Monday, September 25, 2006

Some Cashiers Can’t Do Simple Addition And Subtraction And It Scares Me

I am getting very scared about the fact that cashiers who are teenagers and people in their 20s are unable to do two digit addition and subtraction, specifically, giving back proper change, when they are working as cashiers.

I am speaking of American born people, mostly Caucasian people from suburbs and some from quite wealthy towns in my area of Connecticut. Additionally we have a problem with Immigrants (assumed by me to be immigrants since they have thick accents) who are not able to make change either but I have more empathy for them as they are not in their native country and who knows what kind of education they received.

Lastly, there is an issue with all cashiers of all backgrounds sometimes lacking the ability to properly identify American coins and their denomination. Yes I also do mean American born people cannot properly identify coinage.

I am very scared about this.

For the last month I have been doing some errands and making small purchases with cash in Connecticut and Massachusetts. I refuse to use my credit card for transactions under $10 and quite frankly refuse to use it at certain types of shops, for example, at fast food restaurants. I just am used to paying cash at such places and think I should be able to continue to do so. Since we went out of state we had more chances to eat fast food and to do other small purchases, more than my usual.

I used to correct the cashiers and help them. I now refuse to help them along by doing the math for them unless the issue is that they are not giving me back what I am due. I used to also give money back if the cashier made a mistake and gave me too much money. However I now feel that in doing that, although it is the honest thing to do, I refuse to do it out of the principle, and sometimes I don’t realize their error until I leave the store, with cash in hand. If the establishment does not know their cashiers can’t do their job then the person will keep doing it. I think these businesses (grocery stores, fast food shops, coffee shops, restaurants, etc.) should realize that their cashiers can’t do math and they should do something about it such as train them or teach them or at least fire them for incompetency so the person themselves starts to realize that their lack of math ability needs addressing. Instead I get people who laugh and joke about how bad they are in math. Give me a break, that is not funny, I am not laughing.

I will inject at this point that I am always polite to all cashiers and other service people. Having worked in those positions (waitress, bus girl, cashier, etc.) in the past I have empathy for all people who do those jobs. I never demean a person for their inability to do their job. I just am sharing with you, my growing worry and concern. As I get older and as the people younger than me begin to control the world that I live in I do get more nervous when I think that in general, stupidity is growing and the notion of ignorance spreading to even things such as simple addition and subtraction incompetence is frightening to me. Add onto this the fact that more people than ever now obtain college degrees and how much is spent on American public education, the fact that people in their teens and 20s can’t even make change and add and subtract money is really pathetic.

I hate walking around with a ton of change in my purse so I like to use it to round off the numbers. This completely miffs anyone under the age of 40 with the exception of the smart Indian guy who owns the gas station up the street from me; he can do his math very well. I am speaking of things like this:

Total of purchase $10.03
I give $20.05
They don’t understand why I am giving the extra 5 cents.

Total purchase 5.67
I give $6.02
They don’t understand why I am giving the extra 2 cents.

This one really gets them.
Total purchase $11.35
I give them $21.50
Wow, that freaks them out. They don’t want any paper money that puts this over $20. They would have preferred that I just gave them a $20 and left it at that.

Another stumper is when I give four quarters instead of a $1 bill, especially if there is other change given to them. They have to actually count the coins and add up the money rather than simply putting in a large bill denomination (like a $20).
Total purchase $4.22
I give them 3--$1 bills, and 5 quarters.
Too much for them to count, I guess?

Also in 1993 I visited Holland for the first time. I was so ignorant about the money there that I preferred to pay with paper money and make a quick transaction. The funniest thing was that the cahiers did not want this. They all, and I mean, all, asked me for change to add to it to use less paper money. I would explain that I am not so good with the coins yet and don’t want to bother them. Every single cashier asked me to show what I had and they’d pick out the right change and explain to me what each coin was and the denomination in a friendly manner. I was very surprised at how patient they were. Things were not rush-rush like here in America where the cashiers want you out of their face as soon as possible. I then began noticing how in Holland everyone was using coins with nearly every transaction and they were quite patient about it.

Back to America in 2006…
Some cashiers give a little outcry when I give this money. Some ask “Why are you giving this to me?”. Some repeat what it is as if I don’t know what I am giving them, as if I am making some mistake. I used to explain, “I want a nickel back not 80 cents” and they look at me as if I have three heads. Now I just politely say, “Just type it into the machine and it will tell you what to give back, I know what I am doing.” If I don’t say that sometimes they leave my change on the counter and just do the paper money and then push my own coins back at me along with the new change. Boy does that burn me up! I am left speechless when that happens and so far have not begun an argument about it.

However a real problem happens when they type in the wrong amount. For example they may assume that I was not giving change to them, and they have put in the even amount. Now the register tells them to give me back X and they stand there with coins from me and they have no clue what to do. Then they have to do the math in their head. Most just ask me to tell them what to give back, and then I tell them. What else am I to do? Should I be asking to speak to the store manager instead of just saying “Give me back 10 cents”.

One day the cashier ran out of dollar bills. Instead of giving me a ton of quarters she tried to give a zillion dimes as she found it easier to count by 10s to reach the dollar points. I refused to take it and made her give me quarters. She tried to protest but I didn’t let her get away with it.

The other day we went to McDonald’s for one Happy Meal. They rushed me through the drive-through. First off, I know it usually costs over $4 and I gave a $20 bill. I was never told what I owed. When I was given the change it had a $10, a $5 and a $1 plus change. I thought that odd but they rushed me off to the next window (the second window is where the receipt is given). It was not until after I parked and could look at the receipt that I realized that indeed the purchase was over $4 but she gave me back $16.66. I have no clue what she was thinking.

Last week instead of giving me a nickel a cashier gave me a quarter. Now that the nickels have those fancy illustrations on them like the quarters do, I guess it is confusing the cashiers. I know they are the same color but they are different sizes too but I guess not all cashiers realize this.

Last year I purchased a take out pizza and tried to pay with a $1 coin. The cashier, about 18 years old, gave it back and said that I mistakenly gave her my children’s toy money. I had to explain and show her that indeed it was real American money albeit not commonly used. I had been given a slew of those dollar coins one day at a store and wanted to use them up. I was miffed when she said she never knew that we had coins in one dollar denominations in this country.

Sometimes I don’t realize what is wrong until I am back in the car. Nowadays they shove the money at you so fast, and they don’t count it out. Especially when I was a girl and a teenager, back when everyone either used cash or check, the cashiers would do a few things differently.

First, they could do their math.
Second, they would tell you what you owe.
Third, they’d count back the change to you, counting up by giving you one coin at a time and then counting up with the paper money to get to the amount they tell you.
Lastly they’d actually thank you for your purchase.

Now the cashiers don’t tell you what you owe, they just stare at you (or they look the other way or talk to their co-workers) and stick their hand out, then they don’t count back the money, they often don’t even make eye contact through this process, and lastly they don’t thank you. I have found myself thanking them but then I wonder why do I thank them when they should be thanking me for making a purchase at that business?

What Is The Root Cause?
I blame the schools for this, plain and simple. There is no reason whatsoever that a teenager or a high school graduate, or a college graduate for that matter should be unable to make change, especially if they are working as a cashier. I just cannot understand this at all, how children and teens can go through school but be unable to subtract double digits.

I also blame an over-reliance on technology. I bet the stores are so worried that wrong change will be given out that they have forced the workers to use the cash register to the point where the cashiers are no longer required to think or practice their math, thereby the "use it or lose it" thing is an issue. When a person doesn't "use it" they "lose it".

Perhaps part of the problem is that more people are using credit cards and debit cards so the cashiers handle less cash. Perhaps the issue is that the over-reliance on calculators in the classroom and on the cashier’s job has made them unable to think through the change making process in their head. Perhaps the dropping of memorization of math facts contributes to this, I don’t know. Perhaps part of the issue is that they are not counting back the change to the customer and therefore they are not practicing their math skills (addition) and they are not also working with the coins to assign the proper denomination to them on a regular basis.

Back when I worked behind a cash register in the mid-1980s, we were not told to use the keys to put in the amount that they gave us. The owner and manager of the shop wanted us to just do the math in our head. I remember clearly once asking about this and I was told “Can’t you make change back?” I said that I could but since the cash register could do it, why don’t we use it? I was told that it adds too many steps and slowed things down. I was told that only stupid people need that feature. With that machine we could punch in the purchases then hit total or some other key and the drawer popped open. It was fast and we made change back to the customer by doing the math in our head and by counting out the coins as we went. If we had used the other feature as everyone seems to do now, we’d then have to do mores steps by punching in subtotal then the money they gave us and then the final button. So we skipped those steps. And believe me if we were unable to give back right change not only would the customers be very intolerant but so would our co-workers and the manager and owner. We were deemed stupid if we could not do simple addition and subtraction and no one wanted to be dumb. Worse, we had to balance out our cash registers at the end of our shifts and boy, had the totals better match! They always did match or else the amount was to be taken from our paychecks! If it was close we often would just pitch in the few cents from our tips to make it even out rather than be shamed or deemed incompetent.

One very disturbing thing is the apathy. The cashiers who can’t do this simple math laugh and joke about this with no shame, “Ha ha I am soooo bad at math!” they proclaim (insert various types of inflection, Valley Girl style, etc.). They smile a cute smile and try to make a joke of it. This is an issue with both females and males. Even the guys aren’t ashamed of their ignorance; there is no bravado there about their competence level or lack thereof. I don’t get the joke and think it is ridiculous that a cashier can work and not be able to make change back.

I really am disgusted by this issue!

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Birdie said...

You have nicely summed up some of my experiences as well. I think this sort of thing is precisely why I like to start my own children off with real life math instead of workbooks.

I can tell that I am "old school" here since I was doing all of the math in my head as I went and making change before I reached the end of each sentence! lol

ArmyAngel said...

I worked in the concession stand in a theater last fall (I'm 19), and I can tell you, there's no reason why cashiers can't give back correct change. Even if you can't do simple math (which I can, and have always given correct change!) the registers all tell you what to give back. Also, in a place where the prices don't change very much (like a theater or fast food place) it's very easy to memorize the different combinations people will make (large drink and popcorn, $12.61) and remember what you're supposed to give back out of a 20. Or in the age of tv, is this too difficult? I think the problem is sheer laziness.

Mrs. L said...

While I have the same experiences with cashiers not knowing how to count, I have the opposite dilemma with change.

I pay for all our groceries with cash, and I do not use change. Change gets deposited into the bottom of my purse and once my purse weighs more than I’m willing to carry, it gets unloaded into a container in my closet. Then, when Mr. L wants to go golfing, or we want to go out to dinner or whatever, the change gets rolled and that ‘extra’ event is paid for.

My favorite (not) is when the total is $17.42, and I hand the cashier $20.00. The next thing said is, “Do you have .42 cents?” I reply, “No.” “Do you have .02 cents?” I reply, “No.” All the while I really want to say, “I’m sorry, but my finances are not your business, and it’s completely inappropriate for you to be inquiring.” (When the shop is running out of a specific bill or coin, I consider that a different situation and am happy to help.)

If you get tired of stumping cashiers with change issues, try ordering four-tenths of a pound of something at the deli.

Mrs L

christinemm said...

Mrs. L you are hilarious! 4/10th of a pound of something at the deli!

For the record I am not trying to stump cashiers, I am just spending money and using change as that is how I like to spend my cash.

My husband on the other hand likes to do what you do and only spend paper money, save up the coins, then he rolls it up, and deposits it into college savings for our children. He and I disagree on the method, as I'd rather not tote around the change, save it up, then spend time counting it out, rolling it up, and going to the bank teller to deposit it. I'd rather just put money into the college savings account with a check or paper cash.

To each his own!

christinemm said...

I received this comment by email and wanted to share it with my readers.

I read part of your Cashier entry. I just had this conversation with my father today, when we were in Myrtle Beach, four times, I was given the wrong change and charged too much. I had to each time bring it to their attention and they were puzzled. The best one, was when we were at a Water Park and had lunch. Our total bill came to $23.00, the cashier wanted to charge us $42.00, I told her that was not correct and went over the prices with her and added it up. It came to like $21. and not $42.00 I neglected to add the price of one Soda in my adding and she said to me "I punched in exactly what you have and this is the right price and you didn't add in the price of the soda", WOW! one soda over $20???

I said let me see you register receipt and sure enough, she never finished the customer ahead of us and we had their items on our bill.

Anyway, our total came to $23.60 and she could not figure out how much change to give back from $25.00, unbelievable! That was just one example, it happened constantly down there. I was starting to think the cashiers were trained to rip people off, you really had to watch.
I do the same thing around here like you do, with giving people coins that round up, I didn't notice a problem with it around here, I'll try to do it in Myrtle Beach, that ought to really throw them for a loop!

kontactz said...

i bartend and our machines actually don't "make change". we have to count it out. i must admit that the scariest part of my job was the cash register. i quickly found how inadequate the education i received was. i was never taught real world arithmetic even though i went as high as calculus in college. we were all responsible for having calculators. when i started working I actually had to train my self in "speed arithmetic" which is just regular arithmetic if you ask me. the only books i could find on the subject where written in the 40's and 50's apparently people where still interested in doing math in there heads back then. it's stuff you you should teach a person when they are in grade school. I was never taught in grade school how to do arithmetic without a pencil and paper.
Even though i train constantly in arithmetic, id excerises etc., at work i still freeze up sometimes. it's like my brain overloads. lots of my co-workers make mistakes all the time and people are constantly being fired when the box comes out short or over. one girl recently got fired for being $100 plus under. thats a lot of mistakes. she was so upset that she started crying, saying that she is,"really stupid and can't do math".
doing arithmetic is a basic skill like riding a bike. but if you never learn as a child it's daunting if you take it up as an adult.

Joe said...

I understand why your giving the "extra" cents but what I don't understand is why would you want 2 or 3 pennies back or 15 cents? come on are you serious? why make it so complicated ?

ChristineMM said...

Dear Joe, Most women, me included, carry a purse and keep all our coins with us day to day. Most men I know empty their pockets at the end of the day and start off coin-less. I don't want to haul around a lot of metal coins.

If the charge is $10.03 I give $20.05 so I have given away 1 coin and get back 2 coins, a net gain of just one new coin into my pocketbook's weight.

If I didn't give any coins and used just paper money (the $20 bill) then I'd get back not only 9 new paper bills but also I'd gain 3 quarters (the heaviest coin), 2 dimes, and 2 pennies, for a total of 7 new coins into my purse.

Not all people want to keep hauling around all the coins they have on hand plus adding more and more. We want to use some of our coin money in our daily exchanges (vs. the people who like to save it up at home, roll it up and turn it into the bank for paper bills). I also have no desire to do the saving coins and rolling up coins project.

Now do you see it from my point of view?

Shooks said...

Ok I cant and will not speak for other people but i have suffered from dyslexia and has always had problems with math. I was a cashier at Borders close to three months it was alot of times where it was very stressfull for me to count and deal with money. And when i say i cant speak for everyone that means not everyone suffers from it like i have


Jacki said...

I must agree with Kontactz. I feel that I was not prepared at my early education to count real money(arithmetic) or do math in my head in public situations. I get really nervous, like anxiety when I have to make change either in bills or coins. Its like I just can't focus clearly the numbers in my head when it feels like i have to hurry up because i'm taking to long to make a simple transaction. It really messes up your confidence. I believe that this is the reason that i'm fearful of taking a cashier's job which is usually impossible to avoid in retail or hospitality in. Any advice christinemm.

ChristineMM said...

I hesitated to respond to Shooks. My mother suffers with severe dyslexia. One of my sons has LDs. I get it.

However a person who takes a job needs to do the skills the job requires. It is about being competent for the job.

When handling customer's money a cashier needs to be able to do it accurately and with a certain amount of speed to provide good customer service.

People who cannot cook should not be restaurant cooks.

People who struggle to write should not be book authors or journalists.

People who cannot make art should not try to make a living from their artwork.

Do you want the person who hooks up your phone service to not be good at wiring? Yes.

Don't you want an electrician to know how to safely handle electrical wires so as to not make an error that would cause a house fire? I hope the answer is yes.

We all have things we are stronger at or struggle with. When working a job there needs to be job competency.

Just because a cashier is considered an entry level job doesn't mean every person can do basic math to handle money well.

You can only blame a school or their curriculum so much...

Once a cashier told me she couldn't tell me the time as she can't read a clock and the one I saw on her wrist she wore for fashion as she liked the way it looked. She said "my second grade teacher would be mad at me to know I still can't tell time". She was aobut 25 years old. I said, "It is never to late to learn, if you actually want to learn you can do it".

Regarding LDs, I feel your pain. NO matter what the cause, if you can't do simple math for a cashier job then there are two choices: don't do the job or learn it now and get better at it. If you can't get better at it, maybe you'd be better off doing another job.

I do not intend for those words to sound harsh so I apologize if they are coming off that way.

Megan said...

I stumbled on this because I am a cashier at a fast food restaurant for the summer and I was getting frustrated with my seeming lack of ability to do basic math.

For a little background, I was homeschooled and taught how to do this. I was always great at doing math in my head, am a good all-around student (pre-med with a 4.0) and when I got this job, I thought, oh great, no sweat! I'm fine with numbers and change.

However, the registers they use make it so easy: just enter what the customer hands you, and it tells you the change to give. It makes transactions very quick- too quick, in my opinion, because it sets up a new standard for speed. I'm sure you would have no problem if I were to count up the change and do quick math to modify the amount if you gave me extra change, but most customers are tapping their feet and checking their watches and your manager wants you to get through as many people as you can and when you have to do more than count what the machine tells you, you freeze up.

I agree with you about the "use it or lose it" idea. It's true- the other day I was counting out change for an older gentleman and in the middle, he handed me an extra few coins. My mind went blank when I tried to figure out what the resulting change would be- I couldn't visualize anything and I just stood there trying to do the math but not even knowing where to start. I was so ashamed of myself because I've never had a problem with mental math! And I couldn't just stop and think and try to calculate it because I had 3 other customers in line and they do not like it when they have to wait more than a few seconds to get through the line and get their food.

So I would love to be able to be a cashier the old fashioned way and keep my math skills up, but I have to use their computer. However, the more I use it, the more dependent I become on it and the more I seem to lose the ability to think for myself.

In my opinion, the main problem lies not with education, although that certainly is a factor, but with our modern fast-paced society. The time it takes to count change the "old fashioned" way simply takes too long and people don't have that sort of time (a few extra seconds), especially when it's so easy to just use the computer.

I'm drilling myself in simple mental math exercises and situations such as what change to give if the customer throws in an extra few cents and things like that in my spare time to keep my math skills up in those situations where I need it. I'm trying to find ways to improve (or rather, get back to where I was before the computer melted my mind!). Obviously the best practice would be simply doing it in regular transactions constantly, but I can't always do that.

ChristineMM said...

Megan, that's interesting. Ignore the toe tappers and just take however long it takes to do the job right. Everyone wants their money counted out properly. What you describe doesn't seem like what I experience where some just tell me they can't do math or where they have to ask other people what to give back.

With that said I am experiencing the same thing with the car's navigation system (built in). I'd never used one before. I can follow the directions without looking around as much at the landmarks or caring where I'm going. It takes me much longer to memorize new routes and really was a long time when I moved long distance to an entirely new-to-me place. I think this is brain based because if we just do what we are told with no effort it is not true practice and no real learning has taken place, or practicing what we already know. I feel that the navigation is great but swear it is making me stupid.

Another example is I have sometimes had to go straight through a stop sign and because the navigation didn't tell me to stop I almost didn't stop. You get used to it saying "turn left" or "turn right" and those make you slow down or have a stop sign or traffic light so it is kind of automatic.