It’s all about the Hamiltons

I pulled into the self-checkout line with a basket of twenty or so items. The guy at the nearest machine was just leaving, but the second-nearest machine was empty, so I headed in that general direction, pausing for him to pass by.

And then I saw it: a ten-spot, left in the currency bin. Evidently he’d bought nine dollars and odd worth of stuff, shoved a twenty into the slot, carefully retrieved the coins (which land elsewhere), but forgot about the tenner.

I grabbed it and shouted in his general direction, but he was gone. On the basis that maybe he’d come back, I handed it to the nearest clerk, who stuffed it back into the machine through the Coupons slot. Never seen that before.

Oh, well, thought I, and started scanning. The last item was a bunch of bananas. (I wanted it on top of the bag, for reasons which should be obvious.) I paid via check card, and as always, looked at the bottom of the receipt to verify the dollar amount. But I also saw this:

NUMBER OF ITEMS . . . . . 21

There is, as it happens, a sign at each terminal which says NO MORE THAN 20 ITEMS. Evidently the gizmo isn’t programmed to reject that twenty-first item. But I still felt weird: attempted good deed canceled out by apparent peccadillo. “Modern guilt,” as Beck says, “is all in our hands.”


  1. McGehee »

    7 November 2010 · 8:44 am

    I used to worry about that item limit at the SCO at Kroger, but apparently the programmer who thought of adding that feature was gently informed that supermarkets need all the goodwill they can get when the customer’s at the checkstand.

    Walmart doesn’t even post an item limit at its SCO’s.

  2. Tatyana »

    7 November 2010 · 9:02 am

    You felt weird for miscalculating 20 items in your basket +1?


  3. ms7168 »

    7 November 2010 · 9:19 am

    What irks me are the dolts with 100 or more items who get into a 20 item line. At Wal-Mart they cannot turn them away. And only because there is only ONE line open that isn’t 20 or 15 or 10 items only and has a line a mile long.

    Also if I have 6 of the same item it’s one item :)

  4. CGHill »

    7 November 2010 · 9:20 am

    You should see me berate myself for getting my checkbook out of balance.

  5. Tatyana »

    7 November 2010 · 10:42 am

    You still use checkbook? Last time I wrote a check was for my mom’s birthday; for years the total in my checkbook has been, at most, 10 check entries a year…

    And “the guilt’? I know you have explained it already, but it still was incomprehensible, you belonging to the Donkeys. Now I know why: it’s a Masochists’ Club.

  6. CGHill »

    7 November 2010 · 11:15 am

    I don’t write a lot of checks, but debit-card purchases come right out of the checking account, so they have to be, um, accounted for. Said card got used three times yesterday: once at the gas station, once at an ATM to snag some walking-around cash, once at the grocery store. (Total transactions: $136.09.) It would simplify matters, yes, to put all this on one credit card and then pay it off at the end of the month, but my current economic scheme is purely pay-as-you-go.

  7. Tatyana »

    7 November 2010 · 11:56 am

    But in case of debit card all your purchases/payments are calculated automatically on the page of your account @the bank where you have that checking account (tied with debit card).
    You don’t need to write it down into the checkbook, it’s already in the transactions.
    At least it’s how it is in my bank; I can look at it any day or time, not just when the statement is due.

  8. CGHill »

    7 November 2010 · 12:10 pm

    As can I. However, I’m not about to assume that they’re always correct and therefore I don’t have to keep my own records. I check in about five times a week. If there’s a huge discrepancy, I want to be able to spot it immediately, not when something goes horribly wrong.

    And “horribly,” of course, is relative. If I’m, say, $100 off, it’s not likely to cause a check to bounce or a card transaction to decline, but it’s still unnerving.

  9. McGehee »

    7 November 2010 · 1:44 pm

    I’m with Charles; counting on the bank to never get it wrong is not exactly a smart bet, especially these days.

  10. Tatyana »

    7 November 2010 · 2:43 pm

    How often you catch them on mistakes? During how long?
    I do remember one mistake I found, but that was 3 years ago and it was partially not their fault (it concerned an automatic payment to an account that stopped accepting electronic checks) Since then I saw no discrepancies with my receipts; as a consequence I don’t feel a need to do a double bookkeeping.

  11. CGHill »

    7 November 2010 · 2:53 pm

    I am less concerned with mistakes — their mistakes, anyway; my own mistakes are another matter — than I am with outright fraud; there have been instances where someone managed to get access to one of my (former) accounts. I have never actually lost any money, and I’d like to keep it that way.

  12. fillyjonk »

    7 November 2010 · 3:20 pm

    Twenty-one items in a 20 item line I will happily forgive (and probably not even notice). It’s the idiots who get in front of me in the “express” lane when I have a carton of milk and a loaf of bread, who have 30 cans of cat food alone (not to mention the other items), and then who look at me and give a big coprophagous grin and say,”I can count, honey, I’m just in a hurry. ”

    Oh, like there’s no chance I might be? Though I suppose with enough cats that 30 cans of cat food is a necessity, perhaps they’re afraid the sofa will no longer be there when they get home…

  13. Dan B »

    7 November 2010 · 7:05 pm

    I have believed for years that there should be a $10-$20 upcharge for those with excessive items in the express lane. I would define excessive as 125% of the marked maximum so as to allow for honest errors. The bulk of that upcharge would go to local charities like the Oklahoma Food Bank, the store gets to keep $1-2 for processing.

    Now if I could just get the grocery chains to agree.

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