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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

Petty cash

How much money do you dribble away, a dollar at a time?

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Americans are spending roughly $48 a week on ... who knows what? They certainly can't remember, according to a new survey by Visa.

The credit card company, of course, is pushing its debit card as the answer for folks who have trouble tracking their expenses. But the survey raises bigger questions. Is it worth tracking every penny you spend? Should you allow your budget a "miscellaneous" category? Just how big and random should you let it get? And, what the heck are you spending that $48 on?

Some of you might be familiar with Parkinson's Law, which says (simplifying and generalizing here) that work expands to fill the time available. Leo's Corollary to Parkinson's Law says that amusements expand to fill the money available. You think, when you start a career, that as you get raises you will start accumulating wealth and building up those savings accounts. What you discover is that you ratchet up your spending slightly every time your salary increases incrementally. You go into Borders and buy two books instead of one. You go to a slightly better restaruant and have two after-dinner drinks instead of one. You trade your car in after four years instead of five. I paid my car off several months ago, which should have resulted in a lot of extra money in my bak account by now. I can't find it for the life of me.

Have you been getting those mailings from the Social Security Administration showing how much money you have earned over your working life? My reaction, when I got the first one, was, "I earned that much? Where did it all go?"


Bob G.
Fri, 09/21/2007 - 10:32am

Well THAT explains why I've got too much MONTH left at the end of my MONEY...!



A J Bogle
Fri, 09/21/2007 - 11:32am

Debit cards and ATMs are exactly the wrong direction to head if you are concerned about where your money is going.

Karen Goldner
Fri, 09/21/2007 - 1:26pm

My great aunt recorded EVERY penny that she and her husband spent. She typed them on little pieces of lined notebook paper and kept them until their deaths (c. 1980), including an itemized list of expenditures from when they moved from Brooklyn to the Bronx in the 1950's.

The stories are amazing and too many to bore you with here, but there is one very funny one which you, Leo, may especially appreciate.

On her daily budgets (yes, DAILY), she always included a nickel for the New York Times. She passed away shortly before her husband, who waited until she was gone before confessing to my cousin that, as a New York Times employee (he was an accountant), he read the paper for free every day. Imagine the interest on all of those nickels that he had been pocketing all of those years!