Why are shops still getting away with the '$10 minimum' rule?
One of the ironies of modern payment systems is that you can buy a packet of chewing gum in a supermarket with a credit card as if it was the most natural thing in the world.
Yet go next door for a coffee and you may face a $10 minimum on the transaction and begrudgingly have to buy a muffin or two for the privilege of using your plastic.
The fact that this happens while cash use is plunging, new ways of paying are evolving and surcharges for using a credit card have been regulated down to cost-recovery levels leaves many of us bewildered, frustrated or fuming.
Confusion is added to the mix if you happen to carry a debit or EFTPOS card along for the ride. There may be different minimums for different types of card and, although we live in a rather regulated country, it's all quite legal.
Merchants - and they tend to be smaller outfits such as newsagents and cafes with many customers spending smaller amounts - are free to enforce any minimum they choose.
They are limited in terms of a maximum surcharge for using a credit or tap-and-go card but there's no limit when it comes to the dreaded minimum, which typically lands between $5 and $10.
The rationale is there's a cost to the merchant of providing the convenience of using either credit or debit cards (much lower) which include fixed and variable fees, and they should be able to recover them from the user.
The card companies and some banks mightn't like the minimums but there's not much they can do.
However, due to regulation and competition the costs have been falling and are typically pretty low anyway - around 1%-2% - and there's actually a cost to handling cash too.
In terms of time, loss, security, banking etc, the Reserve Bank has put it at about 2%, so cards and other evolving payments systems, such as those on mobiles, seem pretty reasonable.
So what can you do? I've been involved in campaigns to get businesses which don't surcharge to let the public know through stickers on their doors and at the point of sale.
Likewise those businesses, especially the smaller ones, might make the fact they don't have a minimum a competitive advantage by screaming it from the rooftops.
From a customer service perspective, it doesn't make sense to alienate your base with a petty and irritating charge. And it hardly stacks up as economic sense if you are loaded up with more fiddly cash as a result.
In short, merchants don't have to accept cards and they can put up hurdles, such as the minimum, to discourage smaller transactions.
And consumers increasingly don't like to patronise such merchants and if they have a choice they will take their business to more forward-thinking competitors who don't force them into buying unwanted muffins.
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