Price of pride

2010-02-03 00:00

I WAS filling up at a petrol station the other day, and asked the attendant to fill up to a certain amount of fuel. She went over by about a buck or so, but no biggie. Now, I’d only brought a certain amount of money with me (specific amount for petrol and some change as a tip for her) and the fact of the matter was that as she’d gone over by a buck, her tip was going to be reduced by a buck. Seems simple and logical. But this is where it gets interesting.

She brought me back the fuel slip, with some coinage in change, which was just under R2. I’d said to her that the change was for her, but maybe she hadn’t heard me. So, I once again proffered her the two bucks, saying this was for her. Indignantly, she said: “No, it’s fine.”

I repeated “No, sisi, this is for you.”

To that she replied: “No, really, you keep it,” with not a small amount of sarcasm in her voice. Now, I’m not one to hand over 10 bucks as a tip to any petrol attendant, but I always try to tip at least a couple of rands. I don’t need to (they’re paid a salary to do their job and they should just do it), but I’ve always liked to give a bit extra if the service is at least half-decent. (By the way, did you know that the word “tip” comes from ”to improve performance”?)

Obviously, I was a bit taken aback. I mean, who turns down extra money? Then I started thinking about it. Just imagine if she keeps that bad attitude for every customer she serves. Her pride (or indignation — call it what you like) could be costing her a fortune. In a shift like petrol attendants work, I’d imagine that she’d serve at least 50 customers (and I’m being conservative here). If only 20% of those customers offered her a tip (again being conservative here) of R2, she’s turning down 20 bucks a day. Working 20 shifts a month, she’s walking away from R400 a month. With a bit of rounding, that’s basically five grand a year. Do you even know how much she could do with that? That’s school fees for two kids or basic medical cover or a nice chunk towards retirement savings. And her attitude? “No, really, you keep it.”

I don’t think I need to go on at length as to how important it is to keep track of the small bits and pieces that can be saved and made here and there. Every little bit counts, and small change can make a big difference (to paraphrase a well-known charity). My personal view is that if I see small change lying around on the ground, I always pick it up. Unless of course it’s clearly putrid. Following what John Demartini says in his book How To Make One Hell of a Profit and Still Get To Heaven, picking it up is saying to the greater wide world out there: “I’m open to receiving money, keep bringing me opportunities.” And that is absolutely what happens to me. Business ideas and opportunities come to me by the handful, and I’m always grateful when they do. If you walk away from the coppers lying on the ground, you’re saying: “I don’t actually need any more money, thanks.” Put that energy out there, and watch the financial strife hit you where it hurts.

And what do I do with all this small change? It all goes into a big glass jar that I’ve got at home. At the end of every year, I look forward to pouring it all out and counting it. It then goes to the bank, gets exchanged for something a bit bigger, and then gets allocated. Half goes into savings, and the other half gets blown on a little treat to myself. Two years ago, it was a fair bit over R1 000 that I had collected. This is in coppers, people. Once I’d tucked half of it away, the other half got spent on a really nice, but inexpensive, weekend away down the coast. Last year, it was a bit over R700 (it was a recession, you know). That also had half tucked away and the rest was spent buying a CD and DVD or two. On both occasions, I’d turned small change that people just drop or throw away into something meaningful and long-lasting.

So next time you see a guy bending down to pick up change, don’t laugh it off. Keep your eyes peeled, there’s bound to be some more lying around.


• Gareth Cotten is a young serial entrepreneur who eats, sleeps and drinks business, entrepreneurship and innovation. When not advising others on their businesses or personal development, or working on his own enterprises, you’ll find him on the beach, staring at the waves and talking to himself. For more info, go to

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