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.