For as long as I can remember, my mom has carried around a checkbook. While some might interpret it as an indicator of her age or of someone who needs to learn a thing or two about modern money, that checkbook has so much to teach. And not just about how many times you can stretch and twist the same rubber band before it disintegrates. (Years, no, decades, if this case study is any indication.)
Pay yourself first.
I can’t tell you how many times I heard this growing up. Actually, I probably could if I busted out a calculator. Every time my mom would get paid, she would make it a point to emphasize the importance of moving money into your savings before doing anything else. I didn’t know every detail of my parents’ finances (and still don’t), but I did know that they put money away before taking care of any obligations or buying things, though they had (and still have!) dramatically different money personalities. Her “save, pay, and then spend” philosophy is now the cornerstone of my financial plan.
Money is for everyone.
My mom is still the money manager in their house. As they inch toward half a century of marriage, that thin checkbook encased in a cracked vinyl bank-issued case has always symbolized power to me. My parents make financial decisions together, but it is my mom that really knows exactly how much money they have in their accounts. Though it was never said, a powerful message was shown to me from a very young age: Women should understand money. Men should understand money. Everyone has a stake in understanding money.
Speak up for yourself as a consumer.
My mother is the queen of returns. My dad likes to joke that every store in a fifty-mile radius has her picture up, not because she terrorizes sales associates (she doesn’t), but just because she will get her money’s worth. If something breaks or underperforms, you had better believe my mom will show up in the returns department with the receipt carefully ensconced in her checkbook. With a dramatic snap of the rubber band, she will then unfurl the receipt. In a tone that is both firm and polite, she will recite the return policy with remarkable precision.
She doesn’t wear a tinfoil hat when she shops. She isn’t a conspiracy theorist convinced that all retailers are out to get her. But she does believe that consumers have to speak up for themselves. There is no line too long or no phone call hold too tedious. While I may not have the same level of patience, I do have no problem advocating for myself when I shop. I know that if I won’t, no one else will.
No one cares more about your money than you.
A balanced checkbook is a point of pride. Nothing delights her more than having her register reconciled to the penny. And nothing is more troublesome than when her numbers don’t align. My dad tries to remind her that a few cents is not a financial catastrophe and she should be content with close enough. But she is not playing horseshoes with her checkbook. For a long time, I understood that this was one of her principles. I just didn’t understand what the principle actually was. Now I realize that she has long understood that no store, no bank, nobody will ever care more about your dollars and cents than you. By keeping track of the numbers in your bank account, you also keep control of your money.
Final Thoughts on Checkbooks
I no longer reconcile my checkbook. Yet, between spending apps and our spreadsheets, I can tell you down to the penny how much money is in our accounts. I can also tell you where the money goes, when, and why. While an empty checkbook register now may look like I wasn’t paying attention growing up, my money habits say otherwise.
So Tell Me…Did you ever learn to balance a checkbook? Did you learn anything from it?