Recently, I visited a giant Swedish furniture store (you know which one) and when I reached the check-out, the very nice lady asked me if I needed a bag for my purchases. I looked at the four or five items that I had and sort of shrugged, " Um, I guess not." I said. She said, "Well, if you do, I can sell you one for fifty cents." Luckily, I carry a big purse.

The same weekend, I went to a giant Minnesota-based store that stocks pretty much everything needed for human existence in one location. When I reached the check-out, the very nice gentleman had already begun bagging my items in plastic. I said, "I'm sorry I didn't hear you ask me if I want paper or plastic, I generally prefer paper, but I guess plastic is okay."

He said, "Just some insider information for you, we have been told to start bagging all items in plastic unless a customer specifically tells us otherwise."

"Does that really save money for (big giant Minnesota-based retail store)?" I asked.

To which he replied, "I guess so."

In one weekend I learned that two big giant retail stores are pinching pennies on something that used to be free, something that I took for granted, but apparently can't any longer. You may have noticed this trend at the airport too... $20-65 for a checked bag anyone?

The Big Banks are in on this as well. Recently, thousands of customers from a Big Bank received a letter in the mail, (maybe you got one) telling them that they would soon be paying a maintenance fee on their checking account and would be charged an extra $2 if they wanted paper statements. This same Big Bank was featured in the business section of the Star Tribune today as having posted a 56% quarterly profit. (The letter ended with this line: " We value you as a customer and appreciate your business." Do you? Do you really? Sheesh.)

Things that used to be free, from a free checking account, to receiving a copy of your bank statement on paper rather than online are disappearing, just like free shopping bags and the choice between paper or plastic.

We all get it: hard economic times means that costs  go up and those costs get passed on to the customer in a traditional for-profit model. We might even pay more to get less, or lose the power of choice that we used to enjoy.

But, here's the thing, costs to members have NOT gone up at Affinity Plus... in fact we are always working to bring you more value, with  fewer fees, lower interest rates on loans and adding new, innovative savings products that reward  people (like most of us) that don't have a million bucks to spare.

When was the last time you got more for less? Maybe you should get more, more often.