Killing a Screamer

Reporting live from under the heat lamps at MVC, my pricey hairdresser, this is the only way I can squeeze in posting today.

Expenses … chasing up money owed to me, that was this week’s assignment.

I did an OK though incomplete job of it. I left it to the last minute. But that’s not bad considering how VERY close I came to admitting defeat on this assignment and just not doing it!

Chasing money owed to me (by insurers, companies mis-using my credit card and the like) is almost my most hated financial chore. The only one I dislike more is filing expenses and claims in the first place. If there’s money I’m owed, 90 per cent of the time it’s because I haven’t done my bit in submitting a claim for it.

I consider this my most unfortunate and stubborn money block.

It’s also a block that’s routinely escalated to a SCREAMER on my to-do list. A screamer is a chore that typically takes no time at all that I avoid doing for months (possibly years) until it becomes a violent post-it note smacking me in the face screaming at me.

I have a lot of these, hence their special title.

It’s not that I forget to file claims, or simply can’t be bothered — it’s much worse. Something about claiming expenses triggers a palpable, pulsating dread. So I keep listing the to-do rather than just doing it.

Like all proper forms of dread I can’t quite pinpoint the precise fear that’s stalking me. If I could it wouldn’t have the hold over me that it does.

So I had a knot in my stomach when I went to call my insurance company yesterday. It’s like I’m worried that if I call any attention to myself something Kafka-esque could happen to me. If I raise my head above the parapet to the “authorities” to claim what’s owed to me I might be singled out for punishment even though I’ve committed no crime. It makes no sense at all, this behaviour. But it’s the way I feel nonetheless — a true psycho-financial pathology.

In the end it took me only 6 minutes to leave my desk, walk into the canteen, dial my insurers, get through to a claims officer, inquire about the £3,300 they were meant to reimburse me over 3 months ago and receive an explanation for its delay. (This large sum of money was in fact a string of expenses I was several years late in filing!!)

Buoyed by my progress in actually calling my insurers, I spent a further 12 minutes downloading my AMEX bills to track down work expenses that I’d usually leave too late to file.
I didn’t file the ones I found immediately because I decided it would be better to use this precious burst of “facing things” to track down a gym in New York that’s been charging $74.99 onto my AMEX every month since September. Finding the number to reach their cancellation hotline tested all my internet hunting abilities and after a 20 minute wait to get through, I think I was outstandingly friendly to the call centre guy who refused to understand that I was cancelling my membership because I DO NOT LIVE IN UNITED STATES which is where the gym is located. It’s as if he didn’t know people outside of America were even allowed to call America never mind be allowed a membership to cancel.

For my troubles I received a cheque for the £3,300 in the post this morning! And an email confirmation from Crunch gym that they’ve cancelled the 1 month membership I had which I hadn’t realized was a “rolling” membership unless cancelled.

Given that these are the sorts of sums I stand to gain from investing the odd hour of exertion you’d think I’d learn never to ignore a screamer.

10 thoughts on “Killing a Screamer

  1. I really indentify with the concept of screamers! Whew! I have them myself. And it made my skin crawl and back tense just reading your description of them.

    The amounts of money you talk about in this blog are very abstract to me. In that I can’t conceptualise the numbers that they are being anything more than essential. You are getting the same amount of money that I take home in three months salary back from a mistake. The biggest mistakes I’ve ever claimed back for have been in hundreds. And mistakes of such kind have generally been pretty skin of the teeth, heavy budgeting till next payday sortof events.

    But I am finding this blog fascinating in many different ways. I think it’s great!

    1. Hmmmm … well I don’t want to make assumptions about your take home but just in case there’s a misunderstanding here the mistake was the 70 something dollars per month. Wholly separate from the 3+ grand that was owed to me … that was money I had to pay that was covered by medical insurance — though just as bad that I dreaded putting together all the papers for so long that I took forever before trying to get the insurer to pay. Tragically this is exactly what credit cards can allow one to do. Anyway, just to clarify in case I was confusing about amounts of money. As for screamers — I swear to god I don’t understand why I cause myself so much stress.

      1. It was probably me being unclear. 3,500 is more around three months of my salary. I thought both amounts came from mistakes. I have no idea about insurance but I thought it was there mistake that you hadn’t got what you were owed. But it sounds now like it was something that you had to claim but hadn’t got round to.

        Either way the numbers are still very abstract to me for the reasons I suggested.

        Once I got 300 because I hadn’t been paid properly for Saturday pay. I lost a higher percentage of it to student loans than I would have done if I’d received it monthly. That’s the biggest money owing to me I’ve had. I was also once put of the blue charged 600 as I hadn’t been properly assessed by finacial services at university. That was a year and a bit after I’d graduated. I had to get my mum to pay it.

        We inherited a few grand once which allowed us to get debt free.

        All these things ate relative. That’s why I find this blog so interesting. The other week you just paid off your credit card bill. It was more money than the credit card bill that I paid off (and cut up) with that inheritance money.

  2. Thank you Jen & Heidi! I wish I understood why oh why I do anything to avoid having to follow up on this sort of stuff, but I suppose it just doesn’t matter — what matters is to just get on w/it!

  3. Because Counting 000’s is both a blog and a book (underway), I’ve been throwing things out on the blog that I would be less comfortable posting if I wasn’t going into things more deeply in the book. That said, I worry that when I get to the end of writing the book there’s no way in hell I’ll want to see it published. We’ll see. I also worry I am really going to offend people along the way and invite the sort of criticism that I may not be mature enough to withstand.

    While I absolutely agree it’s all relative, I also think it tells a clearer story of fuckwittery to offer specific amounts and for me to learn how to put a value on those amounts that actually means something to me (e.g. the number of hours I have to work to earn these amounts).

    In the book I have space to trace back in time how far these habits and fears go … So for example, your comment made me try to work out when exactly in my life (and pay scale) I would’ve left £3,000 pile up in money owed and still avoid chasing it down? I think that amount is sort of a bad example because I had no idea it totalled 3,000 pounds until I pulled all the receipts together. I was paying as I went along in much smaller increments. The sort of increments I’ve been able to afford for a long time (esp when you see the amount of credit available to me, below)

    After college up until somewhere in my 30’s I was pretty much always in trouble with money (with the banks or credit card companies). Or rather I was their IDEAL customer. I always paid on time. I always paid huge interest rates. I always said yes to loans that would consolidate my debts. I was a bank’s dream.

    My brother (who shares very, very few of my money tendencies) was the person who would loan me money to bail me out when I literally would have zero cash (a few times during our college years and for a couple of years after).

    Even though my pay increased in leaps and bounds every 2-4 years** I think the thing that really changed my finances was getting on the property ladder. I had no savings for a deposit so it was my brother who gave me the deposit — but both my first flat which I bought when I was 29 and the one I sold it for 2 yrs later turned out to be very good buys and because of that I entered the world of what I call monopoly money — numbers way too big for me to previously fathom — money that’s not mine, but wrapped up in a mortgage and a property. But because these properties appreciated in value I was able to pay off credit card debts and other loans which started to numb me towards what would otherwise be frightening numbers to owe.

    Today, thanks to overdraft facilities, credit cards and a chunk of money I took out of my property in 2008, unless I were to lose my job there’s been no risk that I would literally have no cash. Off the top of my head my overdraft facility is 8,000! (and for those of you who would never agree to an overdraft, that’s basically a very high interest loan I have access to at all times should I spend everything in my current account) and let’s say I have at least that credit limit on my 2 credit cards — this means I have dangerously easy access to around £25,000 at any time.

    This buffer allows me to do the thing I am most guilty of doing — putting my head in the sand and letting bad things happen to my money. Like the couple of hundred I’ve lost to a Gym in New York or the interest I have lost from not submitting those expenses till they piled up.

    Basically what I’m saying is that I spent so many years in financial trouble that I used my financial freedom to allow myself to never attend to my finances.

    And this is a problem because it stops me from doing things that money could buy me — everything from owning a property I would actually like to live in to taking time off work to considering a different career. It also means that I am going to be in big trouble one day when I can no longer keep up this work arrangement and my income changes.

    ** My pay is a whole separate topic but basically when I joined i was the LEAST paid member of staff for my department in the company I work for (despite being very over qualified for the job) …

    This is something someone in accounts told me after they’d had too many beers at a Christmas party and something I was able to see for myself years later when I ended up with a HR job involving access to people’s pay. But because of this injustice there’s been a strange dynamic to my pay which means that every few years someone more snr than me spots this and corrects it and I get a massive pay hike. So from 27-36 yrs my pay leapt up and up much faster thanks to being under paid in the 1st place combined with the pace of my promotions which would force people to look at my salary. For the past 4 years of my 15 years at this company I have been paid in the same bracket as what other people doing my job at the company get paid. Except for once when I actually quit (and then agreed to stay) I’ve never opened my mouth about what I’m paid and I don’t know what I would have done had other people not corrected my pay along the way. I believe this has made me very dependent on a paternalistic system where I’ve never had to fend for myself and speak up and that this is one reason I could never go freelance as I’d like to — because I find it so very difficult / have little practice of asking for money I should be paid.

    1. Free lance is also something I’m afraid of. I just can’t get my head around it at all. As someone with creative persuits I know many freelancers. And I am constantly advised to take the leap. The theory is you can’t support yourself from your art until you cut away the safety net. I’m not secure enough about that, nor realistically in a place where it’s feasible yet. Hence the day job. But at some point I’ll have to face it.

      Your reply was really interesting. How we relate to money and how it shapes us is really important to consider. Money is rue system we live in after all. Douglas Rushcoff has this phrase “program or be programmed” when talking about how everyone should learn to code so we have an ability to shape our own Internet. Well money is the code that shapes our lives. Watching you learn the code and reprogramme your life with it will be valuable for everyone, no matter their relative income.

  4. I didn’t know you went to MVC. I used to go all the time…. Before my hair disasters became more than frequent. I shall return methinks. X

    1. I discovered MVC few years ago after friend said “what’s happened to you? Your hair used to be a signature feature.”

      Now I have Despina whose hair and personality I admire — she guides me through various “hair strategies” for the medium and longer term. And their scones are v good. We could go together!

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