Budgeting Tips

I don’t like thinking about money. A random blogger I read on Sunday said she hates Christians because they leave lousy tips after church on Sunday. I wonder how many souls I have flung into hell.

I don’t understand tipping. I prefer being told in advance, anonymously, how much something costs. If I decide it’s a fair price I will come and buy it for that price. If I don’t like the price I will leave you alone. I love the internet because I can check the price of something without ever even risking eye contact. I don’t like to show up somewhere and not buy anything. It seems rude. It’s like saying, “Good grief, I cannot believe you would charge this much money. There’s no way it’s worth this much. You have a big ego to ask for that much money. And your stuff is junk. Are you trying to rob me?

Likewise I don’t like tipping. How much do you think your service was worth? Tell me. I’ll pay you that. If I think it’s ridiculous I’ll never come here again.

I am pretty sure only starving single mothers who are working three jobs and going to college are waitresses, because that’s all we ever hear about when someone is a chinzy tipper. I try usually to follow the rules and tip what I am supposed to (the PRICE, doggone it), but I’ve probably tipped 10% when I’m supposed to tip 15% or something. Usually, I think, I have failed to tip at all.

When I was travelling once for work my flight was cancelled and I had to stay in a hotel not planned, after my rental car was returned. A shuttle came to pick me up early in the morning and the guy asked me for a tip. I don’t remember what I gave him and it probably wasn’t enough. I don’t know. What’s the price? It’s not marked. Am I supposed to tip all of those rental car shuttle bus drivers? I don’t think so. I haven’t been.

Of course I wasn’t leaving any tips in my hotel room either. I didn’t know you were supposed to until I was checking out of one hotel and there was a cleaning lady talking with the clerk behind the counter and she said, “Boy, you better have left be a big tip up there buddy!” I know that is an automatic fail; she isn’t supposed to get a tip because you are supposed to act like you totally don’t care about a tip when you deserve one so nobody knows what the price is. I had to switch rooms in that hotel because the air conditioner in the first room was leaking condensate into the room, and the second room had carpet scuffed off right where it revealed some flooring tacks. So that hotel failed for tips. But up to that point I never left tips in any hotel. I didn’t know.

I don’t like shopping much but I went to a store on Saturday because there were some things I had been wanting for a while to get and it seemed like this store was having a pretty decent sale on a lot of things. 50% to 60% off, although some of the mundane things I wanted were more like 30% to 40% off. But when I got there I couldn’t really tell what was a good bargain and I kind of wanted to buy one of everything, even though that would have cost a fantastic amount of money, just so I could not pick the wrong thing.

Here! Take all my money if that’s what you want! I’ll never shop here again but I sure don’t want to argue about your prices!

For work they pay me and you know what they do? They give me some of my money, but some of it they put into a “workplace savings” and some of it they put into a “health savings account.” Some of it goes toward “health insurance” but that does not count what goes toward the “dental insurance” which is not the same as the “vision plan.” On top of the fact that I on my own have a checking account, a savings account, two credit cards, a gas card, heat, rent, electric, cable, car insurance. And a work expense card. And a work expense phone card. And a Blockbuster video card I got in a different state because I was bored.

If I was a wise man I would shrewdly invest my money and make it grow. The problem is I use all my shrewdery on my job. I don’t come home to be shrewd. Invest my money? It’s in too many places already. Keeping track of where my money is or is supposed to be is harder than keeping track of birthdays in my family, and I have 11 siblings.

And budget. The bravest, strongest, and holiest people budget. They make a plan for what they want to do with their first million, or thousand, or hundred, and then they plan how long they want it to take for them to achieve it, and then they figure out how much to set aside from every paycheck to make all their dreams come true. Someday I would like to buy a house. But I am not sure when. Or where. Or how much houses will cost then. And I will need to replace my car someday. But I am not sure when (if I even have a choice). Or what kind of car I want next.

I’m supposed to make up my mind about that in advance, so that when I do it I know I’ve done the right thing. But I know that once you decide to do something, really decide on it, it feels a lot more right when you do it. It doesn’t mean it is more right, you just like to congratulate yourself on your own rightness.

But nevermind. I concede. It’s better to have a budget. I just don’t want to try to think about it. Budget for my dental costs? I Hearby Do Solemnly Swear or Affirm That I Shall Have My First Cavity At Age 31. It Shall Cost Me $235.34 Co-Pay After Negotiated Price. Until Then I Shall Only Buy Toothpaste And Dental Floss, The Price Of Each Inflating At Exactly 3.67% For The Next 4.3 Years. And Thus Shall Be My Budget For Dental Care. Amen.

I used to have a good excuse for not budgeting. I had no idea what money I was going to make (that summer doing odd jobs as called upon) and I had no idea how much money I was going to spend (on utterly new life expenses like car insurance). That excuse has kind of dissipated, though.

This is what I do. I keep track of what I spent. I only keep track of what I spend in ways that are easy to cross-check–credit cards and so forth. Cash payments are a black hole in my financial universe. I can tell the money left but I don’t know where it went. Every now and then I check and make sure the receipts I have logged match the statements I have gotten back.

Every now and then means about twice a year. I just did that on Sunday. Well, half of it. I spent most of Sunday avoiding doing it so I only got halfway through. I already feel a lot better though. There was a slag heap of statements clinging to my desk on the left side of my keyboard and it is gone now. Except for one new receipt. I bought groceries today (and I didn’t tip the bagger–another soul goes to hell). But one day, after I am all caught up on the history of my expenses, I am going to analyze it and then I am going to budget based on what I see. And after that I am going to invest.

And then I will be perfect and you can all come to my house and ask me how I did it.

2 Comment on "Budgeting Tips"

  • The ethics of tipping are relative, so it should not be surprising if, as an outsider, you ‘don’t understand tipping.’ They are relative to time, place and the personages involved. For those who share conventions for wealth and power, tipping is understood— as any other shared convention of its own context. You say that you don’t “like” tipping because of its ambiguity—you are never sure of what is expected of you. But how is that different from your experience of a social life in general ? People always have expectations of others which we ourselves may, or may not, meet. I say that for the Christian, it ought to be a rather typical experience to fail to meet the expectations of others because we ought not share their context.

    Some of the nuances of tipping can be seen by looking at its diverse historical use. I’m sure you already know that it used to be a common practice (at least among those who were not poor) to tip their own Executioner. Some say that this practice was motivated by the desire for a clean, quick death. Where this expectation was justified, one might think that tipping was a form of bribery. However, one could also characterize it as a form of extortion. That is, there was the implicit threat that the Executioner could make it demonstrably unpleasant for you if you did not make his work profitable. Furthermore, the repercussions would be public. And the formerly public executions were a powerful way of teaching others the value of certain conventions.

    Alternatively, one could portray tipping in the context of executions in a pragmatic, rather amoral way. That is, tipping your own Executioner might be simply described as a form of insurance. It may, or may not pay off for you. . . but what the heck, you aren’t going to be able to use the money yourself anyway—so its prospective employment held no downside. However, to my mind, the common thread to tipping your own Executioner is the expectation that the Executioner will not, or might not, do their ‘best’ unless motivated through an immediate benefit to their own lives. Or, to put it another way, the one to be executed might expect to suffer worse than was necessary if they didn’t propitiate the presumed prejudice of the Executioner—and the self-justification of the Executioner’s self-serving prejudice manifested through demeaning their victim. Tipping ones Executioner was a ritual (or religious practice) of the illusion of the power held by the condemned—their way of managing the purveyor death/suffering. This tipping was a mutual pretense—on the part of the condemned, to act as if the Executioner was merely providing them with a service (as servants are wont to do). Were Executioner incorruptibly just, or motivated by love, tipping would be offensive, not a motivation. The tip was the victim’s attempt to barter for a conventional expression of respect with the very one about to wreck the ultimate in disrespect toward them. The transaction of this ritual entailed that the Executioner could, himself, feel respectable because of the formal, or ritual, expression of trust in him to fulfill his end of the ‘bargain.’

    In its most ancient forms, I believe ‘tipping’ was expressed in the form known as ‘tribute.’ The very meaning of that word conveys the nature of its import. Whether collected by kings or bandits, tribute was a practical acknowledgment by people of substance of the power that others held to harm them. obscured by conventions meant to affirm the mutually honorable character of the disparate parties. Those who could pay tribute were honorable. Those who could not were the dead, and the slaves. One little discerned aspect of ‘tipping’ then, is the role of wealth in establishing the conventions of power. Power was no less ephemeral than tribute. By its formal obligations, if not an outright covenantal structure, the conventions surrounding tribute anticipated rebellion and revolution. Implicitly, the beneficiary of tribute was expected to vary over time—as to be expected as the object of an aspiration common to men. No one aspired to be a slave, to be dead—or to truthfully (as opposed to ritually) affirm their own powerlessness.

    I am convinced that the modern expressions of tipping derived from the conventions of the wealthy to perpetuate outward prerogatives of respect from those who had power to do them harm. One might prefer to argue that ‘tipping’ springs from ancient autocratic gratuities—expressions/confirmations of their benevolence. But the counterpoint to such gratuity was also summary execution. As wealth becomes more diffuse in a free society, there are fewer conventions to signify the nature of our relationships to others. At one time if you could afford to use a hotel, or a restaurant, you were the wealthy from whom kings and bandits could procure ‘tribute.’ As it became increasingly possible for mere ‘servants’ to procure such services, the power relationship between the one served, and the ‘servant’ became more ambiguous. A less well-to-do person—the occasional consumer— has little to fear from poor service, as their normal life style, and the typical expressions of respect have little to do with the character of what, for them, are dispensable services. But it is not merely that occasional services lose power to evoke ‘tips’ as informal contracts for prospective service. It is, more fundamentally, the perspective that one could do ‘harm’ is not real. If my normative practice and expectation is to carry my own loads, clean up after myself and prepare my own meals then any disrespect manifested in not carrying my bags, not cleaning up my room, or in not serving my table is virtually unintelligible. The truly poor and powerless are accustomed to being servants of autocrats and to being the refuse of the world. For such, there is no expectation of a ‘tip,’ only the occasional surprise of a gratuity. As a free society becomes more universally wealthy, then, the perception of gratuity is lost. The personal increase of wealth leads to the expectations and implicit threats which now form the context of ‘tips.’

  • Arlan Post author

    If you were to tip your executioner with advice in place of money, Teague, he might lose his mind before you lost your head.

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