My heart sank as I re-read the notice from the bank. Overdraft Slip: Jewel-Osco -$23.39. Returned check fee: -$20.00.
I thought I had enough money in my checking account when I bought food to make a spaghetti dinner for my friend's birthday. Apparently not. The minus sign by my new balance showed me my slip-up was going to cost me a good chunk of money.
Desperate to figure out what went wrong, I tried to remember my most recent purchases—a book for class, a new album, running shoes, my telephone bill. Anything past those seemed to blur together in my mind, lost amid other things I was trying to remember, like important dates in the history of China for my exam tomorrow. My next bank statement would reveal some of my forgotten transactions, but I would probably never figure them all out because sometimes I spent cash.
"This is ridiculous," I moaned. "How responsible is it for me to rely on my bank to sort out my finances? I really need to start writing it down each time I spend money."
I'd intended to do that ever since I started college. What had kept me from it?
The answer immediately popped into my head, as if God had whispered it to me. It was pride, partnered with lack of discipline. I could keep track of expenses in my mind, I had told myself, when, truthfully, I was just too lazy to write them down.
How could these sneaky little vices slide their way into the way I handled money? Their existence was both unsettling and motivating. I knew I couldn't afford to ignore my bad habits any longer.
I now have a record of exactly where each cent goes, which keeps me accountable to budget money responsibly. It also saves me from spending more money than I have, and from needing to use four hours of pay from my job on an overdraft fee. I only wish I had realized sooner that my brain doesn't have the memory of a computer and that a little organization really does pay.
Ali is a senior at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois.