Where’s the Refund Line?

I need some quick cash.  Major anniversary on the horizon.  I’m looking to put my hands on 20 Large.

Being strapped for cash for the gift I have in mind, I have put some thought into where I might pull together the funds.  Part-time job — nah.  Dip into savings — negatory.  Borrow from the in-laws — not on your nelly.  Wealthy family member — doesn’t exist.  Credit card — egads, no!

Got it!  I’ve worked hard, been honest and forthright, put in tons of uncompensated overtime, and treated folks the way that I would have wanted to be treated.  Weighing a lifetime of good-guy efforts has brought me to conclude that I should be reimbursed for certain purchases made during my lifetime.  Please, someone, let me know which line to stand in to get refunds for:

Lottery Tickets

While I was not in the same category as my brother-in-law who would careen around corners, run amber lights, and zoom in and out of traffic to get to the local mini-mart in time to play his exact, specific numbers every week (knowing with absolute certainty that the week he missed the purchase was the week his numbers would be displayed by the bouncing ping-pong balls), I was a faithful purchaser of lottery tickets for the better part of a decade.  Always 10 quick-picks, letting chance and the lottery commission’s computers pick my numbers.  I pretty much only repeated this purchase in recent years when the person in line in front of me bought tickets or a scratch-off.

Can’t win if you don’t play, indeed.  In all those years, I recall the thrill of a single $25-winning ticket and maybe a dozen $5 winners.  The temptation of the mega-lottery’s gazillions on the line occasionally pulled an additional 10-spot out of my wallet.  Never mind that the odds of winning are generally noted as 1 in 175 million.  I would have had a better chance of spotting a unicorn in my backyard, throwing my 72 mph fastball past Mike Trout, or being cast as a superhero in the next Avengers flick.

Refund Calculation:

  • 10 years x 40 weeks of lottery ticket purchases = 400 weeks x $10 each = $4,000.
  • 25 mega-lottery purchases at $10 each = $250.
  • Total lottery ticket purchases = $4,250 – $85 in winnings = $4,165 owed to moi.

As comedian Bill Engvall says, “Here’s Your Sign.”

On The Road McDonald’s Purchases

Aside from the easily attributed weight gain and contribution to my poor lifestyle, purchases of the Golden Arches’ highly processed and packaged foods more often than not let me down if access to the fare was through the drive-through line.  Invariably over several decades, my trip to the window fetched a Big Mac and/or a Quarter Pounder, large fries, and a large Diet Coke.  (I know … I know … )  On a pretty darned consistent basis, I’d pull back out into traffic, oftentimes an Interstate highway, remove the hand positioned at 2 pm, and carefully and with keen anticipation reach into a bag containing … a tepid burger and fries.  Additionally, about half the time the raring-to-go (read: that’s sarcasm) fry gal or guy had filled the large order of fries to about the halfway mark of the scoop-shaped red funnel container.  Though frustration always wracked me, not a single time were the delicacies pitched out, nor did I turn around, get out of traffic, and reenter the line or MickeyD’s to confront a manager.

And to make it even worse, I kept going back, no matter how many times I scolded myself and cursed the proprietor as I drove back into traffic.  “Last time,” I’d vow as I munched down a lukewarm fry.

As McDonald’s stock pretty much stays above $200 per share, the powers-that-be at the top of that food chain can afford to do the right thing and refund this disappointed customer.

This one is difficult to calculate, though, as prices have continued to rise over the decades of consumption.  In 1980, a Big Mac was 65 cents and a Quarter Pounder with cheese 70 cents.  Large fries were 65 cents and a large soda 20 cents.  Today, a Big Mac is $3.99, a Quarter Pounder with cheese $3.89, large fries $2.19, and a large soda $1.79.

Refund Calculation:

  • Splitting the difference between 1980’s $1.80 and 2020’s $7.97 = $4.88.
  • Let’s conservatively say 35 trips a year for 40 years = 1,400 times through the arches x $4.88 = $6,832 owed to this “big” guy.

My repeated visits and inability to learn this lesson clearly indicate that I’m few fries short of a Happy Meal.  But I still want my refund.

Christmas Tree Lights

As I intend to outline in December in a holiday blog, Christmas tree lights are haunted.  Either that or quite possibly the handiwork of overseas adversaries specifically designed to push husbands to the brink of insanity.  I know this for a fact.

Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t, the latter frequently occurring once in place on the tree.  Always, the twisted balls of green wire and colored bulbs involve frustration and a certain level of comportment if one wants to stay on the right side of the wife during the holiday season, which is always a paramount goal.

Refund Calculation:

  • A string of 70-100 LED or clear Christmas tree lights run anywhere from $10-$20. Splitting the difference, $15 x 2 strands = $30 per year x 35 years = $1,050.  Generously grading half the strands fulfilling their promise of lighting as promised for at least one holiday season, $1,050 / 2 = $525.  Factoring back in at least a two-fold frustration level, $525 x 2 = $1,050 owed to Ho Ho Ho Me.

We all know that spot-on definition of insanity.  One of these years, I’m going to stop asking how dumb one can get?  Peeps, including me, too often seem to take that question as a challenge.

Extended Warranties

You’ve purchased a product.  It could be a car, a microwave, an iPad, or a vacuum.  Whether sitting across from the salesperson or standing at the register, you’re asked to consider at checkout, with a level of all-knowing urging, adding an extended warranty to your purchase.  The product’s value logically requires coverage to bring it back to life when it inevitably breaks or goes kaput.  You want that coverage!  You need that coverage!  Too often, especially early in my wage-earning years, my answer was, “Okay, add it.”

The irrefutable bottom line with extended warranties is that they make beaucoup bucks for those who sell them.  That awareness should tell us something.  Such service contracts hardly ever pay off because the repair’s price is almost always lower than what you’d spend on the extended warranty.  There is sound reasoning why Consumer Reports has issued a blanket recommendation against extended warranties.

Refund Calculation:

  • This one is a challenge to calculate primarily because it’s one of the few purchases where even anal-retentive folks like me don’t squirrel away the documentation. Because of the uncertainty of mind, I’m going to guesstimate that I have gone out-of-pocket on 36 extended warranties on various products, including a couple of cars, for $4,256.00.  That’s a conservative calculation (and, logically, the number of base hits Charlie Hustle banged out).  Three dozen-plus shysters will be hard to track down, but I’m hopeful there is an agency that keeps track of this kind of stuff.

As the immortal Forrest Gump noted, “Stupid is as stupid does.”

Virtual Customer Service

This is another difficult one to which to attach a refund aggregate.  We’ve all been there, even more so during pandemic times — i.e., on hold for tens of minutes or much longer waiting for customer service, which too often is anything but quality “service.”  Moreover, you’re also often disconnected either while on hold at the 45-minute mark or when being transferred to “another department” after surviving an extended hold period only to be told through what is clearly a scripted response that someone else should hear your story.  Hold, please.

There are occasions when you can’t even quickly get to the hold-please recording loop.  My personal cavern of insanity starts with “Please enter the first four letters of your first name.”  Lee somehow doesn’t get there.  This genius automated greeting forwards the Tom’s, Sam’s, Joe’s, Ida’s, Dan’s, Cal’s, Ira’s, and hundreds of others who do business at this major payroll company to a loop that is virtually (pun intended) impossible to exit.  Painfully, I’ve discovered that a half-dozen verbalized “Customer Service,” “Customer Service,” “Customer Service” commands eventually get me and my fellow three-letter-first-namers to … a position in the lengthy queue.  Curiously, adding ever-increasing displeasure volume into the phone doesn’t help.  Neither do expletives, regardless of how creative one is in their use.  Sidebar:  I have been trying to get this company to change this simple oversight for more than a year.

But I digress.

Refund Calculation:

As noted, this one is a challenge to calculate.  If you believe that time is money, what is your time worth?  We all have an internal gauge for how much our time is worth.  Further, is there a dollar amount that could be ascribed to a frustration level?  Do you value your time in a different way across different situations?

For refund calculations, what is one hour worth?  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2014, the real median earnings of men was $50,383.  Divided by 2080 hours (full-time status), that’s $24.22 per hour.  I’ve had salaries higher and lower, so that’s what I’m going with.

There are thousands of call centers in the United States and worldwide in countries such as India and the Philippines.  Or were — customer-service reps now work largely from home to due shelter-in-place orders.  Be-bopping from one issue or service to another, I’m confident that I’ve been on hold a conservative average of four hours every other month for the past six years.  4 hours x 6 months = 24 hours on customer-service calls each year x $24.22 = $581.28 x 6 years = $3,487.68 x a 15% frustration-level tax ($523.15) = $4,010.75.

Only in ‘Merica.  Or the Philippines.


I’m funded!  $20,313!  And I didn’t have to work up refund calculations tied to that wine stock, two tuxedo purchases, costs associated with approximately 73 throw pillows, ducats spent on a couple of hundred 8-track and cassette tapes, dozens of little stuffed animals with tags, teddies that were at one point cherished, an exercise bike, two banjos, various sets of weights, and gym memberships.

United States Unified Refunds Agency

Cash identified, I head to Google to track down our national refund center, confident that, somewhere in the labyrinth of government departments and cost centers, I’d find access to the Director of the United States Unified Refunds Agency.

I quickly realized the quest would be daunting.  The US Government Manual references 96 independent administrative units and 220 components of executive departments.  Further, an even more inclusive listing is found on, which lists 137 independent executive agencies and 268 units in the Cabinet.  The online 2016 Federal Register’s index depicted 272 agencies.

Ever wonder why promises to “drain the swamp” are the ultimate in politicians’ pipe dreams, never to be realized?

Nevertheless, the optimist in me is confident that I will eventually find the United States Unified Refunds Agency, likely headquartered in a federal building’s basement office in Washington, DC.  The agency’s official seal will be etched on the glass on the door — the classic, striking white-crested bald eagle, wings defiantly spread to the sides, carrying an olive branch in its left talons and a cluster of $100 bills in its right.  Above the eagle’s head is a gold dollar sign encircled by three green arrows, signifying inspiration and release from bondage.  It’s a powerful image.  Above the crest are the words United States of America Unified Refunds Agency.  At the bottom of the crest, the promise of “Guaranteed Refunds — Tomorrow.”

As a post-impressionist artist, Paul Gauguin noted, “We never really know what stupidity is until we have experimented on ourselves.”


Discover More From LSomerbyCooke

Subscribe to receive a heads-up of posts via email!