... suddenly the volume of my incoming mail has doubled
Since New Year's Day, the postman has needed a wheelbarrow to bring the mail to my door. Much of this pile includes flyers of various colors and sizes designed to make me want to buy something I do not need. Every holiday, no matter how insignificant, is an excuse for a catalog. LLBean is a master of showing me enticing photos of things that are hard to resist. Bean's items do not wear out very quickly, so I have to put on my Smart Consumer Hat.
Of course the monthly bills are there. I have not converted to paying for my telephone, cable service or electricity through automatic withdrawal yet. I like to physically write a check to keep me aware of what I am spending. The excise tax bills for my car and RV just arrived with the request that I pay on line. I started to, but when I got to the line that said "fee=$3", I decided to drive to town hall and save six dollars.
Likewise any money I earn comes through the mail. I supplement my teachers' retirement check with several small jobs. Working for an educational consulting firm and selling tickets for all winter sports at Holliston High School combine to pay for my greens fees in the summertime. A few royalties from curriculum writing continue to be mailed to me, but this is a decreasing source of income as the original creation was done several years ago. Writing for the Melrose Mirror and a weekly subscription news service called HollistonNetNews keeps me busy but does not add to my finances.
Occasionally a personal note pops up at mail call – "Just hello," "Thanks" or "Wish you were here" from an old friend. However most of my communication with the outside world comes via email. Some people apologize for the impersonal nature of email, but I love it. It is so efficient. I can delete the junky ads leaving me with information from church, jokes from former classmates, and news about friends, family and our ongoing genealogy hunting.
So why is the postman bringing so much mail all of a sudden? It is the time of year when everything is marked "Important Tax Return Document Enclosed". It is the time of year when a person is forced to look at financial comings and goings in great detail. It is the time of year when I have to think about money, like it or not.
I designated an envelope to house these letters. As it quickly filled, I progressed to a manila folder, then to a hanging folder in a file drawer. This is sprawled out as far as it can go. The barrage of I.T.R.D.E. mail will soon stop – two days after I have delivered the pile to my tax man, necessitating a second trip. But I will be thinking about money until April 15 has come and gone.
Since my earliest recollections, I never have had lots of money – enough, but not a lot. I used to get a weekly allowance from my father. Fifty cents. Two quarters. And every week he asked the same question – "double or nothing?" Now I didn't have lots of expense in those days. Ten cents went in my Sunday School envelope. The rest probably was spent on stationery items. I was always a sucker for a new pen or pad of paper. So I usually let him take one quarter, flip it in the air and call out heads-or-tails. I always chose heads. It seemed so positive. If tails came up, I lost that quarter and had to live the week on twenty-five cents. If heads came up, I had fifty cents in hand and flipped for the other quarter. So sometimes I had a whole dollar to spend in the days when a pack of gum cost a nickel. I was savvy enough never to lose the whole allowance – my first lesson in financial responsibility.
My first teaching position was in Newton. By then I had an old Pontiac, rented rooms, and a need for decent clothing. By comparison, Newton paid well – $3500 for a year's worth of planning and executing curriculum for thirty sixth-graders. I got a checking account, but no credit cards. And I got my first lesson in stretching my money. Newton paid on the last working day of the month. This was fine until we hit the end of the year. Our last working day in December was on the twenty-third, a week earlier than any other month. However the last working day in January was on the thirty-first. With holiday gifts and a school vacation included in this time frame, I was literally broke that last week, subsisting on crackers and cheese and the hope that someone would invite me out to dinner.
How do I manage my finances now? With the advice of a financial advisor and someone to do my taxes. I pay my bills, squirrel some away for a trip every couple of years, stay out of malls, give to medical research and disaster relief, and I try not to be extravagant. That works.