Great 365 Day Purge - Day Three


January 3, 2014

Day Three of "The Great 2014 Purge."

What is it about trunks, these beautiful wooden trunks, that I hold dear? Why must I feel compelled to clutter them with the detritus of my life? Today, I withdraw from my steamer trunk four boxes of checks dating from the nineties.

My children will not know the joy and drudgery of check-writing, that neat allocation of funds here...and here...and here. They conduct their banking with their phones, and use their debit cards for all their purchases.

In response to the Target data heist, my husband and I recently requested new debit cards. In anticipation of the two weeks during which we'll be without cards, we withdrew a substantial amount of money from our checking account. It's been an interesting experiment, this temporary return to cash-only transactions. We can see how easily the money slips through our fingers: groceries...take-out coffee...movies...gas...Christmas decorations...a hundred dollars we cannot account for.


With a cash economy, there's no security blanket. You're forced to live within your means; within your budget. And I find I'm more reluctant to part with cash. Spending is easier with the false barrier of a plastic debit card: It gives the illusion of not spending money.

But cash leaves less of a trail, so going through the old checks this morning was like excavating the past and what was important to my husband and me back then.

Thousands of dollars worth of checks passed through through my hands this morning, hard-earned money, parted with so carefully when we were first married and began our family: After my husband got home from his full-time job at a bank, he'd eat a quick dinner and go immediately to bed to catch a few hours of sleep before rising at midnight to deliver the Wall Street Journal.

Later, we learned to spend with less care, less deliberation, less thought. It's becomes easy to forget where your money goes.

I go through the checks one final time, before running them through the shredder. I find another check written to George. Another. And another. Still another, the amount always four or five dollars. I flip each check over, scan the signature for some clue. And finally, I see one of the checks has been stamped: The Plain Dealer. George delivered our Sunday paper.

As I shred the checks and the mail, I think about how much paper I've consumed in my lifetime, how much waste I thoughtlessly generate.

I see my husband has added to my pile a survey from the Arbor Day Foundation. I pick up the survey, the accompanying offer for free trees (the enticement for completing the survey) and the page full of return-address stickers and run it all through the shredder.






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Writing in the Margins, Bursting at the Seams: Great 365 Day Purge - Day Three

Friday, January 3, 2014

Great 365 Day Purge - Day Three


January 3, 2014

Day Three of "The Great 2014 Purge."

What is it about trunks, these beautiful wooden trunks, that I hold dear? Why must I feel compelled to clutter them with the detritus of my life? Today, I withdraw from my steamer trunk four boxes of checks dating from the nineties.

My children will not know the joy and drudgery of check-writing, that neat allocation of funds here...and here...and here. They conduct their banking with their phones, and use their debit cards for all their purchases.

In response to the Target data heist, my husband and I recently requested new debit cards. In anticipation of the two weeks during which we'll be without cards, we withdrew a substantial amount of money from our checking account. It's been an interesting experiment, this temporary return to cash-only transactions. We can see how easily the money slips through our fingers: groceries...take-out coffee...movies...gas...Christmas decorations...a hundred dollars we cannot account for.


With a cash economy, there's no security blanket. You're forced to live within your means; within your budget. And I find I'm more reluctant to part with cash. Spending is easier with the false barrier of a plastic debit card: It gives the illusion of not spending money.

But cash leaves less of a trail, so going through the old checks this morning was like excavating the past and what was important to my husband and me back then.

  • Fifty dollars a month was allocated to my student loans.
  • Three hundred twenty-five dollars paid my Cleveland-area rent. My DC apartment was double that.
  • Eight dollars and ninety-nine cents paid our gas bill in 1993; That same year, nine dollars and seventy-one cents paid for the electricity in an ultra-modest house rumored to have housed two adults, two children and a monkey before we moved in. We paid seventy-nine thousand dollars for that house, making our monthly mortgage six hundred ninety-four dollars and twenty-two cents.
  • Forty-five dollars met the monthly tuition for our daughters' dance class. This class, more tumbling than dance, met twice weekly and committed my husband and me to purchasing outrageously expensive dance costumes and sit through a three-hour recital to watch our daughters somersault and hopscotch through hula hoops set in a pattern on the ground before the "real dancers" took the stage. I confess we were glad when our daughters decided not to continue with dance.
  • One hundred and one dollars: Preschool tuition for one month, two children.
  • Several checks ranging from forty to two hundred dollars, written, I'm ashamed to say, to Wal-Mart, a store I haven't stepped foot in in years.
  • Fifty-eight dollars took my husband, my daughters and me on a train ride to the North Pole, Polar Express style. Money well spent and we were there and back within two hours.
  • Eighteen dollars and fourteen cents made out to the Vermont Bean Seed company on January 8, 1999 was the beginnings of that year's garden.
  • Four dollars: A mysterious check written out every month to a man named George. I have no idea who George is and why my husband and I would write him such a negligible check every month. Thanks to the internet, I was able to locate his address (he still lives in the city where my husband and I bought our first home) and his wife's maiden name and Facebook page. But that's as far as the clues lead.
Thousands of dollars worth of checks passed through through my hands this morning, hard-earned money, parted with so carefully when we were first married and began our family: After my husband got home from his full-time job at a bank, he'd eat a quick dinner and go immediately to bed to catch a few hours of sleep before rising at midnight to deliver the Wall Street Journal.

Later, we learned to spend with less care, less deliberation, less thought. It's becomes easy to forget where your money goes.

I go through the checks one final time, before running them through the shredder. I find another check written to George. Another. And another. Still another, the amount always four or five dollars. I flip each check over, scan the signature for some clue. And finally, I see one of the checks has been stamped: The Plain Dealer. George delivered our Sunday paper.

As I shred the checks and the mail, I think about how much paper I've consumed in my lifetime, how much waste I thoughtlessly generate.

I see my husband has added to my pile a survey from the Arbor Day Foundation. I pick up the survey, the accompanying offer for free trees (the enticement for completing the survey) and the page full of return-address stickers and run it all through the shredder.






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2 Comments:

At January 3, 2014 at 7:16 AM , Blogger Sandra Tyler said...

You know I checked on my Target card, but now you've got me worried…should I cancel it?

 
At January 3, 2014 at 3:05 PM , Blogger Michelle Stanley said...

You've done very well from what I've read. Having a budget is good, although we sometimes go over the limit at times.

 

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