Last Thursday, $2,750 mysteriously appeared on my credit card – not as a charge, but as a payment.
Even on the good days, the subject of money is an anaconda wrapped around my intestines. Though I grew up in a middle class family, my propensity for retail therapy to combat depression and decision to pursue the arts as a career with no solid income source has turned the topic of finance into a boogeyman. Talking about money scares me. Thinking about money scares me. I’m convinced that one wrong move will ruin the rest of my life. At least spending money doesn’t scare me – I’ve always been able to suspend my knowledge of the inevitable consequences of said spending until the bill comes due, at which point the anaconda stirs.
Money management is a crucial part of being an adult. So in my ongoing efforts to resemble the 30-year-old I am supposed to be, I have started regularly checking Mint, an app for my phone which tracks my spending, helps me form budgets, and generally increases my awareness of where my money goes. Last week I noticed 2700 dollars somewhere it wasn’t supposed to be – on my just-paid-off credit card. After dismissing the usual suspects, I realized that the 2700 bucks wasn’t a charge – somehow that money had been paid on my credit card, and, more importantly, it didn’t come from my accounts.
One of the first things that jumped to mind was the episode of Friends, ‘The One With the Thumb,’ where a bank error in Phoebe’s favor results in her getting to keep the money (and a football phone.) Phoebe doesn’t want the cash, so she gives it to her homeless friend, who buys her a can of soda in trade. When Phoebe opens the can, she discovers the titular thumb, and the soda company gives her even more money to keep quiet.
But it wasn’t the dream of a football phone that sent me running to the bank when I discovered the phantom funds. After all, as I told everyone when I relayed the story, I knew no good could come from this. Like Phoebe, I stressed about funds that weren’t mine. I panicked, even though I essentially had money dropped on me out of the blue, because the media has taught me, and taught me well, that there is always a catch, especially where money’s concerned.
Money, as a quantifiable substance, should be one of the few things in my life I control, and yet despite tracking my spending on my phone, it never seems quite real. All those ones and zeroes, all those imaginary numbers hiding behind computer screens and credit cards, if 2700 dollars could just appear out of thin air, why couldn’t debt appear the same way? And sure, the world of finance is all fun and games, until someone comes to collect your assets. My fear, that snake in my gut, circles around the idea that in this digital age, it’s easy to convince yourself money isn’t real, it’s just numbers on a screen, right up until reality strikes.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to buy a can of soda, and hope I find a tiny hitchhiker inside.