Wiser, But Not Wealthier

Every other Friday, payday, the owner brings in our paychecks, each one signed by hand. I used to think this was kind of quaint, when I first started working there. I was excited to have been hired to work at a pretty classy coffeeshop that was independently owned (that is, not a Starbucks). But the cuteness quickly wore off as I was struggling to find the time to get in, pick up my check, and get it to the bank before noon.

I’m still glad to have this job. I get paid relatively well, considering the joke the government calls minimum wage and the fact that I only work part time. My next check will have my shift supervisor raise on it, and I’m due for a merit raise in August, at my second annual review. I doubt that’ll happen, which is just another not-so-quaint aspect of working for a very small company. Then again, I make more in tips during one five-hour morning shift than I made in an entire week at Starbucks (their tipping system was seriously screwed up). If you average in tips, and if I worked 40 hours per week, I would make almost the same – before taxes – as I did at the corporate gig.

Luckily I have an account with a local bank that happens to be the same one my employer uses. So when I deposit my checks, they go through almost automatically. But it would be nice if, say, the owner just got her signature put on a stamp, and turned the checks over the night before payday, so I could pick mine up whenever I needed to on Fridays. It would also be nice if they would, say, spring for direct deposit.

For the past three years I’ve been paying off all my debt through a credit counseling business that negotiated lower interest rates with my creditors and just automatically withdrew my payments twice per month. I fully admit to making terrible credit choices when I was younger and really shooting myself in the foot. I accepted every $300 line of credit with 26.99% interest because I was making a little under four dollars per hour, had a car payment, insurance, rent, and utilities. The credit lines allowed me to buy clothes and kept me from starving. I wasn’t one of those young women who went into debt because she thinks she deserves the best; I just couldn’t afford to buy groceries and keep a roof over my head otherwise. But once the bills were due, I didn’t have any money to pay them. So maybe one thing would be paid one month, while the other three or four would be 30 days late, then I’d pay another the following month, and so on.

I got my free annual credit report the other day and was thrilled to see my credit score higher than ever, with just about two or three more years to go before any negative information falls off.

A few years ago I decided it was time to wipe the debt clean. When I was working for the publishing company, I set up the payments to come out the day after my direct deposits. But once I left there, was in school, and working for my current employer, there were a lot of payments coming out that caused me to panic. I made about three times what I make now when I was at the office job, so there’s been quite a bit of sweating in the past two years to make sure the money was in my account.

After all those years of budgeting and balancing and switching money around to cover my payments, I wonder if I’m going to break the habit. As of this past Monday, my counseling program is officially completed. I went in yesterday and paid the remaining balance of twenty dollars. They canceled the automatic withdrawal and sent me a little congratulations letter. When I went in yesterday everyone made a big deal out of my completing the program, which I thought was kind of cute, but silly.

But when I went to the store for coffee this morning around 7:30 I found myself a little irritated that the checks hadn’t been dropped off yet. The owner just brings them whenever it suits her; at six the night before, at seven in the morning, at ten, at her lunch break, whenever she gets around to signing the checks and getting in her Mercedes to shower the little people with their meager earnings. Despite the fact that I don’t actually have to get the money in right now, I would still prefer to. The second truck payment is due in a couple of weeks, and, before you know it, student loans. Nothing wrong with keeping up good financial habits.

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