Financial Lessons of a cheese pedlar

by Adam on February 17, 2010

The psychology behind saving, spending and selling is useful to know if you’re to grow your pennies. Equally, it’s important to understand what tactics and strategies help you as an individual to save and to identify in which situations you are more likely to fall prey to impulse spending.


As I started looking out for these kinds of things myself, I became much more aware of sales techniques and ‘upselling’: for example when a waiter suggests you have a side dish as well as a main course, or a sales assistant tries to convince you to take out an additional warranty on an electronic device. Such techniques can are dangerous if you’re trying to follow a budget, but I still find them fascinating!

Call me strange but over the last few weeks I’ve been paying particular attention to the ‘sandwich artists’ in Subway stores, specifically how they handle the ‘extra cheese’ question. Here are 3 examples of what I’ve heard:

  1. “Would you like extra cheese in your sub?”
  2. Double cheese?”
  3. “Cheese on both sides?” [of the open bread’]

Which of those 3 did you find most persuasive? For me it’s number 3. Here’s why:

#1 –‘extra’ –something in addition; superfluous; less important. It’s easier to say ‘no’ to extra: perhaps you’re on a diet or you simply don’t feel like even more cheese on your sandwich. Similarly when it comes to saving, saving your ‘extra’ money is hard work –who has ‘extra’ money anyway?! FAIL.

#2 –‘Double’ –Double is fun –it’s a 100% increase! If you have the option for ‘double’ you generally take it.  But double is also excess, so ‘Double cheese’ was a great up-sell technique amongst the steady stream of drunk customers heading to Subway after leaving the clubs in the early hours, but I doubt it would work so well during the day. Comparing this back to money again, ‘Doubling’ your savings can be even harder than saving your ‘extra’ money –where is it going to come from? Will-power alone won’t be able to help you ‘double’ your savings rate. FAIL.

#3. My favourite technique: the guy using the ‘Cheese on both sides’ line was an up-selling genius. For every customer that I saw, he already had the 4 slices of cheese in his hand (2 standard and 2 ‘extra’) before asking “Cheese on both sides?” His tone of voice made it sound more of fact than a question. Who was I to deny this fact?! Of course I would have cheese on both sides. He made it sound like the thought of cheese on just one side of my bread was ridiculous! WIN.

It’s only a small thing but his success rate at the up-sell was amazing. Extra cheese is 40p and assuming he up-sold to 2 customers a minute, he was increasing revenue by £48 an hour, selling little slices of cheese alone. Over 5 busy lunch-hours he would net an extra £240!

Only one person said no to this technique whilst I was watching, and even then the guy made the customer confirm it: “You don’t want cheese on both sides?” before reluctantly putting the extra cheese in his hand back in the food container.

Connecting this to saving psychology, when it comes to saving your pennies, little decisions can have a huge impact and a strong and certain mind-set helps too:

“of course I are going to save money –it’s obvious! How else am I going to able to live my future dreams: buy a house, go travelling, start a business, if not through saving?”

Will-power is great for getting started but to be certain to save consistently, you have to take the will-power out of the equation and make it non-negotiable. Here are two easy ways to make saving consistently each month a reality:

Pre-tax: Put money in a pension before you see it

If you are a salaried employee you most likely will have the option to join a pension scheme (or 401k in the US). Do it. It’s quite often free money as your employer will ‘match’ what you put in up to a certain percentage of your salary, typically 3%. This contribution will be before tax, so for most of us we can save £100 in a pension but our take-home pay will only seem lower by roughly £78. (Magical Penny will highlight the best ways to invest this pension money and avoid the pitfalls in later articles but for now, just get it set up by talking to your HR department).

Post tax: Automate your savings.

I have a friend who says he’s too lazy to save money each month. But you can still save money and be lazy at the same time: It’s easy to set up an automatic transfer from your current account (‘checking’ account for American readers) to a separate savings account each time you get paid. Before I automated my saving I found that some months I would have an excuse not to make the transfer:

“I’m going on holiday”, “It’s Christmas” etc.

But once it was automated I didn’t have to make that choice: reducing the need for will power or mental energy- You can set it up easily enough using online banking or have a word with your bank. Once set up you just save (and later, invest) automatically and you can go back to being lazy.

Up-sell yourself –the cheesy way

By saving before tax with an automatic pension contribution and automating your post- tax money (your ‘take-home’ pay) you will be saving more, just like the up-selling sandwich artist manages to use psychological tricks to unload more cheese on an unsuspecting public! . By following these two simple tips you can ensure the sandwich of your financial life has cheese on both sides, effortlessly.

Go on, up-sell yourself to yourself!
Adam had a lot of fun writing this cheesy but hopefully insightful post: he’s currently singing in Venice but will return shortly to moderate your comments. Join in the discussion: what other ‘tricks’ help you save or earn money?

Update: Featured by J Money at Budgets are Sexy dot com!

Carnival of Personal Finance #245 @budgetsaresexy
Magical Penny as a featured ‘editors pick’:

#1) Magical Penny: Financial Lessons of a Cheese Pedlar. Cheese & finance?! AWESOME! 🙂 If you frequent Subway a bit, and like keeping your money, this is a must read. Well done Adam!

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

The other Adam

I assume that lazy friend remark was aimed at me? : )

Good post. I have been “going to set up a standing order” for months now… I should get off my backside and go do it. Pension will be sorted out after my 6 month probation is up at work. I’ve been keeping an eye on that one!

Keep pushing me in the right direction, and keep the advice coming!


Thanks for stopping by Ad!

Yes: set it and forget it and you’ll be sorted. You should be able to do it right now using online banking. Even if you just start at a really small amount, the phycological benefit is amazing.

Also remember that it’s easy to give or read advice but the magic comes in the doing so if you find yourself with any learnings once you’ve actually ‘lived’ it, I’d love for you to come back and leave another comment.

J. Money

love this one bro! nice fresh way to think of things 🙂 plus, I love cheese! although those Subway f’ers stopped supplying Swiss here in th States (there too?) and they now tell me “pepperjack” is the same thing. It’s not. Love the taste of it, but still not the same. And now they charge an extra 5 cents if you get a bag here in DC…but I digress 😉


Haha, don’t think we’ve ever had Swiss, or pepperjack cheese for that matter. Missing out!

Interesting fact that I read on a sign in a Subway: in the UK most purchases have VAT added including hot subway sandwiches: but cold subways are VAT free!

So most food is VAT free including cold subs but the moment it’s hot then BOOM, it’s taxed!. UK tax law is fun isn’t it?!


I like to take action on Payday. As soon as the money comes in I sit down and pay everything including extra payments on debt or to savings accounts. I don’t wait until the end of the pay period because i just might spend to much money.


I’m intrigued as to whether you’re going to follow-up the ‘fascinating’ subject of extended warranties at some point. I feel they are generally unduly chastised by sections of the public/media. The number I have bought were more than outweighed by the shiny new Vaio laptop and money in the bank I have got from mine (as well as some other benefits, but others where I got no return). However, with the new Direct Debit idea, they are a little more tenuous. Anyway, I hope you will be doing a future post on this.

Oh, and instant saving is idiot proof. I think you are reminding me that now I am a bit more settled, I need to turn them ‘on’ again!


@Moah -Great strategy: I do exactly the same thing. I also find it helpful to do a ‘net-worth’ calculation at the same time so I can see if I’m moving in a positive direction each month.

@Jon, Extended warranties certainly are something I’d like to explore in the future on Magical Penny, but over the next few weeks I’m going to continue with the ‘story arc’ of getting prepared and learning about investing. It’s interesting to hear your perspective because I haven’t heard many ‘extended warranties are good’ stories.

Pat Walker

I’ve always wondered why I ordered a hamburger or by a number for a hamburgerr meal they ask if I wanted cheese. To my mind if I wanted to a cheeseburger I would have ask for one.


Thanks for the excellent advice. I currently have the first one in place but have yet to set up number two. Since the pay cycle has already passed for this pay period, I will make sure that it’s implemented in the next one. I like the idea more and more of up-selling myself and the lessons of the cheese pedlar made it crystal clear.

Lisa Clark

Write the blog on pensions already Adam! I could really do with some advise re Stakeholder pension.
Love your blog – it’s always nice to find one in pounds and not dollars.


You’re right Lisa! I definitely do. I’m actually working on a premium product about pensions but I should at least write a few blog posts on them 🙂 Personally I’m not a fan of stake holder pensions -personal pensions have more freedom and flexibility -and can be as cheap or even cheaper than stake holder ones.

Thanks for the kind words too, Lisa.

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