REALITY CHECK: Banking the math atheist way

Reality Check | Mike Taylor

I’ve heard rumors that some people keep a running tally of the balance in their checking account. Can this be true?

To the best of my understanding, this would require doing some sort of math every time one initiated a transaction. Either adding (deposits) or subtracting (purchases or withdrawals).

Sometimes I use my little debit card thingy five or six times a day. That would be a LOT of math for a guy like me!

For the past 40 years, I’ve been trying to disprove my ninth-grade algebra teacher’s Big Lie that I would “need math in everyday life.” For the most part, I’ve been successful in this endeavor. I don’t try to figure out how many miles per gallon I get with my beat-up van; I don’t try to calculate how long I’ll have to work before I can afford to retire (though rough estimates put that figure at another 73 years); and I never, ever, ever reconcile my checkbook with my monthly bank statement.

All my ex-wives did this and I noticed it never made them happy. Just the opposite, in fact.

Through careful planning, I’ve managed for decades to keep all the math in my life “fuzzy.” I usually know I have “about” this much money, or that much gas left in the tank. I know “about” when the oil needs to be changed in the aforementioned beat-up van.

The word “about” figures prominently in my life.

This philosophy, this math atheism, extends into traditionally non-mathematical areas, like birthdays. I know my daughter was born May 10 and I was born Nov. 26. That’s it. My son was born sometime in November (maybe the 13th); my stepson was born sometime in December (probably the 21st, but maybe not; that might be his mother’s birthday).

“Sometime” is another of those words I use a lot.

My parents, siblings and close personal friends … their birthdays I usually find out about after the fact. It’s not that I don’t care, I do. It’s just that my mind won’t hang onto numbers. I’m not just a math atheist, I’m a numbers atheist, or at least a numbers agnostic. Numbers may exist, they may not; who am I to say?

Cooking is another area in which I manage to avoid math. I’m a pretty good country cook, having grown up in the restaurant business. But I’m one of those cooks that just kinda throw things together based on whatever’s in the pantry; there’s never any rhyme or reason. And there’s certainly never any math.

I have a measuring cup — with FRACTIONS printed on it — but I never use it. Those fractions — two-thirds, one-half, three-quarters; they count as math.

But back to that checking account thing. I never know the exact balance I’ve got in there. However, I usually know the “fuzzy” balance. Nine times out of 10 this system works just fine.

It works like this: I stuff a bunch of money into the account, and then I buy stuff with the debit card. When the debit card stops working, I stuff more money into the account. It’s an elegant system, with no flaws that I can see. Oh sure, every so often, the bank will find a flaw and charge me thirty bucks for doing so.

To me, it’s worth it. I’ll gladly pay $30 once or twice a year if it means I don’t have to do any math.

Now if I could only find a way to get out of geography …

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