'Matter of Laugh or Death,' the award-winning humor column
By Bill Dunn
Interesting observations on this thing we call life
(appearing each week in the Republican-American newspaper, Waterbury, CT)
DISCUSSING A DIFFICULT SUBJECT
Just before our oldest daughter left home last fall for her freshman year at college, I sat her down for…THE TALK.
“This is a little awkward,” I stammered, “but there’s something we have to discuss.”
“Oh, Dad, I already know about that,” she replied. “I had Health Class in high school, and besides, years ago Mom talked to me about sex.”
“Sex? Who’s talking about sex? We have to discuss something much more frightening and dangerous: money.”
“Money? I already know about money,” she said. “Whenever I need any money, I just ask you or Mom and suddenly it appears.”
Oh boy. Do you see why THE TALK can be so awkward? The first topic we discussed was using a checkbook. I have a lot of expertise with checkbooks, having used one for over 25 years, the last ten of which included remembering to subtract the service fee each month. (The concept of “checking account service fee” was explained to me around 1993, which helped clarify that nagging $700 discrepancy.)
Checkbooks are actually quite simple. The math involved is easy—no algebra, geometry, or calculus—just add, subtract, add, subtract, add, subtract. (Or more accurately, add, subtract, subtract, subtract, subtract, subtract.) When money is deposited into the account, it’s called a credit, and when money is taken out of the account by writing a check, it’s called a debit. The other part of the checkbook, where the amount of each check is written down, is called the ledger. It is crucial to get into the habit of writing an entry in the ledger at the same time each check is written, because it’s impossible to remember the exact details three or four weeks later. (Such as the time I looked at my checkbook and said, “Uh oh, check number 2366 is missing. Hmm, let’s see, what did I use that check for, was it buying new socks at J.C. Penney’s, or was it a big screen TV at Circuit City? Oh well, I’ll just put down 20 bucks. Close enough.”)
I told my daughter that it’s very important for her to balance her checkbook on a regular basis, say, every Winter Olympics or so. Otherwise, a simple little math mistake may cause her to think she has more funds available than she really does—for example, calculating a one-hundred dollar deposit as if it were a one-million dollar deposit. This could cause her to make an unwise financial decision—for example, deciding not to have lunch at the Student Dining Hall but instead to charter the Concord and take all her friends to Paris for lunch.
The next major monetary subject we discussed was credit cards. I explained that credit cards are just as addictive as heroin, only much more harmful. I warned my daughter that because she is now in college, financial institutions from all over the country will be sending her credit cards in the mail and enticing her to use them as often as possible. (“Dear valued college student customer: Did you know the Concord can cross the Atlantic in just a couple of hours? Did you know the best way to make friends is to buy them lunch? Did you know we’ve already made reservations for you at Chez André-on-the-Seine?”)
The third issue we discussed was how to get money in the first place. “There’s only a few ways to acquire money,” I explained. “A person can steal it, inherit it, or win the lottery. Now, of course,” I continued, “stealing is not an option; and in your case, inheriting money is definitely not an option; and since you’re a good math student, you already know winning the lottery is statistically impossible.”
“Well, then, what can I do?” she asked.
“There is one other method,” I said. “You’d better sit down before I tell you. Scientific research indicates that there is a direct correlation between a steady income and…going to work each day.”
I had to wait until the smelling salts revived her before explaining taxation.
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