Saturday, January 2, 2016
Bills, Bills, Bills
This morning, I started reading the 2015 novel Gorsky by Vesna Goldsworthy, a sort of a riff (in some ways) on The Great Gatsby--but in London, 1995. (I'll blog about it more fully when I finish it.) Anyway, I'm enjoying it ... I taught Gatsby for a decade, so I'm "getting" many of the allusions.
In the 50 pp or so I read this morning, I came across this quotation that, well, let out the Dogs of Memory. The narrator (yes, his name is Nick), seeing the wealth of the Tom Buchanan figure (whose name, yes, is Tom), says this:
My mother, a school teacher and the family treasurer, divided banknotes into six envelopes on the first of every month when my parents received their salaries in cash: standing charges, food, clothing, pocket money, holidays and savings (36).
All of this got me to thinking about my own bill-paying habits since 1966 when, a new college graduate, I began having to Pay My Own Way. (My mom actually said this on the eve of my graduation: "We may invite you for dinner after the ceremony--maybe not." I'm certain she was kidding ... right? And, in fact, they did house/feed me until the fall when I began teaching at the Aurora Middle School; Aurora, Ohio.)
In those early years--before I was married (1966-1969)--I usually had very, very little disposable income. My first year's take-home salary (as I've mentioned here before) was $168.42, paid on the 1st and the 15th of each month. After I drove to the bank to deposit the paycheck (nothing automatic in those days!), paid my rent, car pmt., utility bills, bought food, etc., I usually had only $10 or so to last me until the next paycheck. I am very grateful, by the way, that no credit cards (other than Sohio and American Express (the latter I did not qualify for)) existed at the time. I would have been in financial quicksand very, very quickly. It was Pay As You Go in my early life. So I didn't Go very much.
After our marriage, our income soared by a couple of thousand dollars a year (Joyce had an assistantship in the English Dept. at Kent State), and, every now and then, we were actually able to save $100 a month--a vast fortune to impecunious us.
Anyway, my bill-paying routine. On payday I would sit down with my checkbook and write those monthly (or semi-monthly) checks--house, car(s), insurance, utilities, etc.--and put them in the little white envelopes, address them (in some cases; others came pre-addressed), affix a stamp, mail them the next day. This went on for decades. Soon, I was doing what "Nick" describes above--putting some cash in envelopes I would keep in an old desk I inherited from my grandmother Osborn: haircut, grocery store, allowance (for me--after a few years Joyce began handling her own finances), etc.
Then came the Internet. And Quicken. I have been using that program since the mid-1990s, including (the past decade or so) the Quicken Billpay feature that allows me to zap electronic payments for many things. (I still have a checkbook, but it lives in a desk drawer, and I very, very rarely use it. I sometimes hear weeping from the desk: Why don't you love me anymore? cries the checkbook.) I also pay some bills automatically, some through the bank's bill-pay service, some on the provider's website (BP, AT&T, etc.). I balance my Quicken accounts by downloading bank transactions. It's all barely visible, you know? Almost surreal.
But, as I said, I still have some cash envelopes in Grandma's desk. (See photo!) There's something about the comfort of cash, especially when there ain't a lot of it!