A large part of becoming financially savvy is knowing how to protect your hard-earned money. One way to do this is to get what you paid for and accept nothing less. I often see young women, in particular (myself included), sit back and remain silent when they do not get the service they paid for. It could be something small or something large, but it is all the same — because when you let something slide in one area, you are inevitably going to let it slide in another.
This post is a call to action to all of you out there who sit back and don’t ask for what you deserve. Don’t let it happen again! How do you do this? It’s simple — you stick up for yourself and you let it be known (nicely) when you do not get what you paid for. When you start to do this, you’ll realize that you will get what you want, gain confidence, and save money all at the same time. I used to feel scared that I would offend someone or thought that someone would get mad at me if I objected to the quality of the service or product I received. Even if someone seemed nice, I still hesitated to question them because I thought if I told them they had done something wrong, they would get in trouble with their boss. Sometimes I kept quiet because I just didn’t want to inconvenience anyone.
I’ve since learned that you can’t control how someone will react to your request that you receive a refund or a new drink because the one they made you was wrong. It’s also not your job to be concerned that you are giving them extra work when it is what they are being paid to do. I’ve worked in the service industry, too, and everyone who has knows that providing the best service is exactly what you are being paid for, so all good employees will want to correct their mistake and make you, the customer, happy.
Below are a few situations where I’ve faced my fears (I do it all of the time, now) and gotten my money’s worth by speaking up for myself. I hope you read these examples and see that it’s not only okay to speak up for yourself, but it’s also your right. In doing so, you will receive the service you deserve (and paid for), and you’ll protect your hard-earned cash.
1. Uber / Car Services
Back in my BigLaw days, I used to work super late hours (if you find yourself in a similar job situation, here are some tips on how you can make those late nights not so terrible). On one of these evenings, I took an Uber home, and about 10 blocks from my apartment, we got into a minor fender bender. I was busy looking at my phone, so I have no idea who was at fault — my driver or the taxi that we crashed into. But my driver was furious. He pulled over and proceeded to get into a confrontation with the taxi driver, while I sat in the back seat unsure of what the protocol was. After five minutes of listening to them yell at each other, I realized we were not going to continue on to my drop-off, so I got out of the car, told my driver I was leaving and walked those last 10 blocks home at 3 A.M.
When I got home, I checked my email, I’d received the standard message from Uber letting me know how much my ride cost and asking me to rate my driver. I stood in my kitchen wondering what I should rate him. I basically always gave Uber drivers a five-star review, and I felt badly docking him points. But then I snapped out of it. Not only had he probably been driving unsafely, but he also didn’t bother to inform me of what was going on or help me get another ride. That was not a five-star rating!
I rated him (something lower than a five) and sent a quick message to Uber saying my car had been in a crash and asking for my money back. Within a day, they apologized, refunded my ride fee ($15), and gave me a $25 credit.
2. Product Returns
Any time I purchase an item at the grocery store that ends up being a mistake or tastes bad, I kick myself. Now it is because it will involve an extra trip back to the store to return it, but before it was because I knew I was never going to return it, and the item was going to go unused and probably end up in the trash.
Why wouldn’t I return the food? Honestly, I used to be scared of what the cashier would think when I returned something. I was certain she was judging me and thinking that I had really used the item and was trying to scam the store by returning something I had used up or half-eaten. It took a while to get over this feeling. But I knew that I wasn’t trying to cheat the grocery store when I was returning the jar of pasta sauce that I mistakenly bought, and I’m pretty sure the cashier didn’t care, either. The dirty look she gave me was probably because she had to call her manager over to process the return, not because she thought I was trying to cheat her store. I now endure those looks without letting them bother me. I return the food every time and save myself $5 instead of keeping bad pasta sauce.
3. Wrong Drink or Food Order
Getting the wrong food or drink order at a restaurant or coffee shop (Starbucks, I’m looking at you!) is probably the most common situation of all. My favorite drink at Starbucks is a peppermint latte. I love it so much that I order it year-round, until the peppermint syrup runs out and I have to wait until the next holiday season begins.
A few years ago, I ordered my favorite drink and — gasp! — received a peppermint mocha instead of a latte. Now, I understand this is not a big deal at all, and there are bigger things in life to worry about. But I’m not advising you to make a huge deal out of it. What I am saying is that you still deserve to get what you literally paid for. And if what you want and paid for is a latte and not a mocha, there’s no shame in asking for it.
Even though I don’t actually like mochas, I still tasted that drink and walked out of the store with the mocha in hand. I wasted $5 on a drink I barely sipped and didn’t end up getting what I had actually gone to the shop for. This incident sticks out in my mind so much, because I look back now and think of how silly I was. It would have been so simple to politely tell the barista that she added chocolate syrup to my drink and I had specifically asked for it without chocolate. She would have made me another one and that would have been the end of it. But I was too scared to “confront” her and say anything, so I left with the wrong order.
I would never do this now. If the wrong salad dressing comes, the burger isn’t cooked enough even though I asked for it well done, or I get chocolate syrup in my latte, I will send it back and ask for it to be fixed. There is absolutely nothing wrong with doing this! Just ask politely, don’t make a big fuss about it, and every single time your barista or waitress will (usually) be happy to fix your order. I did this just the other day at Starbucks and saved myself another $5.
4. Coupons Not Applied
I recently paid for temporary storage for some of my items while I moved out of an apartment. I found the company from a basic Google search and decided to take a chance on the new start-up, mostly because they had a discount code I could use if I called and mentioned the code. As I wrapped up the order conversation, after the storage guy and I had spent a lot of time discussing the various storage plans, he’d entered my credit card details and was about the put in the order, I realized I had forgotten to mention the discount code.
Since this happened very recently, I hope you can guess what I did. While I still did pause for a moment, before he finalized the order, I told him I was sorry but I actually had a code and could I please use it. He gladly accepted the code, re-did the order, and five minutes later we were off the phone and my storage plan was in place. Had I not spoken up, I would have lost the $50 I saved by using the code.
Good Things Happen to Those Who Do Speak Up
Some people do speak up for themselves. A former co-worker of mine (let’s call her Jane) naturally spoke up for herself all the time. I’ve seen her put this to use in two very different situations.
Everyone at work knew that Jane was good at speaking up for herself. She was so good, in fact, that when another colleague had to call his cell phone provider to dispute a charge, instead of doing it himself, he asked Jane to pretend to be his wife and speak on his behalf. She managed to get the charge removed and get him a discount on his monthly bill, all by speaking her mind and making sure her money (well, not her money, but you get the idea) was being protected.
The second situation is even more impressive. Not only could Jane speak up for herself when it came to the little things, but she managed to secure a coveted position at our law firm by using these same tactics. To my knowledge, Jane still works at my old firm, getting paid just as much as the rest of us were getting paid, but I haven’t seen her in at least six years. After going on maternity leave, instead of coming back to the demanding job at full scale or opting to leave the workforce in its entirely, which most of our other colleagues did, she simply negotiated for a new job on her terms.
I don’t know what the details of her job are, but I do know that she works as an attorney at a prestigious law firm, works from home at least 90% of the time, works only a few days a week, and gets all of the perks of law firm life and basically none of the drawbacks. How did she do this? She stood up for herself, asked for what she wanted, and the firm gave it to her.
My Grand Total Savings
If you add up all the money I “protected” by speaking up in the examples above, my total comes to $40 for Uber (refund ride plus credits), $5 for the returned jar of pasta sauce, $5 for Starbucks for making the correct drink, and $50 for using my storage coupon. I protected $100 just by speaking up for myself — an amount that I definitely would have lost in the past.
If you can’t relate to this post, I hope it’s because you can’t imagine not speaking up for yourself and letting little things like these examples slide. If so, you are like my former colleague Jane, so keep it up! But I am guessing you probably nodded your head more than you shook it as you read through these scenarios. To those readers, start with the small things — the lattes and the mochas, the jars of pasta sauce — and work up to getting yourself that coveted, flexible work arrangement. You never know how much you’ll save or what you’ll get if you never ask!
Do you speak up for yourself and protect your money or do you find yourself letting little things slide? What other ways do you stick up for yourself financially and protect your assets?
The Unbillable Life is a former law firm attorney in New York City who blogs about her experiences at a high-paying yet extremely high-stress job, and why she left that career (and salary) to pursue something else, which is still yet to be determined. Learn more on her blog — because life is about more than just work.
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