As I was driving home from work yesterday, I passed a police officer. When his car pulled onto the road behind me, I thought nothing of it: my vehicle is in good repair and I was obeying the traffic laws. In fact, when the police officer activated his flashing lights, I pulled to the side fully expecting him to whiz by me on the way to some emergency. He didn’t. He, too, pulled to the side of the road.
“What have I done?” I wondered. I turned off my car, pulled out my wallet, and rolled down the window.
“Good afternoon,” said the police officer as he crunched along the gravel shoulder. “Do you know why I pulled you over?”
“No, sir. I don’t.” I was telling the truth.
“Did you know the tags on your car have expired?” My heart sank. Of course! The tags on my car!
My vehicle’s registration had been scheduled to expire at the end of December. Knowing my proclivity for procrastination, I had my emissions tested in mid-November. I picked up the new tags at the same time. It was a cold day, though, so I put the tags in the back seat. I told myself I’d put them on the next day. But the next day came and went. I forgot about the tags. In fact, they hadn’t even crossed my mind until the policeman mentioned them.
I groaned. “You’re kidding me,” I said. “I can’t believe I forgot to put them on.”
The police officer looked skeptical. “You have the tags?” he asked. I nodded. “Where are they?” he said.
I waved my hand, indicating my messy car. “They’re in here somewhere,” I said.
“Can I see your proof of insurance?” asked the officer. I retrieved that from my wallet and handed it to him. “This is no good, either. It’s expired too.”
I groaned again. “Would you mind if I got out and checked the back seat?” I said. “I’m sure the tags are in here somewhere.” The officer frowned, but he nodded and stepped back. I got out to rummage in the back seat. I dug through a pile of a dozen personal finance books, but I couldn’t find the tags. “Maybe they’re in the glove compartment,” I said. The officer nodded assent. They weren’t there. But they were in the driver’s side door.
I breathed a sigh of relief, handing him the tags. He smiled. I don’t think he had believed my story until that moment. “Now might be a good time to put them on,” he said. “Have a nice day.” And with that he returned to his car and drove away. I immediately put the tags on my license plates.
The moral of this story is simple: procrastination can cost you money. I was fortunate to encounter a good-natured police officer, and to have the tags in my possession instead of sitting on the kitchen counter. I could just as easily have received a ticket.
I’m a natural procrastinator, and there have been times that this really has cost me money. For many years I had a terrible habit of not depositing my paychecks on the day that I received them. At the time I didn’t have an emergency fund, didn’t carry overdraft protection, and wrote checks before I’d actually deposited money. Unsurprisingly, this led to numerous $28 overdraft fees because I was too lazy to deposit my paycheck on the day I received it. Dumb. Now I deposit my paycheck immediately. (And I maintain an emergency fund, which doubles as overdraft protection.)
I also used to let my bills pile up. I’d pay them all in a batch on a certain day of the month. I thought this made life easier. Really, though, it just cost me money. I suffered several late fees from simply forgetting to pay a bill (even though I had plenty of money on hand). Dumb. Now I try to pay my bills as soon as they arrive.
I still have a tendency to procrastinate — as my story about the expired tags demonstrates — but I’ve come to learn an important lesson: action pays.