Over the Hill

Making a list, checking it frequently

Once upon an ancient time — 1955 to be exact — a young couple named Mamie and Phil were heading toward financial disaster until they discovered the power of a simple card.

Mamie had quit her job because her doctor feared she might lose the baby she was carrying (their first child).

Phil had just taken a new job at a starting pay of $250 per month, plus $2.26 a day for the days he used his car for business. This job was with a personal finance company, so he often went to borrowers’ homes to appraise the collateral value of their furniture or to discuss overdue payments.

That $250 per month was low even then, so Mamie and Phil moved from their $80-per-month house to a $55-per-month apartment attached to the back of the home of a friendly barber who made home-brew in his kitchen.

Phil was clueless about money. But Mamie had been living on her own since she was 15. She turned over one of his new business cards lengthwise, and started a list of monthly expenses:

“Hospital Ins. — $10, Car Ins. — $4, Met (life) Ins. — $2.50, VA (life) Ins. — $6.50.” They totaled $23.

Then: “Car pay — $41.25, Rent — $55, Laundry — $4, Car expense — $28,” totaling $128.25. And finally, she added $65 for groceries making a grand total of $216.25.

She estimated Phil’s total monthly take-home pay, including travel pay, at $275.40. That seemed to leave a surplus of $59.15, but it didn’t really. Other miscellaneous expenses were still uncounted.

Fortunately, Phil had heard a voice. It told him, “Write down all your out-of-pocket spending for several weeks.” Actually it was a man on the radio discussing the preparation of household budgets.

So Phil kept daily records such as this: “3-23-55: Soap dish, pan and toothpaste — .88, coffee — .20, gas — $1.00.”

After a few weeks of that, they had reliable numbers. They then cut out a piece of white cardboard slightly bigger than a playing card. On it they penned two columns, one for each of the two paydays in a month.

In the columns they listed the various amounts for such things as food, utilities, housing, newspapers, insurance, car expenses, clothing, doctors, personal allowances, and savings. Some of those allotments went into the checking account where they accumulated until needed. The rest were given in cash to whoever used it, such as the food money to Mamie.

From that little card and similar successor cards, they drew the power to control their own finances. They always tacked up the latest card in their bedroom. And the one thing they never argued about was money.

Contact Phil Dirkx at phild2008@sbcglobal.net or 238-2372.