Review The Bill Before You Pay: Good Advice That’s Hard To Follow

by | Mar 20, 2023 | *Financial Awakenings, Healthy Money Relationships, Money Management, Money Psychology, Travel and Dining

In writing last week about hidden “junk fees,” I ended with a recommendation. Before choosing a phone plan, booking a hotel stay, buying an airline ticket, or making many other types of financial commitments, ask, “What other fees or charges are there I need to know about?”

That’s easy to recommend, and harder to implement. Our brains just don’t automatically adapt new habits overnight. In addition, there are times when you receive a bill with added charges and fees you had no reason to anticipate. A post-COVID added restaurant fee is one example. Then what can you do?

The first and most obvious action is to review any bill before paying it. That in itself is fraught with money scripts and emotions. When you’ve enjoyed a meal and engaging conversation with friends, the last thing you may want to do is break the flow by taking time to review the bill line by line. It could be easier to just hand your credit card to the server, trusting everything on the bill to be accurate. Unfortunately, my experience with restaurant bills is that there is an adjustment needed on one out of every three—not even counting any hidden service fee.

What else might prevent someone from stopping and reviewing the bill? Possibly a money script that scrutinizing the bill would be insulting to the server. Or fear of what your guests might think, of giving them the perception that you are a penny-pincher, can’t afford the cost, or are overly focused on the money rather than the experience. The possibilities are endless.

If you do review the bill and find an error, then what? Logically, you bring the error to the attention of the server. However, even the prospect of a conflict may result in you deciding the issue “isn’t worth it,” so you just pay the extra charges.

If you do bring up the disputed charges, the server could agree and make the adjustment or might need to check with the supervisor. This takes additional time and focus away from your guests.

That’s how complicated a single restaurant bill could be. The same dynamics are involved with checking the final bill for a car rental, a hotel, or a ticket purchase. Without taking a minute and reviewing the bill, you don’t know what you’ve just agreed to. And, if there is an erroneous charge, do you even have the time to negotiate a reasonable settlement? You may well be in a hurry to check out or drop the car and dash to the gate to board your flight.

Again, the best way to preemptively reduce the pressure in this situation is by checking before the services are consumed. In the case of a hotel, asking for a balance to be run the night before can often reduce the surprise and stress of discovering the problematic charges as your Uber car pulls up.

The bottom line to taking care of ourselves financially in such cases is the art of being fully present. This is a state of being aware of our money scripts and all the emotions that surround them, then asking them to stand aside while we create the space we need to be fully focused on the charges we are agreeing to pay.

That is best done before you buy. It can also come at any time during the purchasing process, and it is sometimes appropriate even once the transaction is done. At that point the choice may be to dispute a charge with the vendor or through the credit card issuer, or to consider the experience a useful lesson to apply in the future.


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