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Money For What, Exactly?



I don't know, really. Money comes in. Money goes out. But since I stay in and don't go out, cash is no longer king. Credit reigns supreme and since the accounting/budget system for the Lourie family business is rarely written down/planned for, I don't know from one expenditure to the next, where the money goes, unlike John Prine  knew  when he sang about "Sam Stone" when he came home.

As the spouse responsible for the business side of the marriage, it has been my job to financially plan what the family can and cannot afford. And since both earners were commission/tip recipients, the task of managing that cash flow, unpredictable as it occasionally was, took some emotional wherewithal. Nevertheless, we survived the ordeal, mostly, and now, as it has happened that all of us are consumed by pandemic-related pressures/procedures, our compensation history/experience has prepared us to ebb and flow with the times. But instead of spending money when we may have it, now we're spending money when the goods and services we need are available, which is similarly unpredictable as our dual incomes used to be,.

The result of this inconsistent and 'unpredictable' availability is that when any of the goods and services are available one must buy immediately regardless of cash on hand/in-wallet or credit balance in tow or risk being shut out completely: "No soup for you," from a long-ago Seinfeld episode, so to speak (although my wife, Dina does like soup and therefore it is a regular item on our shopping list.) Accordingly, during these pandemic days, one must strike (buy) when the iron is hot, cash on hand be damned, and worrying about your credit card balance also be damned. We all need what we need in our homes/for our families and lack of paper money is not going to stop any of us from purchasing what staples and peace of mind a piece of plastic can offer. And thank God for those pieces of plastic with the magnetic strip. They're certainly getting a work-out these days providing aid and comfort - of a sort, to all of us non-essential people staying at home.

And while we're staying/consuming at home, we're no longer letting our fingers do the walking through our local Yellow Pages. Instead, we're Googling our way, pointing and clicking, and then entering our credit card information while trying to keep our respective family business afloat. The evolving problem for me, however, is accounting for all these purchases and wondering if we're ever going to receive them, how much was actually charged and was the purchase even worth it, given the wait. Still, since we're all housebound, there are so many more purchases that have to be made over the phone/online that what control I used to have when in-person, spending the cash in my wallet, I no longer have. Now, I have to charge almost everything and then wait for the monthly credit card statement for an accounting of what financial damage I may have done. And by that time, 30 days or so later, I likely can't undo any of the damage because the customer-service operators are not available like they were during the pre-pandemic days or in some cases, not even taking calls. Resolution, clarification, compensation? Heck no. All you're likely to get is frustration, and that's after "extended waiting times."

And that previous paragraph's presumption is that I even know what I'm talking about (what I bought, where, when, how much, etc.). But the real point of this column, which concerns me more, is accounting for the purchases that I don't know about/haven't received. It reminds of a joke I once heard, David Brenner, a comedian from Philadelphia and a regular on The Johnny Carson Show tell: "It's not the mosquitoes I hear that I worry about, it's the ones I don't hear."

Three months plus into this pandemic and our new normal has become fairly familiar. The problem is that familiarity has bred some contempt.


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