Getting my first debit card was a big deal. When I was in high school, my parents sat me down, explained a few budget basics, and emphasized the importance of balancing my checkbook to track my card expenses. I loathed the extra math homework but liked the idea of being a responsible, card-carrying member of a new grown-up club. So, I committed to writing down every transaction and comparing my register (yes, the actual paper register) with my bank statement each month.
Fast-forward a little over a decade, and this balancing act is now deeply ingrained and part of my monthly routine. I’m proud of my dedication—but whenever I triumphantly remark to my friends that I’ve balanced my checkbook, I’m met with expressions of mingled amusement and disbelief, like I’ve emerged from some Freaky Friday universe in which my mother has taken over my 30-year-old body or I’ve just come out of a deep sleep. "You know there’s this thing called online banking, right?" they ask. "Don’t you realize what century we’re in?"
Adam Albright Photography
Sigh. I’ve considered ditching the practice, of course. There are plenty of mobile banking and budgeting apps out there, many with wonderful reviews, and it’s certainly more socially acceptable for a millennial like me to break up with the checkbook and climb aboard the paperless train. But the truth is, this menial task makes me feel calm; there's something almost meditative about unplugging from my phone or laptop to reference receipts and punch numbers into a calculator.
You see, balancing my checkbook is a bit like playing a nerdy, deeply satisfying game. Once a month, I set up camp at my kitchen table and meticulously pore over transactions, stare down unnecessary spending, and look for opportunities to better control my cash flow. I’ll quickly notice when I’ve loosened the purse strings too much (I love dinners out with my girls!). I’ve even caught and rectified mistakes like duplicate charges and refund errors over the years.
Perhaps there's a scientific reason I'm so committed to balancing my checkbook; research says the pen is mightier than the keyboard, after all. Recording every number coming in and going out of my bank account certainly makes me more aware of my spending habits than when I skim through a digitized statement on a tablet. Those calculations also require my undivided attention. Sometimes, balancing my checkbook seems like an arduous, antiquated task—particularly when I’m off by one dang penny—but after I fume and utter a few choice words (serenity now), I bring my attention back to the reason why I still do it: This monthly ritual keeps me accountable. It serves as both a financial fitness checkup and a time to reflect on where my money's actually going. It works for me, and it’s a mindfulness practice I’ll keep making time for.