Saturday, July 23, 2016
What's a Check?
I used to have a Friday night ritual--every other Friday night. I would sit at my grandmother's old desk (which we still have--it had once been my great-grandfather's), open the old checkbook, and begin writing checks to pay my bills. I also had, of course, a roll of postage stamps, a supply of envelopes (for those creditors too stingy to supply one), a built-in stamp-and-envelope licker, and the certain knowledge that nearly an hour would pass before I finished. Next morning, I would put all the envelopes in the mailbox to be picked up. Years and years and years of that.
(BTW: When Joyce and I completed our Ph.D.s in the late 1970s, we promptly ordered checks that said "Dr." on them. This impressed no one, confused many, so we stopped doing it. When my middle school students learned I was now "Dr.," they wondered what that meant; I told them I was the useless kind.)
And why alternating Fridays, you ask? (I know: You didn't ask--just a rhetorical device, you know? Yes, I know: Maybe you don't know it's a rhetorical advice, in which case you ought ... never mind.) Well, for much of my teaching career I got paid every other Friday, thus assuring me that I would (probably) be able to pay my bills. Direct deposit shortened the process, too--no trip to the bank to make an after-hours deposit, dropping the endorsed check and deposit slip in the "night deposit" slot. (No ATMs, not in those dreary days.)
Anyway, by the 1990s things were beginning to change. I bought one of the earliest forms of Quicken--still a DOS (disk operating system) program, not Windows--and was soon using Quicken Billpay to send checks and/or electronic payments for me. My Friday nights changed--and dramatically so. We actually went to a movie now and then, a bookstore (remember them?).
Soon, banks were offering their own bill-pay services (I use mine for a few things), and many creditors/suppliers were offering online payment options, sometimes automatic (I use some of them).
And nowadays, I very, very rarely write a personal check. Instead, Quicken (I'm now using Quicken 2016) and the bank and the online companies do it all, and Grandma's desk stands at the head of our stairs (see picture), where I could not really use it even if I needed to.
It has become, more or less, an artifact. A horse-drawn buggy tied up outside a computer store.