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?
Mrs. Adventure Rich
Oh gosh, I think the last time I balanced a checkbook was in middle school! Haha- I guess I’ve always just relied on having my $$ info at my fingertips with Mint and Personal Capital type accounts. I’m still trying to learn the same lessons though 😉
It’s part of my grandma aesthetic. 😉 As I wrote this, I was thinking hard about what money tools we use now that will seem absolutely archaic to HP when he is 31. It’s definitely not the tools, but the fact that she modeled money so openly for me.
Sarah @ Couple of Sense
What an awesome mom you have!! Sounds like it was a great role model to you growing up. I bet there are tons of influences your mom has had on you that you have yet to discover.
My parents still have their cheque book (canadian spelling!). When I was younger my mom managed the money in the cheque book and taught us how to as well. My dad now manages it and they still write in it after they come home with a receipt. We do the same thing but on excel!
I never managed a cheque book but we did have bank books where you were to print out all of your transactions. I wrote down where the purchases came from and which jobs I got paid from (2 jobs to pay for school). It taught me a lot and aside from a slight increase to spending when I got my first job 10 years ago I think it helped me develop the tools to manage my money.
There is definitely something to be said about keeping track of things. It’s like taking inventory of your money…or your life!
Yes, absolutely. When I was 10 I got a paper route (things kids can’t do anymore). I got up every morning at 4:30 and delivered about 100 morning papers in the few blocks around where I grew up. My mom got me a starter checking account at the local savings & loan and I took the proceeds from my monthly collections and deposited them in the bank. Then I wrote a check to the paper (my mom had to sign the check too). What was left in the bank was mine. It was a great lesson in personal and business finance. I still have those old bank statements. A reminder of a simpler time.
I love that you still have the statements! I cannot wait to do something similar for HP. Our elementary school partnered up with a local bank branch and they would come and help us with money. I forget if it was once a month or biweekly, but it was so exciting. I had my own account and my little passbook. They had a branch inside our local grocery store, too, so my mom would take me to “do my banking” when we shopped together.
(Gosh, just typing this put a huge smile on my face!)
Gary @ Super Saving Tips
While I don’t balance my “checkbook” anymore, I still balance my account every month because I enter my transactions manually into Quicken. First of all I believe that helps me to be more in touch with what I’m spending and secondly, that’s how I keep track of outstanding transactions (such as uncashed checks). Maybe that’s just the bank manager in me. I always want to know what my actual balance is even if the bank is still waiting to register some of those transactions.
I think you’ve learned some excellent lessons from your mother, ones which are very similar to what I learned from mine.
Moms are so wonderful. I find that I’m paying attention to it much more now that I am one. Pressure is on (in a good way!) to think of the money habits I can pass onto my son.
Your mum sounds ace; a perfect financial role model.
Cheque books seem so antiquated…I only use mine to pay the cattery lady, who is stuck in the last century (and cashes cheques phenomenally fast as well).
They are very last century! Thankfully, my mom finally got a debit card so she doesn’t hold up the line at the grocery store. She still balances that register, though!
Mrs. Picky Pincher
I looooove the idea of “save, pay, spend.” Heck, you could write a book titled that, Penny. 🙂 I’d probably add “invest” in there too, although I do think that counts as a form of paying yourself. Gotta put something into savings and retirement accounts before going out and buying stuff.
You’re so right, Mrs. Picky Pincher! My mom and dad worked on investing together. If I’m being totally honest, it was (and is) more of my dad’s game. But I know it came out of their savings!
One day, I’ll write a book. One day.
Oh yes, my mom taught me to balance my checkbook. I was very bad at it though, and quite a few times she had to go through it to find my errors. Thankfully I usually messed it up in my favor. I started using You Need a Budget two years ago and I reconcile it every day by comparing it to my bank so I no longer have a check register. I remember giving my mom my remaining registers and she just couldn’t believe I didn’t want them anymore. YNAB means I never have a math error anymore, but it took me a long time to stop writing in that paper register.
That is wonderful to hear that YNAB works so well for you, Emmy.
I balance a checkbook for my business. Barely use checks in my personal life. (Have not bothered to update the address on them even, don’t tell). Until grad school, I was meticulous in balancing my check book. Now, Mint and my spreadsheet perform the same function. It was a great habit to be in. Your mom sounds like a good role model and person.
My address is current, but I bought my last stash of checks before I was married so my husband isn’t on the checks. The bank says it’s fine, but I always feel like a criminal when he signs my checks. You know…the three times a year we use them! Ha.
Angela @ Tread Lightly Retire Early
My mom used to give me her old extra sheets as a kid so I could pretend to keep a checkbook ? Now I find my best answer is to just log expenses day by day, and then check my accounts obsessively. Lol.
I still balance a checkbook and I’m 43 years old! LOL! My mother balanced a checkbook until the day she died and she told me a funny story one day. She realized that her checkbook was off $.10 so she told me that she was going to go to the bank and find out where her dime was! I told her she was crazy and that it was just a dime. She said, Stacy, if they take a dime from every customer that adds up and makes the banks richer! LOL So she called me after the bank visit and said they fixed it because THEY made a mistake! I will never forget it and in the long run she was absolutely right! Always keep track of your money, even if it’s “just a dime!’ 🙂
I don’t write out checks but I carry a notebook that basically serves as a a check register. I write down every single penny I spend from my bank account so I know exactly how much money I have at any given moment without having to rely on internet and devices. I started doing this about 7 months ago after a move when money was extra tight and it’s turned out to be a really useful habit. There’s something about physically writing everything down that makes me a feel a little bit more in control of my finances.
Your mom sounds awesome! I did used to reconcile my checkbook. Then I started writing pretty much only one or two checks per month because technology. Now I reconcile my online monthly debit/credit statements. Same principles. Different medium.
Your Mom sounds just like my Mother used to be. She knew exactly how much money they had and how to save then spend. It was always amazing to me how much she could save out of a small check. She was always looking for great deals. great post!