Sunday, January 16, 2005

Money troubles

I don't really have any money troubles, but I am reflecting on how technology has made paying bills easier and harder (for me) at the same time.

I remember when I first started balancing my checkbook. I did it with the lines on the back of the statement. Everything was very neat, tidy, easy to understand.

When Tegan and I got married, well I started taking care of the finances. I have been doing it ever since, with varying degrees of success.

It's not incredibly complicated, because we try very hard to keep things simple. Right now we have two credit cards and I have begun thinking about dialing back down to one again. (We aren't exactly flying on airline miles a whole lot with kids and most airlines are teetering on bankruptcy these days anyway.)

But the complicated part is keeping track of my transactions, Tegan's transactions, keeping two people's actions current in one main register, putting all of that in the computer software, downloading stuff from credit card companies, banks, paying bills online.

It sometimes seems that numbers are flying out of control and I am not writing it down fast enough. This is especially driven home at the end of each year, where we are typically travelling in other states and paying bills online.

There comes that time when we return home that I have to try and catch up with all those electronic numbers and try to corral them in my check register, reconcile it all on the computer and decide who is right: my arithmatic on my hand register or the numbers that the bank lets me download? These projects invariably take about one to one and a half hours of my weekend afternoons, hunched over my desk, looking at small columns of numbers, and getting frustrated.

I have also adapted a habit, since marriage, about ten years ago of keeping credit card receipts and other bill stubs, and financial records in small accordian folders. Each months bills was put in its own slot. That was fine and remains workable today, but as the years go by I shift out records that are about six or seven years old and repurpose the accordian folder.

The first few years of marriage, the folders were nice and small. But as time passed, as bills and finances became more complicated, as children and their expenses, and mortgages arrived, the accordian folders that were once entirely adequate are now, year after year, stretched to bursting. It is a stark visual reminder that as time marches on, things can become more complicated.

But I have to step back, find the simple things, the things that I have always wanted to have--family, friends, basic security--and enjoy THOSE things. Let the other complications come and try to distract me from my real purpose of who I am and what I am really here for. If I can hold on to those important things, then maybe I can let the complications go and avoid worrying about the stuff that is truly less important.

1 comment:

flipper said...

To save some time, you might want to try my method of balancing a checkbook. Here's how it works: every two weeks or so, call your bank and find out what your available balance is, and write it in your checkbook. That's it! So simple! And it completely eliminates the need to save and track receipts or to perform any math at all!

Of course, you WILL still want to save the receipts of those big-item purchases, in case you have to return something. So what you should do is, save these receipts in an unsealed, unmarked, plain white envelope, and then leave the envelope lying around your house somewhere (anywhere). Of course, it's totally up in the air whether you'll ever find that envelope if/when you need it. If you can't find it, you have two options: 1. Try to return the item with no receipt. You can always say you "lost" the receipt. This actually works sometimes. 2. Use the item anyway, even though it may not fit, be partially broken, or be the completely wrong item in general. If you put your mind to it, you can pretty much use ANYTHING for SOME purpose. 3. Store the item in the basement for a while, and then after about two years, give it to the Salvation Army.

I've found that these techniques save me a lot of time that is better spent playing online poker and such. Give it a try--it's liberating!