Courage at Twilight: Making Out the Bills

November Newsmaker Breakfast: Salt Lake City Mayor-Elect Erin Mendenhall -  Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute

Mom exclaimed to me one day, “I’m so proud of myself. I made out all the bills!  I don’t owe anybody anything!”  “That’s wonderful,” I responded.  “I’m proud of you, too.”  I could imagine how liberating it would feel for her to have no financial obligations in a particular moment in time.  She had sat down with a stack of paper bills—utilities, doctors, magazines, insurance companies, credit cards—and written out a check to each one, sealing each check in an envelope with a stamp.  Worried understandably about mail theft from her mailbox, she drove the stack of sealed envelopes to Help U Mail, a few miles away.  With her exclamation, I began thinking about the fascinating dynamics of generational change.  When I began living on my own six years ago, I decided I did not want to deal with paper bills, checks, check registers, and mail, and set up online accounts with automatic deductions for all of my bills: rent, power, gas, internet, gym, insurance.  This made life so much easier, and I never looked back.  I could conveniently check balances on my bank app and utility apps, managing my money on my computer and even on my phone.  My grandfather Wallace, on the other hand, paid his bills, after pay day, by cashing his pay check at the bank, and driving around the Salt Lake Valley to each utility company and government office to pay in person and in cash.  When Mom was a young girl, Wallace often took her with him on these rounds.  Similarly, my grandfather Owen was acknowledged by the city clerk to be the most faithful child support payer in Salt Lake City.  Unlike the other “dead beats,” he paid his obligation in cash every week at the City-County building, and was happy to do it.  Then the bank draft (aka check) became a banking tool for the common man, and my grandfathers wrote out checks and put them in the mail, no longer needing to pay the bills in cash.  And now, my children do everything on their smart phones, from ordering retail products and restaurant take-out, to paying bills, to purchasing air fare, to managing stock investments, to shopping for engagement rings.  The entire world culture changes in a single generation.

(Pictured above: Salt Lake City Hall, formerly known as the Salt Lake City-County building.  Source:  Used pursuant to the Fair Use doctrine.)

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