A clean wallet is a clean mind.

Call me crazy, but I still have in my possession my first ledger I ever had from when I opened up my first bank account. I still remember the bank vividly, an open spaced building, with windows all around it’s outer wall, but usually with the curtains kept drawn, not that any sunlight ever had a chance of entering since it was neighbored by the local JC Penney’s, a massive brick building that at the time seemed like a flagship of a store connected to the (at the time) main mall in Santa Rosa known as Coddingtown, (link has a little bit about its history if interested, and some pictures of its famous sign).  The bank was San Francisco Federal bank (I doubt associated with the Credit Union of the same name). The ledger is red with a gold emblem of a sailboat, the banks official insignia.

Everytime I went in to make a deposit I would bring with me my small ledger and present it and my money to the teller. I remember once walking in and I did, as I had always done, handed over my small wad of cash (allowance money, so usually bills of ones, fives and tens) to the teller. She took the money and began to count it on the counter. When she finished, she stopped, gave me a look and a smile and said, “Wow you faced all your money. That’s very good.”

I smiled I told her that I had been taught to always face your money and that it was important to “respect your money”. She nodded in agreement and repeated what I had said as if for reassurance, “Exactly. You should always respect your money.” She collected the bills, placed it in her drawer, ran my ledger through her printer and handed it back to me with a smile. I left that day with an impression in my head. I was proud that someone had noticed I took the time to organize my bills, so that all the Presidents were facing the same direction. Although I had been doing that before that transaction, after it I had made it a certain point to ALWAYS face my money.

Alng the way I also learned a few tricks on how to keep your money organized, such as when seperate bills are together, the lowest denomination should be on the top and then work backward so the largest bill on hand is at the bottom of the stack (here is hoping you will always have a “stack” of money on hand). The two reasons I have heard for this thinking is 1. it is more practical, since the more common bills one would go for is the ones and fives so keeping them at the top makes more sense, but also because 2. if you were to pull out your bills from your wallet and flash it around, anyone looking would see smaller bills, and not be so inclined to know if you had larger ones, just in case some stranger might get some funny ideas. I believe there is a third reason as well, one that makes the most sense to me, and that is if you kept your bills easily organized from ones on top to larger bills on the bottom, as you spend money, you can keep a visual track of how much money you still have on hand. Say you had several bills of ones and fives and a few tens and then a couple more twenties in your wallet, and you go shopping. After a few hours you end up at a store, open your wallet for the cashier and you see that the top bill in your wallet is a twenty dollar bill, you can easily guess how much money you have spent, and hopefully forces you to ween yourself off the shopping spree. A mental reality check is sometimes a good thing, and can halt us from spending frivoulousy. Had the twenties been on top, you would be presented with a stack of money and the idea, ‘wow, I have a lot of money in my pocket, I can spend a few of these twenties and still be all right’. That comes to the next thing I have learned about managing money and that is to respect your money.

I am highly over generalizing, but in 2006-2008 I noticed a small (at fist) indistinguishable trend change in the society and it was strange to see that it coincided with the repression that hit us hard in 2008 and something we are still reeling with today. During those two years I was working part time in the vault for my job at a large wholesale store. As a vault clerk I was responsible for a great many things, but my main job was to keep the safe balanced, and keep track of the flow of money that was coming in and out from all venues, including the front registers, the loans that were going out for refunds, the deposits to the bank, as well as the change that we ordered.

The daily deposits and change transactions happen at various times in the morning. After verifying the balance of the deposit with a manager, I was forced to reband the money and upon insistence from the bank we used, make sure that all money was faced in the same direction. This was imperative, if the money was not faced, our boss would get a lousy call from the bank, which meant that she would come in and “relay” the message to us. I never had a problem with it because I had such a strict regiment about facing that I never heard any complaints. This was a common practice until something strange happened at the end of 2007.

One day I was working in the vault and I had received the morning change (which is basically loose bills and coins that were ordered from the bank so that we can properly stock the registers). As I opened up the banded bills, I noticed that almost five hundred dollars in ones, was facing in very direction possible, and not in any patterned way. It was utter chaos. Instead of just running the ones through the money counter I was forced to manually face each bill before rebanding them in the desired ways for the store’s purposes. Instead of a twenty minute process, suddenly the job became a forty five/hour long job. It was time consuming and my hands hurt at the end of the process. When I spoke to one of my peers about it, that not only the ones, but the fives and tens were just as disorganized, my peer said, “Yeah, most banks are not going to face money any longer. It’s just too time consuming for the tellers. But [the store] and the bank still wants us to face the money for the deposit to them.” Since I was only part time help for the vault, I shrugged it off with a slight irk. That is when I started noticing it wasn’t just an isolated incident at the “business end” of commerce. I would pull money from an ATM and the multiple twenties were in disaray. When I would purchase something my change was disorgainzed and almost clumped together. When I would ring someone up, the wallet/purse would be opened and then I would watch as they would take literally minutes to count out eight dollars and change. It was clear, something happened to force us to stop respecting our money. It was a small detail, probably not even a blip on the capital radar, but something that, since it had been a part of my practice for so long, bothered me to my core. I said nothing, and went on with my business at work, at ATM’s, at retail shops, just making it a point when I handed money to someone that it was faced properly, or if I recevied money in a disordered fashion before I placed it into the register I had it facing a certain direction.

Then early on in 2008, the store I worked for went through a radical change in management thinking, suddenly employees that were used to working 30 to 40 were receiving 24 -26 hours a week. Groups of people were laid off, Departments would shift around employees, so if you wanted more hours, you were forced to work in a department that you were not trained in, especially the least desired ones, such as food services or custodial work. We would have to sign memo after memo about how, because of the recession, sacrifices had to be made, employees would have to make do, and if anyone complained all the managers would say was, “The store is not making as much money as they use to. At least you have a job.” I know for a fact that the managers spun these lies to their employees underneath them, because a few times I had a complaint or two about what was happening in the store I had been working in for almost a decade. I agree that we were in a recession and that times were hard. Companies were closing left and right, and even the big ones that always made money felt the sting of the modern times on them. BUT, I was hard pressed to believe that the company was in as bad a shape as they were portraying it.

The first thing I noticed is although cuts were happening across the board to the ‘lower paid’ staff, management seemed to have grown, we brought in more managers, which were required to work forty five hours a week, and instead of the old style where the managers were amongst their employees working the lines, a class system emerged, and suddenly managers were finger pointers, with a “Do this, I’m too busy too help” attitude. Of course this is an over-generalization since not everyone was like this, but over all in my personal experience, the newer managers felt that it wasn’t their job to get their hands dirty… ever. When I had enough of not being able to pay my bills, and that I now had three mouths to feed I approached my immediate manager and voiced my opinion. He flat out said to me, “Deal with it, because what are you going to get a job somewhere else? I don’t think so.”

I said that his attitude was out of line, that although times were tough now, by no ways was this the end of the line for anyone, things would get better, and that if you kept the attitude, he would lose a lot of good employees. I even said that maybe he should start cutting his hours, if the money was so tight in the store, since he made probably three times what I made, and usually spent most of his time walking around avoiding work in the first place.

His response astounded me. “Work is like a totem pole, when you start cutting you begin at the  bottom and work your way up. You always cut hours of the lowest paid workers before you start touching the upper management. Besides why should I cut my hours, I have bills too.”

Say I was out of line, but I said that he was a horrible manager and obviously  had failed out of school because “Everyone knows that if start cutting anything at its base, all it is going to do is fall over.” Let me remind you this guy is not UPPER management, in the bigger scheme of the company he is not even close to middle management. He was just another grunt employee with a set schedule and a pumped attitude thinking he was safe from everything. Ironically a few weeks later he was removed from the day shift where he was responsible for departments that made money and was sent to handle stocking, which still scares me because what if he starts telling employees to pull from the bottom of the stack first?

But I digress. I got a little off track there. The point I was making was that in 2008, suddenly business management (in my personal world) went back-asswards. I was still helping out in the vault to pick up a few hours and whenever I worked inside, I noticed no change in revenue. We were still pulling in big dollars, the deposits were just as big as they were before “the recession” hit. The biggest change, in fact, was that people were not using checks or credit cards anymore, but paying for everything in cash. On the particular days I worked, I saw the check totals for a day drop by several thousand, while the cash totals were up by thousands. Nothing changed, it was still the same amount, but now it was cold hard bills that I had to deal with. And that is when I saw the fallout. The few vault clerks that worked full time were inundated with money, that an unwritten rule was placed into effect. Money no longer had to be faced in the registers or in the deposit. It was too time consuming and as long as the registers balanced out it all worked out in the end. It bothered me to no end. I would count my register and immediately start refacing everything. When customers handed me money in a clump, I would take the extra time to straighten out the bills, rubbing them on the edge of the counter so they would lie straight, refacing before I counted everthing up. When someone tried to short me a coin or two I would say (and still do say), “Pennies make sense.” An odd little pun that gets people laughing and I hope respect the most underminded coin in our society a little more (yes, I know all about the argument of the penny and its validity in society. I’m not going there). My own little revolution against modern commerce was underway and although there was nothing to gain in this battle, I felt I had to press on anyway, because I had felt that when it matters most, the sign of a clean wallet is the sign of a clean mind.

Two years have gone by, employee hours are still in the toilet, a large lay-off occurred that bordered scandalous, we have hired at least one more manager, and the stock for the company has raised almost forty dollars since 2008. News of the company and its profits are well documented, but if you ask one of the managers why the employees haven’t seen any progress in their own jobs the answer is still, “Although the company overall is doing great, this particular store is still not seeing the money it once generated.” Uh huh, sure.

The economy isn’t what it use to be. With that I agree. People are still struggling, the US dollar is weak in international waters, gas prices recently went up again. We are not out of troubled waters as a society. I think we can all agree on that. But to just wait and doggy paddle in the deep waters until an ocean liner of good luck comes by and rescues us is bad thinking, all we are doing is waiting for the sharks to swallow us live. I think that as consumers it is time to take proactive measures on healing the wounds of a crazy out of control spending legislation of the past, of a weak economy, and  hard hit employment ratio, that we need to realize that the economy is not going to be fixed by the government or even by the corporations (hell, they caused the problem in the first place), but it is our responsibility to understand that we have more control than we think. In my personal opinion it starts with the simple act of respecting your money.

Try it. Take out your wallet or purse, dump everything out of it onto a table and seperate it all; do you have more credit cards than cash in it? What about old receipts showing of all the things you purchased and have yet to itemize? Is your money organized or disorganized? What about the essentials that you should be carrying with you at all times; your drivers license, your insurance health card; are these things easily accesible? When you pull something out of your wallet, what is the first thing you grab?

I believe that every wallet should have a picture of your family, special loved one, something you hold dear with you. It can be one picture, but something to keep you grounded, to remind you that it isn’t the cash, or the plastic, but that person in the picture that is the most important thing. Take out everything out of your wallet you don’t use on a daily basis, credit cards that are maxed, coupons for places you never shop at (my gripe about coupons I will save for another day), keep only the essentials, organize and face your bills, and then put them back into the top sleeve. Do this, and then maintain it, just for a week. See if you notice anything different about yourself. Possibly the wallet is thinner, so you not so discomforted while driving, maybe the shoulder isn’t aching as much without the heavy loaded purse weighing it down. Are you still spending as much? Do you feel a pang of guilt when you notice that you have reached the last of your money instead of never knowing exactly how much you had in the first place? Are you using cash more than credit?

Maybe none of this happens. Maybe the change is too small to notice at first. But what I hope you gain is that maybe we, as a whole, become  a little more responsible about our own accounts, that we all survive these tough times, with money in our pockets and not bills in the mailbox, because I truly believe that to turn back the times on this recession we are in (almost out of???) we need to think differently about what we purchase and spend our money on and we can do this by respecting our money, and maybe in turn our money will start respecting us, because I stand by the idea that a clean wallet is the sign of a clean mind.

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