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Financial Archaeology

Mysterious and/or hilarious purchases I made during the 1996-97 academic year, as preserved in my Quicken files:

8/22/96: Groceries, $18.51. I moved to California and started keeping track of my finances in Quicken in mid-August, and this appears to be the first money I spent on food. Since it’s such a small sum, I have to assume that in fact my mother, who flew out with me to help me get settled, paid for my first big trip to the grocery store, which sort of shatters the story in my head that arriving in Berkeley was the beginning of my financial independence.

8/31/96: Baseball tickets, $7. Gather ’round, kids, and let grandpa tell you about how you used to be able to see a major league baseball game for only seven bucks! I mean, it was the A’s, but still.

9/9/96: Writer’s Market, $24.24. Aw, that’s cute, 22-year-old me already had dreams of being a writer, even as I was just starting my doomed stab at becoming an academic! (Today, I use the 2003 edition of Writer’s Market to keep the cat’s food dish elevated, so it doesn’t attract bugs.)

9/20/96: Keg, $2. Have to assume that this means “beer from a keg.” Also have to assume that despite my mental picture I was having at least some contact with fun during this period.

9/21/96: Telephone and answering machine, $108.21. Answering machines, remember those things? You might have thought that by 1996 we were all using voice mail, but apparently I was still clinging to the old ways. Two points of interest here: (a) I had lived in that apartment for six weeks already, so I’m sort of puzzled about what I was doing for phone calls and/or message taking up to this point, and (b) I was living on about $13,000 a year and paying $600 a month in rent, so this dumb phone was a substantial portion of my disposable income for the month.

10/2/96: Medea Tickets, $70.75. Since Tyler Perry’s I Can Do Bad All By Myself wouldn’t premier for another three years, I have to assume that I went to see an actual stage performance of the Euripides play in another spendy move for a poor grad student. Was this a date? Was I attempting to woo another hapless victim of my ancient history program by taking her to see a play that would ostensibly dovetail with our academic interests? I remember nothing about it, so it must not have worked.

10/8/96: Utility bill, $12.97. I lived in an apartment building for grad students that was run like a dorm—you paid for rent and long distance calls on your bursar bill, and there was even an R.A.—with the exception that you had to pay your own utility bill. As you’d expect with a sub-300-square-foot apartment with no air conditioning in temperate climates, these bills were ridiculously tiny, leaving you to wonder what the point was, exactly.

10/8/96: Stamps, $1.56, categorized under “Writing expenses”. Oh, God, I actually was sending some writing out, like, in the mail. I’ve blocked out what literary genius I was trying to foist on readers, probably for good reason.

11/5/96, 1/10/97, 1/31/97, 4/11/97, 4/26/97, 5/31/97: Money From NFO, varying amounts received between $1 and $5. What—or who—is represented by these mysterious initials? Since these transactions are all categorized under “Payment for services,” what services did I undertake for them? Why was it worth my while to keep coming back for these small amounts? What power did they hold over me?

11/29/96: Judy’s Hat, $12.99. Who is Judy and why was I buying her a hat? I think this was my stepbrother’s then girlfriend, who I guess was around long enough to be included in the family gift exchange? And I guess we had a gift exchange, in 1996? Maybe? Anyway, whoever she was, I hope she liked her hat.

12/31/96: Champagne and pizza, $16.90. Someone had a classy New Year’s Eve!

4/25/97: Pants, $48.81. Let it not be said I was going around California pantsless.

5/3/97: Party supplies, $10.15. Like, streamers and hats and stuff? Balloons, maybe? I’m sure this was a swell party, with its $10 worth of supplies.

5/17/97, 5/28/97, 6/20/97, 7/30/97, 9/5/97, 9/8/97: Skillet’s, $9.36. You’d think that if I liked a restaurant well enough to go there six times in four months and order the exact same thing every time, I’d have at least a vague memory of where it was or what kind of food it served. You’d be wrong, though.

8/5/97: Curtain rods, $13.81; Curtain fabric, $56.02. If you had asked me what 23-year-old Josh was likely to drop 70 bucks on, “window treatments” would’ve been low on the list. I’m also intrigued and disturbed by the fact that I specifically noted this was for curtain fabric. Did I actually make my own curtains? They must have been hideous.


Josh Fruhlinger eventually started just recording the name of the store in Quicken, rather than what he bought there. You can follow him on Tumblr and Twitter.


21 Comments / Post A Comment

highjump (#39)

This was delightful. More of this feature please! I think my mint.com account goes back to 2006? Definitely longer than my memory anyway.

Decca (#3,453)

@highjump Yes, this made me laugh quite a bit!

Genghis Khat (#584)

@highjump Agreed! This was so great! It’s amazing how much your brain can block out about how you were in the past.

lhorntx (#2,302)

@highjump yes, definitely should make this a regular series.

Mike Dang (#2)

If you have been amazingly organized and want to do one of these, please feel free to send it to us!

Mike Dang (#2)

@highjump There should be a “the”: mike@thebillfold.com

mahiki (#1,550)

@Mike Dang Before I finished reading your response I thought to myself, THEmike@billfold.com? It just makes sense to me.

Stina (#686)

I kept an old checkbook register from a particularly memorable time in my life and it is probably the closest thing to a diary I have. “Ooh there’s the check paying off the ex-fiance for my share of the rent when I left him.” “There’s my last student loan payment!” “That’s when I met (now husband) I was buying cute dresses to woo him.”

This is basically how I feel when I look at my account activity from last week. Usually like “What bar was this I don’t remember going to three different bars?”

Beck (#2,269)

I love this article! I’ve been using Microsoft Money since 2004. It’s like a journal. A journal I’ve actually kept up with. I guess I’m not the only one who reads old entries for the memories.

grog (#2,222)

Oh man, you’ve got me beat. We’re about the same age, but my oldest Quicken transaction is only from 6/21/97 ($18.85 at Texaco gas station). Quicken nerds unite!

grog (#2,222)

@grog Also, I really wish Intuit would come out with a new version for the Mac. I just know my Quicken 2007 for Mac is going to break one of these days. I’ve tried iBank4, but I don’t like it.

What do other Mac users use for personal finance?

jfruh (#161)

@grog I use Quicken ’07 for Mac, having upgraded from Quicken ’02 when Intuit FINALLY released a version of ’07 that worked with Lion. I was actually glad to see that virtually nothing about it had changed since ’02, since I’m very set in my ways! Now that its been upgraded to work with the latest Mac OS I’m hoping it just keeps plugging along for another five years at least. At one point I set up Quicken for Windows and tried importing my data into and the results were not good :(

Pariah Carey (#2,378)

Believe it or not, George isn’t at home/Please leave a messaaaage at the beep/I must be out, or I’d answer the phoo-oone/Where could I be?

Believe it or not, I’m not home!

kellyography (#250)

This is amazing. I don’t use any personal finance programs. It’d be like when I signed up for a nutritional tracker and used it for like a week at a time, years apart.

peacheater (#733)

My boyfriend kept meticulous accounts of his time in a Russian dorm in St. Petersburg studying for his undergrad degree. Besides a record of every book he ever read, he also has every ruble he spent noted down in a tiny notebook. He was ridiculously frugal in those days, spending the equivalent of $30 each month(!) not including rent and cafeteria food which was paid by his dad. (Thankfully he’s loosened up a lot since then). So it’s pages and pages of 1 carton eggs, milk, book etc.

sox (#246)

Those party supplies were purchased on my 19th birthday! Unfortunately it was inarguably the worst year of my life, but somehow knowing you were somewhere out there celebrating is a like a teeny bandaid upon my 19 year old soul.

tumlum (#6,607)

@sox this made me laugh quite a bit!

skip2mylou (#2,806)

NFO is an online survey company – back then they actually used to pay more than pennies per survey. It was a good way to earn beer money as a poor college student!

So glad I’m keeping my Birdy long-term so I can do something like this someday. Hilarious.

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