The second most obvious money tip ever

30 November 2016

This is surely the most obvious personal finance tip ever – perhaps even more hackneyed than saving money by not buying a coffee every day – but…  it really is worth opening your letters.

It’s embarrassing to admit to ignoring your post but I’m sure I’m not alone. And now I’ve learnt my lesson.

After six months I finally got around to tackling my own letter pile this week, and to my horror I found out that I owed money to Nat West - £22. This sad discovery came only hours after being given a £20 note that was owed to me. I am Even Steven. Just.

I have a Nat West account, but I don’t use it. So how was I £22 in arrears? I had to look through a few statements to work it out, and the answer wasn’t as dramatic and illegal as I’d hoped it would be. Had I checked my post earlier, I might have been able to claim my money back, or at least have a decent story to tell otherwise.

It all came from a tube journey. I don’t use the bank account often but it has a chip and pin function that does come in useful, so I carry it with me occasionally.

TfL’s very own website warns: “If you touch your Oyster card on a yellow card reader when it's in the same wallet or purse as a contactless payment card, the reader may detect more than one card. When this happens, the card reader doesn't know which one to read… If you get a green light it could take payment from a card that you did not intend to pay with.”

It’s easy to see what happened: every day I touch my card holder against the ubiquitous yellow circles around London without thinking about it. On one occasion, deep into what feels like a long-lost summer, I had the cursed Nat West card with me and it registered that as being my choice of payment. A few quid into an unarranged overdraft plus a handful of months of fees and compound interest payments later and all my grand plans for that £20 note were torn up.

We’ve published stories about how contactless payments makes life easier but, just how I once winced when I watched a toddler cry out in dismay that my ancient Kindle doesn’t have a touch screen, I wonder if I’m turning into my parents a little too soon. But then I remember that my mum would never leave a letter unopened for more than a few seconds and I breathe a sigh of relief.

I believe that Nelson Mandela said: “I either win or I learn.” I’m no winner in this case, so here are the lessons I learned:

  • Lesson 1: Always open your letters
  • Lesson 2: Be mindful of what you’re touching when out in public
  • Lesson 3: I’m now approaching the age where technology confuses me
  • Lesson 4: Einstein would be ashamed of me: “Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it ... he who doesn't ... pays it.”