Why “Cash Register Honesty” Pays Off

A lot has happened since my last post a few months ago, and I’m excited to share it with you (and ask for your opinion).

But first, I want to share a story about why honesty definitely pays off for me. (But if you really want to skip ahead and read about what’s been happening immediately, click here. 😊)

As part of my recovery, I do my best to be rigorously honest, which includes “cash register honesty.” If you don’t know what that is, it means staying honest about the little things as well as the big ones. So, for instance, I won’t rob a bank, but I also give back change to the cashier if she gave me too much.

Now, I’m not perfect. I still struggle (sometimes unsuccessfully) with saying no if someone has access to a movie that’s still in the theaters. I’ve even been known to buy a ticket on Fandango so I can watch a pirated copy if it’s not playing near me. So this is great progress, because there was a time when I wouldn’t have thought twice about it.

My husband thinks I go to ridiculous lengths to ensure I stay “cash register honest.” His eyerolling doesn’t deter me, however. I’ve even driven back to a store across town when they accidentally gave me too much change and I only realized it after coming home!

But what happened a few weeks ago convinced me that this is the right path for me to follow. (I just LOVE this story! 😊 It’s a long story, but so worth it in the end!)

Who the Heck Gets a Landline Anymore?

Last year, I called the phone company to set up a landline because I was offered a job as a remote customer service representative and needed a dedicated line. A couple of hours later, through a series of unfortunate events, I no longer had the job. And so I called back to cancel the service.

Now, it’s mighty hard to get through to anyone at the phone company. A thousand prompts will finally get you to someone who asks you to repeat all the information you just entered through the disembodied voice system.

But for a landline, multiply that difficulty by a billion! There is no easily found phone number or route to the landline department. It’s like they don’t want you to find them. I’m reminded of Milton from the movie, “Office Space,” who was shoved into the basement with his red stapler, hopefully, never to be heard from again.

I mean, who orders a landline anymore?

I was transferred from person to person to person, about five times, before I finally got someone who actually worked in that department. They canceled the order. And that was the end of that … or so I thought.

An Offer I Couldn’t Refuse (But Wish I Had)

A few days later, I got a call from Ned from the phone company, who said he saw that I had canceled, and offered to keep the account open, but not filled, just in case I reconsidered down the road. Though I’d given up on the idea of remote customer service, he was so compelling that I agreed. He said that, of course, I wouldn’t be billed because the technician never came out to set up the line. Accepting his offer was clearly non-sober thinking on my part. Kind of like buying dog food on sale when you have no pets.

Bureaucracy at Work

Three months later, I got a bill for $59 for landline phone service. Mind you, they never came out and set up the line. I finally figured out that they were somehow billing me for the service I canceled. Apparently, Ned (or a Ned-like person) flipped a switch and activated my account sometime in the previous month.

So I called the phone company. Eight customer service people later, I finally got a guy who told me that the account isn’t working, which, of course, I already knew. And then he sent me elsewhere because he’s just a technician and I needed someone in the Billing department (nope, spoiler, not the right department). I’m trying, really I am, to be kind and understanding with each successive person I speak with.

All I want is for them to cancel the account I never ordered and zero out the balance for services I never received.

An hour and 15 minutes later, I finally had enough. The lady from the Cancellation department (right department finally) was insisting I need to go to the police and report identity theft, because what she heard me say, which I didn’t, was that someone opened the account fraudulently in my name, and she can’t do anything about this until I do that.


I yelled at her. I did. I’m not proud of it. But I had re-explained the entire issue over and over and over.

Yet, somehow, magically, that worked.

Now, I’m not advocating abusing customer service representatives, but after I yelled at her, she very kindly canceled it all out and apologized for the inconvenience … just sayin’.

An Unexpected, Inexplicable Windfall and a Near Panic Attack

A month later, I received a check for $19.90 … from the phone company. No note or explanation, except that it was a credit. I was puzzled.

Then it dawned on me why I received this check. It was a credit for the landline account I didn’t order and never paid for. Aside from everything else wrong about this windfall, I had the uncomfortable feeling that they might figure it out and ask for the money back after I spent it.

I cannot describe how nauseated I felt … because I knew what I needed to do.

This wasn’t my money. I had to give it back. My husband rolled his eyes at me per usual, and said that I shouldn’t worry about it. It wasn’t my problem.

But the thing is, it IS my problem because I have to live with my conscience. And having a peaceful conscience is more important than $19.90. But I have to tell you, the thought of doing battle with the phone company again almost made me throw my moral compass out the window along with the check.

The mere idea of trying to get one of their employees to understand why I was calling was nearly too much to handle. And the thought of the hours I would lose trying to do so made me want to cry.

So I sat with it for a week. Every day, my husband would see that check sitting on the dining room table and ask me why I didn’t cash it. And every day, I told him it wasn’t mine. Of course, his answer was that I should just give it to him.

A Knight in Shining Armor Comes to the Rescue

I finally had a whole day with no commitments. Steeling myself, I began my quest for the holy grail of someone who worked in the landline department who would understand why I was calling. My husband, annoyed, urged me not to call. But I girded myself with spiritual armor and prepared for battle.

Six representatives later, I found Michael, my knight in shining armor. Michael got it immediately. He pulled up the account and reviewed it.

He said it was a glitch in the system. And then, he told me that I should enjoy the money and consider it a gift from the phone company for all my aggravation. I was stunned and happy about my good fortune. I could sleep well knowing that I wasn’t coming by money dishonestly.

End of story, right?


An Unexpected Gift & the Moral of the Story

Michael asked me if it would be OK for him to look at my other account, which includes internet and TV. No problem, I say.

And then, Michael, who has nothing whatsoever to do with those other departments, says, “How would you like faster internet?”

“Well, of course, I would,” I told him, “but I’m not paying more for it.”

“Oh no,” he said. “We have a new plan and can double the speed for … let me calculate this … about $14 less a month.”

In the end, calling the phone company about the $19.90 that wasn’t mine netted me a clean conscience, a well-deserved gift, and a savings of $14/month (that’s $168 per year!) for better internet service.

And then, by the way, a few days later, I found a $5 bill laying in the road (and no one anywhere around to return it to).

So, to anyone who says “cash register honesty” is ridiculous and extreme, let me tell you that my experience with such behavior has been overwhelmingly positive and has only served to enhance my recovery from compulsive spending, even on the few occasions when I didn’t get to keep the money.

Seeking Your Opinion

I’d love your opinion on a new project I’m working on. [NOTE: Survey is no longer active.]

As background, let me tell you what’s happened since my last post in February. I took a much-needed break. My mind began to clear. And an idea emerged and began to take shape.

If you read the blog, you know that I’m a recovering compulsive spender who paid off $34,000 in seven years and that I continue to live debt-free and within my means despite becoming disabled and losing half my income. You also likely know that my greatest passion is teaching people about spending plans:

  • How to get over the fear to begin the process
  • How to develop them
  • How to maintain them using software, and
  • How to get the most out of them ongoing.

A spending plan is not a replacement for a recovery program, but I believe it is an essential tool that’s a vital necessity for anyone who is serious about recovering from compulsive spending and finding clarity and peace with money.

But so many of us are too terrified to even begin this process. Or, if we start, we get freaked out and demoralized so we run screaming in the other direction!

The thing is, there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of books and money gurus who provide tools and guidance to help people make a budget. There are dozens of spreadsheets and software options that you can use to track your spending. But these programs don’t adequately address the special needs of compulsive spenders, debtors, and shopaholics.

The problem is, they all start out by explaining the problem and then, tell you essentially to “just pull yourself up by your bootstraps, get started, and fill in the blanks.” But if you’re like me, there’s just no way you can do that. And, in fact, we often feel shamed by the implied message that we could succeed if we only tried harder.

The thing is, all the tools in the world are meaningless if you’re too terrified to even begin the process of looking at the reality of your spending. Overcoming that terror and making a start in a peaceful way is the key. And that’s the part that nobody addresses adequately.

But what if there was a way to walk through the process of creating and living by a spending plan peacefully, to take the heat out of each step, to help you move through it – beginning with what you need to do before you ever pick up a calculator or write down one number?

Well, I’m here to tell you that there is a way to do that!

I realized that, over the years, I’d developed a step-by-step system that has worked with many people who really wanted to create and live by a spending plan, but couldn’t get started because of fear and anxiety, or couldn’t maintain it because they didn’t know how. (While there are wonderful books out there to help compulsive spenders and debtors find their way to 12-Step recovery programs, the training that I envision is the only one that focuses on walking you through the spending plan process, step-by-step.)

The system works for overspenders who are not in a recovery program, but simply can’t get any traction around developing a spending plan and managing it ongoing. And it works with those new to 12-Step recovery who are getting nowhere with their spending plan, despite multiple pressure relief meetings (PRM’s). These people have found that, at the end of the training, they have a process in place and a foundational spending plan to bring to their PRM so they are finally ready and able to move forward with their recovery program.

Because I know this system works, I wanted to make it available to more people, so I did a lot of research over the past few months in how best to present the training. The ideal solution seems to be an online video course that gently guides you through the entire process of looking at your spending, creating a spending plan, and learning how to maintain it. This course will include optional one-on-one sessions and group training.

I developed a detailed outline of the training program. The way I’m envisioning the course, it will be as if I’m holding your hand and guiding you every step of the way.

But, before I move forward with this program, I want to know if you would find it helpful. So, in the next day or so, look for a one question survey about my proposed spending plan training program. [NOTE: Survey is no longer active.]

Return to the beginning of this post

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s