We had dinner last weekend with our friends Pierre and Marcela. The food was fabulous. The conversation was good, too. Much of the time, we talked about money.

If I were a rich man
“If we were rich, I wouldn’t change a thing in my life,” Marcela said. “Except the food. If we made ten times what we make now, I’d keep everything else the same, but I’d eat like this every night.” The rest of us murmured our agreement over mouths full of bread, cheese, and olives.

“If I made ten times what I do now, I don’t think I’d change anything, either,” I said, and saying it made me realize just how fulfilling my life has become.

“Maybe you’d hire somebody to answer e-mail for you,” Kris said, and we laughed.

“I’d travel more,” Pierre said, taking a sip of wine. “I’d like to take four vacations a year instead of one.” The conversation turned to their family’s recent vacation, a trip to visit Pierre’s mother in France on the occasion of her 80th birthday. We talked about French food and about the vagaries of Belgian language. And then we talked about credit card bills.

Ask and you shall receive
“I forgot to pay a credit card bill before I left for France,” Marcela said. “When we got back, there was a $15 late fee. Now I knew the bill was late, and I knew that I deserved the late fee, but I was in a bad mood that day, so I called customer service.”

“‘Isn’t there anything you can do for me?’ I asked. I didn’t play the ‘good customer’ card, and I didn’t threaten to cancel. I just said, ‘Isn’t there anything you can do for me?’”

“The customer service rep put me on hold for a couple minutes, and when he came back, he told me they could cut the late fee to $7.50. Well, at that point I figured if they were willing to cut in half, they could certainly cut it all the way, and I told him so. He put me on hold again. Turns out they agreed to waive the entire fee!”

We all laughed at Marcela’s brashness. “It was a perfectly civil conversation,” she said. “And the call saved me $15.”

“I figure it’s karma,” Marcela said. “Think of how many times the banks overcharge us and we never know about it. If you catch one error, you can bet they’re making the same error on thousands of other statements. They make a fortune off that.”

“It’s not just the banks,” I said, taking another slice of bread. “When we moved to Portland, I discovered that the phone company was charging me for two DSL modems. They did so for months before I noticed. When I called to complain, they were reluctant to credit my account for their error. They made out like it was my fault.”

Many happy returns
The main course was ready, so we moved outside to eat our fresh pasta with prosciutto, tomatoes, and asparagus. While we ate, I talked about my newfound love of running. “You’d think it would be cheap, but there’s always ways to spend money on a hobby. I just bought a fancy heart-rate monitor, for example. I also ordered a kit to attach it to my bike, but Amazon sent and billed me two of them. Now I have to return one. I hate returning stuff.”

“I don’t mind returning stuff,” Marcela said. “Especially if there’s something wrong with it. Our kids actually think it’s kind of a game.”

“When I was a boy in France,” Pierre said with his marvelous accent, “it was impossible to return something. Even if it was broken, you couldn’t take it back. The shopkeeper would accuse you of being clumsy, of breaking it yourself. After being here for a while, I finally can return things. I bought a radio recently that did not work. I returned it, and it was very simple. Nobody cared. It was not like that when I lived in France.”

Everyday wisdom
I learn just as much by talking about money with my friends as I do from reading personal finance books. Even when our topics are mundane, the context and the setting for these conversations somehow make the subject more real, more alive. Here are just a few examples:

How often do you discuss money with your friends? Does it depend on the friend? Do you ever talk about saving and investing? Are certain subjects (such as salaries) taboo? And, most of all, do you find these conversations as rewarding as I do?

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