Sunday, November 25, 2007

from me to you

I stopped by my parents' house the other day, and my mom was helping my grandmother balance her checkbook. They had her bank statements out, and printouts from the computer, plus the actual checkbook, and they were poring over all this stuff for quite a while. "People still do that?" I asked. "Every week." my mom replied, "and I'm always to the penny." This made me stop and think. My first thought was "Why? Why in god's name would you do that? Every. Week." Then it hit me; clearly they know no better way. So, I have decided, as a public service, to offer my way of balancing a checkbook here. For you. I call this:

How to balance a checkbook
Step 1. Go through the large pile of mail on your bureau or table or stairs, or wherever it happens to accumulate in your house, and find this month's bank statement.
Step 1a. Okay, if you can't find this month's statement, any one from this year will do. It absolutely has to be from this year, though. I mean, come on, people. Are you serious about this or not?
Step 2. Find your checkbook. *This is perhaps the most important step, and I realize you (like me) probably have no idea where your checkbook actually is. Oh sure, you know where it's supposed to be, but we all know it's never actually there, so I'll pause now and give you some time to find it.

la, la, la... just waiting here... nothing better to do...

Okay, found it? Good. Then we're ready to proceed.
Step 3. Open the bank statement, being careful to avoid paper cuts. They hurt.
Step 4. Look through the statement line by line. Fondly reminisce about the purchases you made. You may find yourself making comments like "Oh, I remember when I found that yarn store. They sure had some nice sock yarn." or "Mmmm... that restaurant was good. We should go there again." This is a natural reaction, and is in fact a good thing. In a way, it's like you are making these purchases all over again. This can be very therapeutic (and even better, it's free this time).
Step 5. Make note of any purchases you don't remember making. Once you've noted all the stores you don't remember visiting and/or things you don't remember buying, forget the rest of the statement. We're just concerned with these MFPs (Mysteriously Forgotten Purchases).
Step 6a. If the MFP is for a small amount (say, less that $20), ignore it. The odds of someone stealing your identity for a measly 20 bucks is minimal, and really is it worth your time to wrack your brains and hunt down the receipt for a lousy $20? Your time is more valuable than that.
Step 6b. If the MFP is for more than $20, one of three things may have happened. First, your identity may have been stolen, although if your statement has fewer than fifty MFPs, this is probably not the case. Second, your significant other may have made the purchase in question and neglected to record it. Third, you may have made the purchase in question and completely forgotten about it. This is where balancing the account becomes more difficult, and possibly dangerous. On the one hand, you might feel the need to confront your SO, demanding that he/she tell you where the hell he/she spent $184.63 and why exactly he/she didn't mention it sooner. DO NOT FALL FOR THIS. I REPEAT: DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES QUESTION YOUR SO ABOUT MFPS. Doing so will only cause problems, because really, who's more likely the one who spent all that money and completely forgot about it? You. And who's going to look like an idiot when, after a long and tedious argument, you realize the MFP was yours? You. No, don't question anyone about the discrepancy. It's better to just forget the whole thing. Which brings me to
Step 7. Shred/file/recycle the bank statement. It has served its purpose.
Step 8. Put the checkbook back where you found it... or just kind of toss it somewhere. It's not like you'll ever be able to find it again anyway.
Step 9. Add "Stop at ATM and get bank balance" to your to-do list.
Step 10. Grab a cup of coffee, pick up you knitting needles and get to work on that sweater you're making. You know the one. You bought stuff for it a few weeks ago? Remember, the really nice cashmere you got on sale? Yeah, at the store where you picked up the handspun stuff, too. And the bamboo needles (for the sweater, of course). And you said you wouldn't tell the husband, 'cause you spent almost $200? Remember that now?

See, I told you it wasn't worth the argument.