Below the Line

I think I will make a few follow-up posts from the previous topic “Rich Man Poor Man”.  I think these posts will contrast nicely with my little utopian project.  I can also cover several of my larger thoughts by sharing personal experiences which may provide some entertainment for fellow bloggers.  

Today, Christmas Eve, was almost a horrible day.  After spending several weeks working hard in a manual labor type role I got the first pay check that amounted to $273.83.  This check amount was for 38.16 hours of relatively hard physical work.  My old paychecks used to amount to $2,500 per week excluding a nice healthy annual bonus and other perks like stock options and unlimited paid vacation (although you really couldn’t realize that “beni” to its fullest potential).  Unfortunately for me more than half of that would go to my ex-wife and expensive trips to visit my son (I was at one point living and working three thousand miles away from him).  The difference between these two paychecks, excluding the amounts, is that I actually felt like I earned $273.83.  In a very odd way I almost enjoyed the hard manual work as opposed to the business casual office environment where I sat in a nice cozy office and played with numbers and spreadsheets on a computer.  More about this later.

So, I went to cash this paycheck at my bank this morning.  Finally, I would have some cash to buy some decent food and drink.  I handed the paycheck over to the clerk and said I want to cash it out.  She punched a bunch of stuff into her computer and then paused long enough for me to realize there was going to be a problem.  She said something like, “it won’t let me cash your check because you have a negative amount in your account greater than the check amount.”  My account had a negative balance from auto payouts linked to my credit card (interest payments of course) and my son’s health care charges.  The bank had also charged my account over $100 bucks in over-draft fees further increasing the deficit.  I asked the clerk (I was quite embarrassed at this point) if she knew where I might be able to cash the check.  She said perhaps Money Tree would cash it but they would charge a large fee.  She then suggested Fred Meyer (kind of like a Wal-Mart for those of you that have never heard of it).  She said she used to work there and they would cash paychecks for a slight fee.   

I crawled out of the bank and jumped into the car (the low fuel red indicator light was of course beaming) and drove to Freddies.  I was doubtful I would have any success but I had to try.  No cash and little supplies would make for a crappy holiday week to say the least.  I waited in the customer service line and once I got to the clerk I quietly whispered, “do you cash out paychecks?”  To my surprise she confirmed they did indeed cash paychecks assuming the company had a reputable name.  Fortunately, the company I perform manual labor for has a very strong brand name.  She asked for my I.D., made a phone call, talked to her manager, and boom, she gave me the nod.  She let me know that they charge a $3 dollar service fee per $100 cashed.  I said no problem.  But here is the kicker and hot tip for folks that may be in a similar situation.  If you purchase more than $28 bucks of products at Freddies they would give me back the $6 bucks.  

Once I got my hands on the $267 bucks and change my spirits suddenly lifted.  I could actually buy some decent food, wine, and beer to enjoy the holidays.  I felt like a kid in a candy store.  But I resisted my old habits to just blow through the store picking this and that without any consideration of the price.  You see, I never respected money nor thought much about it for most of my life.  That has all changed now.  Not that I respect money, but I realize it is the only currency society understands and accepts.  You can be a wise, nice, generous, caring person, but if you don’t have a buck it really doesn’t matter what type of character you are or were in the past.  There is another side to that coin.  You could be a dirty rotten scoundrel, but if you have money, that carries much more weight.  I am not claiming that I have or do exist exclusively on one side of this coin, but I wanted to make and communicate this observation.     

As I carefully picked my items I observed many folks around me that were also purchasing strange things for the holidays.  Their carts weren’t filled with a big turkey, a huge hunk of ham, or expensive wine and other elegant trimmings.  They seemed to also be selecting very minimal and unexciting items.  I could tell by the items in their carts that they weren’t making last-minute purchases.  These people were stocking up for the week.  At that point, I realized I had joined those that have recently been demoted below the middle class threshold and that we would most likely never get back above that old line.  Here was the new reality — just getting by with the basics yet still owing money to the bank, the mortgage company, the credit card entities, or the government.  I have figured out today how to eliminate one of those blood sucking entities.  Once I get enough cash to kill my negative bank balance, I will close my account with the bank.  I don’t think I will need their services and overdraft fees any longer.  Shit, I can just go to Freddie Fucking Meyer’s and get my cash and groceries in one swoop with no hidden fees — excluding of course the inflated prices we pay due to the profit motive.