In the 5th installment of Squirreling Gone Wild, I’ll go back to a story about my old college buddy. While the last SGW post went away from the college buddy and covered an airport carry-on loophole, I’m thinking its time to revisit another extreme penny pinching tale from the past.
Much like some previous examples – gas station penny trick, picking up change from under the drive through, etc – the following example is one that I personally don’t advocate for mature adults🙂 Rather, its an interesting example of how people will go to great lengths – often crossing lines of self-respect – to pinch pennies.
In this case, lets go back 20 years, to undergraduate days. By the way, as a side note – just typing 20 years makes me realize how time flies, and things move fast. Anyway, back to the story. At the school at which I did my undergraduate work, sometimes people would grab lunch at the main library cafeteria. Depending what your class schedule was, or if you needed to be studying at the library, this might be your only choice to grab a meal or snack if you weren’t carrying your own. Needless to say, as college students, most people weren’t carrying their own food!
This cafeteria offered standard fare: sandwiches, pizza, snacks, drinks. I would occasionally go there and would often run into the same friend who invariably would have popcorn and a soda as a snack. No big deal, but what was interesting was how he purchased them. A box of popcorn cost $0.50, and a drink cost $0.75.
He would first get a tray, the standard cafeteria-style offering. Then, he would go the popcorn bin, grab a popcorn box (much like at a theatre), and fill up the bag with popcorn. But he didn’t just fill up the bag with pocporn – he showered the bag with popcorn, as if it were a popcorn hurricane. The aftermath was a cafeteria tray that had a mound of popcorn, with a popcorn-filled box buried within the larger mound.
Next, he would get a 32 oz fountain drink (or about 946ml for our Canadian friends). He would fill up the cup with diet coke, would take a straw, but would not put a lid on the drink. Rather, he would go to the cashier line – usually 3 or 4 customers ahead of him, and look for the “stamp of the day”. So, what was this mysterious stamp? Well, it was a stamp that the cashier would apply to a 32 oz drink lid, so that the customer could get a $0.25 refill that day if he or she wanted. The stamp was only valid that day.
After going to the cafeteria long enough, this guy noticed that there were 4 possible stamps, and that the cashiers used one specific stamp per day. The stamps seemed to rotate somewhat randomly by day, but you never knew for sure what stamp would be. So, what he did was he saved the stamped lids from prior cafeteria visits, and then kept them in his backpack. As he got closer to the cashier, he peered over the customers ahead of him to see which stamp the cashier was using that day. Then, he reached into his backpack, and pulled out an old lid from a prior visit, which happened to have today’s stamp. Then, he put the lid on the drink, and ultimately paid $0.25 for the drink as if it were simply a refill, instead of $0.75.
Devious? Yeah, I think so. I couldn’t do it. But it was funny to see someone else do it, and do it over and over. Even funnier was his delight at gaming the system.
So, basically, instead of paying $1.25 for a drink and box of popcorn, he paid $0.75 for a drink and the equivalent of two boxes of popcorn. He would eat what was in the box (you know, the one buried in the popcorn avalanche), and then refill the box with the rest of the popcorn covering the tray and take it to go. He looked at this as paying $0.75 for a $1.75 value.
Extreme penny pinching that went too far, but could be excused as youthful immaturity. What I find interesting are more “grown up versions of extreme penny pinching. Do you have any examples from either yourself or someone you know, in terms of adopting offbeat yet above-board ways to save a few dollars or cents?