Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Procrastinating 101: Life's Little Late Fees

Several hours ago, I was awakened yet again by one of those creatures of the electronic age--an American teenager with a deranged sleep-phase-cycle.  Rita Emmet's The Procrastinator's Handbook: Mastering the Art of Doing It Now had sent me to sleep the previous evening, so I picked it up and started reading.   I should say, in Emmett's defense, that I almost always read myself to sleep.  Her insights are no more soporific than, say, War and Peace, or your average murder mystery.  A little less sleep-inducing than books on money management, I imagine, though I can't recall trying to read one at bedtime.

I spent the rest of my wakeful hours finishing this encouraging volume.  Emmett's presentation was light, well-organized, and conversational.  I didn't encounter much I hadn't read before, nor did I expect to.  These kinds of books serve as cheerleaders to me, underscoring my good intentions and urging me to "Fight!  Fight!  Fight!"  They remind me to use what I know.

I was, however, in this season of anxious tax preparation and fiscal dread, particularly struck by something Emmett said about the monetary cost of procrastinating.  She begins a chapter on "Dollars and Sense" with this sentence:
It may surprise you to know that procrastination can have a tremendous impact on your wallet.
Again, not rocket science, but probably something I don't think about enough when looking for ways to stanch the budgetary hemorrhaging.  Maybe I can't afford to procrastinate!  Literally.

Off the top of my sleep-deprived head this morning, I can think of several financial fines and penalties I have generated by being late off the dime.  Here is my hastily assembled preliminary list:

  • Library fines - I once left the circulation desk at my local library and found myself in the midst of a reception for donors who had helped underwrite completion of the building's new wing. I learned that the fine I had just paid was more than some of these individuals had given. I helped myself to a slice of cake and a cup of punch, and vowed to reform. I'm still working on it.
  • Overdraft fees - How are these related to procrastination?  As Emmett points out, our failures to keep up with the check register, and in my case, to transfer funds even when I know I'm on the verge, result in overdrafts.  One particular overdraft saga, for which I unsuccessfully claimed extenuating circumstances*, involved charges upon charges as the charges themselves repeatedly put me in the red.  The eventual tab for this unfortunate incident was over $600, leading me to break up permanently with that bank.

* My Katrina-evacuee elderly parents were staying with me, and in the course of the crucial five days, at the end of our pay period, I transported my mother twice to the far suburbs for two-stage oral surgery, nursed her through the aftermath, and then accompanied her to the emergency room twice within 24 hours, once by ambulance.  The bank was not impressed, even though real tears were shed in the telling of my sad story.
  • Late payment fees on regular bills I nearly always have the money to pay our monthly bills, though my husband's public employer sometimes misses the payroll date--without penalty, I might add.  But I have trouble facing this task, and have only recently eliminated the regular payment of late fees.  
  • Late payment surcharges on license renewal - For some reason, I am surprised each year by our state's insistence that we renew our car licenses.  The fees keep increasing, which is annoying.  But the real kicker is the requirement that we take one or both cars to distant emissions testing sites; wait in interminable lines (while running our engines, wasting gas, and polluting the atmosphere); submit to testing while we wait in grubby plastic chairs with no reading material; occasionally fail, as last year, which requires costly repairs and retesting; and then fork over an amount which feels like highway robbery.  I almost always put this disagreeable task off, and wind up paying even more for the privilege.
  • Late registration costs - As actress Sarah Bernhardt was paid to say in a TV ad campaign for our state fair a few years ago, "You know you're gonna go."  So when I know I'm gonna go, why do I wait to sign up, and end up paying more as a late registrant to conferences?  
  • Tax filing penalties - I no longer incur these assessments, now that I am married to someone who mans up annually and fires up his beloved TurboTax in the pursuit of the tax return he usually manages to wrest from our government.  Partly by virtue of using his payroll deduction as an enforced savings plan, and partly by hours spent poring over checkbook registers and receipts.  But back in the day, when I was a single mom, a good year found my daughter and I, wearing our designated "tax hats" and joining the throngs at the post office at midnight on April 15th, in full view of the media who never seemed to have anything better to do.  A bad year, or two, saw me leaving the job too late, and ponying up eventually. One of my favorite perks of marriage is leaving the filing to my spouse.

These are just a few of the financial drains that come to mind resulting from my previous habits of procrastination.  I'll think about this some more. . .tomorrow.

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