A lesson learned on handling personal finances

What CWRU is really teaching

Abby Amato

I have never been good with money. Ever. Even worse, I am awful at remembering passwords to see how much I have spent. Two brief examples: 1) I locked myself out of my computer when I moved to college and, because IT was being difficult during orientation week, did not get it fixed for several days and thus could not access my credit card account, and 2) once I got on my computer to check, I could not for the life of me remember my password to access my account. To fix this second problem, I called my bank’s services to have them reset the password. Unfortunately, I had set a password for accessing my account via phone which I had also forgotten. You can imagine how well that played out. I have since reset my passwords and written them down in code on post-its I stick around my desk because, to summarize, I struggle with memory.

And my issues remembering became quite a conundrum the first month of school. Let me set this up for you: In the beginning, there was $150 of CaseCash on my account. This money made me feel very powerful, like I could buy most of East Cleveland. The first 30-some days of school, I used this money to buy food. I was very intent on reaching my “freshman 15” as quickly as possible. My food adventures ranged from pick-me-up-trips to Starbucks, the Ghirardelli hot chocolate at The Coffee House and the necessary raw cookie dough from Constantino’s market to emotionally prepare myself for the first trip back home.

However, as mentioned above, I am quite awful with money, which, in this case, means I kept no record of how much I was spending. It was not until I had a random craving for Mitchell’s ice cream where the receipt told me just how much I had spent. The original $150 of CaseCash had been squandered to a mere $12. That was barely enough for two naked chicken burritos at Qdoba. I had spent 99.92 percent of my original balance in a matter of four weeks. This realization was both impressive and terrifying.

Impressive because I never imagined I could spend so much so quickly. Terrifying because all that money had vanished into my stomach.

This was the moment I had been waiting for. The gravity of my situation hit me in one sudden and vicious swoop, and my weeks of spending all added up to this one realization, this wake-up call, if you will. And the call said this: “Abby, you need more money.” The logical next step was to phone home. In the interest of keeping this article as factual as possible, I will not attempt to transcribe the entire conversation. But I will give a brief summary of the dialogue.

Me: “Hi, Dad, I miss you and love you and need money.”
Dad: “How much CaseCash do you have left?”
Me: “Uh, like $12.”
Dad: “Abby…”
Me: “Dad?”
Dad: “We need to talk.”
Me: “No, I just need money.”
Dad: “This is an intervention.”

So I was stuck talking to my dad for a good two hours about money and how it works. Of course, it started with asking if I had kept a register of my purchases, which I had not. The follow-up question was if I kept the receipts from all of my adventures, which I had not. The follow-up to the follow-up was if I asked anyone for help yet, which I had not.

Not that I did not know how to keep a register or save receipts or ask for help, but I had stopped keeping track of these monetary matters as school became more intense. All of the systems were in place. I had the Excel spreadsheet. I had the tin with old receipts. And I had plenty of people who were willing to help out. I had just grown lazy and overly confident.

When my dad suggested I start with these basics, I cringed. I am a little too proud to admit that I am not completely independent. I like to pretend I am already an adult, a 35-year-old stuck in a 19-year-old’s body, and can do anything by myself. But this money problem proved to me I was not quite there yet.

I was humbled by my phone call. As my dad pointed out, I am well on my way to being fully independent, but that does not mean I should not ask for help when I need it. If anything, knowing I need help shows more independence than pretending I can do it alone. It meant I was being active. Taking control of my life. Owning my ignorance and correcting my ways.

It also meant I started keeping better track of my money. Promising to do a better job, my dad gave me a second chance to prove myself. My first major changes included spending less on food and treating myself to the occasional Einstein Brothers bagel instead of being a daily customer. When they ask if I would like a receipt, I say yes and keep it with me until I can update my spreadsheet.

I will always need to use post-its to remember things like passwords. I will probably always need to use Excel to remember where I spent my money. I will be dependent on these things. But that’s okay. I am well on my way to independence, and it is okay to need some help.

Abby Armato is a first-year student currently majoring in English and anthropology. When she is not freaking out about impending adulthood, she enjoys various strokes of creativity, determination and passion.