have in our pockets. So what if the eventual total is higher than the price on the price tag -- the credit card will cover it. That approach maximized convenience, but not fiscal responsibility. And then there's the simple matter of honesty. It's just more honest to quote the actual price that people will have to pay.

Perhaps you and your readers could start asking stores to quote prices that include taxes, as a matter of full disclosure if nothing else."

I wholeheartedly agree with Christopher. In fact, the added taxes are particularly annoying when shopping for telephone service--it's impossible to figure out if you're about to sign up for a better deal without knowing what all the added taxes and fees are. The same goes for airline tickets, where you seem to have found a good fare, only to realize it's quite a bit more. For instance, I recently found a great fare to Madison, Wisconsin: $178.60 roundtrip from BWI. But then I discovered that there was another $54.60 in taxes, nearly one-third of the base fare. That's still a pretty decent deal, but why wasn't the total $233.20 price the one quoted to me in the first place? As Chris noted, that's the amount that's really coming out of my pocket.

Any thoughts?

By  |  July 7, 2006; 7:43 AM ET Customer Service
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Comments

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Have you ever read the "back page" in each edition of Consumer Reports? Every product is presented with purposeful embellishment or pseudo truth by today's businesses. Yes, stating the complete price paid for something is extremely helpful, it will never happen. How many metro DC consumers will decide to leave their home areas like MD and go to VA to purchase high ticket items if the real savings were expressed in truthful advertising. More than do now. Why can't gas be advertised in whole cents instead of always ending in .9 ? Perhaps $2.99.9 looks better than $3.00.

Posted by: Flogged Consumer | July 7, 2006 8:43 AM

I agree with the oddity of not including taxes in the price of anything in this country that is not fuel. With that in mind, I want to point out a website that I think is fantastic: pricewatch.com. I'm a big geek when it comes to technology and this site not only crawls the web for the best deals, but it includes shipping in the price it advertises on the site, so a stick of memory that is advertised as $99 with $10 standard domestic shipping will show up on Price Watch as $109 - not a lot of hidden costs there. In my experience, it has forced more merchants to be more forth coming with thier prices. They are less inclined to add an arbitrary "handling fee" - like so many ebay sellers do - when they know someone like me will ultimately buy from a vendor who posts his true costs and still costs less. Do watch out, though. I have known a few people who have been burned by disreputable vendors. If the price looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Posted by: John | July 7, 2006 8:55 AM

On a recent trip to Scotland, I kept being surprised that an item priced at,say, 2 pounds 50 pence really cost that at the cash register. That said, the UK has a Value Added Tax (VAT) that applies all over the country--Inverness Scotland has the same VAT as London. Imagine what national chains would go through in our country if they had to post total prices using the differing sales taxes in 40+ states. (I know Delaware has no sales tax--do any other states not have it all?)

Also, re American use of credit cards, I noticed that, in the UK, people use their debit cards to pay for just about everything. But then, that's the same as paying cash.

Posted by: Jack Purdy | July 7, 2006 8:56 AM

Look at it from the store's perspective. Every store in the county has to charge the same sales tax rate. So if you're comparing the toaster at Target to the toaster at Wal-mart across the street, they tell you the part of the price they can control. The question really is - would you drive to VA to save 2% sales tax?

When I first moved to DC, it took me a while to adjust to the 10.5% tax rate at restaurants. In a case like this, I was glad that sales tax was listed separately, so I could tip my server based on the restaurant's charges, not the government's. So be careful what you wish for.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 7, 2006 9:04 AM

1) $233.00 to fly into Dane Regional Airport in 'Sconnie is still a pretty amazing deal. I don't think I ever got off for less than $240.00 when I went to school there between Madison-BWI, and that was before the "fuel crisis." Still, those airline fees are sneaky. Have an amazing time and if you do nothing else there, have a beer or an ice cream on Memorial Union Terrace.

2) I agree that we should include all fees and taxes in the final price. But, not gonna happen, unfortunately. And everything ends in "9" because psychologically, people round down so when they see $2.99, they think, "That's two dollars!" instead of, "That's three dollars."

Posted by: Jay | July 7, 2006 9:09 AM

Caroline-

What you are posing is not realistic in the United States. Each state has a different tax, yet companies are creating national advertising campaigns for their stores. It just isn't feasible (or desirable) to have them list out the tax-included price of a toaster for each of 50 states plus territories.

This is yet another example of the everything-Europe-does-is-better mentality. These kinds of things work in Europe because the countries are all the size of West Virginia and have relatively uniform taxation schemes.

Americans know that there will be tax added to their purchases. If you can't scrape together the extra few bucks of tax to buy something, you shouldn't be buying it.

Posted by: Brandon | July 7, 2006 9:48 AM

I somewhat disagree. Not including sales tax allows for retailers and manufacturers to have national advertising. So Best Buy can print exactly one type of ad, instead of 52. Heck, they would also save by not needing to pay the Washington Post circulation department to sort ads based on state!

Posted by: tallbear | July 7, 2006 9:51 AM

Another thing that Europe does much better than the U.S. is when you pay for a meal in a restaurant, the waitor brings the credit card machine to the table so your card is never out of site. This is a much better system!

Posted by: Gregg | July 7, 2006 9:53 AM

Sales Tax is something that the average consumer should know. And since it differs by state, it would be hard to advertise.

With online shopping, I am glad that the companies are now posting their S&H fees either on their website (a fixed cost) or before the order is finalized.

However, are phone and airline fees standard? Is it always a certain percentage of the price? Or is there more to that? If there is, I wish that this would be listed also before purchase.

Posted by: Virginian | July 7, 2006 9:56 AM

I agree a) that it would be obnoxious for chains to have to re-ticket everything in 50 different ways and b) that they should do it anyway in the name of customer service. I pay for lots of things in cash and have gotten burned more than a few times for not having the last 5 or 7 cents required for a soda or other random purchase. If store A had total prices and store B didn't, you bet store A would get all my business.

However the sales tax thing is less frustrating to me than all the services that say something costs whatever price - only to add on 25% more in fees and charges. Phone plans, airline tickets, and car-buying all come to mind in my recent past. Seriously, all I want to know is how much is coming out of my bank account, and it doesn't matter to me which dollars are going to which places. It's so hard to get a sales person to actually give you that number!

Posted by: Anonymous | July 7, 2006 9:57 AM

For the person asking if other states, besides Delaware do not have sales tax -- Minnesota is another of those states. At least on clothing and most groceries.

Posted by: DE? | July 7, 2006 10:25 AM

That problem with airfares is exactly why I switched from Travelocity to Orbitz - Travelocity (at least, when I stopped using it - it may have changed since then) lets you be surprised by the taxes and fees at the end of the purchase; Orbitz gives you the real total up front.

Posted by: h3 | July 7, 2006 10:39 AM

Also, it is not just states that have sales taxes, certain cities have add on sales taxes so it isn't just national advertisers it can be regional ones.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 7, 2006 10:40 AM

With respect to paying with cash for essentials, such as food, rather than credit cards, I use my credit card whenever posdsible to help me contain costs. While it's true that you can only spend whatever cash you have, once it's gone, you may or may not have any idea where it went. I know that I typically don't know where my cash goes; it just goes. But, I log my credit card purchases every month on Quicken and catagorize my expenses, so I know each month where my money went. that way if I see that I am spending to much somewhere I can make a concerted effort to cut back in that area.

Posted by: DC | July 7, 2006 10:57 AM

Along these same lines of the "real" price of things is tipping. I wish beauty shops, eateries, dog groomers, and every one else out there with their hand out would quit it. Why can't a business just add on a fair amount and eliminate the process.? Some cheapskates never tip and others over tip. I hate it. A business should pay employees a wage that doesn't turn them into beggars. And why should I be paying a mailman a tip; he makes a lot of errors. Next thing you know Congress and the president will want tips and heaven knows how egregious they are. Oh i'm sorry they all have their favorite graphters but they would probably take more cash even if they haven't served you well.

Posted by: Claire Wilkins | July 7, 2006 10:58 AM

Regardless of the logistical issues of this state's taxes vs. that state's, the idea of advertised prices being the bottom line is something that is certainly possible and ultimately a good thing for consumers. Not sure why people here are fighting it.

About using credit cards for everything down to even Starbucks' purchases ... that's me. Why not? The credit card company "floats" me for up to 30 days and then I pay the bill (the entire bill by the due date). Meanwhile my money is in a money market fund earning whatever interest it earns.

What the heck is wrong with that? ;->

Posted by: pat | July 7, 2006 11:02 AM

DC, that means you end up paying more for groceries or anything because the actual price plus the card's current interest rate and maybe some extra is you don't pay the bill in full, not a smart move I would say. Common sense says to use a credit card for goods that are usually more than 80-100 bucks, for anything else: cash or use your debit card which is the same (here you can apply the same technique with your statement), only difference is you don't shell out interests, see?.
Folks using a credit card, say, for a cup of coffee, may need some crash course in money management.

Posted by: Jack | July 7, 2006 11:09 AM

I just can not understand not paying by credit card MORE. As pat perviously stated, with online bill pay and savings, you can sucessfully make some interest on the bill amount simply from the grace period. Combine that with cash back or rewards, and you could easily be making 2-3% back on most purchases, more for "everyday" purchases. Just consider that a rebate on the sales tax you pay.

Obviously, you have to pay the entire bill each month and that's where the money managment issue comes in.

Posted by: DC | July 7, 2006 11:22 AM

Utility companies are notorious for this. Verizon advertises $39.99 for unlimited local and long distance. But when all the fees are applied, it is over $65. That's a hefty markup from the original plan price.

Posted by: robert | July 7, 2006 11:25 AM

To the person who suggested a debit instead of a credit card for small purchases some places charge a fee. If you pay your credit card off every month it is actually cheaper to use the credit card. And the package from my bank that gives me no fees involves tying up to much cash at a low interest rate.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 7, 2006 11:29 AM

Pat: people are fighting it because you *can't* disregard the logistical problems of national or multinational firms having to do different ads for 50 (or more) different regions. You can't say, "Regardless of" a major aspect of the issue, and then try to prove your point. That's like saying, "Regardless of the death rate, there's nothing wrong with drunk driving."

At any rate, sales taxes are why I buy most things on the internet. Overstock, Amazon, Zappos, Tiger-Direct, DeepDiscountDVD and the like are all good sources of great products. It's gotten to the point where I've never actually bought DVDs in a store - I just go online, seek out the best price ($60 DVD boxsets selling for $40 or less with free shipping; I remember when the first season of West Wing came out on DVD, the brick-and-mortar stores all had it for $60 plus tax, and I got it for $35 with free shipping online). BTW, I use a check card, which is close enough to cash and doesn't charge interest, not a credit card.

Certain things, you almost have to buy in a store (like produce), but the internet's a great way to get around high sales taxes for everyday goods and services. So long as you have good antivirus, antispyware/malware programs, and a good firewall, you should be okay.

Posted by: forget sales tax | July 7, 2006 11:32 AM

Correct, I pay my bill in full with no problems, why?, because I use my one credit card ONLY when is strictly necessary or I use my debit card or cash for that matter. Read some articles regarding money management, you will see what is really said about credit card expenses, I don't believe on "cash back" rewards, miles earned or any gimmicks. I believe in paying myself first, by not giving money away in interests, the interest I get and care about comes from my savings, investments and retirement plan.

But hey, is your money and you can do whatever you want with it, I just wanted to tell you that you seem misinformed, that's all. You are at risk on the long run.

Posted by: Jack | July 7, 2006 11:39 AM

Jack, dude, you don't have to reserve a credit card for big purchases to be able to pay it off every month. I use my credit card for all kinds of things - *and* I pay it off every month. It's like magic.

Posted by: h3 | July 7, 2006 11:44 AM

July, you can easily avoid those fees ($0.25 in my case) by charging with your debit card as credit, that's what I do all the time.

Posted by: Jack | July 7, 2006 11:44 AM

Dude, I get what you say, I am not a backward lad who doesn't know how to use one, I use mine for what I REALLY need and then I pay the bill in full, nothing new here right?. Yeah, like magic, good luck.

Posted by: Jack | July 7, 2006 11:49 AM

_re: say what you mean 1_
How about the stores that charge an extra dime for every bag you use. That's along the same lines as the hotel towels. Being environmentally friendly dosen't save you any money, but it dosen't cost you any more. Maybe that's how hotels should handle the towel service. If you want you towels replaced, they;ll charge you.

_re: say what you mean 2_
I do agree that it would be nice to know the total up front but because of varying taxes, it doesn't seem feasible. Taxes aren't that hard to figure out in your head so there shouldn't be any tax surprises at the register. For plane tickets and phone fees, yea, posting the fees (and taxes in this case) up front does make A LOT of sense since there are no set predictors for fees that you can calculate on your own.

And while we're on it, why do we still have pennies? Let's just end everything in .00. And why the half cent taxes? Do we have half pennies?(just joshing on this one, don't attack the penny comment, please.)

Posted by: Anonymous | July 7, 2006 11:56 AM

Actually the "cash back" rewards are great. You are at risk only if you can't manage your money. I have a citibank card which gives 5% on gas & groceries. Since I spend about $400 a month on these anyway, I put it all on my card and get back $20 each month. It's free money if you pay your balance in full each month. Credit card companies begin charging interest only after the grace period.

Posted by: WG | July 7, 2006 12:05 PM

I think the practice of ending prices in .99 is so stupid, even though it probably won't change anytime soon. When a business advertises something for, say, $999.99, it's just a penny short of a thousand dollars. Do they really think they're kidding anyone? It's an insult to my intelligence every time I see it or hear it, especially coming from those bimbos in local car dealership ads.

Posted by: bex | July 7, 2006 12:08 PM

On another note, I hate fumbling through my wallet for cash and having to carry around change. Using a credit card is faster and more convenient. I also get paid to use it. If a credit card ever starts costing me money, I'll stop using it.

Posted by: WG | July 7, 2006 12:11 PM

Hear, hear, Bex. It annoys me when I see something for $999.99 being advertised at being under a $1000.

Posted by: WG | July 7, 2006 12:15 PM

I'm pretty sure New Hampshire doesn't have sales tax on most things. That's probably why the asizement on bringing a car into MA is so damn expensive...

Posted by: DC | July 7, 2006 12:17 PM

No. 1: I use AMEX -- which has to be paid in full each month -- for everything, including cell phone bill and other utilities. If I could put my mortgage payment on there I would do that, too. I have earned enough points for a free plane ticket to Europe. My beau and I will use that perk to offset the costs of a much-anticipated trip to Greece. So, it is worth it to me. Also, if my wallet/purse is stolen, the cash is gone forever. Amex, however, will credit me for any fraudulent charges. So, you use the money management system that works for you, and I will use the one that works best for me and nets me some free goods in the process.

No. 2: I hate that the full price plus tax is not noted because I shop all over this area and I forget what tax rate applies where. Just give me the total.

Posted by: credit v. cash | July 7, 2006 12:26 PM

another good example - i just went to buy a concert ticket for the 930 club (I think they use tickets.com) ... ticket price $15. Farther down it explains there is a service fee of $4.75. OK fine, I can add, it's about a $20 ticket. Not so fast. Once you get to the payment page, it turns out there's another $4 handling fee - even if you pick it up at will call. Are they kidding?? It's so frustrating it makes me not want to see the show ...

Posted by: Anonymous | July 7, 2006 12:43 PM

To "forget sales tax": You are misunderstanding me, certainly because I wasn't clear. We should be trying to solve the logistics instead of flat out saying no, it can't be done and leaving it at that.

I get my ads for WalMart, Target, etc. in my local newspaper. The local paper plant prints them. Why wouldn't they be able to fill in the local prices as required?

As for using the internet to avoid sales tax ... where do you live? If you are in Virginia, you are supposed to be paying it in your state taxes. I would think other states would be requiring the same, but I don't know that.

Peace.

Posted by: pat | July 7, 2006 12:50 PM

Jack - what about people who pay off their credit card bill every month and get cash back for it? I've used Citi's cash back card for several years, and have paid them exactly $0 in interest, yet they've paid me almost $1000 in cash back. You may not believe in cash back cards, but that extra $1000 in my investment account sure helps me believe.

It's true that buying everything on credit doesn't make sense for everyone, especially those who aren't able to pay off the bill promptly every month, but for those of us who are, it's simply smart money management. I never charge anything under $10, only because it feels like a hassle to do so, but everything over is definitely going on the card - those dimes, quarters, and nickels add up over the course of the year.

Posted by: Matt | July 7, 2006 1:03 PM

Pat: thanks for the clarification, I see what you're saying now. I still disagree, however, when it comes to items that just have sales tax attached, and no additional fees or taxes. It's not that difficult to estimate what your sales tax is before you get to the register, and it just seems like added hassle to have different plants printing different amounts (and, as another commenter mentioned, it's not just states that have sales taxes - some municipalities do as well. It'd be added work for printers to have to print two, three, or four different ads with basically the same information, and it seems like it would cut into the benefits received from operating economies of scale).

As for filing an internet sales tax on state income taxes, that's just one more reason why I don't live in VA . . . fortunately, that's not a nationwide mandate. I live in MD, and I don't think I'm committing tax fraud by not paying sales taxes on my internet purchases.

Posted by: forget sales tax | July 7, 2006 1:18 PM

The Citibank rewards cards are the real deal, Jack. Mine gets 5% back on all grocery store, drug store, and gasoline purchases, and 1% back on everything else. I pay the bill in full each month and that means I pay $0 in interest. There is no annual fee or transaction fees either. So like a previous poster said, Citibank is paying me to use their card. The ONLY way I can see that I pay more by using my credit card is the across the board markup stores might (and probably do) institute to cover for the 3% charges VISA or Mastercard Inc charges the merchants for accepting my credit card. But if that's the case, you're paying more too...regardless of if you use cash or card. Except in those rare places that give you a "discount" for using cash...

On a side note, I too dislike the feeling of change lollying around in my pocket, and wish everything was stated in whole dollars (including taxes...flat amounts instead of rates please!) I'd much prefer to rifle through a stack of greenbacks than dig around my pocket change and have it fall out everywhere. Sets off metal detectors too, ugh.

I do agree with the sentiment that credit cards are risky though. They lie in wait for one financial misstep so they can gobble you up with all the fees and interest charges, which can negate all the rewards you've ever gotten. Heh...for those who don't make 100K a year, it can be a tightrope walk and requires diligence and attention to financial details. Not for the faint of heart!

Posted by: CyanSquirrel | July 7, 2006 1:52 PM

If you live in MD, you are supposed to be paying a 5% use tax on goods purchased out of state (e.g. over the internet).

Heres more information:

http://individuals.marylandtaxes.com/usetax/default.asp

You fill out a form, and send the money directly to the comptroller, there is even a late fee. I just wonder how many model citizens actually do this.

Posted by: WG | July 7, 2006 1:57 PM

Huh. Guess I'm committing tax fraud, then.

Seriously, there's no really good way to audit that, is there? I've been making online purchases since 2000, and I've neither heard of this nor been contacted by MD to submit any taxes. Odd.

Posted by: forget sales tax | July 7, 2006 2:17 PM

As I recall, the original question was on the order of why don't the posted/advertised prices reflect what we actually have to pay?

I think they should. I am not of the mind to come up with a bunch of excuses why they don't.

Doesn't anyone want to figure out how this can be done or are we just going to sit around and say oh well, it is what it is, we are helpless, whatever ???

>:-<

Posted by: pat | July 7, 2006 2:48 PM

Credit cards are definitely a trap for the unwary, but a good deal for the careful. I use my Chase Rewards Mastercard for just about everything, and earn 3% on gas purchases and 1% on everything else. They take the previous month's rebate credit off the next bill, so I don't have to track points and request rebate checks or anything like that. (I think the newer versions of this card do have points and checks, though.) I get hundreds of dollars a year in "free" money. I have no idea what my interest rate is, because I never, ever pay it. But there's no question it's a bad idea for someone who lives paycheck to paycheck or can't manage spending. Another tip: Set up autopay and you'll (a) never miss a payment because you forgot or it got lost in the mail and (b) get the maximum float because they don't take it out of your checking until the due date.

Posted by: jane | July 7, 2006 3:11 PM

I don't understand why national advertising has to be brought into the discussion. Why can't a store have the price on the shelf include the sales tax that will be charged at that particular store?

For example, if I walk into my local electronics store, instead of seeing a TV for 100, it's listed on the shelf as 110 or whatever the total price actually is. National advertising can just include a little footnote, price does not include local sales tax.

Posted by: Allison | July 7, 2006 3:22 PM

I've heard Europeans complain that with the VAT (sales tax equivalent) included in purchase prices, they feel governments get to hide the amount of tax being charged. Though they find it odd that the price on the ticket here is not the final price, they do see an advantage in having the tax announced with every transaction!

Posted by: kathie | July 7, 2006 3:58 PM

Re: MD use tax

It's true, it exists.
The state isn't about to enforce it for small items, though.

However, I do remember either the WP or the Baltimore Sun ran a story a few years ago on how MD tax cops used to crack down on people buying furniture from North Carolina and avoiding the use tax by trailing the delivery trucks (which were labelled with the NC furniture company's name).

Posted by: tallbear | July 7, 2006 4:10 PM

European countries can do this because it is a value added tax (VAT) that is added to an item at each step in the manufacturing process (the value added to the product) vs. our system which is a sales tax which is added at time of sale. One complaint against the VAT is that it is hidden - when the price of an item goes up it may not always be clear what is a tax increase and what is just an increase in the product cost. If the sales tax goes up we notice because it is on the reciept and we are more likely to resist increases in taxation. You personally may not care but that is one of the philosophical arguements against just including the tax in the price.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 7, 2006 4:28 PM

Virginia law requires the sales tax to be separately stated - see http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?000+cod+58.1-625 for specifics. I think this is typical of US state laws, and I think the rationale is indeed to attract attention as a restraint on government.
The miscellaneous fees on phone bills are another matter. Many of these are not taxes at all, and the ones that are, or sort-of-are, are rarely required by law to be separately stated. Often, not always, they carry the name of some tax or fee paid by the seller, but with a markup. That you can't get an honest, accurate statement in advance of how many dollars you are going to have to pay to get the service you promise to buy is morally indefensible. The FCC and PUCs should care, but they don't seem to.

Posted by: WW | July 10, 2006 10:27 AM

I agree with the concept of retailers quoting the actual price, but this severely complicates things things for interstate companies. In the DC metro area alone, there are three different state sales taxes, not to mention city sales taxes. As someone who lives in DC but frequently shops in MD and VA, I'd find it more of a hassle to receive a set of ads for the DC price of something and then compute the MD/VA price from that than to simply see the pre-tax price and compute the tax in my head.

Posted by: DC | July 10, 2006 12:44 PM

One reason to use cash rather than credit cards is that you're more likely to underspend if you're using cash. Imagine you go to the grocery store with $50 cash. You are going to spend less than $50. If you go with a budget of $50, but are paying with a credit card, you'll spend somewhere around $50, but it could be more.

There was some study done that said people spent more per purchase at a McDonald's that allowed credit cards than at a McDonald's that didn't.

Posted by: Lisa | July 12, 2006 2:49 PM

1) In New York, at least, vendors have to meet special requirements in order to include sales tax in the advertised price.
2) Never mind sales tax! -- why aren't phone companies and airlines excoriated for their incredibly deceptive pricing? They exclude every government-mandated tax and charge they pay (in some cases, even real property tax) so the stated price becomes massively less than the real price. A recent British Airways $200 NY-London fare was actually about $450 after surcharges. The fact that this is not legally deceptive advertising is a monument to the bedrock principle that common sense and the law are virtually unrelated. Let's have a clear law that says that the advertised price must be the price that at least 95% of consumers pay, so vendors can't weasel out of sales tax, security, freight, "handling", etc. charges.
3) This is out of US jurisdiction, but another outrage is the head tax that nations collect as you step on the airplane to leave the country -- often demanded in cash and sometimes in US dollars. These taxes have become very significant, up to $50 per person, and almost never disclosed when you buy your ticket.

Posted by: John Gunther | July 12, 2006 6:59 PM

If the quality of math teaching was better in this country this would be a non-issue.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 17, 2006 4:15 PM

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