Money Makes My Head Go ‘Round

Finances baffle me. And by that I mean, I have no idea how much money I have, let alone how much I owe other people. I get a credit card statement, and I look at it and say, “That much? Really? Huh.” Then I write a check and go buy some more DVDs. You could send me a letter claiming I owe you a thousand dollars, and I’d probably pay it. (Note: If you actually do this, someone will have beaten you to it, and it won’t be cute anymore.)

I used to balance my checkbook, but it got to be too much work, and Daily Herald management has thus far been extremely unsympathetic toward my pleas for an assistant. So I started keeping a “mental record,” which initially meant I had a rough idea of my checking account balance, but which now means that as soon as I use my debit card, I forget ever doing it, like the guy in “Memento.”

What I have now is a mental alarm. If I’m about to buy something I can’t afford, my mental alarm goes off. It doesn’t tell me how much I lack to be able to afford it, or how long I’ll have to save up to afford it. It just tells me I can’t afford it. (“Don’t buy the gold-plated toilet paper!” it told me.) If I am wise, I listen to my mental alarm.

The inadequacy of my system was made clear last spring, when I bought a condo and had to go through the process of acquiring a mortgage. (“Don’t buy a condo!” the alarm said.) The mortgage people compiled a list of every debt I owe, and compared it to how much income I have.

The two figures are so different, they should not even be in the same numerical system. The “income” figure had a minus sign in front of it, and the “debts” figure was so large it had to be expressed in tons.

More recently, I was contacted by an associate of mine, Patty Cakes (names have been changed), who works for a financial planning institution. He and his partner, That Guy Whose Name I Forgot, visited me at work to discuss my financial future, including possible investments and retirement funds. The first thing we decided: No more taking time off work to discuss personal finances.

I told them I had issues with investing a lot of money now just so I can have a bunch of it when I’m retired. For one thing, I’m never going to be old. I’ll be in my late 20s forever.

For another thing, I need money NOW. If I could pay off my credit cards (“Don’t buy a ceramic dog at RC Willey!” the alarm said, and by “alarm” I mean “all my friends”), I’d have enough money to take care of retirement, no problem.

But as long as those credit cards are hanging over my head, there’s going to be trouble. My problem with credit cards is that I tend to treat them like gift certificates. If I have a $2,000 limit, I might as well spend $2,000, right? Otherwise, the money just goes to waste, and I think Congress gets it, or something. That was the logic behind the RC Willey dog, anyway.

And yet, despite my utter financial irresponsibility, I always seem to have money. Not loads of it, but enough to get by and enjoy life (assuming one’s enjoyment of life is dependent on how much money one has) (which it is). What I can’t figure out is where the money comes from. Is there a goose laying golden eggs directly into my checking account? Who authorized this? And is this goose edible? Because I just got an e-mail from a friend, informing me I owe him lunch. I don’t remember this, but I’ll take his word for it.

One of my editors and I had a lengthy debate over the phrase "late 20s." He insisted it should have a hyphen -- "late-20s" -- while I insisted there was no reason for one. "Mid-20s" needs a hyphen, but only because "mid" is not a word by itself and must be attached somehow. "Late 20s" is not a compound modifier ("late" is modifying the noun "20s"), so it doesn't need one for that reason, either. I think the hyphen wound up in the paper. Maybe I'm smoking crack, but "late-20s" just doesn't look right to me.

Ah, the RC Willey dog. It's a life-sized, very realistic-looking black labrador named Junko. When I bought the condo and spent a lot of money on furniture, I figured I might as well max out my brand-new RC Willey card and get the $200 dog, too, as a novelty. I have friends who never tire of telling me how stupid this was.