In order to lower my cholesterol, my wife insisted that I eat oatmeal for breakfast. But I had an alternate plan. Plan B (minus), you might say.

Just as the Quaker Oats began percolating on the stove, I snuck out of the house and drove to the bagel shop. Of course, bagels are as bad as cherry Danish and chocolate chip muffins when it comes to your cholesterol, not to mention your waistline.

But I couldn’t resist treating myself to a toasted cinnamon raisin bagel with cream cheese. In my defense, I asked for “lite” cream cheese, which I calculate has 5% less fat and 50% less flavor.

Like a fugitive from justice, I stood in line (or “on line” if you’re from New York), examined the options, placed my order, and waited while it was toasted and cream cheesed (is there such a verb?). Unfortunately, the high school students on the assembly line use the same knife for every spread, so the cinnamon raisin bagel came out tasting like garlic and onions from Antonio’s Original Italian Restaurant.

As a health precaution, I ordered two blueberry bagels because blueberries have antioxidants (about four of them), along with a cup of coffee, which I generously filled with half-and-half and three spoonfuls of sugar. OK, not such a smart move. Maybe I should have gone with my wife’s oatmeal and skim milk recommendation.

“That will be $7.95,” said the owner at the register. I handed her a $20 bill, took my change and left a dollar tip. Should I have tipped more? Did I have to tip the owner? Would she pocket the money in the jar or share it with the underpaid, overworked high school kids?

I’m always worried that someone is watching me, so I feel compelled to tip generously even though the person watching me is usually a cheapskate who leaves nothing except a nickel, a few pennies and lint.

I don’t understand tipping etiquette in America. Nowadays, everyone everywhere expects a tip — at the Starbucks drive-through, at the Italian deli, at the Motor Vehicles Department when they take your picture, and at church when the pastor gives a good sermon … or even a bad one.

Anyway, I walked out of the bagel shop feeling pretty good about myself. A big tip. A toasted bagel. Lite cream cheese. My wife, my primary care physician and the Chamber of Commerce would be very happy with my decisions.

All was going well until I got home and looked at the receipt. It said, “$7.92.” She had charged me $7.95! I got gypped out of three cents.

Instead of rounding up the bill, why didn’t she round it down and give me two cents extra? Is this part of a subversive movement to get rid of the penny? Or did some bean counter conclude that if she cheated enough people out of three cents a day, they could increase revenue by $92,000 a year and hire four more underpaid high school students to toast onion bagels and stink the place up?

I considered going back to complain, but it would cost me a couple of bucks in gas for a net loss of $2.03. I also considered ratting on her to the IRS for unreported income, but I’d have to file a report, and Russian hackers would probably steal my identity.

Cheating customers out of a few pennies is the start of a slippery slope. Next, the owner will be cheating on her sales receipts and then on her taxes, and then on contributions to the employee 401(k) accounts, and then she’d take her family to Europe and write it off as a business expense. Dishonesty starts small and gets big fast.

Aren’t enough people already gypping us? The state of Connecticut has been nickel-and-diming us to death for years. Just look at the increase in the sales tax, the proposed tolls, and the hike in the gas tax. Pretty soon no one will be able to afford a toasted bagel.

But I got some revenge. The next time, I took five napkins and an extra spoon. I’m not lying awake anymore, worrying about three cents. I’m lying awake, worrying about my cholesterol.

Joe Pisani can be reached at