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Jewish World Review
Feb. 23, 2006
/ 25 Shevat, 5766
Checkbook diplomacy begins at home
Don't you hate the way some media outlets will knowingly distort the truth or print unsubstantiated rumors about celebrities, just to sell a few more papers? (I mean, unless it's something really juicy?) Take the example of Britney Spears' husband, Kevin Federline. Ever since these two had a baby in September, the press has been all over poor K-Fed, accusing him of spending so much of Britney's money that she may be forced to cut short her maternity break to start performing again.
No reasonable person wants to see (or, more precisely, hear) this happen. But the truth is that rather than "wasting" the couple's money, Mr. Federline actually has been busy at home, making much-needed improvements to the couple's Malibu beach house. Here's how he recently described the renovations:
"I designed our backyard. We've got a pool, a grotto, a barbecue area," he told an interviewer. "The key piece is the shark tank. It's probably like 600 gallons. A flat-screen TV comes up in front of it. It's like a tropical paradise."
Mr. Federline: On behalf of the entire media establishment, let me be the first to say, "I apologize." We could not have been more wrong about you. Spending a little extra to make a house livable is no crime, especially since you clearly understand the importance of raising young a young child in a home where there's love, supportive parents and a large tank filled with sharks.
Besides, it's not as though Britney and Kevin are the only couple feeling the bite (ha!) financially. Money troubles consistently rate among the most common sources of marital discord, along with infidelity, alcohol abuse and whatever topic was covered on that day's "Oprah."
My wife and I avoid these kinds of disputes by maintaining separate bank accounts and credit cards. This system works well because it allows us to buy presents and still keep them a secret from each other. She's frequently surprised me with thoughtful, unexpected gifts she's purchased on the sly with her credit card. Similarly, I've also used my credit card any number of times to buy thoughtful, unexpected gifts for me.
When it comes to handling our joint finances, however, my wife takes full responsibility. This only causes stress when she tries, but inevitably fails, to balance the checkbook. Night after night she'll sit at the dining room table, frustratingly banging away at her calculator over an $18.11 discrepancy. After about a week of this I'll offer some assistance. "Wait," I might comment, "did you say $18.11? Because that's how much I charged one time last month on the ATM card at the gas station. Here, look — it's the only item listed on the second page of the bank statement I've been using to make paper airplanes." Needless to say, I've gotten used to nursing calculator-shaped bruises on my forehead.
Thankfully, these problems never arise when I balance my own checkbook. That's because I use an effective yet time-saving system by which I assume that whatever the bank says is accurate and merely "adjust" the information in my checkbook register accordingly. Then I turn on the TV.
Admittedly, this approach is not generally recommended by money management experts (except for the part about watching TV — most money management experts make their living by appearing on TV). But it has helped illuminate the source of my cavalier approach to checkbook balancing; it's because everything I know about banking came from playing Monopoly as a kid. No wonder I still mistakenly believe that all bank errors are in your favor — and you get to keep the money!
(Possibly to help with the purchase of a railroad.) Plus, in the off chance I ever do run short of money, I know I can always pick up extra cash by taking second place in a beauty contest.
I am trying to improve, however. I've learned the often painful lesson that bank statements aren't for making paper airplanes. Also, following K-Fed's example, I'm focusing on improvement ideas around the house instead of spending money on presents for myself.
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© 2006, Malcolm Fleschner
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