It goes terribly.
For two weeks every year until I graduated college, I was the first one at the mailbox. Why? Birthday mail. Typically my birthday mail started to roll in around my older brother’s birthday, much to his dismay. Fingers crossed for the brightly colored envelopes, filled with the green stuff, crisp ten or twenty dollar bills flattened between a cute “you’re older and we care” birthday card (or between tin foil if you’re my grandfather, who apparently doesn't trust anyone, especially the United States Parcel Service.) And if it wasn’t cash money, it was a check, though to my small "totes-understands-the-true-value-of-money" brain, all a check meant was a longer wait to something useful. Something I could exchange for stuff. Maybe I should have started this out by saying how much I love stuff.
So moving out to California right after my 18th birthday was scary on many different levels, but mostly I was afraid of losing birthday mail. What if no one gave my relatives my new address and all my birthday mail got lost and someone else ended up with the money I deserved for surviving another year in this world? I kept myself from dying for 365 days; I earned this! The loss of birthday money was depressing. But the metaphorical kick that came when I was already down was the type of mail that began to arrive on a monthly basis. It was the antithesis of birthday money. It was bills.
These things I had never considered, paying for electricity, for television or the Internet. Paying someone to let me live in an apartment every month – it was shocking. I had to get a job, but that was okay, because I had gotten jobs before. I worked for the theater, and I worked at the pet store. I was good with the concept of jobs. What was unsettling was the idea that money I earned from said jobs would have to pay for these things that were boring. I worked eight hours, just so I could have electricity for one month? Gross. Eight hours of shelving CD’s should be new shoe money, not the ability to microwave stuff. Not to mention that it took three days of 9 hour shifts to even make enough money to pay for the food I was trying to microwave. Growing up went from exciting to a hassle in 4.8 seconds, flat. Bills were my Aston Martin race to bummer-ville.
The craziest thing about money is just when you think you get it, you don’t. I got the hang of half-assed budgeting. Sure, I held my breath at the end of every month, and maybe that last week before pay day and after I paid my rent was a little lean, but hey, if the checks didn’t bounce, I was good. My father tried to teach me spreadsheets, the advantages to online banking, and I tried to get it, but it was like being 10 years old again with birthday money. Except now birthday money was living on this tiny blue card that was accepted practically everywhere. The problem with card money is that you don’t feel your wallet getting thinner until it’s empty. Suddenly, I had fifteen pairs of converse, and top ramen for dinner.
Essentially, I was making all the wrong compromises.
Throughout college, I was still getting financial support from my parents. They wanted me to focus on my education, which was awesome because working full time and going to school full time was leading me down a very dark road lined with mobsters in pin-striped suits with portable gambling briefcases and illegal booze they snuck out of the speakeasies. And sure, they sing and say things like, “what’s a pretty dame like you doing in this part of town,” but in dark alleys that sounds less charming than one who watched a lot of flapper musicals would expect. No, I was one of the lucky few in this country whose parents could afford to help, and while I am forever grateful for the advantages I have, I think that’s part of my problem. I didn’t grow up knowing what it was like to just NOT have money. It was cash in my mom’s wallet, my parents cards always being accepted. It was my father always picking up the tab and scolding me for trying to look at the dinner bill. Don’t be rude and give me that, he would say. It turns out, not everyone thinks that’s rude. Unless you look at it, say something like “oh shit, that’s expensive. Glad I’m not paying,” and then hand it to them. That is still considered rude, apparently.
Overall, money was just there, and if I needed something, I got it. New school supplies, new clothes. Dresses for dances, lunch money. “Mom I need twenty bucks,” and after a lot of eye rolling, if I could come up with a good enough reason, I got it. I didn’t have diamond shoes or a pony in my backyard, but I didn’t struggle.
But now it’s almost like I live in a constant state of denial. I go out with friends and try to pick up the tab as much as possible. I live outside my means because I don’t understand the borders OF my means. I’ve been out of college for almost three years now and I’m still holding my breath at the end of the month. Sure, I’m making more money, and not asking for help, but I’m definitely not considering my financial state a successful one.
So you take a girl waiting for birthday money in a state of fiscal denial, and then you throw her into a failing economy, and the universe implodes. I took ONE semester of economics in high school. Translation: I do not actually get the economy. A hypothetical successful economy went right over my head, so needless to say how much I don’t understand the one we have right now. People are losing money, banks are poor. There’s a guy in a suit on Fox that’s always really upset with President Obama, and Jon Stewart is hilarious, but in a way that I know is supposed to be sad.
When it comes to the economy, I’m the girl sitting quietly in the corner of the room, head down, eyes averted, trying to not to call attention to how much she has NO CLUE what everyone is talking about. I’m the kid in class that didn’t do her homework and is praying to all the Gods she’s ever heard of that she doesn’t get called out on it. I finally stepped out from underneath the protective shield of my father’s intellect, and it turns out the sun is really bright out here in the real world and my sunglasses aren’t polarized.
Last week, Wells Fargo sent out an email that everyone with my particular type of account will now be charged $15 a month just to keep his/her account open. Previous to this email, I was paying zero a month because an automatic transfer of $75 was waiving the fee. Apparently that wasn’t applicable anymore. Apparently something in the economy is different this month, and no one is telling me what. The email went on to inform me that if I had a mortgage with the bank, or a constant balance of $7500 in my checking account, the fee would still be waived.
Translation: If you are poor, you shall be punished.
Remember that Aston Martin that could get me from zero to miserable in 4.8 seconds? It turns out, it can also take a girl from zero to “freaking pissed” in approximately the same amount of time. Bills became “the bank” and then “the man” and I was on a tear. No one could run, no one could hide. Eleanor Angry.
“You mean to tell me,” I said, breath held for as long as my temper was tamed, “that I am supposed to pay you $175 a year, just to keep my money there? That’s <insert non-classy, colorful language here.>”
Then I received a notice that a fee had been taken from my saving account for “Excessive Activity.”
So I asked the age-old trouble-inducing question: Why? Why did the bank deem it fair and necessary to take that money from me? I discovered that apparently, there is a federal law that limits the number of times you can take money from your saving account in a month. Regardless of what you put in it, if you have more than six transactions in a month, they charge you $10.00 as an “excessive use fee.” So the government has decided that there is a limit to the number of times I can move my money from my account to my other account. And if I do it too much, they’re going to take $10 from me.
Thirty dollars was removed from my account before anyone said a damned thing to me.
And that’s what gets me about the bank. They can just TAKE money from you. Like, it’s there, and then it’s gone, and they don’t even ask. I work a job that makes me cry because I hate it so much, but I show up because I understand to an extent that I have to because it’s part of being an adult. Sometimes life makes you cry but you keep going and you push through it because those are the rules. I follow the rules. And the bank takes thirty bucks from me.
And what’s this law even for? What is the purpose for “Regulation D?” Apparently, this law was put in place as part of an anti-terrorism, anti-money laundering counter measure.
Pardon my language but, are you fucking kidding me?
Isn’t there some way to assess the account in question before just taking money from it? Like, hmmm, this client has under $7500 dollars in her account (way under) and seems to just really like coffee. Maybe she isn’t a sleeper cell. Oh look at that, she’s an audio engineer who also gets direct deposit from a well known book store. If she’s laundering money, she’s really bad at it. Maybe we don’t assume she’s in violation of horrendous federal crime and we LEAVE HER THE HELL ALONE.
But no, they needed that thirty bucks to pay off the mortgage on that fourth summer home in Panama he got stuck with in the divorce.
Dear Wells Fargo slash The Man slash The Government,
Thanks for the consideration. I did, at one point, think to launder millions of dollars to off-shore accounts like I saw in that episode of The Mentalist last Thursday, but after you fined me ten dollars for excessive activity, I decided against it. You just saved America, again. I have been successful thwarted, and will no longer be living the life of crime I had once envisioned.
p.s. I know you didn’t get it, but that was sarcasm. I hate you. You owe me $30. And a keychain.