My 21 cents
By: Brent Runyon, September 12, 2011
Almost a year ago, I bought a new cell phone from Verizon Wireless. It was one of those deals where they charge you $150 up front and then they give you a $100 rebate if you send your receipt in, so the phone only costs $50 in the end.
I’m sure they do that because a lot of people never bother to send in the receipt and Verizon gets to keep the money. But I’m the kind of person that loves to take advantage of that kind of stuff, so I did, and last October I got a debit card loaded with $100 in the mail.
The card even has a picture of the Verizon Wireless mascot – you know the guy with the glasses who says, “Can you hear me now?”
I’ve been carrying it in my wallet ever since I got it. I’ve used it a bunch of times for groceries and random stuff, but the last time I tried to buy a gallon of milk with it, and it was declined.
So the other day I checked the balance on it by calling the 1-800 number on the back.
“Your current balance is 21 cents,” said the automated voice on the other end of the line. “Your last purchase for one dollar, was made on May 17, 2011.”
I remember that purchase. It was a candy bar at CVS pharmacy right before I went to the movies. Delicious and thrifty. Candy at the movies costs $3.50.
21 cents to freedom
But the fact that I have 21 cents left on the card got me thinking, what in the world I could buy for 21 cents.
I went to Tedeschi’s and looked around. I literally couldn’t find anything that cost so little. Candy costs a dollar. Even a little bag of peanuts is 99 cents. Gum is 75 cents, minimum.
I thought about trying to win an eBay auction on a collection of dust bunnies, or maybe buy a massage that lasts for a millisecond.
I called back the 1-800 number and pressed zero until I talked to a nice woman who had a little bit of a southern drawl and introduced herself as Wendy.
“How can I help you?” Wendy inquired.
“I have 21 cents left on my card and I can’t figure out how to use it,” I said. “What happens if I don’t use it?”
“If it’s not used within one year, you will be charged a $3 a month maintenance fee. So basically you will be charged 21 cents if you don’t spend it by October 1.”
So if I don’t use the card by October 1, the company will would wipe my little rebate card out.
“Where does that money go?” I asked Wendy.
“It goes to maintenance,” she said.
“I mean, does it just go into the Verizon Wireless account, or do you donate it to charity or something?”
“No, it just goes to maintenance. It’s a maintenance fee.”
“I’m trying to figure out what it maintains. It’s not a plant, right? It doesn’t need to be trimmed back, right?”
But I didn’t want to argue with Wendy anymore so I just hung up. I decided I couldn’t let that Verizon take my last 21 cents. So I set out to find some way to use my card.
I decided I was not going to sit there and give this huge multi-billion dollar company my 21 cents. I've seen those news stories about how companies make billions on unused gift cards, which seems like the biggest rip off in the world.
So I decided to make it my mission to figure out a way to spend my 21 cents.
Last weekend, I finally figured it out. I went down to Candy Go Nuts, the candy store in Woods Hole where you can buy candy by the pound, and found the lightest thing in the store.
It happened to be Pixy Stix, the flavored candy powder that comes in its own straw in case you want to snort it.
I grabbed a handful and placed them one by one on the scale. One Pixy Stick costs $0.00 – that’s a really good deal. It doesn’t even weigh enough to register a tenth of a pound on the scale.
I added on another, and another, and another. Finally, I got to two tenths of a pound. Which cost exactly 18 cents. I gave the 14 year-old girl behind the counter my card. She swiped it through and it was accepted.
She gave me the receipt to sign, and I added a 3 cent tip. 21 cents exactly!
I win. In your face, Verizon.