The buck stops here

This is not a happy summer for Ontarians who care. Every day brings another announcement by Doug Ford or a member of his government about some new, regressive measure to be imposed on us. Some days, it is hard to stay cheerful.

One such day last week, I left my desk to check the mail. I was about to toss the handful of flyers and junk mail in the recycling bin when I noticed there was one real missive in the stack: an enticingly plump envelope from the Canada Revenue Agency that clearly contained a cheque.

I  was curious, because I was not expecting any money from the feds. While I had overpaid on my 2017 income tax, I had directed that the overpayment be applied to my account for 2018. Would I, I wondered, have the self-discipline to send this money back in the event some bureaucrat had missed my direction and sent me the overpayment? Might I not be tempted, instead, to take this surprise infusion of cash and spend it on something immediately if fleetingly satisfying?

The tyranny of bureaucracy

With what turned out to be undue enthusiasm, I ripped the envelope open, to find a cheque in the amount of $3.00. Accompanying this princely (or perhaps princessly) sum of money were four additional sheets of paper. One was a Notice of Assessment for GHT/HST, which showed that I had overpaid my most recent quarterly instalment by $3.00. Another took four lines to provide the Notice Details (my business number, the period covered, the date issued and the payment number) as well as a three-line explanation of changes and “other important information.”  The third also included the Notice Details as well as the results of the GST/HST assessment and instructed me, in no uncertain terms, to keep this document for my records. Finally, the envelope contained a form for me to complete should I wish any future such refunds to be deposited directly into my bank account. Mysteriously, this form was headed by the statement: “Protected B when completed.”

Now, I am not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, so I spent some time trying to think of something meaningful I could do with this money, unexpected as its arrival was.

Three dollars is three dollars, I thought, and ought not to be sneezed at. But then I thought some more. Three bucks: two toonies and a loony or perhaps 12 quarters. Not even enough money to warrant a crisp polymer banknote. Not enough money to buy a popsicle or an ice cream cone (it was a hot day, so my mind turned to such ideas).  I am not a regular purchaser of lottery tickets, but I was pretty sure it was not even enough money for that (and wouldn’t that have been a sweet end to the story: a winning lottery ticket bought with a $3.00 government refund cheque?).

Maybe sneezing at it was exactly what I should do.

Every penny counts!

However, my parents have drilled into me the importance of frugality and told me that a penny saved was a penny earned. The government was foolish enough to spend who knows how much money to send me this cheque (but I am pretty confident it cost more than the amount of the refund to send it to me), but that did not mean I should reciprocate in kind.

I decided to calculate the cost of filling out and returning the direct deposit form. The stamp would set me back 85 cents if I bought a pack of 10 (but I would have to spend $8.50 to get that one 85 cent stamp, and it might be months before I would find a use for the remaining nine stamps) or $1.00 if I just bought one. Plus HST in either event. The envelope, if I bought the cheapest brand at my local Staples store, would cost me three cents. The gas to get to and from the Staples store to buy these supplies would cost me maybe $1.00 (where is that cheap gas promised by Doug Ford?).

I was unable to come up with a price for my time to complete the form because as soon as I looked at it, I realized I did not understand most of the boxes I would have had to fill in. Let’s just say $5.00, to cover my time, the emotional stress and the inevitable swearing that would be involved.

In the spirit of generosity, I decided to throw in the cost of the ink in my pen for free. Even so, I would be spending more, possibly much more,  than I had received to send a form to the CRA so future refunds (in all the years I have been making HST payments, this was my first refund) could go straight into my bank account.

My personal financial practices might cause an accountant to shudder, but even to me it was clear that this was not a good return on investment.

I have decided to invest a portion of my $3.00 in a piggy bank, into which I will place whatever remains of my refund and any future such unexpected income.  Mind you, I have to do that within six months or, according to one of the notices in that envelope, the cheque will become void.

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