The money gods giveth, and then they taketh away

By Mir
August 10, 2006

I was going to send an actual check to FEMA with my letter, you know, to just be done with it all, but several people pointed out that maybe I should just send a letter asking for instructions, first. To avoid having them take my money and then later arrest me for not paying them. (You wouldn’t think such a thing could happen, would you? Sounds ridiculous? Have you read this? Scary times, folks.)

So I wrote my letter and sent it off and now I await my instructions. I also mailed off my vehicle excise tax, today, chuckling to myself about how it’s sort of an expensive month. In the meantime, I just knew that somehow, somewhere, a less-than- benevolent force would spot that extra money in my bank account. And I was right.

Truthfully, I expected the roof to cave in or something equally spectacular. That’s how these things usually go. Extra money on hand? Oops, a wall fell off the house! So I was unprepared for the familiar-looking envelope that arrived in my mailbox today.

I opened it to find a bill from daycare. The daycare/preschool/kindergarten my children attended for years. The daycare I made my last payment to months ago.

Let me tell you a little bit about this daycare. I love(d) this place. The teachers are wonderful, the setting is perfect, and on the whole I rate the center as being top-notch. The ONLY thing they did wrong was the billing, and if there has to be something wrong with the place that takes care of your kids, I guess the billing is the place to screw up. I mean, a place that has impeccable bookkeeping but teachers who swear like sailors or whatever would be bad. In the grand scheme, a few billing errors is not a big deal.

Throughout the years, I’ve had billing issues with this place. They don’t bill; payment is expected weekly and it’s the parents’ responsibility to keep track. Every now and then—with no rhyme or reason I’ve been able to discern—you receive a statement which I believe is generated in some sort of sophisticated base-7 Aramaic number system, because there are words and columns and such but NOTHING MAKES ANY SENSE. I have never been able to understand a single statement this place has sent to me, and neither has anyone else I know.

(As one friend was often quick to point out: “This is a wonderful place they have here, but I have a Masters degree in Finance from HARVARD and I can’t figure out their billing, which seems… troubling.”)

In the six or so years that I’ve had one or both children attending there, I have dealt with the business office on wayward billing several times. I’d get a note in one of the kids cubbies saying something like “Outstanding balance: $20.” Then I would dutifully trudge over to the billing lady’s desk and ask where this amount had come from, and she would print out one of those Aramaic statements and we would look at it together for a while and then eventually I would just give her the money to make her stop talking.

For the record? I still believe that—save for one time when both kids were attending different programs and I kind of spaced out one month and probably miscalculated—every one of those instances was an error on the part of the school. But for $10 or $20 or $30, I wasn’t going to keep arguing.

The bill I received today is for $185. Guess what? For $185, I’m going to keep arguing. I’m ESPECIALLY going to keep arguing for $185 when this is the first I heard of it and my kid doesn’t even go to school there anymore. Come. ON.

I called my old nemesis, the billing lady, and she spoke brightly about how these things happen and it’s all right there in my bill (Me: Um, really? Where?) and I could just come on in and make the payment whenever was convenient. We went round and round a couple of times and finally I found myself saying:

“Yeah, um, no. I’ve caved and paid money you claimed I owed, before, and this time the bill is too large for me to roll over and play dead. I’m afraid that I’m going to need some actual decipherable documentation. I don’t think I owe you anything. I’ve been very precise with payments this year. If you can send me something that proves I missed a payment, I’d be happy to rectify that. But in the absense of anything other than this sheet of paper that says ‘You have an outstanding balance’ I’m afraid I’m going to have to say no.”

Stunned silence ensued. I don’t think anyone has ever told her no, before. She stammered a bit about how she was on her way out and she’s off tomorrow and Monday but she’ll get back to me next week. “Great, you do that,” I agreed. I cannot wait to see if I ever hear from her again.

If she calls back, insisting I really do owe that money, I may just suggest she take it up with FEMA. Hey, they want to give out money randomly, and daycare wants to TAKE money randomly… it could be a match made in heaven!


  1. Jenn

    Fight the power! I wonder how many people have just forked over the money in the past without asking questions.

  2. Cele

    I’m with you, $185 is a lot to roll over on. And when, if your kids have not been there for months, did this bill get created? Just wondering.

  3. Krisco

    We had a cleaning service like this. The one time I called about it, she noticed right off, Oops! She double billed me! And they wondered why I always wanted to triple check their bills.

  4. Suebob

    These situations always make me feel like I am Jerry Lewis in an early movie: “But laaaaady, I thought I paid the extra ferbasherba because of the THING, the thing, you know, the thing…”

  5. Sarcastic Journalist

    What if it is their big scheme? “Say” you have a balance and send you over to the billing lady. She gets a cutback…it all works out in the end.

    Do you have your records of payment, by any chance??

  6. wendy

    my very first thought was “She’s pocketing it. It’s the billing lady’s lunch fund.”

    Must have a big celebration coming up that she needs booze money for to go seeking large sums of money like that – and I’m personally offended that you are not caving in and paying for the liquor. What did the liquor ever do to you, hmmmm?

  7. Lady M

    Way to go! I’ll fight most bills. I did have one (

  8. Lady M

    Oops. Hit the wrong key on that last comment.

    I did have one billing error that I finally gave up and paid (

  9. Lady M

    I guess I didn’t hit the wrong key – it’s some kind of interface error, probably on my side. Let’s see if this one goes through. I’ll send your the rest of the story some other time. :)

  10. Valbee

    Good luck! And also, thanks for pointing out I’m not the only one who deals with people sensing when there’s extra money in the bank account!

  11. Juliness

    It is interesting just how many people will pay the money to shut the other person up. I’ve done it more than once. It’s usually easier. But good for you for standing up for yourself! Can’t wait to hear how this one ends.

  12. Randi

    Good for you. Any respectable business should keep track of their billing, this way they keep themselves afloat as well. Keep fighting for it Mir, and hope the billing lady doesn’t just make up some dates…did you pay by check or cash, because if it was check I’d get a print out of your checking acct for the last year, just to make sure.

  13. Woman with Kids

    We have that same issue at work… no one can understand our bills except our finance manager, who takes VERY PERSONALLY if you have questions. When someone says, “I don’t understand this part” she hears something along the lines of “I hate you and you stink and you’re never going to get any money out of me unless you verbally abuse me for hours.”

    Good luck!

  14. InterstellarLass

    I can never understand invoices from my day care either. I keep all my receipts though, and add up everything I’ve paid and see if the sum is right. I’m only paying for one now…maybe it will be easier this year? Hopefully? Pleeeeze?

  15. Aimee

    Hell, yeah, I’d fight it! That’s too much money to just fork over without question. Good for you — let us know how it turns out.

  16. Susan

    I think my health insurance company and your daycare are using the same billing system.

  17. Ei

    As an accountant, and a credit manager, it particularly irks me when I’ve had this problem with my daycare REPEATEDLY…and then again with my son’s after school care program, which makes me think it’s inherent to the industry. It’s why I now keep a detailed ledger of what was owed and what I paid for anyone who watches my kids. It’s worth it at tax time anyway. Nothing is more embarrassing to a billing person than you coming in with better records than they themselves keep.

    Not that I would know…

  18. Jenn2

    I’m going to agree with Ei. I had this problem with Missy HooHaw’s daycare and Drama Queen’s after school care program. After paying for extra hours which I didn’t think were correct, I actually got copies of the months check in log and kept track myself. Guess what…they were charging for 5-10 hours a month that we weren’t using. The billing lady about had a heart attack when I came in and gave her a copy of the log. SO worth it.

    By the way, what happened to Joshilyn? Way freaky. I feel the need to check my Social Security and DMV records.

  19. Jim

    Good luck with that FEMA check. I hope they have something for you after they’ve purchased all those high-end laptops and home-brewing kits.

  20. Fraulein N

    Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure the billing department of my doctor’s office is just making it up as they go along too.

  21. Tug

    FIGHT IT. Do you have cancelled checks? And the copy of the logs is a wonderful idea!!

  22. Dana

    My gosh. I would have been just as irritated if I got a bill for expenses that didn’t exist. That just floors me. Funny how she hemmed and hawed after you challenged her. That’s interesting. She thought you were a sucker! Good thing you stood up to her!

  23. Brenda

    GO, MIR!

    I’m with Wendy and Dana. The billing lady is probably pocketing a good chunk of it. Hitting you for $10 or $20 now and then would not seem like much, but what if she’s doing it to half the parents, maybe all the parents, especially the divorced ones. Maybe she’s billing both divorced parents, or contacting the one who doesn’t normally pay “just to let [them] know that there’s just a small amount due for last month, if [they] could clear it up.” Check with other parents, if you can.

    See! You post your life on the Internet, you’re going to get a LOT of advice.

  24. Melanie

    Hello. I’ve never commented here before, but I just gotta this time. I, too, had a day care issue like this. I was told I owed a full week’s worth just out of the blue one day. Good thing it happened to me fairly early in my first child’s tenure there…I brought my cancelled checks to the billing lady so she could see where I had written on every singe check for nearly a year just what weeks and extras I was paying for. Very coincidentally, I’m sure, this billing lady was fired and slapped with criminal charges for embezzling a few years later…odd coincidence that, huh?

  25. Karen Rani

    I am floored that you rolled over even once. Seriously Mir! Has WantNot taught you nothing? Oh wait, you’re the writer for that blog.

    Okay I’m just kidding with you. I’m with Melanie – perhaps that lady is pocketing some dough.

  26. Susan

    That *totally* used to happen at my kids’ daycare, too! (And same thing–they were otherwise absolutely TOP NOTCH.) I used to ask for statements to decipher where the sudden charge was coming from, and again, same thing–totally GREEK! None of it made any sense. So, like you, I’d pay the extra money and just forget about it.

    Typical, though, isn’t it? Murphy’s Law about the whole money thing! Easy come, easy go. Or maybe not-so-easy go this time.

  27. kathy

    I used to run a home daycare AND had federal food money to manage at the same time. If I could keep those books and present parents with documented and decent bills (Quicken is great for this), your commercial daycare can do the same. It isn’t rocket science.

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