People like to joke about “when I was your age,” but the fact remains that the cool, rebellious grunge kids of Generation X have grown up into the responsible 30 and 40-somethings of today. They will be the last generation to handle finances in the old pen-and-paper way, and while these changes have unfolded gradually over some years, it’s sometimes jarring to think about how money was handled “when I was your age.” Consider the way these things have significantly changed:
20 Years Ago: That checkbook that you keep shoved in a drawer? 20 years ago, that checkbook was your lifeline; you needed it to pay and mail every bill, making record keeping utterly important, as well as a large supply of stamps to send all those payments in.
Today: How do you want to pay your bills? Today, the choice is up to you. You can use the old way of sending a check. You can keep a credit card on file for automatic payment. You can send your bank or credit union account and routing numbers to your online account for payment. You can also use various services such as PayPal or your financial institution’s billpay system. Digital banking is all about flexibility.
20 Years Ago: Checkbooks weren’t just used for writing checks. Two decades ago, the checkbook was also the place you kept all your records. The phrase “balancing my checkbook” meant actually compiling all of the deposits and debits to see if the numbers made sense, and if they matched up with your monthly statement. It was the manual way to make sure you didn’t overdraft or get things out of place with your finances. Records of your checks were either written as line-items on your checkbook’s ledger or with carbon copies of each check, or even both.
Today: Financial institutions have a secure online portal now that allows instant access to real-time records and a scanned archive of your deposited checks. Records may even be accessible on your smartphone, as many banks now have apps for financial management.
20 Years Ago: Direct deposit was in its infancy, and for many people, you still got a physical check every two weeks. Depending on where you worked, your check was either mailed to you, or distributed at your office; that usually meant a trip to the branch rather than simply knowing it was electronically transmitted (an entire episode of the cult 1990s show The X-Files used rushing to the bank as the basis of its plot), and if you lost the physical check, it could take time to receive a replacement.
Today: Wherever you work, you simply fill out a form with your information (account and routing number) and your paycheck magically appears in your account upon payment. This saves loads of time and effort since you don’t have to go to the branch, though it’s still worth it to regularly check and make sure there’s nothing funny going on with your deposits. Many institutions now allow for check scanning via a smartphone app as a means of deposit as well.
The Little Things
20 Years Ago: Cash was a common thing. In your wallet, on the entryway’s side table, change in your pocket – all of these places would be sensible ideas for keeping coins and a buck or two. Simply put, you never knew when you were going to need it. At the same time, you’d still have to be on guard with it because unlike digital transactions, cash could be stolen. Cash was the go-to for so many things, from simply paying for items at the store, to leaving a tip for service. If you didn’t have enough with you, tough beans, you weren’t buying it that day.
Today: Modern finances make cash practically obsolete, though there’s certainly something practical in keeping some around. You can pay entirely by credit card, including tip, at most places. You can split the tab with friends using apps, you can pay bridge tolls through electronic sensors, and many vending machines and parking meters take cards, at least in major metro areas.
What’s Stayed the Same
The way we pay and make records of our finances has changed wildly in the digital age, but one thing remains constant: you need to be smart about how you handle your finances. In fact, it’s probably easier to give into spending temptation when everything fits on a card or you don’t have tangible cash to use (there’s been a study on this). You still need to manage your accounts, you still need to look at sound ways of investing, and you still should consider things like credit unions as a means of financing with better interest rates. These notions existed 20 years ago, and they’ll continue to exist 20 years in the future, despite however technology evolves the means of transaction.
Featured photo credit: jarmoluk via pixabay.com