Take my checkbook from my cold, dead hands
My relentless fight against autopaying personal and business expenses
I grabbed my usual lunch from Jimmy John’s — vegetarian sub, salt and vinegar chips, and a lemonade — and jotted down a note inside my checkbook to mark down the debit card payment later. When I looked up, I stared into the horrified eyes of a Generation Y-er.
“You still use a checkbook? You are so old.”
I was eight years older than him, so in his mind, I probably was considered “old.” But I’ve gotten this same perplexed reaction from a co-worker who was almost a decade older than me. What did they both have in common? One would always order “the most expensive thing on the menu” but want everyone to split the bill. The other one lived with his in-laws and came from money. If you’re just drowning in money, then not keeping track of your deductions and deposits is no big deal.
However, I’m the daughter of a 35-year credit union manager and almost 40-year banker. If you want to know how your money is moving at all times, that kind of guessing game is not one I can highly recommend. It’s also one of the reasons I have such a complex relationship with autopay bills, and I think you should too. While I may have written less than 10 checks for all of 2019, I flew through at least two registers.
For-profit companies are constantly trying to get their customers to use autopay so money can be deducted immediately from their checking accounts. But I’ve watched this crash and burn entirely too many times. One of the most recent examples is Xfinity deciding — with no explanation — to increase my condo association’s bill by $200. Had we kept our last property managers, who were big fans of autopay, we may have gone months without ever knowing that not only was the bill expensive enough (and we are currently canceling service altogether), but they’d significantly increased the price — after a cancellation notice was sent. Do you know what kind of hoops you have to go through to collect auto-paid funds in the middle of cancellation? Luckily, we never found out.
However, companies bank on their customers not paying much attention to bills. Customers see them, glance at the amount and go about their days. And if they have their checking accounts set up so a list of deductions are consistently made, they may not get around to noticing increases until after the monthly statement alerts come up. Of course there are some incentives to use autopay. T-Mobile takes $5 off for auto-deductions. Geico reduces the monthly rate, too. RCN (local Chicago cable company) will drop the processing fee if customers register for the service.
But where is the incentive in using autopay without any added bonus? For those who are less detail-oriented and don’t find joy in being their own personal accountants, you have every right to want to make the process easier. If you choose to, you could go one step further and just hire an accountant (or property manager) to take care of the day-to-day details. However, you may find yourself wondering where all your money went at the end of the fiscal year while you’re paying third-party clients to handle your expenses instead of doing it yourself.
There are enough articles online pitching ideas for why people need to know where their money is going outside of necessary bills. There’s not a whole lot of debating one can do regarding the electricity bill, heat bill, mortgage or rent and Internet bill. (I couldn’t care less about traditional cable packages and am a huge supporter of streaming services like ROKU and Fire TV Stick.) However, documenting every single transaction will bring it to mind — and possibly make you skip that next repeat (and pointless) purchase. Of course you could also use mobile apps that advertise themselves as “free” but end up charging you to remove ads or bill you for “unlimited” services and “envelopes” to save your money. (Forbes has plenty of those suggestions.)
But if your goal is to actually get a handle on where you’re going wrong with your financial habits, accidental deductions and surprise overdraft fees, making yourself the point person before any bill payments are released is the most effective way. Bank registers are free, and using your own brain to write in them costs $0.00.
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