Monday, October 5, 2009

The Legend of the Pizza

This story has been going around the credit union universe, heck maybe even the entire universe for a quite a few years. At this point you could probably call it a folk tale. I’ve written versions of it myself. I’ve heard other people tell it. The funniest time was when some guy told me he knew the person that this happened to. So hopefully you get that it’s fiction, but like a good legend there’s a rather obvious message here.

There once was a college student who was up late writing a paper and suddenly felt hungry. So he called a local pizza joint for delivery. The answer to his call was the same as usual “Pizza Box, 20 minutes”. He was grateful when there was a knock at his door 45 minutes later. He wrote a check for $20 and ate the pie. After a full belly and a finished paper he gleefully slept. And life continued as usual.

Our student was busy with a full load of courses and juggling a demanding social life. Another thing you should know about our student friend is that he typically made one or two trips to the ATM a day at which time he not only got some cash, but checked his balance. Because he was environmentally aware, however, he always selected “no” in answer to the question, “Would you like a receipt?” He also was a good citizen and signed up for online banking and electronic statements. However, because the student was so busy he rarely looked at his online banking account; in fact it had been almost six months since he last logged on. Still he believed that since followed all these basic norms, he had things under control. But horror looked in what he didn’t see.

As life goes that check he wrote for pizza bounced. The Pizza Box charged him $25 for a returned check fee. His bank charged him $32 for overdrafting (yep, it really is this high, ask Wells Fargo). And he still had to pay the $20 for the pizza. And so that little late night pizza that may have even caused our student heartburn turned into a full blown financial nightmare and perhaps even taught a more valuable lesson than the paper it helped him write.

In some versions of the story the pizza ends up costing the student $100 or more. Some even goes so far as to have him ruin his credit and lose his car or get evicted from his apartment. And, yes, in some versions the student is female. No matter how the details of the story play out the moral is the same, and no it’s not that you shouldn’t eat pizza.

It all comes down to paying attention. If you ignore your finances or are too afraid to look at the reality you will fail—financially. Maybe you don’t want to have a ton of money, but I am certain that you would like to be secure enough to pay your bills and take care of yourself and your family. You can’t do that if you just go through the motions and think things will take care of themselves.

So the first thing you need to do to reach your financial goals is to pay attention. Make the time to look at your finances and set your goals. Don’t do it every day and don’t do a few times a year or even once a month. You’ll have much better control of what you do and where you’re headed if you take 15 minutes a week to review your financial position.

Make it a point. Schedule the time. Involve your entire family. You will control your finances and not the other way around.

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