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Pat Wallis: Using the envelope system to pay

Pat Wallis
Pat Wallis

We were married young, just 18 and 19 years old.  

Ron was working with Stahl Construction Co., road building, making good money, about $2.50 an hour. When the outdoor work ran out, he started at Lyon Metal in Montgomery and I got a job at James Knights Inc. in Sandwich, squaring crystals for radios. Probably made $1.25 an hour, can’t remember.

We lived with my folks a couple of months until we found our first apartment, the second floor of a house on West Third Street that had always been occupied by a single family.

Before it was an apartment for the very first time, the owner had the large stairway, hallway, landing, bedroom, living room and bathroom professionally painted. It was very nice.

Rent was the right amount for us, $35 a month. It had a large bedroom, good-sized living room and full bathroom with an old huge, claw-footed tub.

It also had a small kitchen with a west window that looked over Carl Walter’s driveway. At least the owner called it a kitchen, even though there was no kitchen sink or cabinets. 

To make it more like a kitchen, we bought a new 30-inch gas stove from Francis Refrigeration for several hundred dollars. It was the only thing we bought new. We added a used refrigerator for $50. It was about 5 feet tall and 2 feet wide with just enough room in the freezer for two ice cube trays. 

Thank goodness my aunt gave us an old, painted kitchen cabinet that was stored in her basement. It was about 2 feet wide, 2 feet deep. The door on the front opened for my meager supply of pots, pans and canned goods. The small drawer across the top held all of my silverware and cooking utensils.

We bought an unfinished kitchen wall cabinet, 48 inches long and 12 inches deep, from the Sears catalog. We varnished the surfaces, turned it upside down so the top was finished, installed the doors and put wrought iron legs on the four bottom corners so it could stand against the wall. It held all of our dishes and casseroles, mostly given to us by generous family friends.

Our “kitchen” had been most recently a little boy’s bedroom, and throughout our stay it was covered in wallpaper that had a medium blue background with flying airplanes and clouds as the featured design.

We really didn’t care. It was perfect for us. It was funny, like a joke when friends came to visit. 

Besides, the price was right! 

We had a small savings account but no checking account. We paid everything in cash because we could!  The property owner of our apartment was a single lady living on Center Street. Northern Illinois Gas and the electric company shared an office downtown, our car insurance could be paid at its local office, and we bought groceries in town.

We personally set up an “envelope” system to make sure we had enough money to pay all of our bills. 

Since both of us were paid every two weeks, we put half of the monthly rent into the envelope marked “Rent” each paycheck.  

Our car insurance payment was every six months, so we divided the total payment by 12 and we’d put that amount into the Car Insurance envelope. If I remember right, we’d put $10 or $15 into each Grocery envelope. We shared the natural gas bill with those living on the first floor because one furnace heated the whole house, so we had a Heating envelope, too.

We must have put some aside for electricity, gasoline, emergencies and medical bills, but the amounts slip my mind.

I still recall with pleasure that there’d be some extra cash four times a year, because there are 52 weeks in a year, not 48. That’s when we’d splurge by going to a movie or save for something special. Oh, and our rent went up to $37.50 because the owner wanted us to pay her for the water bill.

We used the same envelope system for years, even when I was a stay-at-home mom with four sons, since all of the homes we rented were owned by elderly local residents who liked to visit when we paid the rent.

We finally opened a checking account when we built a new small home of our own and the bank we went though wasn’t in Sandwich. The utility companies no longer have local offices, but I still go into the city hall to pay my water bill and into State Farm to pay for our insurances. I even like going into the former Sandwich State Bank (next Castle Bank and now First National) to cash checks, make deposits or withdrawals.

Saying “hi,” smiling and talking a bit with folks working in local businesses gives me a real boost. Am I too old-fashioned?  

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