Thinking Inside the “Little White Receipt Box”
It’s no fun getting to the end of the month, thinking you’ve been frugal, only to find an exceptionally monstrous credit card bill or disturbingly meager checking account balance waiting to throw you off. My husband and I were getting sick of muttering “Huh?!” or worse as we watched our money float inexplicably away.
It didn’t help that we had about a jillion ways to spend money. We could use one of two credit cards, write a check, withdraw cash, use our automatic debit card… and we soon found that while I relied on my credit cards, my husband was debiting away, leaving me with an inflated sense of what was in our account and him with a deflated sense of what was on our cards. It was all very confusing.
We immediately took stock of the situation and made a few organizational changes. I didn’t want to give up the credit cards, because the two I have come with such great financial rewards, and he didn’t want to give up the debiting, because it produced such immediate “feedback” on what we had in our account. So, we agreed:
• Our Mastercard, which we got specifically because of its great rebates on gas and other auto-related purchases, will now only be used for gas and car repairs.
• Our Discover Card, which we got specifically because of its travel rebates, will be used only for recurring bill debits (such as the cell phone bill and my monthly orthodontist bill), as well as major purchases, which we will always discuss prior to initiating.
• We will primarily use our debit card for purchases and check the account balance online frequently prior to using. (For us, withdrawing cash felt like pouring water into a cracked cup—dollars would fly out here and there as if drawn by magnetic force—and it’s almost always just as easy to use a debit card or write a check)
Our most important change, however, came in the form of a little white box—our “Little White Receipt Box.” It sits conveniently atop our shoe rack; we see it the minute we walk in the door. We have begun saving all of our receipts, from a gallon of milk on up, and sorting through the box at the end of each week to assess our spending and make sure we stay on track. I went to a school play last night and wrote a little receipt for myself—actually, it was just a scrawled reminder “School Play--$2”—and dropped it in the box. Might sound silly, but after a couple weeks of buying $2 or $3 lunches or Gatorades and not communicating about them, $40 would all of a sudden be gone and we’d be scratching our heads. Once you have to write it down, you’ll probably end up packing PB & J instead.
Anyway, jotted on the top of the box are reminders about recurring monthly debits we’re responsible for on each card or account. Seeing the reminders every day helps us remain mindful of what life really costs—“Oh yeah, I’m still paying off my student loans. Maybe I’ll ditch that latte this week.”
More significantly, the “Little White Receipt Box” has given us a sense of responsibility, probably similar to that dieters experience when they have to write down everything they eat. We know the other person will see our purchase, so we think a little harder before we buy. We also see exactly where the money goes, dollar by dollar, avoiding any sense of mystery and also encouraging us to spend wisely. Thinking inside this box might not be creative, but it sure is easy on the wallet.