He was a shoe hog. Dozens of sneakers stored in their original box, most of them still in near pristine condition due to his diligent post-wear maintenance protocol. The best pairs only stepping out for premier occasions like a wedding, the stadium to see a ball game or the office Christmas party. The upper reaches of his closet were easily laden with 20 boxes of kicks, mostly high-tops despite the utter lack of need for the high ankle support. One box housed the ‘found’ bands of $20 bills from that fabled hiking excursion not even a year ago.
When he got home from that hike he immediately, and sophomorically, dumped it out on the floor of his apartment. As an afterthought, he hastily closed the curtains, then just stood and stared. “What do I do now” thinking aloud.
He did not know this in the moment, but each band comprised 100 bills. He had stuffed 19 bands of $20s into his backpack. $38,000! Minus, of course, the incidental cash employed that same afternoon to purchase a tank of fuel for his hiking partner, lunch and a pair of milk shakes.
He counted it, peeled off five 20s for spending cash, put the rest in aforementioned shoe box, and returned it to the top shelf of the closet amongst the other boxes of shoes. Then he washed his hands. He had a hang up about handling cash, even visibly impeccable bills. He then retired to the kitchen for a bowl of cereal while he thought out the next course of action. The bite-size chocolate mini-wheat’s were just the thing to sort out his boisterous frame of mind.
First, he wrestled with greed: Dammit. $20 bills. Why couldn’t they have been hundreds? That would’ve been $190,000!
Second, he talked himself back to reason: Of course if they were $100s I’d be a lot more conspicuous every time I unloaded a $100 bill and asked for change. Local store owners would come to remember me. These $20s will keep me invisible. He wanted to avoid the employees’ behind-the-counter talk at the donut shop, for example, with their suspicious remarks. ‘Here comes the guy who always pays for the dozen donuts with a $100 bill. This is getting creepy, you take him this time.’
By the time the bowl was rinsed and placed in the bottom rack of the dishwasher his action plan was mostly settled and ready for implementation. He would engage cash commerce in a big way. Rent would continue being paid by check. He didn’t want to raise curiosity as the guy who always paid rent in cash. Credit card bills, naturally, would be inconvenient to pay by cash, same with the water bill, gas and electric. He had solid ideas for dissemination of the stash, ‘zero out’ as he liked to say. Gas stations. Going out to lunch. The occasional pub visit. Entertainment. Going forward, these would all become cash transactions. In fact, he put the plan into effect immediately by stepping out to buy a brand new pair of high-top sneakers.
That was ten months ago. The action plan remained strong with little need from varying this simplicity. He definitely could not make bank deposits, the bills might be marked in some way leading to his discovery. As mentioned, he did alter many of his prior credit card purchases. The savings from a vastly decreased credit card bill were used to boost his home down payment fund and max-out his 401k at work. He was pleased with himself, even if he felt a little dirty on account of the unknown origin of the cash.
He had studied Economics in college and was aware of opportunity cost. He realized he was losing 2-3% of purchasing power every year simply due to inflation. Not a major issue, he reasoned, since the acquisition cost was precisely $0. Nevertheless, he was aware of its devaluation and ruled it to be an acceptable loss. He was also aware that he was losing out on the 1% rebate from these cash purchases compared to a credit card transaction with the card’s rebate offer. Again, this was easily reasoned away given the acquisition circumstances. The goof simply could not block these financial quirks from his thoughts.
The shoe box still contained nearly $33,000 from the original $38k. He was not a big spender and had practically no expenditure increases despite the windfall. The exception was his monthly allocation for buying a new paper back book, his reward for having taken a chance, he justified. New book, yes, a tremendous extravagance to his prior habit of reading mostly library books or buying used books from eBay for no more than $4. His largest financial goal was saving his income and expecting to be ready for a home purchase within three years. This stash was helping to indirectly feed the fund.
That duffle bag, he thought often, what a tremendous find! But it carried an unquenchable mental burden. Who’s money had it been? Where’d it come from? Is someone looking for it? He wanted to zero out by the time he bought a home. He wanted to be able to cleanly turn the page on this episode as soon as he had his own digs. A new home with no question marks stowed away in the closet for some inconvenient accidental finding. “Hey Uncle Jimmy, what are these bundles of money for? I found them in the closet playing hide and seek. Can I have one, please, I’d like to buy some baseball cards.” Indeed, he must zero out before buying his home.