Mar 10, 2021

Is Doing One’s Bills By Hand A Retro Pleasure?

Being nostalgia-forward about paper calendars and rotary-dial phones

By Ed Goldman

As we’ve learned, I’m a dinosaur who just happens to wear pants and has a mortgage. 

Examples: I have a desk calendar (paper) and don’t enter any appointments in my cellphone. When people send me meeting confirmations in Outlook, they show up on my computer as completely blank messages, possibly because I don’t use Outlook. This also explains why I’ve never won the Lottery. I’ve never bought a ticket.

Edgy Cartoon

The Bills Collector

I send people letters in stamped envelopes. This is especially true for notes of condolence. I’m just not sure that receiving a tweet that says, “Sorry about your #Great Aunt Larissa’s plummet from Remarkable she was still #Rappelling at 106” is going to provide the comfort and solace one surely wishes to convey.   

While I use ATMs, I prefer to bank in person. I make dinner reservations by talking to real people and call when I need to cancel. If I could, I’d do the latter using a rotary phone: I miss the swish/duhduhduhduh sound of the dial spinning northward then retreating.

And I pay almost all of my bills by mail. This last example of my Pleistocene preferences is rooted in nostalgia, not efficiency, since I balance my checkbooks with roughly the same poise I’d demonstrate if balancing a hippo on my handlebars.

But I used to be fascinated as a child watching my dad, with my mom’s constant consulting, pay the family’s bills. It was a monthly ritual that they even called Bills Night. I realize other families have Tortellini Thursday and, in Jewish households, Mishugas Monday (since “mishugas” is a Yiddish word for crazy, I imagine other cultures characterize the day with a similar adjective).  

Then, too, Bills Night sounds like what you host if you have 14 children and give them each their own individual evenings to spend time with one of the parents:

DAD: It’s Bill’s Night! Where do you want to go, Bill? Chuck E. Cheese? The newest gladiator movie—?

BILL: Dad, I’m 47.

DAD: —the go-kart track? Toys ‘r’ Us?

BILL: Mom called and said to send you home when you got here. 

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Maybe it was the refreshments that made my folks’ Bills Night seem special. They’d snack from bowls of peanuts and raisins (essentially, Chex Mix sans Chex). Sometimes, if they felt they were in for an all-nighter, my mom would make what she considered to be mini-pizzas on English muffins: tomato paste, American cheese and a heavy heaping of oregano, placed under the  broiler just long enough for the cheese to reveal its origins as curdled milk and Fiberglas. 

And my, how the Bubble-Up flowed! My budget-conscious mom pointed that Bubble-Up was cheaper than 7-Up. She later found even cheaper substitutes, which I vaguely recall having names like Lemonlime Delite and Generic-Up.

To be sure, paying one’s bills by hand causes some silliness to set in. 

For instance, whenever I pay the bill for my cable service, the envelope, bill and advertising inserts all tout the wonderfulness and bundling potential of my Xfinity services—but I’m instructed to make out the check to Comcast.  

Then there are the bills for municipal services and my medical plan, which print the amount owed boldly and sometimes redundantly, then have the temerity to include a box for me to fill out indicating “amount paid.” I’m always tempted to scribble in, “Look at my check, Stupid. That has the amount on it—twice, in fact. Once numerically, once in longhand.”

Incidentally, I’m told I’m making serious progress with my anger management. Unfortunately, I was told this not by a clinical psychologist but by a laid-off Yugo salesman.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s Bills Night here at El Rancho Goldman and I’ve got to put some Bubble-Up on ice.

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).

Yes, Virginia

A Weekly Blog by Virginia Varela

President and CEO, Golden Pacific Bank

photo by Phoebe Verkouw

How do we embrace growth and innovation while protecting consumers and instilling confidence? I’ve spent my career in financial services forging a path for that question to travel.

The answer matters more than ever. Thriving economies require well-run, well-regulated and well-understood financial systems. My diverse experience—ranging from leadership in small communities to consulting in international capitals—has given me a unique perspective on business and the economy.

From government regulator to private bank CEO, I’ve had a rewarding career in this rapidly evolving industry. And I’ve found, time and time again, that nothing is more important than ethical business practices.

I’ve specialized in turning around troubled banks. I know firsthand the value of maintaining safeguards and confidence in our institutions

Banking is a dynamic, vibrant and challenging industry—maybe that’s why I find it so fascinating. But at the heart of it all is also a purpose. Banking means a lot to the community, and community means a lot to me. I try to invest my free time similarly in ways that shape the community. Supporting the local arts nourishes my creative spirit, while the time I spend directly interacting with those less fortunate in the community recharges the soul.

So, to answer my opening question—How do we embrace growth and innovation while protecting consumers and instilling confidence?—maybe it’s by embracing the community that allows us to grow with it.

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