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Confessions of a Scanaholic

07/04/2013 12:34 EDT | Updated 09/03/2013 05:12 EDT
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composition with groceries in...

Hi. My name is Dave and I'm a scanaholic.

Like most addicts, my illness started innocently enough. One day after going through the grocery checkout line, I happened to look at my receipt and noticed that I had been overcharged for a sale-priced jar of peanut butter.

There was only a dollar difference but I figured a buck is a buck and I headed to the customer service desk to rectify the mistake. The clerk agreed there had been an error and turned to enter the information in her cash register.

As I stood there waiting for my one-dollar refund, I wondered if all this trouble was worth it. But then the unexpected happened. The clerk returned to the desk and handed me a corrected receipt and not one loonie but three.

Being the honest shopper that I am, I protested and told her that she had given me too much money.

"Oh, no," she exclaimed. "You get the item for free." "That's our scanning policy," she said, pointing to a small sign posted next to the cash.

The sign detailed the policy that was followed by various Canadian retailers including a number of grocery store chains. In short, it provides that if an item under ten dollars scans at a price greater than advertised, the customer gets that item for free.

Well, the fiscal high I experienced was like nothing I'd ever felt before. My potential embarrassment over claiming a single dollar gave way to a feeling of elation from receiving a free jar of peanut butter.

Little did I know, I was hooked. That feeling of elation didn't last, however, and I was soon nervously looking about in grocery stores for another fix.

Here was an addiction with legs and, unlike other addictions, this one didn't cost me a cent. Heroin addicts often talk about getting their first fix for free. But I had stumbled on a habit where every fix was free. Who could resist?

The problem, of course, was that the scanner seldom made a mistake. I sometimes had to go months before another error showed up and I could cash in on a free grocery item. But when I did, the rush was so intense, I had no choice but to keep obsessively checking flyers, in-store price signs and my receipts to find the next endorphin-inducing discrepancy.

At first, any minor price screw-up would satisfy my craving. A can of tomatoes, a loaf of bread, even a mis-priced head of lettuce was enough to get me off.

But after awhile, these minor over-pricings weren't sufficient to generate the desired feeling. I needed pricier and pricier errors.

Then three, four and even five-dollar items wouldn't satisfy. Last November 1st, I achieved the highest of fiscal highs when a post-Halloween markdown on a large box of fun-sized chocolate bars didn't show up on the scanner.

Given the amount involved, the clerk was reluctant to credit me with the sale price. But when she looked into my desperate eyes and saw my shaking hands, she quickly changed her mind and handed me the nine bucks. I walked out of the store hooked on both the refund and the chocolate.

The whole sordid affair came to a sad and tragic end last month when one day I purchased $2.99 a pound asparagus and was charged $4.99 a pound. Instead of just taking my ill-gotten gain and enjoying the brief euphoria, the next day I went to a different branch of the same supermarket chain and cashed in on the asparagus again.

The rush was almost as good as the first peanut butter high from years ago. Almost. Which probably explains why the following day I headed to a third store in the chain looking for more free asparagus. I knew I had crossed a line but I couldn't help myself.

Luckily for me, that third store had changed their asparagus sign to $4.99 a pound thereby thwarting my attempt at a triple high. Standing there crestfallen in front of that properly-priced asparagus, I knew I had hit bottom.

It was time to accept that I was out of control. I realize now that I have a problem and I have relinquished control to a higher power: the all-knowing scanning system.

No longer do I check the flyers, the prices or my receipts. I have been clean of scan-checking for a month now and I'm taking it one day at a time.

I just hope they never put asparagus on sale again.

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