raiders_of_the_lost_ark_endAs I sit here typing this, there’s a book of stamps pinned to my bulletin board and a box of checks on the shelf of my computer desk.  And I honestly cannot remember the last time I used either one of them.

I remember when both were frequent purchases.  You’d throw in some stamps at the cash register at the grocery store, and you’d fill out the little sheet at the back of the checkbook when your checks were running low, hoping you’d get more before you completely ran out.  You’d grumble about every increase in postage, and try to maintain your entire financial life in a little booklet tucked away with your checks.  It was very low-tech, but it made you feel like an adult the first time you balanced your checkbook.

And let’s not forget the ballet of when a check was mailed versus when it was cleared.  If things were tight, you’d put a date on the check a few days earlier than the day you mailed it, so it looked like it just got stuck in the mail and you could buy yourself a little time.  I knew people who would try to demagnetize the bar code on their checks so it had to be processed manually, which took an extra couple of days.  And if you needed cash a few days before payday, you’d write a check to yourself and hope it didn’t clear before your paycheck did.  Direct deposit and debit cards and automated payments pretty much did away with all of this, but it was a wild ride while it lasted.

Actually, now that I think about it, I do remember one time having the checks actually came in handy.  Two or three years ago I’d left my debit card at the restaurant where I’d had lunch, and when I went to pay for dinner, oops.  No card.  So I was able to run home, go to Publix, write a check over the amount of my purchase, and get enough cash to pay my bill.  Yeah, I looked like a total idiot, but it proved that checks weren’t completely obsolete after all.

As for stamps, you’d try to avoid the trip to the post office and estimate how much postage you’d need.  You’d slap three or four stamps on something just to be on the safe side, and hope it didn’t get sent back.  And everybody had strips of one cent or two cent stamps they’d put out every time the postage went up, so you didn’t have to waste all the current stamps you had.  Now?  Unlike that check I wrote, I can’t begin to guess when the last time was I put a stamp on an envelope and mailed it.

But those relics still sit there for some reason.  Maybe it’s the pack rat in me not wanting to get rid of anything.  Or the idea that I paid money for them, I’m not just going to throw them away.  Or, as my misadventure proved, I’m hedging against the off chance I might actually need them.  Who knows, I might have to go McGuyver and build a boat out of checks held together by stamp adhesive.


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