My Paper Trail

Perhaps you were goofing around at work this morning and saw this article about a mom who forced the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to reimburse her for peanut butter they’d confiscated before her flight. The article does make the woman sound a wee bit loony, but after my last flight, where I was stranded for hours at 30,000 feet with a massive head cold and no access to water because I don’t carry cash and the airline (U.S. Airways – take note) wouldn’t give me any, I am squarely on her side. I’m sure most everyone is on her side. Confiscating peanut butter is stupid.

Yet I digress. What I fixated on in the article was the fact the woman was able to get reimbursed for the peanut butter because she had the receipt for the peanut butter.

“Who keeps receipts for peanut butter?  Lambert explained that she started her family           during the recession, and from the start has carefully watched her money. She saves receipts from every purchase, enters everything into a spreadsheet and tracks every expense. She also has a binder, where she records refunds, returns, rebates and any other correspondence that involves money.”

I have to confess that keeping detailed track of my finances has been one of my more boring “hobbies” over the last decade. Until very recently, I too probably would have been able to produce a receipt for peanut butter.

About three years ago, as I began to get restless with the amount of time my finances hobby was taking up, I decided I should give bill pay a try. Bill pay was a technology I was reluctant to try for fear of identity theft, missed payments, etc. Of course now I don’t know how I ever lived without it. Identity theft is still a legitimate concern as far as keeping track of payments and categorizing expenses, it was just a matter of devising a new system.

The decade that started with the meticulous saving of receipts and tracking of expenses has led me the present day when I don’t want to see another piece of financial paperwork ever again. I’m tired of over stuffing the file cabinets and overloading the shredder, which broke in the midst of a massive shredding session earlier this evening.

A pile of papers awaiting the shredder.


Yet, I still have a specific way I want to do things. I want an e-mail statement. I want all my bill pays to go through my bank, and not be automatically deducted from my account by random thugs like Comcast. I still want to categorize things but, thanks to one-stop-shopping like Fred Meyer and Target and my penchant to put these purchases on credit cards to get points, I just cannot part with the time it takes to categorize those receipts individually and then again when the credit card bill comes.

I’m at a crossroads right now, trying to decide if I can let go of the categorization entirely. I’ve been using Microsoft’s Money program for the last 15 years at least, but they stopped making it about three years ago. Since I finally decided I need the automatic bank download, I had to search out a new program. Reviews for Quicken are dismal and I absolutely can’t stand the free online Mint program which, perhaps coincidentally, was acquired by Quicken. I have stumbled upon a nice little program called You Need a Budget but I don’t want to shell out the $40 if I am to decide to hell with it all.

There was a point when keeping track of everything made sense. I wanted to get a feel for what we were spending on gas and groceries and incidentals so I could know where to cut back and if we needed to. Now I’m stuck in this loop that I want that information to be available but I know I won’t use it. Sure, some months we overspend on dining, but it’s not like it’s a big surprise.

I definitely admire the organization and tenacity of peanut butter woman, but she’s been spending hours and hours of her life meticulously categorizing her finances and filling out paperwork, all leading up to the proud moment when she could reclaim $3.99 worth of peanut butter. Nope, nope, nope. I can’t do it anymore. To paraphrase the late, great Mitch Hedberg, “I give you $3.99, you give me the peanut butter, END OF TRANSACTION. We do not need to bring ink and paper into this.” If I buy a big item, say a television, yeah I’ll file the receipt away just in case something goes wrong, but put the damn manual on-line ’cause that’s the next file cabinet I want to empty.


About suitejen

Writer. Video Editor. Mama.
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