For many years, and I mean more years than some of my readers have been living, I have saved my receipts and insisted that my wife do the same.
Prior to being married, I made little money, had even littler expenses and kept track of how much was in my bank account down to the very penny.
If I charged $22.15 at a restaurant while utilizing our bank debit card (which I always use as “credit”), I would write -22.15 in the checkbook, subtract the amount from what was in the account, and write the updated amount.
I know; that sounds crazy.
My better half and I have been married and sharing a checking account since June of 1996, and for years I would collect all of her receipts and enter them in our checkbook ledger doing the same thing.
About seven or eight years ago, I mentioned this to my best friend, who advised me how nuts I was for doing that. Since that time, we only write the information about the checks that we write in the ledger, whether it is $25 for our daughter’s weekly music lesson or $3,000 for our property tax bill payable later this month.
As I have paid more and more bills online over the years, those checks go a lot further than they used to and we do not write the information in very often. Perhaps just a few times per month. To take that a step further, my young Millennial boss told me last week that he has not written a check for over a year. We will likely never get to that point unless checks are done away with altogether.
So for the last eight or so years, what I have done upon getting our checking account statement every month is gathering all of our receipts and checking them off against the statement.
Our family averages about ten thousand per month leaving our account, with low months around seven thousand and many more higher spending months in the twelve to fourteen thousand dollar range.
Before you jump to any conclusions, please note that that amount includes $2,500 per month that we pay to our son’s college for his education, mostly paid for by 529 accounts that I spent years saving for. I must also add that a fair amount of the funds that leave our account are invested in our daughter’s 529 account and in my wife’s and my Roth IRA accounts, so I do not refer to those funds as “spent” but as “leaving our account.”
We are not big spenders as compared to many people who we know, but I concede that spending/investing about one hundred thousand per year is more than most American families can afford. I would like to make far more money than I do and I would like to invest far more too. I suspect that the same applies to you since you are reading this.
This past December we spent quite a bit.
I am a Jewish man who strives hard to be a mensch. I strive to be someone of strong character, a person who can be counted on, someone with a great deal of dignity and who strives to do what is right and serve as a positive role model and pillar of support for my two children.
That said, I fell in love with and married an Episcopalian girl who I met near the end of our sophomore year of college at the UW.
My sweet and loving wife loves Christmas a real lot, as do our children. Like many mixed religion marriages, we unfortunately do not participate in many activities with either religion beyond the major holidays (Easter, Christmas, Passover, Hanukkah) and occasional visits to churches or synagogues for friends’ baptisms, Bar Mitzvahs, weddings and funerals. I do attend the high holidays with my mother.
So what does this have to do with receipts?
I’ll tell you.
Early this past January as I was going over our $12,000 of spending for Christmas, Hanukkah, payments for Disney trips, new outfits for our daughter, eating out about fifty times, buying gas for our cars, the lease payment for our new Subaru, doctor’s bills and on and on and on, I thought to myself, “Why am I doing this?”
I have been going over these statements for twenty years and caught a mistake only once. It was a blatant mistake, being charged the same amount twice in a row by a grocery store. Obviously, my wife did not charge $146.73 (I am making that # up) twice in a row at Jewel.
I caught the mistake, called our bank, explained the error, and they credited the $146.73 back. And that was about ten years ago.
So while poring over receipt after receipt early last month, I decided then and there that I had finally had enough of saving and checking every receipt. Even though it only takes me thirty to forty-five minutes to go through it, those are thirty to forty-five minutes that I do not want to go over receipts every month.
It was causing me plenty of unnecessary anxiety going over receipt after receipt. Walgreens, Toys R Us, Godiva, Aeropostale, Whole Foods, Mariano’s, Jewel, Aldi, Home Depot, Jersey Mike’s, Qdoba, local taquerias, Walt Disney World and about a dozen Target receipts.
Altogether, it added up to over five thousand in spending beyond our bills and investments, and I did not even get anything very good!
It was nice getting our children some gifts that they wanted including us giving in and buying our daughter an iPhone, albeit through TracFone and an SE model rather than a 9 or 10 or 11 or whatever number they are on this year.
So I looked over the receipts, which looked kosher to me. I either recalled making the purchases on our statement or knew that my wife did. I dislike shopping so much that, truthfully, I would prefer her to do all of it, which she basically did. I would rather have a joyous holiday season and a merry Christmas with my wife and children than fret over all of the receipts.
The sites that track Christmas spending all have the average American shopper having spent about $967 on gifts this past December. As they all claim that amount per person, I could vouch that our family basically met that number. Once again, it would depend upon your definition. We spent less than $2,000 combined on gifts between me and my wife, but we spent far more than that on our daughter, our son and my wife traveling to Disney World in the days between Christmas and New Year’s.
I do not ask a lot of personal questions of those who I know, but I do ask some. I know that my mother, my brother and my sister do not keep or track their receipts. As a matter of fact, when I am with any one of them shopping and a cashier asks if they want the receipt, they always decline.
I have asked a few co-workers, including my new boss, and all three of them told me that they do not save receipts, but they do look over their bank statements.
I have never declined receiving my receipt once, although I do shop at more and more places that use Square and email them to me, which I do like.
No, I pile up receipts in an envelope every month and ask my wife to put hers in there, too.
I should be more wary of them, considering that my identity has been totally stolen (through Experian) and someone is out there signing up for credit cards in my name.
However, what the piece of crap, very non-mensch thief has not done is charged stuff with our bank cards (yet).
So when our next checking account statement comes out at the end of this week I will photograph the impressive collection of receipts one last time. I will (maybe) share the amount that went in and the amount that went out of our account, some of the highlights and lowlights of our financial month and then next time a cashier asks me if I want my receipt, I will politely say “No Thank You.”