Woman shopping empty grocery store bare shelves

"Everything I want is always on the top shelf!"

So the cupboards and fridge were looking pretty empty over the weekend, and I decided to host a Labor Day Sale in my Etsy shop AND auction one of my paintings on eBay.
Usually, I don’t celebrate holidays with special sales, but I referred to this as my “Peanut Butter and Jelly Sale”.
I had a couple of customers *waves at Lily and Carolyn* but although it wasn’t as successful as I’d anticipated, don’t worry! We won’t starve. 🙂

Everywhere you turn, these days, you can’t help but listen to the horrible tales of people hit hard by this recession. People have been laid off from their jobs, lost their homes and cars, and suffered from medical emergencies… clutching our wallets tightly to our chests, we feel for them but secretly pray that we won’t “be next”.

Businesses, too, are tightening their purses and in unfortunate cases … are beginning to charge outrageous fees to their established customer base to keep themselves afloat.

A few years ago, when I opened my “free” bank account, they asked whether I wanted one with a zero minimum balance.
“Of course!” I replied.
Every penny I earn has a name and number, like “Car insurance #7,142” … the seven-thousandth penny towards my insurance payment.

I wouldn’t consider us “poor folk”, but every cent counts. We don’t have hundreds of dollars just lying around to carpet our bank accounts. So imagine my surprise when I began taking a closer look at my monthly statements and found “service fees” springing up like weeds.
These aren’t like occasional overdraft fees, which are also expensive (but I regard them as punishment for spending more than I have)… the “service fees” are usually deducted from bank accounts after the customer dips below their Minimum Balance limit (i.e. $100).
I politely inquired about it, and was told that my account had been “upgraded” when our smallish bank merged with a larger branch, and that notifications had been sent in the mail.

Hmmm… yeah, those sorts of notifications tend to vanish (along with my Zazzle royalty check from May) when we move from one address to another. The Post Office had instructions to forward all our mail, but only the junk seemed to arrive on time.

The bank employees insisted that these charges were legal, necessary, and justified… I wouldn’t be able to recover those fees because it was my fault for allowing my balance to dwindle into the double digits.
Since when should we feel like criminals for spending our own money? What is wrong with having $26.00 in the bank?

If I could get away with not having a bank account, I would stuff my money into a cookie tin like our grandparents did. Unfortunately, we need the bank… and worst of all, the bank knows it. They have us by the toenails, because at the very least, I need to get various checks cashed.

Our biggest box of fee surprise came after moving to the outskirts of town, where the City of Hagerstown no longer supplies our electricity needs. There was only one electrical service provider available for this neighborhood, and their fees are almost surreal.
When we were customers of the City, our electric bill averaged anywhere from $80-$180 per month… the higher bills naturally occurred during those 15-degree winter months and the 105-degree summers. We were happy with our service.

Since moving here, our new provider has doubled our bill… wait, no, tripled our bill.
Our usage hasn’t changed; we purchased an energy-efficient washer/dryer set, use the squiggly CFL bulbs in every room, have a closet full of blankets for wintertime (instead of cranking the heat) and ceiling fans running in the summer to reduce the need for A/C. (We do vacuum our carpets 3-4 times per day…but…)
I am not exaggerating when I tell you – over 50% of the recent amount due consisted of service fees and surcharges. (Not late-payment fees, mind you, as we paid on time last month).

A sample of these fees/charges include:

  • the Transmission Charge – associated with the movement of high-voltage electricity from a generation facility to the distribution lines of an electric distribution company.
  • the Customer Distribution Charge – for delivering electricity from a customer’s chosen supplier to their residence or business.
  • an Electrical Universal Service fee
  • KHW Distribution Charge (which is separate from our actual KHW usage charge)
  • an Energy Cost Adjustment
  • a Cogeneration PURPA surcharge – the costs associated with the purchasing of power from the AES/Warrior Run power station.
  • a Franchise Tax
  • an EmPower Maryland surcharge (to fund energy conservation programs… they give small rebates to folks purchasing fancy appliances)
  • and a Maryland Environmental surcharge – the Costs associated with the funding of the state Power Plant Research Program.

The combined cost of these extra little charges were well over $100. Although we will manage somehow, I cannot understand how poorer families are able to afford this nonsense. 😛

I went to sleep with fees on my mind, and woke up feeling my usual sense of irony. This used to be nation obsessed with lawsuits: people sued because the coffee was too hot, the haunted house was too scary, the reality TV show was too disgusting, and because husbands and wives were withholding emotional support from each other.

Now, it seems we are the Fee Nation. Some companies earn their entire profit from charging fees.

So what do the little people do? Well, we can start charging fees too! LOL

Did you have to stand in a check-out line? ….Charge a fee for your time.
Did a late meeting force you to miss the bus/train? …..Charge your boss a fee!
Was the newspaper missing from your porch this morning?
Did the grocery store forget to order your brand of milk?
Did your mother keep you on the phone for two hours?
Did the cashier ask to see your ID?
Was the traffic light too red?

Nothing is more valuable than our time, energy, and emotional well-being, right?
Everyone should pay us for the inconveniences we endure! 😉

So when my husband writes that check to Allegheny Power this month, I’m going to slip an invoice into our return envelope… with a list of fees that our electric company owes us.
C’mon folks, let’s get creative!