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Penny wise …

One of the many non-required tasks I do for the College is to pick up food for various events: monthly division meetings, department talks, lunches with speakers and students, etc. I do so for a number of reasons. In some cases, such as the monthly division meeting, the Dean’s office indicated that they are willing to pay the cost of self-catering, rather than using College Catering [1,2]. In some cases, College Catering is not willing to take on the responsibility [3]. In the end, I self-cater, particularly for the department, because we get a wider variety of foods for less money. I also think less food goes to waste.

I’ve written about this issue before. So why am I bringing it up again? Well, it has to do with some recent experiences in self-catering. Most of the time, I just pick up food at Fareway. The nice thing about shopping at Fareway is that I can just say Charge it to the College and sign two or three things [4].

But I can’t always get to Fareway. So sometimes I shop at HyVee instead [5]. HyVee used to allow College charges, but stopped [7]. That means that I add another step to my self-catering process: I have to gather up the receipts and send a request for reimbursement [8].

Today I got an email notifying me that I was getting reimbursed for a recent self-catering expedition to HyVee [9]. At the end of the reimbursement email was a note that they would not reimburse the 20 cents I paid for bottle deposits.

I won’t get that twenty cents back, since we usually have students deal with the end-of-event cleanup. I also don’t usually bring my recycling to the recycling center in town, preferring instead to put them in the Boy Scout bin. But even if I did, it’s not like the twenty cents will make a dent in my time costs or in the College budget, even if I get twenty cents each week for a whole year.

I’m sure that there’s an IRS rule about this issue, or at least Accounting will claim that there’s an IRS rule about this issue. But it strikes me as idiotic. Someone had to identify the bottle deposits on the receipts and enter the information in our reimbursement system. It’s hard to believe that that didn’t cost more than 20 cents of their time. And, of course, taking off the twenty cents reduces the good will [10] I have toward the College, good will that encourages me to do things like pick up food in situations like this.

It also makes me wonder: I’ve never charged the College for the mileage when I pick up food. If they are going to worry about the twenty cents in deposits, should I also worry about the two miles I drive each time I go to Fareway on a College errand? What about the four miles for the HyVee trip? I think not. Charging the College for that would be petty.

[1] That happened more than a decade ago, when I was Science Division Chair. At the time, I was told that they would no longer pay the cost of catering. I decided that we got better attendance at those meetings when we had food. So I got permission to self-cater, which I think was about 1/3 the cost of using catering and provided more variety. I’ve kept that responsibility through five or so of my successors.

[2] I’ve been told that the Dean’s office is once again willing to pay for College Catering for division meetings. I keep self-catering for the reasons I detail later in this musing.

[3] If I recall correctly, the year in which the Dean’s office told us they would again pay for College Catering for division meetings, College Catering was unable to cater on the day of division meetings. I don’t blame CC for that; I think they were doing either important staff training at that time or participating in community outreach activities, or both. But it did mean that I needed to keep self-catering.

[4] There are many other nice things about shopping at Fareway. The Fareway staff are helpful and friendly and know me by name. The prices are reasonable. And it’s convenient.

[5] The folks at HyVee are also helpful and friendly. And many of them know me, too. It’s a little further from campus. But they have their own bakery. And they are open on Sunday. They also give a 5% discount if you show your College id [6]. For personal shopping, I use both Fairway and HyVee, depending on what I need.

[6] There’s something wrong with the world when College employees get a 5% discount at HyVee whenever they shop, but HyVee employees only get a discount at selected times.

[7] If I were a business in town, I wouldn’t accept College charges. From what I can tell, the College wants a lot of paperwork with each charge and if a cashier forgets to gather all of the information, such as the id of the person charging, it won’t reimburse the charge.

[8] I’m also supposed to submit my receipts when I charge to the College. I remember to do so about 80% of the time. I apologize for being a less-than-responsible person.

[9] I needed food for a Monday lunch. I was booked all morning Monday and all day Saturday. Fareway isn’t open on Sunday.

[10] Did you know that it’s really hard to figure out whether to write good will or goodwill? A search for either term tends to bring up Goodwill industries, or one of their many stores. I’m still not sure that I made the right choice.

Version 1.0 of 2013-03-19.