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Kate: How to lose money and frustrate people

The article appeared in the Sunday Style on 13/03/16

LAST WEEK, my girlfriend Sacha threw $440 in the bin.

Here’s the thing: although I was shocked at the decadence and the waste, I was in no position to comment. I have, you see, thrown out more than that and felt nothing but relief.

Now, I haven’t checked the newspapers today, but I imagine we’re still in the grip of a swirling tax debate. In case you’ve been fortunate enough to miss it, allow me to ruin your peace of mind by summarising it for you. Gubberment: how can we suck more money out of ground-down, stooped-back, overwhelmed taxpayers, while making sure they don’t get too angry about the fact that huge companies continue to pay nothing on their billions?

Pardon me if I sound a little cynical. It’s just I’ve realised that, on top of the PAYG and sales taxes and import taxes and payroll and super and rates and rego and GST, we are paying another tax. One that is never discussed or reformed, but is so unjust it could surely trigger a revolution.

I am speaking about Voucher Tax.

What’s that, you say? Vouchers? Those heavenly little chits that entitle the bearer to a free massage or book? Those gift certificates that you open with greedy glee, imagining your deep-tissue lomi lomi, stunning meal, blockbuster movie, pair of shoes or heavenly retreat away from the hustle and bustle? What could be wrong with you, columnist, that you don’t regard a voucher as a gorgeous gift from above?

At home, I have an old toast holder. Once, I imagine (in a simpler, happier time, when people liked to eat cold toast), it would feature on every breakfast table, its slots brimming with slices of toasted loaf.

Now, it sits on my sideboard, overflowing with vouchers. I have received them for a birthday or Christmas or, occasionally, as part of a company promotion. But whether they are gifts of love or commerce, vouchers are pretty much a curse. Once a month or so, I look at the toast holder in despair, because it has, stuffed with its paper promise of good times and free gifts, become another grinding chore, an impossible feat of scheduling and coordination. Then, every six months or so, I go through the coupons like a gardener deadheading her roses and throw out the expired ones.

It is heartbreaking. The $50 bookshop voucher my husband got from the kids he coaches. The free hamburgers my boy won at footy. The full-body scrub for me. The car—wash vouchers. The movie tickets.

It is not just sad, though. It’s a waste. It’s not that I don’t want to use them — I would love a facial, or to sit in Gold Class – it’s just the vouchers dictate where I have to do that, and when. And I can’t seem to manage that in the three months I’m given. Even in 12 months, it’s often not possible.

So here are the questions nobody with any authority seems to care about: WHY DO VOUCHERS EXPIRE? The business has been paid, the money’s in the bank. Why can’t I redeem my gifted goods at any time that suits me? Deduct a percentage of the value, if you like, over time, but to just declare the voucher expired? What a rort.

And why can’t you get the money back on a voucher you don’t think you’ll be able to use?

I’m going to ponder those questions next Wednesday, when a couple of girlfriends and I go for a massage-and-spa day. It’s taken us six months to coordinate, and we are going to LOVE every rare, precious, hard-won moment of it.

I can vouch for that.

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