To Bills, With Love

June 17, 2014


My bank account offers a feature, common these days, that lets me set up automatic payments for all my bills. They started offering it ages ago. But month after month, year after year, I somehow never got around to signing up for it.

Friends who used “billpay” told me it was great, a major convenience, a huge timesaver, an ingenious alleviator of sundry headaches. Still I avoided it. Finally I asked myself why. And immediately realized the answer:

It wasn’t a Luddite thing, and it wasn’t that I was paranoid it would go Hal 5000 on me and spend all my money when I wasn’t looking. The truth was simpler and, you might say, weirder.

I liked writing out those checks.

When I was young, paying every month’s bills was a source of great stress. Typically I had more bills than cash (typically well more), so paying those bills was a constant and sometimes terrifying juggling act: weighing how to prioritize the available dollars and parse out the minimums, calculating which payables I could safely hold off, and for how long, and which I could pay part now and part later, and which I just had to pay in full right now.

(As you already know from my repossessed Lexus story, I didn’t always get that right.)

I often went whole months with those nagging questions tugging at my psyche thirty days out of thirty.

Then one day, as I sat at my desk feeling the acid clench in my solar plexus, it suddenly occurred to me: I was angry. Angry that I didn’t have enough, angry that I had to let go of the precious little I had, angry that even once the checkbook was drained empty I would still owe more. Every one of those checks I wrote, no matter how large or how small, was dripping with resentment.

I was spending money negatively.

No wonder I was living in negative cash flow!

So I made a decision: I would start paying my bills positively.

I started by asking myself, what did I enjoy spending money on? I had to stand up and pace my little room to think about that. “I love spending money on books,” I thought, “because I love to read.” I also loved to spend money on music, because I love listening to it. I loved spending money on good food, because I love to eat. You see the pattern.

It was a start, but Mann does not live on bread and books alone. What about my rent?

Well, what about it? Did I love living under a roof? Of course I did. What about having electricity in my apartment? Wearing clothes? Having a car to drive? Yup, loved all those things.

I sat back down at my desk and started writing a check to my landlord. Feeling my chest tighten as I filled in the AMOUNT box, I made myself take a deep, slow breath, and say, “Thank you for giving me this place to stay this month.”

It took a while to get the hang of this, because I still had plenty of nagging worries. Money was, after all, still tight.

But that didn’t mean I had to be tight with money.

And that’s why I’ve been resisting using that online billpay service. I’d years ago come to the place where I loved sitting down and going through the process of pulling out those bills and paying them each, one by one, writing out and enveloping and addressing and lick-stamping all those checks by hand.

They had become love notes to the universe.

Last month I finally began using that online billpay service. And I’m happy to admit, it really does save a bunch of time—time I can fill instead with reading, or taking walks, or, hey, sitting under a tree thinking about what I want to say in my next blog post. When it’s time to pay the bills, I just go online and click a button.

And I make sure to remember to click it with love.


  1. Laura Atchison

    I can feel the love! It reminds me of when I heard you speak at The Big Event and you talked about Lack. The message still resonates with me as this blog post will too. My takeaway is find a positive in the negative and shift the thinking.

    • jdmann

      Agreed! — only I’m not sure it’s “find a positive in the negative,” because I’m not sure there really was a negative there in the first place … I may have just made up that it was negative. The actual fact and math of the bills and the cash? Just numbers. 😉


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