Don’t judge a book by its cover. Don’t judge a letter by its envelope. Don’t judge what’s in the box by looking at the box. Skip the judgments and maybe even make some money. Weirder things happen.
Two envelopes showed up in the mail. There were more, but those two dropped my mood two notches. It’s possible to earn a living income (or more) as a real estate broker. (Hi, Washington State asks me to disclose that I am – “a licensed real estate broker with Coldwell Banker Koetje on Whidbey Island.” Hey, I didn’t want to make it part of the story, but I’m being careful with their regulations.) Anyway. Real estate can pay well, but it doesn’t pay every two weeks or on any regular schedule – at least for me for now. There are income gaps that are ignored by the need to pay expenses. Seeing an envelope from my old mortgage company and my new propane supplier days after recently paying those bills made me dread contacting the companies. Did the old and new mortgage company double bill me, and do so after the due date? Did the online Bill Pay not pay the propane company? I reacted before I opened the envelopes. I also procrastinated by waiting until I was at work where the office phone was designed for calls to be left on hold while I got other work done.
Yet another advantage of not living in The Big City is having phone calls answered by humans in the first two rings. The bill was $75 over the bill I paid a few days ago at the end of the month. If that was a late fee, it was a big one. One quick call to Van der Yacht Propane pointed out the money and the bill passing each other in the mail. Yep. I’d paid my bill, but their tank rental fee ($75) was sent to me before the money cleared. Instead of being over-charged or late, all I had to do was pay a regular rental fee. Whew.
As for the mortgage, I’ve lost count of how many mortgage companies and servicers have handled my monthly payment. The Great Recession swing them through a lot of loops. I wonder if, pardon me as I estimate, at least seven companies have truly been able (oops, eight) to keep track of who owes and who owns what. After all of that confusion, a double bill wouldn’t be a surprise. Surprise! It wasn’t a bill. It was a notice that I’d be receiving a check for the escrow money they’d set aside to pay property taxes. Whew.
Coincidentally, the propane bill was almost exactly the same as the escrow check. In and out equal nearly zero.
What was I reacting to, again? (Only slightly rhetorical)
We, or at least I, react to packaging. Dispassionately waiting until the envelope is logical, but humans are emotional, too. Maybe I should find a Vulcan to handle my mail.
Packaging is so important that we pay more for fancy packaging and pay much less for poor packaging.
I’m frugal. I browse the discount bin at the supermarket. Dings, dents, and damaged goods cost much less even if the contents are fine. Anyone who follows my Facebook or Twitter (#TomTea) feeds knows I drink tea. I’m not a tea snob. It’s just something I post about as an aside to the day. I can measure my progress through the day by how and what I drink. (If I’m drinking Tetley after 4PM you know it is going to be a long day and a sleepless night.) There it was, a box of Taylor’s Lemon & Ginger, crushed and crumpled. The box was crushed and crumpled, not the tea. Tea doesn’t do that, unless on purpose. Twenty tea bags that would cost several dollars was marked down to 99 cents. It’s fine. (As I sip.) The value and quality of the tea didn’t change. The impact of the packaging did.
A gracious and generous gesture by Victorinox happened about the same time and showed me another side of the packaging issue. I found one of my old Swiss army knives in a tool box. As if the normal set of tools wasn’t enough, this one included an altimeter. The altimeter that fit in the knife works because of a battery, a tiny battery, a battery thin enough to fit in whatever is left of the volume that isn’t already filled with knives, screwdrivers, scissors, files, and of course, a corkscrew and toothpick. So civilized, the Swiss. Hence, the graciousness of them when I contacted them about finding a replacement battery; and their generosity when they mailed me one for free. A battery skinnier than my pinkynail. A battery that is smaller than a stamp, but that required an envelope measuring 9 inches by 6 inches. The cost of the person’s paycheck for answering the call, the cost of the battery, the cost of shipping, and the cost of the envelope are costs associated with packaging their response, not just the battery. Impressive. Sadly, the battery couldn’t fix the fact that years in backpacks and toolboxes probably ruined the electronics in the altimeter. I’m not asking them to fix that, too. They’ve done more than enough, already. I’ve cost them too much, already.
And the coincidences accumulate.
Nine by six is the size of my most of my books. According to some readers, one in particular is my best writing and possibly worth submitting for awards. I probably won’t because we do judge books by their covers. The writing inside may be worth mentioning, but the title and the cover do too little to connect with the content. Twelve Months at Merritt Lake. No verbs. No action. No emotion. The cover is a photograph, but only one that makes sense after the book’s been read. A clear day punctuated by a sweet wilderness camp, rifle shots, and helicopters attacking a nearby forest fire. I use my book as an example, but think about how some shop on Amazon. It was sad enough that judging a book by its contents was tough in bookstores. It takes too long. So, readers judge books by their covers. Now, covers are reduced to Amazon images a few pixels wide and tall. The cost to the author for poor packaging is in poor sales.
Humans are quick to judge. Maybe that was less likely when life moved slowly. Now, we judge people and events on a few words or even a few letters. See an (R) or (D) or (G) or (I) beside a politician’s name and the judgment is made. Some do the same thing with skin color, or gender, or accent, or whatever discriminator is being used to discriminate between this person and that person. Even in the world of personal finance, a car that safely drive at the speed limit holds a basic value, but tens of thousands of dollars are layered around that with brands, luxuries, and paint jobs. A house that is safe, secure, and structurally sound meets necessities, but style and whether the walls are painted or the windows washed can change opinions and purchases.
Maybe we shouldn’t be affected by such things, but we are. The pragmatist in me struggles with this notion. The frugal person in me appreciates the opportunities. The reflective part of me knows I am susceptible to the my own mix of feelings and consequences. I guess that proves that I am human. Time to sit back, sip some tea, make this post a bit prettier – all as we approach the holidays with wrapping paper and bows and silly sweaters.