At Caltech, when a group of students go out to eat, they have a rule: Youngest non-math major figures out the check. There’s a reason for that– the longer you go in math, the less able you are to do basic calculations. Your head gets filled with proofs and (measures of infinity aside) it is rare that you encounter a number greater than say, 5. Rarer still to encounter a number larger than 7 or 10. So ideally there will be a freshman at the table who still remembers things like addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.
I was a math major in college.
So all of this is to say that I recently checked on my checking account balance on the website and saw that it was considerably lower than what the running balance in the check register was, to the point that it was less than the school tuition check that was about to be cashed. I immediately transferred 1K from savings and dug out the checkbook to try to track down the error.
And I found an error in the past 3 months– A mis-subtraction that put me $100 off. I carried that through. I was still something like $300 or $400 off after that.
This isn’t the first time I’ve made an error in my basic math in the check register. Sometimes I track it down. Sometimes it’s something really stupid like counting a debit as a deposit.
Sometimes I make my partner track it down because it’s just too frustrating for me.
Sometimes I just give up. That’s what I did this time. I checked that all outstanding checks had been cashed and zeroed out the balance so it matched with what was on the website.
Usually errors aren’t such a big deal because I never add the interest to the check register, meaning I have a buffer just in case. But sometimes an error is big enough that it is bigger than the cash buffer. So far I’ve only had the bank draw from savings to cover a check once since getting a real job.
Do you use a check register? How do you keep track of what is in checking? What do you do when things don’t match up?