Here’s the Thing: With PFD check comes reality check

It’s that time of year again. The Alaska Department of Revenue gives qualifying Alaskan citizens a chunk of money called a Permanent Fund Dividend, and this year it’s a big one. After adding it up and thinking about what our family will do with it, it made me think about my childhood. Having grown up in Alaska my entire life, it brought back a few memories.

When I was a kid and realized that PFDs existed, my friends and I would fantasize about what to do with the money. We wanted to buy a super cool pool with a really neat water slide and then order a thousand pizzas. Now that I’m an adult it doesn’t seem that practical. My parents were not liberal with money, so the decision was always theirs on what to do with it. That’s good. Even as a child I knew it would be ridiculous to have a say in something that was obviously my parents’ decision. Parents were parents back then, you know? As a parent in this day and age, I get squeamish when I announce what I made for dinner, like I’m the jester of the court. Chicken tortilla soup? No? OK your Highness, I shall bring you hotdogs and macaroni. (For the record, they enjoy the soup.) My parents mostly offered moose meat and awkward vegetables. Eat them or go to bed. I had no business thinking about family money. Only collecting piggy banks and saving what I earned.

Usually my PFD money would go to my orthodontist bill, the snowmachine fund, new winter clothing, or my new saxophone. You have to remember, there was no Craigslist back in the day. You had to just hope the newspaper ad didn’t mislead you into a crazy person’s house. Also, there were no cell phones or texting, so meeting somewhere safe was always a toss up. If no one showed, you wasted your time and were too chicken to call and ask why it didn’t work out. If someone showed up and looked sketchy, you just pretended to be lost and kept driving. They didn’t know what you looked like, because no picture popped up on an old rotary phone and the only people that had caller ID were with the FBI. All that to say … we bought most things brand new.

The only time PFDs annoyed me was when people would come to school the next day bragging about new clothes or a new Walkman. If you don’t know what a Walkman is, it’s an incredibly old, mummified version of an iPod shuffle. But it was the cool gadget. This article is making me feel very old. Moving on.

As a teenager the PFD went into my college fund. My parents did a great job saving them for me, but college was expensive. So after graduating college, I now use it to pay off student loans. It’s the circle of life! How precious.

My husband and I will be married for 10 years this year. A chunk of change is nice when it’s just you and the hubs, but now we have a stack of responsibilities to attend to. The first 5 years of marriage we were trying to get a grip on finances and the real world. We went on a cruise to Mexico, had a couple of kids, and eventually bought a house. The next 5 years of marriage we still had the house and the same couple of kids. The house needs a spit shine every now and then and the kids need winter clothes, have sport fees, and school tuition. No pools or a thousand pizzas. Somewhere along the way I magically started to understand what eats up our money. When they get older will I put it into a college fund? Or will I pray they have quality scholarship skills, so I can blow it on Cabo?

If we’re being honest, I do plan on having a little fun. For our anniversary we have a short trip coming up. Lots of pre-planning, begging for companion tickets (thanks, Mom), saving money, and scouring websites for the best deals. We’ll still have the stack of boring bills when we get home, but we have a home because we pay the bills. (Especially this time of year!) If bills were a person, they would be the person you take shoe shopping, but you don’t exactly introduce them to your friends. You keep them private, but you can be yourself around them. You may not like the numbers, but they don’t lie.

Here’s the thing, I like that PFD season forces us to think about money as individuals, as a married couple, or as a family. And if you decide to buy a pool and order a thousand pizzas, please … call me.

Kasi McClure enjoys being a wife and mother of two in Kenai. She can be reached at columnkasi@gmail.com.

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