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How Much Time Would You Invest for $2.50?

ATM machineI noticed an error in my bank statement last month. It wasn’t  gigantic, and it certainly wasn’t in my favor. It was actually pretty piddly, $2.50, for an ATM fee. I kind of hemmed and hawed about it, but ultimately I called to have it fixed. I felt sort of like a complainer, but it was an error that did cost me money, even though that amount isn’t going to make or break anything. It made me wonder when does being vigilant with your finances turn into obsessiveness?

What Happened?

While I do have an online savings account, I really like my local bank for many reasons.  It isn’t a part of a huge chain, all the tellers know me, and they are the only bank in town that offers a HSA account. My checking account that I use for paying bills has no fees if I use my debit card  so many times a month, have my paycheck direct deposited, and get e-statements. If I meet those requirements, I also get any ATM fees reimbursed and draw a pitiful, tiny bit of interest. Since I’ve been taking a cash allowance with my new budget, I usually make one withdrawal from the ATM per month. I haven’t worried if the ATM wasn’t through my bank, because I knew my fees would be refunded, except for last month. After a couple of phone calls, I got the $2.50 back. My total time spent was maybe 5 minutes to get back the $2.50, which equates to $30 per hour. Not too bad, but what if I’d had to spend an hour to get the money back?

How much money can you save?

I am a big proponent of making calls to lower your monthly bills. There is so much competition  that companies will often lower your rate to keep you as a customer. In the past 6 months I’ve been able to cut $15/ month from my satellite TV bill, and $20/ month from my internet bill just by calling to ask for a better rate. Crystal at BFS just got her car insurance lowered by almost half by calling. If making calls will save you a few hundred dollars a year, it’s worth it every time, even if you do have to press 1 for English, 2 for billing, and then listen to elevator music for a half hour.

Just for the good of man

Sometimes we don’t pay attention or get tricked into paying fees we didn’t mean to pay. It often is very difficult to get that money back, but I think it’s worth the time if you feel a moral obligation to right a wrong. For example, if you remember last month where my brain didn’t work, and I accidentally found a shyster website that was made to look like the site for renewing you driver’s license. I paid $14 for this scam of a site to direct me to the real site. I didn’t know it until the charge showed up on my credit card. I probably spent two and a half hours taking steps to get my money back. I’m happy to say the that $14 was credited back to my account this month. Per hour, I received about $2.60 for my efforts. It wasn’t a good use of my time, but I felt a moral obligation not to let these people keep my money.

I don’t think I’ve crossed the line into obsessiveness yet. Maybe I shouldn’t have worried about the $2.50, but that’s two Redbox rentals, two fountain sodas, or an ice cream cone for my daughter. I could actually receive a product for that money other than just losing it forever in the form of a fee. I know people who make much less money than us who never question fees much larger than this. I bet lots of people never even take the time to set up a bank account so there aren’t fees. I think the point is to be vigilant but know when to let things go as well. If it’s a lost cause, chalk it up to experience, but always pay attention. The little fees or price increases today could turn into thousands of dollars over the long term.

What’s the smallest amount of money you’ve ever spent time trying to get back? Am I crazy to worry over $2.50?

About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.


  1. I worked hard at getting $75 back for three pillows that I got duped into thinking would be delivered to my house. Ultimately I got 2/3 of the money back (long story), but I think getting money back is usually worth your time, even if it is only a few dollars.

    • When you feel duped, like I did with that DMV site, it makes you even more motivated to get the money back. It becomes your mission.

  2. Kim, I would’ve done the same thing. As you mentioned, much of it is the principle of the thing, not necessarily the money. That being said, in cases like this, I feel like I work hard to spend our money wisely, and the thought of even $2.50 just disappearing for no good reason simply isn’t acceptable. Obsessive? Maybe a little, but it’s that slightly obsessive behavior that’s gotten you out of debt and will get us out of debt too. 🙂

    • You’re right. Careless behavior got us nowhere. I’ll be a bit obsessive if it means staying out of debt and building wealth.

  3. I read all the time about people who can lower their monthly bills just by calling and asking for a reduction. I’ve tried this tactic many times and I’ve yet to be successful. My internet provider just raised their “introductory” rates back to normal rates. How should I approach this?

    • I think it depends on a couple of things. Are you under some sort of contract? If not, are there other providers you can switch to? I would find out what other providers are charging or if they offer introductory rates. Generally, someone will be cheaper. I would then call your provider and hit the option to cancel service. When they answer I would nicely explain that your rate is going up and you found a better offer at XYZ company. I would tell them that you would like to remain a customer, but you think your rate is too high, can they at least match the competitor? If the person flat out says no, I would ask to speak with a supervisor and go through the whole process again. In my experience, this has generally worked. If they are not able to lower it, I would switch. If you are under contract or if there is only one provider, I would maybe try the tactic of saying that your bill has gone up and it’s too expensive. Ask if there is a more affordable rate plan. We only have one high speed internet provider where we live, and that’s what I did, and she offered me half price. The only times I’ve had no luck is with our propane company, and I’ve checked around. There is no cheaper options. When we were in serious credit card debt, we called all of our credit card companies to ask for a lower rate. If they said no, we transferred the balance. Switching is always harder in my opinion, but if it saves money, I will do it. Let me know it any of this works for you. I think the key is to convince them you are going to cancel with their company. If you truly cannot do that and they know it, they might not work with you, but you never know.

  4. If I had to spend an hour doing something to earn $2.50 I wouldn’t, it’s just not worth my time. If it’s to correct something with a financial institution, I’ll spend a couple of hours. At that point, it’s not about the money. It’s a matter of principle!

    • I think it’s that whole big bully taking advantage of the little guy. You feel a bit more vindicated when you are right and they were mistaken.

  5. Oh, I would’ve done the same exact thing. But, that said, my wife would tell you that I can be just a bit on the obsessive side. 🙂 For only a few minutes I would have done it and with the $14 I would’ve fought that, because you’re right in that you want to protect others from getting hit with it in the future.

  6. If it’s an error I could easily spot, I’d take the time to try and get it corrected. There’s been a couple of times that I have had small differences (probably around the same amounts) between my online tracking and the spreadsheet I use to track everything. I couldn’t easily find the difference, and after an hour or so, I pretty much quit trying to figure out if it was my error (likely) or something on the bank statement, and just manually adjusted my spreadsheet to get me back in balance. So, I think it depends really on how easily you can identify the source of the problem.

  7. I’m sure I’ve fought a similar fee and for similar reasons….it’s for the good of man. Why the hell aren’t these EVER in your favor? How come I can’t suddenly see that the bank accidently deposited money in my account and then decided they should just leave it there?

    It frustrates me that when other people make mistakes it costs me time to fix them instead of costing them time….

    • I know, why can’t I have an error in my favor or have the ATM spit out some extra Benjamins? I would actually feel too guilty and would return them. The stigma of being honest…..

  8. I fight every fee if it’s on something that I use regularly – banks, credit cards, bills, etc. It’s mostly out of principle because I know that these fees are almost 100% profit and provide me with exactly 0 value.

  9. I don’t think it was so much the amount, but the principal of the whole thing. You don’t want that to become a habit of something that is unnoticed. It’s always good to stay on top of that sort of thing. Now if I went to a restaurant and I wrote the tip sloppy and got charged and extra dollar or so, I would probably blow it off as a one time thing.

  10. I almost always freak out over small amounts! It’s my money!!! Even if it’s just a dollar, I hate getting ripped off.

  11. I will often fight for very small amounts out of principle. There was a flaw in the bank’s system that created an error and cost me less than a dollar about four times. I called to get the refund, but more importantly to set up a foolproof way of avoiding the charge. Sometimes there is more than just the couple dollars at stake!

    • We’ve had vendors at work who have the same error every month and we have to call to have it corrected. I do believe it’s put there in the hopes you don’t notice.

  12. A few weeks ago I went grocery shopping and as I was walking out the door, I realized that there was still a coupon in my pocket. Face value was forty cents, which doubled to $.80. So I went to the service desk with the coupon and my receipt and got it credited.

    • I never knew you could even do that! I have done that before when I have gotten the wrong price, but never knew you could use a coupon after the fact.

  13. I don’t think you were being obsessive. While $2.50 is a small amount, I think too many people get in the habit of just blowing off little inaccuracies or errors because they don’t feel it’s worth it. Over time those little amounts can add up, but even worse, you develop a habit of not fixing mistakes.

    • For years, I never even checked statements or bills. There are no telling how many errors or fees that I missed. I guess I need to make up for it here.

  14. I will always try to get my money back or a fee waived or a small monthly bill with just a phone call. If I feel that it is going to take longer, then I usually chalk it up as a loss. It all depends on the amount of money I am fighting for.

  15. That’s not crazy. It’s the principle of the matter! My wife was once signed up for one of those spammy membership things after she bought some tickets from Ticketmaster. They were basically charging us $1 per month to be a part of their service, but we obviously weren’t really using them nor did we sign up. I called them to get a refund even though it was only a dollar. It was the principle of the matter that they were taking advantage of people.

  16. Absolutely true about every $2.50 adding up, Kim. Great post!

  17. No you are not crazy. We almost always invest time to get money back if it was in error. The most important part is to let them know they made the error so no one else gets hit with the same error and to get the money back. If we swept every dollar under the rug for a year we’d have alot of dollars I bet. Great post Kim. Posted on FB to get my fans reaction.

  18. For me, it’s not so much that $2.50 but a mentality that helps you save money over time. I’ve actually asked for an extra pack of gum when a clerk charged me for 3packs instead of the 2 I actually intended to purchase. I hadn’t left the checkout counter when I noticed the error so all told I wasted about 10 seconds. But the point is I would guess that I save upwards of $100/yr not letting go of the “little things” like being charged an erroneous $2.50.

  19. It depends on how much effort it would take me to get the money back. If I’m at a cashier and they give me the wrong change, even by 10 cents or 25 cents, I’ll mention it, because the effort of fixing the problem is very little. For a few dollars, if I can fix the problem with a phone call or a quick trip to the bank, I’ll usually still make the effort.

  20. I would fight hard for an unfair charge, I fought for a $0.25 overcharge on a burger, but wouldn’t spend that much time negotiating for $2.50. It is more about values and getting things right than the amount.

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