About Paper Checks

The reality is that the paper check is becoming obsolete as a method of payment. In the 1980’s and 1990’s, every adult had a paper checkbook and kept their records in it. With the advent of electronic payment, check fraud, and cloud-based recordkeeping, fewer and fewer people are opting to keep their records on paper, and fewer and fewer merchants are accepting checks as a method of payment.

What hasn’t changed is that the paper check is still the safest way to send money by snail mail. While the need to do this has decreased significantly, it isn’t zero. Some medical offices and no few government offices still require payment by snail mail, or if they do accept online payment, they charge extra for the service. (I’m looking at you, water and sewer bill.) It’s illegal and unwise to send cash in snail mail, and putting your credit card number on a slip in the mail exposes it to a number of people along the way who don’t need to see it. When you mail it as a check, only the entity written on the TO: line can cash that check, so it reduces the risk of money being withdrawn by someone who doesn’t have the right to do so.

There are also some people, especially older folks, who still use checks. A year or two ago, I was in a grocery store checkout line. The elderly man in front of me had been sent by his wife to the store to get a few things, and she had sent a blank check with him. I have the impression that she’d done all the money management for him, because he didn’t know how to make it out, and neither did the teenage clerk. I stepped in and showed them both how to fill it out, and he went on his way. The clerk told me afterward that she’d never seen one before.

So What Is A Check?

A check is an order to the bank to withdraw an amount of money from the account noted on the check and pay it to the entity in the TO: Line. The video below is a bit dated, but it explains the laws around checks, how they are processed, and how they are used.

Cautions About Using Checks

The video above shows checks being presented in paper to the bank. That isn’t done anymore; checks are now typically presented to the bank electronically as e-checks, which means that instead of clearing in a week, they’ll clear at best immediately or at worst in 2-3 days, unless you’re my water provider because they are archaic and need to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century. What this means to you: if you present a check to someone for payment, you’d better have the money in your account now, not on Friday when you get paid, because it’s presented immediately, and “floating a check” (writing a check now expecting that money will be in your account before it is presented to the bank) doesn’t work like it used to.

Nobody else can sign a check for you. Your bank has your signature on file and will compare the signature on the check image to yours before honoring the check. Any attempt to duplicate someone else’s signature is forgery, and forgery on a check is check fraud. The person who duplicated your signature, and possibly you, can go to jail for that. Protect your signature.

A blank check — that is, a check that has your signature on it, but no amount or pay to: entity written on it, is effectively cash. Treat it as such, and don’t give one to someone you wouldn’t trust with all the cash in your bank account.

If you have a checkbook, as shown in the video above, it should be kept protected. Lock it in a drawer or safe when not using it.

If you write a check, record it immediately in the recordkeeping system of your choice. Paper registers come with the checkbook, but an online recordkeeping system works too. Record the check number, the amount, and the payee; your bank will tell you when they have honored that check, because it will show up in your account. If you record it at once, you won’t forget you wrote it and spend that money elsewhere. Check bouncing is illegal, and it’s UGLY.

Bouncing Checks (Or, Why Good Records Are So Important)

Pay attention to your bank’s policy on how they record withdrawals and deposits. This can be found in the paperwork that came with your checking account, or if you don’t have that, ask any bank teller and they’ll tell you. Many banks record checks before they record deposits, if the two happen in the same daily processing cycle, and quite a few will record the largest check first. Both of these are dangerous, and I’ll take an example to illustrate what can happen.

Say you’ve got $100 in your checking account, and you make an ATM withdrawal out of network for $40. You’ve also written a check for $57, and made an electronic payment for $72. Your bank makes the largest withdrawal first, but an ATM cash withdrawal comes out before any other type of payment (normally the case because it’s cash on the spot). So, both electronic payments land on the same day. The largest one clears first, so the $72 is pulled — but whoops, you only have $60 left so that puts your account in the negative. You’ll pay a bounce fee for that to the tune of $25-$35 per transaction bounced. So when the $57 – that would have cleared if it had been presented first – is presented, it too bounces. So, you’re paying $50-$70 to your bank, and both transactions bounce, putting you in trouble with both entities you paid. Not very nice, is it?

Don’t put yourself in that situation. Keep good records of every transaction, and make sure you can cover every transaction you authorize against that account.

A Final Word

It may be that you’ll never need any of what I just told you — or you might. Chances are you’ll come across a check at some point, even as they fade into obsolescence. If it does, remember this information, and you should be okay.

The Basics of Laundry, Part I

Did your mom always do your laundry for you when you were growing up? Does she still do your laundry when you go home? If so, I’m terribly sorry, because now you have a bit of a problem – you might not know how to do it yourself, and your mom will not always be around to do it for you.

The good news is that the Internet is full of resources on how to do and fold laundry. I recommend Mama’s Laundry Talk – it’s a blog specifically about laundry. I’ve learned a lot from her, and from my mother.

If you’re just starting out, though, you probably don’t have enough laundry to make all of her tips and opinions work for you. For example, she recommends not washing sheets and towels together, nor does she recommend washing sheets and towels with dirty clothes. Chances are that you don’t have enough of any of these items to wash them all separately, and if you’re using a coin-operated laundry, doing so becomes expensive as well as wasteful.

With that in mind, this post suggests a method that won’t waste your whole day or a ton of water and soap. I’ll discuss clothes that need special treatment in a different post; this post covers only the very basics of T-shirts and underwear.

Do not wait to do laundry until you have no clean clothes. I suggest doing laundry when you’re down to two clean wearings of anything. You should own enough clothing that you can do laundry on a weekly schedule; this would mean that you own about 8-10 outfits.

Step 1: Sort Your Laundry

Some sorting does have to be done. The most important sorting criteria is by color and by fabric type. How you sort your laundry will depend on how much of each color you have, and that’s going to depend on what colors you like to wear. If you’re like me and wear a lot of blacks and understated colors, you’ll have larger dark loads. Colorful dressers will have lots of colors, and almost everyone has some whites.

If you don’t sort by color, you run the risk of having a darker garment bleed dye onto a lighter one. The classic example is washing a white shirt and a red one in the same load ending with your white shirt being turned pink. If this happens, there usually is nothing you can do to save the garment.

Some fabric types need to be washed more gently, or not thrown in a washer at all. Separate these out; the tag that dictates how it should be washed will be either in the back of the neck or in one of the side seams near the bottom of the garment.

💡You won’t always have time to do multiple loads of laundry, so consider purchasing socks and underwear in both light and dark colors. Even if you only have time to do one load, you’ll always be able to throw a few pairs of socks and underwear in every load.

Step 2. Setting Up the Washer

Water Temperature

Generally, the lighter the clothing, the hotter water you want. Whites can be done in hot water; colors are by default done in warm water, and dark clothes should be done in warm or cool water to prevent dye bleed.

Some fabrics and stains absolutely require that the garment be washed in cold water to avoid damaging the garment. For example, any garment that has blood on it should soak immediately in cold water and then be washed in cold water. Warm or hot water will set the stain and make it permanent. I’ll talk about stains in more detail in another blog post.

Washing Machine Cycles

For jeans and T-shirts, normal cycle is fine. Most washers have a normal cycle. Delicate fabrics will want the Gentle or Low cycle, but I’ll talk about that in another post.

Adding Laundry Product

There are multiple types of laundry products that serve different purposes:

  • Detergent: Soap. Gets your clothes clean.
  • Fabric softener: This substances relaxes the fibers in your clothes, so that they come out soft and relaxed instead of stiff and scratchy.
  • Bleach: Removes stubborn stains from your clothes and is often used as a disinfectant. Use cautiously, because if it isn’t color-safe, it will remove all color from your clothes! (Chemical name is sodium hypochlorite.)
  • OxiClean: Similar to bleach, with similar effects via a different chemical method. This is calcium percarbonate, which when dissolved in water becomes hydrogen peroxide and calcium carbonate or washing soda.
  • Pre-treatment (Shout is a common one): This stuff when dabbed or sprayed on stains and left for a few minutes helps remove stubborn stains from your clothes.

🏠💡 Bleach is good for many things in the home, including cleaning; OxiClean is more specialized for laundry but is just a touch safer. I’ll talk more about “safer” in a future post about cleaning supplies.

Detergent can come in powder/crystal form, liquid form, and in pre-portioned capsules commonly referred to as Tide Pods. Liquid dissolves better than crystals, but is somewhat more expensive and difficult to lug around if you have to transport your laundry a lot.

⚠️ No matter which form you choose, before you buy laundry detergent, check the washer you will be using! If you see the designate “HE” in a blue and white circle, you need high-efficiency laundry detergent to use that washer. A box or bottle of the right type of detergent for these machines will have the same logo on the front. Never use traditional detergent in an HE washing machine, or you’ll end up with a mountain of suds all over the floor and clothes that need to be washed again because they’re still full of soap – after you clean out the washing machine!

As long as you have the good sense $DEITY granted a garden slug and know better than to attempt to eat a Tide Pod, I recommend them for people new to doing laundry. One is sufficient for an average laundry load, and it contains both detergent and fabric softener. Toss it in before you toss in your clothes.

One caution — they don’t work so well in cold water. Make sure you leave them at the bottom, or there’s a risk they won’t dissolve completely, and if you have to wash in completely cold water, you may wish to consider liquid detergent.

If you use crystal/powder or liquid detergent, or liquid fabric softener, read the manufacturer’s instructions on how much to use, and do not exceed that amount. If in doubt, go easy on how much you use. If you don’t use enough, the worst that will happen is your clothes won’t get clean; if you use too much, it leaves a residue in the washer that will affect the next load of clothes. If you’re using a laundromat, the next person to use that washer could be allergic to your detergent, and they really won’t thank you to overdo it.

Step 3: Are Your Clothes Clean?

When the washer is set up, start the washer according to instructions. Once the cycle finishes, check the wet clothing.

  1. It shouldn’t smell like anything but maybe detergent or fabric softener.
  2. It shouldn’t crackle – if it does, it still has soap in it. Run a rinse cycle, with no product, to rinse it more thoroughly.
  3. No soap bubbles should be visible.
  4. It should be damp, not soaking. If you can wring water out of it, it didn’t spin very thoroughly. This is annoying, not serious, but do wring the water back into the drum before putting the clothes in the dryer or else you’ll grow cobwebs waiting for your clothes to dry.

If they’re clean, time to put them in the dryer. Stay tuned for part II!