Horror at the ATM
April 2, 2003 2:21 AM   Subscribe

My name is Rod and I can't handle Money. "You see, I never open my bank statements, ever. My only point of contact with my bank is through the ATM next door to the estate agents in Warminster. Even here, I never knowingly press that button which tells you what your balance is, and if I press it by mistake I screw shut my eyes." This is me. Is it you? What's wrong with us? Chrometophobes unite.
posted by grahamwell (74 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Wow. What an internet moment - I thought I was the only one.

I have it so bad I can't even read the article.
posted by riddley at 2:47 AM on April 2, 2003

I used to be like this, until I got credit black listed. I'm now one of those people that records absolutely everything in MS Money and cross references against my bank statement. It's all down to fear in the end, like most procrastination (this may be discussed in the second link, but I can't reach it).

Coincidentally, Rod Liddle's previous employers (Radio 4's Today programme) ran a piece about this very same phenomena a few weeks ago. Maybe they'd just spotted that their former editor hadn't paid in the lump sum cheque they mailed him.
posted by chill at 2:52 AM on April 2, 2003

riddley - I have it so bad I was worried about reading your comment.

You mean there is a medical condition for people like me? I never open letters from the bank, the phone company or the electricity board. My old landline provider (worldonline) vanished and I didn't notice til my phone line died.

Wow... I feel... among friends... ;)
posted by twine42 at 2:52 AM on April 2, 2003

I have to admit, I'm a fellow sufferer. I can trace it back to my student days when I would only ever check my balance when the ATM machine wouldn't give me any more money. Even then, I knew I could get 50 quid through cashback by buying something at the local shop.

Even now, when I'm reasonably well paid, bills sometimes don't get opened for days, and bank statements get filed straight in the bin.
I've never had a county court judgement...yet...but I've come close a couple of times, simply by forgetting to pay bills or going on the "surely they'll write that 50 quid I owe them off as bad debt" principle.

Any other fellow sufferers?
posted by BigCalm at 2:53 AM on April 2, 2003

I think this is acutally not that rare, a friend of mine has it real bad and could ignore things right through to the court appearance. He did this with his student loans and ended up getting county court judgements against him (ie bye bye credit status) and having to pay off thousands of pounds in one go thus getting into much worse debt. People who lived with him had to be particularly careful about any bills in his name if they didnt want to end up cut-off from utilities.

I've even been a little guilty of this myself recently, not getting round to sorting out my council tax reduction and ending up with a summons (and thus costs).

The upshot of this does seem to be that sitting on bills is a good way to end up with bigger bills than if you actually act on them, which seems pretty obvious but often doesn't seem to be acknowledged on the concious level by some people.
posted by biffa at 2:57 AM on April 2, 2003

On a slightly different note (only slightly) does anyone know how much the fine is if I get caught without a tax disk? I've lost the (probably unopened) insurance papers to get my tax disk. ;)

I was always broke at Uni. But I found that you'd only be able to get £30 cashback at Asdas before their machines rang up for auth. Still, £30 a day can go a long way.

Never had an CCJs, and only had two threats of bailifs. The first resulted in a letter that told BT if they ever wrote to be again without quoting the ref BTplcRcrooks then they'd be liable to a £50 admin charge (never heard from them again) and one recently when I got a bailifs threat for £65 quid for god knows what. I wrote back and told them I'd not pay anything until they told me who their client was and why their client hadn't sent me a blue warning let alone a red one. Nothing heard since.

I got it bad...
posted by twine42 at 3:03 AM on April 2, 2003

I've done the same thing. I never bounce checks or anything like that -- I have a pretty good mental idea when I should stop spending. But I don't balance the checkbook, usually don't open statements, etc. I used to forget to pay bills -- I'd have the money, I would just forget to pay. Not intentionally in any way. I also forget to deposit checks. I don't understand it myself. I used to try to be better about it, over and over. I tried just about everything. But I would keep backsliding. The only thing that kept me from screwing up my credit was Checkfree -- I set up automatic payments for everything. Now that I am married my husband handles making sure the bill payments go in, because he always remembers to do it, and I am glad I married someone who can compensate for my shortcomings. :)

I manage to be better with my business, but I also make sure that bills are also auto-paid there, because I really don't want to screw things up for the business. Yay for modern technology!
posted by litlnemo at 3:06 AM on April 2, 2003

I'm completely like this. It's part of a wider personality trait that means I never, ever face up to unpleasant facts.

I have a CCJ against me because I forgot to tell John Lewis I had moved house, therefore never got my store card bills. I left it for a year, paid off the bill (£30 or something) but the CCJ is still there on my credit rating, preventing me from getting a mortgage, car, credit card etc. I'm an idiot.

Oh yes, never ever get involved with a bank called GE Capital. I was threatened with a CCJ because I was only two days overdue with a payment.
posted by Summer at 3:10 AM on April 2, 2003

oh christ depositing cheques... I've still got £50 of xmas cheques sitting around somewhere...

Oh, I forgot one... I forgot to call the 'leccy people when I moved into my house. 2 years later they rang up and asked if I'd like to pay off £600 of electricity bill. Oops.
posted by twine42 at 3:11 AM on April 2, 2003

Here's the Egg report on Financial Phobia (PDF) - I'm sure it's really good but I'd rather go to the dentist than read it.
posted by grahamwell at 3:18 AM on April 2, 2003

[extract]Financial Phobia is a psycho-social syndrome which causes individuals to avoid cognitiveengagement with the management of their personal finances. Sufferers experiencenegative emotions of anxiety, guilt, boredom, or feelings of lack of control when dealingwith money matters, resulting in lack of vigilance ­ and in the worst cases completeavoidance ­ in this area[/extract]
posted by twine42 at 3:36 AM on April 2, 2003


Financialphobes are highly intelligent people who are high achievers in other domainsof their lives, such as careers and family lives.
posted by twine42 at 3:37 AM on April 2, 2003

dunno if this is the same thing, but my mail comes from a slot in the door and is foot-swept (to the right) into a pile, junk and all, until about the 5th of the month when I sort it all out.

I also never open my bank statements. And one time I found a paycheck that was like 5 months old in a pile of papers on the floor on the side of my desk

One day I found out that the Visa atm/check card from the bank will let you keep on a-spendin' even if your checking account is tapped... charging your $30/trans all the while. I told the bank that was the most ridiculous policy I'd ever heard of. Apparently it is in the fine print.
posted by btt at 3:54 AM on April 2, 2003

jesus. some of my most powerful childhood memories are of my parents screaming at each other in rage over money. i've never learned to handle money well. i went through a phase after a co-worker once said to me "you are a grown man - how can you NOT know how much income tax you must pay this year???" where i was so shamed i tracked everything meticulously for a couple of years. now i'm back to not caring. my dad is so monetarily anal he can tell you how much money to the penny he will have in his left pants pocket next november (pick a day). in a lot of ways i simply despise money. and, i thought i was the only one.
posted by quonsar at 4:32 AM on April 2, 2003

posted by Witty at 4:44 AM on April 2, 2003

i only changed when I realised how much money i was wasting by being in debt and paying late.

I also want a new motorbike and have moved in with my bird so money has taken on an all new importance.
posted by Frasermoo at 4:53 AM on April 2, 2003

This is so me! I put bills on the counter to HOPEFULLY be dealt with at the end-of-month. that happens sometimes... but just this last saturday, i paid soooo many bills! First time in months, and I feel damn good about it, cos this text describes me to a TEE.

I think it's avoidance, fear of the unknown - I bet each person afflicted with this "conditiion" shows telltale signs of similar coping methods.. to.. ehr... anything that we don't want to deal with? heh

So I'm not the only one that holds his breath when opening the bills? (I tear the envelopes to shreds, the suspense kills me)
posted by shadow45 at 4:56 AM on April 2, 2003

Been there, done that shadow. ;)
posted by twine42 at 5:23 AM on April 2, 2003

Just to chime in with my kindred here: Every few years, when I get around to doing my taxes, I have to call the IRS to find out which years I submitted a return and which years I still need to. (This is changing now that I potentially owe $$ rather than being owed.)

I hate $$. Heck, I hate numbers. Couldn't we all just barter?
posted by Shane at 5:36 AM on April 2, 2003

It runs in the family. When I left college my dad forgot to cancel my maintenance - for two years he didn't notice it going out and I didn't notice it coming in. How we laughed (not!). To clear it up I asked him for his accountants telephone number and called them. They confessed, we're not actually accountants, we are lawyers. They had been charging him for years for accountancy and subcontracting the work. I think he sort of realised he was being ripped, but preferred not to think about it. I understand.
posted by grahamwell at 5:44 AM on April 2, 2003

Oh gosh, I AM amongst friends here.

For a few years, I managed to keep it all under control. I entered every payment into Quicken and balanced it at the next bank statement. It didn't last. Now, the mail and bills pile up on the coffee table. I keep telling myself I'll deal with them.

For the last several days, I've been letting the answering machine get the phone, as I'm being harassed by a few collection departments.

If I didn't have an accountant, I might never file tax forms. I wish him a long and healthy life.
posted by swerve at 5:51 AM on April 2, 2003

That's it... *goes to peek inside that envelop that's been sitting on my desk for a few days now...*

I think it's time for my dental appointment too. Such a lovely day this is turning out to be. Can I go back under my rock now?
posted by Space Coyote at 5:57 AM on April 2, 2003

My name is Rod and I can't handle Money.

Me neither. Anybody got a dollar?
posted by jonmc at 6:00 AM on April 2, 2003

I pay my car insurance in installments. Usually I pay ahead of time 'cuz I know I'll forget to pay. Still, my insurance policy has been cancelled at least three times because I didn't open the bills and thought I was paid up. My agent is getting sick of me asking him to rewrite my policy again.

Oh yes, never ever get involved with a bank called GE Capital.

Charter Bank in NY once stuck me a good one: I closed out an account by mail, sending them a check to cash for the several dollars left in my account. They cashed the check--then charged me another several dollars as a "closing fee"... resulting in a hefty overdraft fee.

They could have just took the "closing fee" out of my check. Dirty trick...

I hate $$, numbers and banks.
posted by Shane at 6:01 AM on April 2, 2003

i used to be like that - had unopened bills, bank statements etc piled up for half a year at a time - until someone accused me of being afraid of money and that it was weak and girly of me. that really pissed me off and spurred me on to paying close attn to my finances. now i'm well overboard in the opposite direction and check all my accts and portfolios every day - but that's so easy with free online banking. thing is tho' since i changed my ways i've never had so much money and been able to do so many more things with it - i sure as hell didn't have a portfolio before. as soon as i started paying attn my money really started to work for me. good place to start is to stop calling it money and start calling it my money. i think a lot of us go around thinking it's not really ours, that it's on loan from our employers or some such thing, or that we don't deserve it...
posted by t r a c y at 6:13 AM on April 2, 2003

Ditto what Summer said. It's all part of "not wanting to face up to unpleasant facts." And bank statements are "unpleasant" and they are hard cold "facts." I'd prefer to think the essential truths of my life are not as mundane, banal and quotidian as those (unopened) bank statements.

Like others here, I feel better already. It's always good to know that others are worse off than you. Schadenfreude rules!
posted by kozad at 6:29 AM on April 2, 2003

ME TOO!!!!!!

I write a little column for the Spanish edition of PC PLUS magazine, until last year it wasn't necessary to send them the invoice, but things changed and I had to make it every month. Well, I didn't send any invoice in that year... I call it a strange way of saving... They called me, asked if I wanted to write for free... how embarrassing....

It also happens checking my bank account through the net... it's so easy and so scary at the same time...

I hate to spend time worrying about money, but at the same time I feel so dumb when I have to pay fines and late penalties...

Wow! This post made me feel that I am not alone... although there's a saying in Spanish that goes like this:

Mal de muchos, consuelo de tontos, or "dumb people feel better when the wrong are many," or something like that...
posted by samelborp at 6:39 AM on April 2, 2003

I save my bank statements, but I don't open them. I pay all my bills via on-line banking, and put reminders in my calendar when they need to be paid, but I can't sign up for any auto-drafts because it's anybody's guess whether I'll actually have the money on the day they are due.
I have never in my entire life been able to balance a checkbook and the little register in my checkbook is not only blank but the calendars are two years out of date.

I overdraw my checking account about once a month, just because my head is way too deep in the sand to pull up the online banking and check my account. I've gotten myself into credit trouble with my refusal to accept the reality of my financial situation, but the stress of all those bills and the thought of actually literally dying of old age with a balance still due on my Visa card has forced me into taking some stock of the situation and convincing my dear mother into co-signing on a consolidation.

And I tell you, having to get all that info, open all those credit card bills to check my balances and get the APRs, and actually face the number that represented what I owed creditors nearly sent me into a panic attack.

As much as I was raised by a second generation feminist, and taught the importance of financial independence for women both before and after marriage, I sincerely hope that if my SO and I ever decide to tie the knot, he takes over all the household finances.

PS I dumped all my tax stuff on my accountant this year. He looked at my W2 for my day job and asked, "Did you work in Pennsylvania?" No, I told him. I live and work in North Carolina. "Well," he said, "they've been taking PA state tax out of your check since you were hired in March. Don't you review your pay stubbs?"

Ummm... no.
posted by jennyb at 6:43 AM on April 2, 2003

Oh and as relieving as it is to read how many others have the same finance denial issues, it scares me to think of all the people out there who don't. These are the people who get jobs in banks and make up those rules about being able to charge daily overdraft penalties if bank fees happen to overdraw your account. They know who we are, and they know we don't check these things, and they know we're too scared to learn what we need to learn to dispute their practices.

That's almost enough motivation to get me to go look at my bank balance. Almost.
posted by jennyb at 6:46 AM on April 2, 2003

I'll bet Midas Mulligan is busy scribbling down names right now.
posted by jennyb at 6:50 AM on April 2, 2003

Don't fear the Reaper.
posted by four panels at 6:50 AM on April 2, 2003

Yeah, uh, hi, my name's Johan and I'm a chrometophobe.
[this is good for my self-esteem! I'm not alone!]
posted by soundofsuburbia at 6:56 AM on April 2, 2003

"Hating money" is a phrase usually limited to those of us who have some of it to hate. I say I hate it too, all the time, but I don't think I would if I were scraping three jobs for every penny - then I think the feeling would be much more akin to love.

And I have to say that the logic of avoiding money-related stuff escapes me completely [*ducks*]. Maybe that's the whole point - are we talking about an actual phobia here? Or just something along the lines of avoiding an ex you have a bad history with?

I do my damndest to keep track of my spending, if for no other reason than to avoid all those infuriating overdrafts, charges, etc, to say nothing of buggering that crucial seal of approval handed down from on high like some mysterious financial blessing: my credit rating.

But despite my best efforts, I still can't balance my damn checkbook after more than a few months. I know how much I have within a hundred or so, and that's got to do. Must be my math.

Moving and opening a new account every few years takes care of that problem. Mostly.
posted by gottabefunky at 6:57 AM on April 2, 2003

Step #1: speak to a friend about the problem first

Friends...my secret is out. I feel so relieved now! I really have no idea how I exist on a daily basis but money always seems to appear when I need it.

But I'd bet on one thing. Credit card companies and banks love people like us. Otherwise how would they survive without all those late fees they dole out as punishment?
posted by oh posey at 6:59 AM on April 2, 2003

I can proudly say that I pay every bill, whether by post or online within 24 hours of receiving it. I balance my checking account every 2 wks or so and I never-ever-ever only make the minimum payment on any credit accounts.

I used to be a financialphobe, but I was able to turn it around and so can anyone else. Unless of course you really enjoy fearing every envelope that arrives at your home and every telephone call that may be from a debt collector.
posted by Juicylicious at 7:00 AM on April 2, 2003

"Hating money" is a phrase usually limited to those of us who have some of it to hate.

I have none and I hate it it still.

And I have to say that the logic of avoiding money-related stuff escapes me completely [*ducks*]. Maybe that's the whole point - are we talking about an actual phobia here?

If you don't understand it, you're not one of us : )
Wow, this is the first time I've been part of an inclusive "group" : )
posted by Shane at 7:03 AM on April 2, 2003

Well.. thanks to this article I now a/ know I'm not alone and b/ finally gritted my teeth and paid 1 electricty bills, 2 phone bills, 2 internet bills, and moved a chunk of cash into the visa account to keep them happy for a bit.

What compels us? I mean... 5 years ago sure, I was living hand to mouth and every day checking the mail was a nerve wracking experience. But then I got a decent full time job and haven't had to sweat money since. With the internet I didn't even need to get out of my chair to pays those bills. And it's not just owing people money. When I got a job, I didn't get a tax file number for more than 2 years so paid the maximum default tax rate.. something like an extra 20%. When I fianlly got a TFN i got a 1300 $ tax refund.. and didn't deposit the check for more than 8 months.

Of course, it's not just money matters is it... I'm still not prepared to admit how long it's been since I last saw a dentist... ;)
posted by adamt at 7:04 AM on April 2, 2003

This is me too! or at least partly - *madam hugs everyone here.*
With me it is not so much fear of finance as it is total procrastination about dealing with money stuff. I have the same three stacks of unopened things that the author described. I always live on the edge, right up to or past the deadline. I pay a stupid amount in unecessary fees and late charges.

I am this way about everything in life though, a day late and a dollar short. My tolerant family and friends view it as eccentricity rather than the total chaos and procrastination that it is. Still somehow I muddle by and manage to be taken seriously and avoid imprisonment.

MeFi was made for people like me since it is such a handy little device for sinking even further behind in my duties.
posted by madamjujujive at 7:06 AM on April 2, 2003

I'm with Summer: in my case at least, it's a more general case of putting off dealing with the unpleasant, or in fact anything where I have to take on some responsibility. I think it's just more common to see it emerge with financial affairs because it's one area in most people's lives that you can successfully put off and not have to deal with the consequences for a medium-long period of time.

And, twine42: I was caught out when I'd forgotten to renew my car tax disc, and then overstayed my welcome on a Pay & Display street. I arrived back just in time to see the traffic wardens putting the ticket on my car, and then they took my details and read me my rights because I had an out-of-date tax disc. That was kinda fun. The DVLA got in touch soon after and offered either a court date or an automatic out-of-court settlement for a fee of £20 or something like that. Which was surprisingly lenient, but hey, I'm not complaining. (Actually, I think there might have been a fixed fine as well. But I don't remember it being back-breaking.)
posted by chrismear at 7:11 AM on April 2, 2003

Of course, it's not just money matters is it... I'm still not prepared to admit how long it's been since I last saw a dentist... ;)

I'll admit to receiving accusations of "procrastination" and "under-achieving" in other areas all my life.

Maybe we need a support group to get better? MeFiMoneyPhobes--not-so-anonymous?
Wow, finally a support group I can belong to! The support and comradery of AA has always been appealing, but I don't really drink much. A friend once really wanted me to join, and the conversation went, "Don't you drink any more than that? Maybe you could drink a little more, heh!"

MeFi was made for people like me since it is such a handy little device for sinking even further behind in my duties.

Yes! Mefi as proacrastination device! I hear ya...
posted by Shane at 7:14 AM on April 2, 2003

I need to become a successfull artist/writer, as I already have the eccentric right-brained crunchy lifestyle and need to "justify" it. Then accountants could manage my $$ (which they would inevitably mismanage/steal, leading me to bankruptcy just like Richard Bach after he made his fortune on John L. Seagull).
posted by Shane at 7:22 AM on April 2, 2003

I guess I'm kind of like this, though "financial phobia" seems an extreme word for how I feel - I "avoid cognitive engagement" with my finances due to a titanic yawning lack of interest. I'm a bit different than a lot of you in that I pretty much always wind up in the black. I'm not a big spender and I don't have credit problems; I pay off the thing every month because I so hate having to deal with it. (I am occasionally late with the bills for no good reason at all.) However, I absolutely cannot get up any interest to invest all that saved money or even have a 401(k) no matter how rational it may be. And I never balance my checkbook.
posted by furiousthought at 7:36 AM on April 2, 2003

I have none and I hate it it still.

Shane: I'd (honestly) be interested in your definition of "none." Are we talking not-eating none?

This strikes me, in a very general way, as similar to environmental concerns - ie a luxury, something you can afford (pardon the pun) to worry about once you've reached a certain comfort level.

That said, I'll repeat: I hate money too. Like kozad said, it's the epitome of coldness and hardness, reducing so many otherwise nebulous things ("How much do you really want to see me?" [how much does that plane ticket cost?], etc) to numbers. No wonder it's responsible for more divorces than anything else.

Interesting bit on money, health, and workplace productivity:

A wide range of anecdotal evidence connects money and health. Dale Anderson, MD, says that the three primary causes of lower back pain are not injuries, but fear, anger, and worry over money. Chiropractors report a correlation between back pain and financial problems, perhaps as the result of increased muscle tension. Psychologist Victoria Felton-Collins says that 90% of divorcees cite arguments over money as a major factor in their divorce.
posted by gottabefunky at 7:45 AM on April 2, 2003

The only time I open bank or financial statements is right before I take them to my attorney so he can file my tax return. Right before jumping in the car, I rip them all open and put them in some sort of order (letterhead facing the same way) so it appears as though I might have been paying attention. I don't think he buys it. Perhaps it's the paper cuts all over my hands and the blood on the statements.
posted by jlynford2 at 8:00 AM on April 2, 2003

I think we ought to kill all the people who are too bloody organised. All in favour, say 'Aye'. Good... good... Now, who can be our leader. We need someone responsible who can lead us with conviction.

No, conviction, not convictions.

posted by twine42 at 8:10 AM on April 2, 2003

right before I take them to my attorney so he can file my tax return.


* goes back to reviewing another pile of last-minute tax returns *

The real irony, though, is that after you pay your attorney for filing your return he or she will likely do the same thing that I do - put off doing their own return, or even paying attention to their own financial affairs, until it's far too late.

My name is Phil ("Hi, Phil!"), and even though I work with financial statements and tax forms on a daily basis, my wife took forcible possession of all our checkbooks and bills three years ago.
posted by yhbc at 8:10 AM on April 2, 2003

My name is Paul, and I show no understanding of anything financial. I currently have two mobile phone contracts, but only own one phone, still haven't paid in this month's contributions to the joint account (from the 15th) and generally can't be trusted to open any post that has come from anyone official looking. My fiancee is currently planning on taking over the joint credit card and forcibly taking over the entire monetary situation for the house. And no, I don't have a small dick even though this confession makes me look like I do... ;)
posted by twine42 at 8:14 AM on April 2, 2003

I used to be a total financialphobe, though a fairly responsible one. I paid an accountant to receive and pay all my bills, invest some of the money and put what was left in an account that I had direct access to, so I never knew how much money I had, or what I spent my money on, I just knew that I had how ever much spending money.

I stopped doing this when I realized that I couldn't answer seemingly simple questions like 'How much money do you make?'. I seriously didn't have a clue what my bills were, what my salary was, or what I spent my money on.

Now, thanks to online banking and Quicken, I not only don't need so many services from my accountant, I actually know where my money goes.
posted by mosch at 8:39 AM on April 2, 2003

sniff, I feel out of place.

I have my finances in a spreadsheet, laid out for the whole year. Recurring bills, estimated bills various estimated amounts for credit cards, mortgages, etc. all based on the prior year's spreadsheet.

Amounts are modified as i pay them. Of course this shows me the exact day I would run out of money if I don't pay my VISA credit card bill with my Mastercard.
posted by DBAPaul at 8:40 AM on April 2, 2003

Huh. I fall in the middle. I have *always* written down every single bank transaction I make (ATM, check, automatic withdrawals), but it's only been the last 6 months or so that I've started to balance my checkbook again--moving and getting a new account really helps with that, as do online statements. I had an overdraft in...October I think, and I was really mad about it because it was my first overdraft in seven years.

But, I've had a couple bouts of unemployment in the last couple years, and this last time, I got so far behind that I couldn't catch up. I did a debt consolidation, which has made my life so much easier. Even though an incredibly huge (to me) sum of money exits my account at the end of each month (debt management payment + rent), it's nice knowing that once those things are taken care of all I have to do is pay the utilities and car insurance.

The irony of all this is that while my personal finances are a bit of a mess (but getting better!), people keep hiring me to balance and maintain their budgets, so I must be good at it.
posted by eilatan at 8:41 AM on April 2, 2003

Now, who can be our leader.

I have found our leader!

My name is Shane ("Hi, Shane!"), and every two weeks I hope my paycheck gets deposited before my bills get debited.
posted by Shane at 8:47 AM on April 2, 2003

you are my people!

As much as I was raised by a second generation feminist, and taught the importance of financial independence for women both before and after marriage, I sincerely hope that if my SO and I ever decide to tie the knot, he takes over all the household finances.

i told my boy that's what he has to do.

just reading this thread is making me panicky.

stupid money.
posted by sugarfish at 8:48 AM on April 2, 2003

One of the many things I hate about overdue bills, is all the extra paper caused by reminders. Which ofcourse I can't throw out as they could be vital. Which ofcourse I would know if I took the time to read them.

I think we were just meant to be born wealthy that's all. Then we could afford to employ people who actually enjoy filling out forms and balancing cheque books and other such trivia.

It's not just bills though, you should see my desk. But you have to get your priorities right and for me that's "tidy desk? read Metafilter?...what desk?". I blame Mathowie really.
posted by Tarrama at 8:53 AM on April 2, 2003

They cashed the check--then charged me another several dollars as a "closing fee"... resulting in a hefty overdraft fee.

Arrgh. I had a similar experience several years ago.

Equally aggravating: the company that refused to send me a bill, forcing me to guesstimate what the monthly payments kinda sorta oughta have been. I kid you not. Finally, about a year in, I wangled a bill out of them, and found myself faced with mucho late fees (since, of course, I had guesstimated incorrectly). To use my family lingo, I got on the phone and "spoke firmly," which at least resulted in all the fees being waived. Sigh.

I'm definitely the check-my-account-balance-regularly-and-update-Quicken-ASAP type of person, especially now that my mortgage payments are deducted automatically from my account. It seems to me that having money to pay the mortgage is always a good thing, although I'm aware that some disagree ;)
posted by thomas j wise at 8:58 AM on April 2, 2003

I think you people are all using your fear the wrong way. I'm terribly afraid of money. But instead of hiding from it, I use my fear to drive my massively anal retentive habits. I pay bills before they actually arrive. I have money shifted amongst creditors, accounts and savings automatically. I check balances, charges and totals online 3-4 times a week. I ran an overdraft once, but that was when I was in uni and didn't have any money. I knew well in advance that I was going into overdraft when that cheque cleared but it was a choice between bouncing my tuition cheque, starving for 5 days, or dropping one of my classes.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:04 AM on April 2, 2003

I also can be quite a control freak when it comes to money, which can be a pain in the ass; but I also usually know how much I have, and don't usually buy anything with long-term credit (except dental repairs - I'm in the US). I credit this to my parents not buying me extras/luxuries when I was a young - e.g. fashionable rather than functional trainers and jeans, expensive toys, etc. - which I resented at the time. They emphasised that my main source of income was my paper round (the proceeds of which I used to buy records). They made me save periodic amounts in a blue Post Office book, as a result of which I had to write everything down. I kind of appreciate that now.
posted by carter at 9:07 AM on April 2, 2003

i'm so glad to find out that i'm not the only one!

i used to be excellent about paying bills on time (or maybe just like 3 days late) but then about this time last year i buried my head in the sand and now anything money related panics the shit out of me.

i've never written down my checks, but i blame that on the debit card. i have yet to incur an overdraft fee because i do check my balance at the atm about 2x a month, and i am pretty lucky for that.

if it weren't for the credit card bill (which i admit i'm too scared to go find it to pay even the minimum) and the student loan envelopes, i'd be in much better shape. i had to have my mom get my student loans deferred (i really hope she did...) because those envelopes panic me so much.

i now live in an apartment with 2 other people that seem to bury their heads in the sand as well. we've lived here for... 3 months and have only paid 2 bills so far. not a good track record.

and now i'm panicked just writing this all out. i've really got to turn this around
posted by mabelcolby at 9:16 AM on April 2, 2003

When I went through a terrible period of unemployment at the end of 2001/beginning of 2002 (despite my best efforts, I couldn't seem to get so much as a job at a bookstore, and even killed myself by working at a warehouse by the docks for a few days just so I could buy some food), out of financial necessity, I allowed a tremendous stack of bills to pile up. I would have gladly paid them off, if I had actually had the money to do so. But since I was unable to pay them, since my finances were devoted solely to rent, food (one month had me eating nothing but questionable produce and Top Ramen) and (astonishingly) cigarettes, I soon created a magnificent structure of envelopes, opened without any particular priority and sometimes remaining sealed with little notes that I wrote on them to alleviate tension. I watched this grow over a period of a few hard months. I began to contemplate paper doll patterns.

The letters gradually became more threatening ("Your reply is urgently needed, you unemployed son of a bitch.") and the envelopes soon began coming in with colorful and dire warnings. And if that weren't surreal enough, we had a mailman who always managed to deliver the mail at an obscenely late hour. So after a day of cold calling and resume faxing, there would be this ascetic ritual of examining bills that I could not pay.

One even announced "FIFTH AND FINAL WARNING." I didn't realize that collectors had these interesting and elaborate systems.

I sometimes wrote back to these strange people, suggesting that they hassle someone who actually possessed money and sometimes asking them if they could please stop referring to me as "Ms. Champion." There were, of course, the phone calls, in which I replied to their questions with weird history references ("Did you know that mauve came about by accident because the guy who invented it was looking for a synthetic method of creating quinine?"). I even got one particularly aggressive dunner to bark at me like a cocker spaniel. This was, I explained, a requirement if he wanted me to pay off the bill in full. Somehow, he went for it. And I triumphantly put him on speakerphone, hearing a man unaccustomed to new approaches barking loudly and fulfilling his job description. When I later became employed, I put his company at the top of the list of Companies to Be Paid Back.

Obviously, such a lifestyle (reluctant, I assure you) couldn't go on forever. And eventually I hustled and got out of this mess. A year or two later, I'm in better shape and I pay off every bill with a zeal unseen since Oliver North discovered the paper shredder.

I don't want to glorify this approach. This really was a rough period. All I'm saying is that you can actually have a bit of fun when contending with collections and bills that seem frightening beyond measure. There is, of course, an acceptable risk involved when it comes to your credit. But if you're looking for a little temporary survival, insurmountable amounts that you owe to another can be postponed if you (a) admit to the debt, and (b) make every effort to unravel the organizational chart. If the company is particularly bureaucratic (most collection departments are), you can have the entire company chasing itself and delay the payments until you can find the cash.

You do not have to be afraid. Because things really can change in a matter of months. I suspect that's one of the reasons why some people have such shitty credit or are as bad as this Rod bloke.

(One other tip for the truly unwashed: Deranged letters to food copmanies asking for free samples after being appalled by the nature of the product is a good way to get free grub. I've obtained Coca-Cola and Pepperidge Farms products simply by writing in and saying, "Your packaging has caused me emotional suffering. I'm not sure I can ever have faith in your product again," over the course of a single-spaced, five page letter. So is looking through the weddings section in the newspaper and showing up at various receptions. Just ask for Jack. There's always a Jack at a wedding. )
posted by ed at 10:46 AM on April 2, 2003

I'm one of those who is bad about keeping up with things, not out of fear, but purely out of procrastination. I know I'm capable of balancing a checkbook, because I did that scrupulously for the first several years of my financial life.

Then I read an article which said, in essence, "why bother balancing your checkbook?" I looked back at all the hours I had spent balancing my checkbook, and it occurred to me that I had never caught a single error nor saved a single cent by balancing my checkbook. And I keep enough of a buffer in my checking account that overdrafts generally aren't an issue. (Like others here, I'm one of those who has a general idea--within one or two hundred dollars--how much I have, even if I don't track it to the cent.)

But paying bills I'm really bad at. Mail gets tossed in a pile, and I'm lucky if I work through that pile once a month. The only thing that has saved me is that pretty much all of my monthly payments are now on auto-pay of one sort or another. Before I had done that, I had even once had my electricity cut off for non-payment--and they don't do that until you're three or four months overdue. It wasn't that I couldn't afford to pay, either, just that I hadn't looked at my bills in that long. With my auto & renter's insurance, I was delinquent so often that I finally had to call my insurance agent and say, "Get me a policy with whatever company I can set up automatic payments with, even if it's more expensive than other companies."

I have started to keep a spreadsheet for payments that I only make once a year--usually to organizations which I'm a member of--since a lot of those still can't be set up automatically. It's helped, a bit, although sometimes it only serves to remind me that my membership in X organization, which I wanted to keep up, expired two months ago.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 11:00 AM on April 2, 2003

Hi everybody, my name is Theora ("Hi, Theora!"). I agree w/ furiousthought. Dealing with money is boooring. I pay bills every other month or so. Saved enough so I can pay a month or so ahead whenever I knuckle down to the task. Saves lots of late fees, which I hate. I glance over the bank statement for any egregious errors. Balancing the checkbook is a massive waste of time, as I never caught mistakes back when I used to do that nasty job. Overdraft protection means I can do my seat-of-the-pants money managing and not ruin my credit. All the time I save is available for Metafilter, and other worthy pursuits .
posted by theora55 at 11:04 AM on April 2, 2003

Wow, do I feel guilty. I don't have this problem, but an ex boyfriend of mine did. I used to get so angry with him because I didn't understand what the big deal was. He had money, so I knew he wasn't scared of the bills because he couldn't pay them, which was the only reason I could think of that would make someone like this. Who knew it was a common disorder? Maybe I'll call him up and apologise.
posted by biscotti at 11:08 AM on April 2, 2003

I'm sorry too biscotti, because we've all moved on from your type who don't understand us. Apology accepted on behalf of your former boyfriend, though I'm sure he won't be taking a call from a "Ooh, look at me while I balance my checkbook! Then we'll clip coupons! Together!" type.
posted by jlynford2 at 11:32 AM on April 2, 2003

I hate banks. They're cruel and unusual; until recently I was self-employed and earning great money but would be refused credit and get snippy letters every time I was so much as £1 overdrawn. Now I'm a staff member (earning much less than before) my bank and credit card company can't wait to offer me more. You'd think they'd like the customers that incur penalty payments (more profit for them) but it seems, perversely, its the other way around.
posted by Lleyam at 11:33 AM on April 2, 2003

I use my fear to drive my massively anal retentive habits.

I'm in this camp and to be honest did not know there were so many of you out there. I'm that person at the restaurant who knows how much her part of the bill is [incl tax and tip] and usually has exact change. I know how much money is in all my accounts within 50 dollars. I pay bills when I get them and have never paid less than 100% of my credit card bills. To me, every late fee is another hour that I don't have to do paid work. I do lots of things, but do paid work [for others] as little as possible to keep all my bills covered; I know pretty much how much that requires per month. I have no debt. My car was made in 1978. I made $3,900 last year which I'm not that proud to say is an all-time low. My expenses only run about 50% over that, luckily, and I had savings from last year. I think I just have a head for numbers and this is my sort of OCD way of dealing with it. Except for right now, I generally keep my mouth shut about most of this.

My whole family is like this. My mother thinks it has to do with her folks being kids of immigrants and desperately poor, or having lived through the depression in the US. I'm just happy that my boyfriend has the same financial quirks that I do, it saves a lot of holy-war style arguing.
posted by jessamyn at 11:37 AM on April 2, 2003

Apology accepted on behalf of your former boyfriend, though I'm sure he won't be taking a call from a "Ooh, look at me while I balance my checkbook! Then we'll clip coupons! Together!" type.

Actually, we're still very close friends and have been for nearly twenty years. But don't let that get in your way. ;)
posted by biscotti at 11:53 AM on April 2, 2003

Oh yes, never ever get involved with a bank called GE Capital. I was threatened with a CCJ because I was only two days overdue with a payment.

Sounds more like a reason to pay your bills on time more than a reason to not get involved with this bank.

But yeah, banks can be bastards. I recently discovered I had about $60 sitting in a checking acccount in Michigan. (I had checking overdraft protection that I'd run up, and was paying it off through a credit counseling service. When I paid off the account, the service kept sending them a payment even though I'd told them to stop.) They were charging me a $10 per month service fee on the account, so I wrote to them and asked them to close it and send me the funds. Naturally, instead of acting on my request immediately, they waited until the next month, took their $10, and sent me $50. Thanks, Bank One!

Sprint PCS did something similar to me. I had to pay them a deposit when I got cell phone service from them due to my less-than-perfect credit. When I closed the account, they conveniently kept "forgetting" to close it for three months until they had sucked half of my deposit out. At last they finally sent me what was left. I chalk this up more to the fact that Sprint is a batch of incompetent assclowns than to outright malice, though, as evidenced by the hoops I had to jump through to get them to change my billing when I changed banks.

Another bank once bought my credit account from another bank and issued me a new account number, never sent me notice of this fact, stopped sending me statements entirely, and then threatened to take me to court since I hadn't made any payments for six months. (Since they weren't sending me statements, it was easy for me to overlook paying them, since at the time I had about a dozen credit cards.) Naturally I recognized neither the name of the bank nor the account number and told them so. They didn't like to hear this, and we went back and forth with abusive phone calls for several weeks until they finally got around to telling me which account they had taken over.

These experiences (all related to a credit hole I dug myself into several years ago) plus being laid off twice in the past two years served to strengthen my resolve to keep on top of my financial situation. At my situation's nadir, I hated receiving bills so much that it made me clinically depressed. Now I'm out of that quagmire and I live a lifestyle that can be sustained even if I'm unemployed for several months, and while I still don't keep a register for my checking account, I do check my statements online every few days and I generally always have a decent idea of how much I have and what I owe. Every payment I have to make, except for my rent and a loan I'm repaying to my father, is done electronically now, and I haven't been late on one for quite some time.
posted by kindall at 12:30 PM on April 2, 2003

I hope this sickening group-empathy thing motivates a lot of you to shape up your financial dealings. As I posted above, I just recently did the "deed" and formulated some strategies to make sure I keep better track of my money.

For me, I think it's all avoidance. I don't want to confront some certain things. So I don't. Until I have to. Bills and finances are one of these things. But a couple weeks ago- in a moment of financial epiphany - I realized that this was really stupid of me. I make good money now, I pay the bills, but I haven't been too active in knocking off some of this credit card debt. I'm about 3 grand (US) in the hole, which compared to some isn't bad. But I don't want to owe _ANYTHING_. I hate owing money. I was once paid up.. a long time ago.. and I felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders.

Maybe people here should share tips or methods? It'd be neat to see something constructive come of all this. I like DBAPaul's idea of having it all in a spreadsheet. I don't want the kitchen sink in a finances program, I just want to see my data raw, and if I need something charted I'll put it into Crystal Reports.

I'm lazy, and I never want to deal with things.. so to avoid overdrafts, and keep my bills 'staged' to be dealt with weekly I bought one of those diner-type receipt thingies (yes, that's a technical term) that you skewer your receipts onto. They go on there from out my wallet, where they are stored chronologically as I buy random stupid things. The system works beautifully, and if you've got the motivation to start reviving your financial life, taking care of "da bills" once a week isn't so bad. When you're on top of things, there's not much to be afraid of. You have an idea of what's coming and how much.
posted by shadow45 at 1:28 PM on April 2, 2003

Oh, and I meant sickening as a tongue-in-cheek thing, lest anyone think i'm attacking my own kind...
posted by shadow45 at 1:33 PM on April 2, 2003

I usually manage to catch up my bills every month, even though I tend to be vague about when they're due (even with the helpful "Expenses/Income" chart I made stuck over my desk to help keep me on track). But now that I've spent my life savings on grad school, I'm free of the stress of having to manage money; I didn't really need that RRSP (401K for Americans) or the $20K payout from quitting my job in 2001, did I? Of course not! And it's all gone now, so no worries.

On the other hand, I'm still paying 10 bucks a month for an "emergency only" cell phone which I haven't bothered to activate for over a year now. And I actually don't have any idea what I owe on Visa--just that I made sure that the limit was lowered to a reasonable amount (enough for an emergency plane ticket if needed). That feels better. Now, does anyone have any thesis procrastination stories to share?
posted by jokeefe at 2:46 PM on April 2, 2003

Oh, and a suggestion: automatic deductions. My cable, DSL, monthly charity donations, domain hosting, and newspapers go on my Visa every month; car and life insurance out of my account. I set up online payments for everything else. It works for me.
posted by jokeefe at 2:50 PM on April 2, 2003

Hello I'm Michelle, ("Hi Michelle")
Dealing with bills gives me anxiety attacks, though I compulsively keep every receipt and bank statement - a year ago I finally got rid of two big boxes of statements and receipts dating back to 1991. Yes, 12 YEARS of stuff. I sometimes engage in retail therapy. I always have a vague concept of what's in the bank, even though I only open bank statements once or twice a year. I get twitchy when my balance gets below $300, even though I can't bring myself to track my spending.

Strangely, enough when I was a kid, I was a total obsessive miser - I managed to stash away $7,000.00 of birthday money, paper route, babysitting, and the proceeds of crappy jobs I held as a teenager. What's up with THAT?

Automatic payments and instant paycheck deposit has saved my life.
posted by echolalia67 at 4:14 PM on April 2, 2003

Several people mentioned student loans, and it reminded me of getting my first payment books for my student loans. Envelopes from SallieMae always said "Please open!" Their web site also emphasized "open all of your mail" as a tip for borrowers. I found this good advice, actually, since any mail from a bank made me say ugh. I wondered if many post-students developed a bill-phobia after graduation. In which case, the some-do/some-don't theory of financial anxiety would need to be modified. Something about the disruption to one's life and identity, in addition to job seeking, or short-tern downward mobility, creates a kind of neurosis.
posted by rschram at 6:09 PM on April 2, 2003

I'd been writing for a monthly magazine for three years without sending them an invoice. You'd think they'd be happy to hold onto the money for me, interest and whatever.

Then I ran out of money from other sources, and decided it was time to collect. Well, they'd had an administrator in a year before and nobody had told me. I lost a lot of money, and I'm struggling to deal with it.

And I'm still writing for them. Times are tough: what can you do?

But I am so relieved to hear that I'm not alone.
posted by chrisgregory at 9:00 PM on April 2, 2003

*raises hand*

I have, sitting next to me at my desk, a briefcase I can barely close any more, full of unopened bank statements, bills, and other artifacts of adult autonomy. Every few months, if I happen to have a little money, it dimly occurs to me that I should pay a bill or two before vital services to my home are shut off. I'll open the briefcase, stack the bills by kind (i.e., electric in one pile, phone in another, and so on), and sort them by stamp-cancellation date. I open the most recent one and pay it; I throw the older ones away, still unopened, and put everything else back in the briefcase.

*shrug* It's a system, I suppose. It breaks down every now and then, mind you. One time, my electricity and phone service were both shut off on the same day. In the middle of a dead-cold winter. I had to go to a pay phone to ask my best friends to put me up somewhere with heat for the night.

Oh, I also frequently get statements from investment services my parents set me up with when I was a kid. I open these every now and then, squint at their arcana for a while uncomprehendingly, then they go in the briefcase. Or possibly somewhere in my filing cabinet. I forget.

I'm neither proud nor ashamed of all this; it's just my life, that's all.
posted by webmutant at 7:21 PM on April 3, 2003

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