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.

25 Replies to “Procrastination Can Cost You Money!”

  1. Adam says:

    Haha… same thing consistently happens with me. The one thing that drives me crazy though, is that every time I get ran off the road or cut off by some psycho driver, there never seems to be an officer around. But low and behold, seemingly the exact moment something expires, the blue lights just appear out of no where.

    Oddly enough, my license is about to expire here on Feb. 3, anyone wanna bet I won’t get it renewed by then? The last time I was at our local DMV, they had actually de-evolved. They had gotten rid of the split queue (one line for renewals and another for new licenses) with a number system, and went to just a big group of people where you had to figure out amongst yourselves who was there first.

  2. Ken says:

    Seems like something that would happen to me. Whenever my new insurance cards, etc. come in, they always end up being held to the fridge with a magnet. Why is it so difficult to just take it off the fridge and stick it in the glove compartment? God only knows…

    Adam: Got a AAA nearby? Luckily theres one no more than a mile from my office. In and out with a new license in 5 minutes flat.

  3. Dave says:

    Same thing happened to me. Mine expired 11/30 and I got pulled over 12/1. I used to have a problem paying my bills on time, too, not because I didn’t have the money, but just out of pure procrastination. I now pay them automatically, so I don’t worry about it.

  4. Caroline says:

    I’m SO glad you had a nice officer and those tags handy! I used to totally subscribe to the “Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow” way of life but it burned my ass two years ago and I quickly turned my attitude around.

    What started out as one parking ticket quickly grew to three (big city living with a car sometimes is not all it’s cracked up to be!) and I ignored the notices, thinking to myself that I’d pay them when they were due. Well the due dates came and went, the threatening letters, etc. and I ignored them. The sad thing is, I HAD the money to pay them but I kept ignoring them thinking they’d go away. Well imagine my surprise one day when I was ready to leave for work one morning, opened the door to my house and my car wasn’t where I parked it the night before. What the….so I called the police, immediately thinking my car had been stolen. After I was finished sreaming into the phone, the person on the other end said softly “Miss, your car was towed due to unpaid parking tickets. You can pick your car up at the impound lot – after you pay the outstanding balance.” I apologized for my behavior and after paying a couple thousand dollars to the City Parking Department (most of it was interest, ugh!) as well as $500 to get my car out of impound, I had my car back. That was the wake up call I needed. I no longer procrasinate and I always keep a roll of quarters handy for metered spots 🙂

  5. Jerry says:

    In Michigan at least, you also have to sign the back of your registration otherwise it’s a $100 fine. Just a heads up to check.

  6. Brian says:

    Why couldn’t he just tell in his computer that you were registered?

    What was the deal with the insurance? He just kind of ignored it?

  7. Dan says:

    Love the idea of paying bills as they come! Brings to mind one of my most valued acrostics: OHIO (Only Handle It Once).

    Along those lines…

    Having the benefit of working at a credit union, I’ve gotten into the habit of taking a look at transactions in my checking account each morning when I get to work. It’s like balancing every day. Sounds a bit anal, I’m sure, but it literally takes less than a minute a day. Plus, if there’s an error (mine or theirs), it’s found immediately. So it not only keeps things in line, it’s a time saver each month.

  8. Lua says:

    I almost had that happen too. I had the new sticker in the glove compartment and the one on the glass was already expired.
    Luckily I did not get pulled over. Someone in front of me did get pulled over and that prompted me to check and I noticed the stickers so I had time to change mine when I got home.

  9. mjh says:

    Procrastination is bad for your finances in another, much more fundamental sense too:

  10. alan bluehole says:

    I’ll procrastinate by commenting in slightly unrelated ways:

    1. It’s quaint that you have a physical paycheck. I don’t think I’ve had one in 20 years — direct deposit.

    2. Lucky you were DWW when the officer pulled you over. That’s Driving While White.

    3. The deal with the insurance is the officer didn’t want to take the time to write a ticket and have to go to court. (That’s my guess).

  11. Luke says:

    This has inspired me to quit procrastinating about a leaky pipe under my house. It’s such a small leak that for one reason or another, I just keep putting off going down there and deciding if it’s something I can fix myself, or something I need to get a plumber to handle.

    The sad truth is, we’ve been paying 2-3x the normal water bill for the last several months because of it..

    Like you and your other commenters have said, I have the money to fix it.. I probably even know how to fix it myself (TBD). I just haven’t gotten around to it and it’s cost me in the hundreds of dollars to date.

    Time to get the coveralls out..

  12. finance girl says:

    funny! whew, you had ’em with! I am way too neurotic to procrastinate about that, I put them on same day that’s how crazy I am!! Just my little OCD!

  13. cribcage says:

    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.

    Been there. 😉

    Not to derail from financial costs, but there’s another potential “cost” worth mentioning in that circumstance: When a police officer pulls you over, don’t be afraid to pull into a side street or parking lot. If you’re on the highway and there’s an exit nearby, pull off. Definitely slow down and signal to the officer that you know he’s there – but don’t think that, unless you pull over immediately, he’ll assume that you’re trying to escape and arrest you. He won’t. Be safe. Stopping along the roadside is dangerous, and nobody knows this better than cops.

  14. jpsfranks says:

    I did pretty much the same thing this year with my tabs. It was raining outside when I got them, so I didn’t put them on, and pretty much forgot until my current tags had been expired for about 3 weeks. Fortunately I noticed before the coppers.

    On the plus side my car aged out of required emissions testing this year (25 years!!!). The amount of satisfaction I derive from that is wholly disproportional to the $25 savings.

  15. Mark says:

    I was pulled over in Texas recently – the officer thought I wasn’t wearing my seatbelt (I was). He noticed my expired registration sticker and the only insurance card I had in my glovebox was expired (I was current, just hadn’t put the card in the glovebox). He was nice enough to call my insurance company to confirm my insurance but gave me a citation for the registration. I renewed my registration that day and had to pay $10.00 or so at the local courthouse to dismiss the citation. Not bad.

  16. Tom Mc says:

    Where procrastination gets me in trouble is on rebate forms…My new phone looks like it just got much more expensive than free bacause I missed the rebate postmark date by 3 days. The worst part about it is that the forms were sitting on my desk for 2 weeks…ugh!

  17. Vivian says:

    A little bit of organization and psychology can do wonders for procrastination. There’s always a reason we don’t do something we’re supposed to — if you can figure that out, and find a way to make it a pleasant task that you can look forward to, you’ll nip it in the bud. I would say that this instance was more forgetfulness than procrastination — small tricks are good for that. Sticking the tags on the driver’s seat, so you see them before you sit down, can be a good reminder. Or maybe bring them in and tape them to your keys. In any case, two books that have changed my life in this regard: Getting Things Done by David Allen, and The Now Habit by Neil A. Fiore. Take a look!

  18. mike says:

    procrastincation can save you money as well. I’ve been putting off tabs for 3 years now (and counting). The cost of a ticket is less than the cost of paying for those 3 years registration so I have a positive ROI that increases each day I continue to put it off. Not the kind of story you want to relay to your kinds as a life lesson, but hey, it works for me…

  19. Christine says:

    Yeah I’ve done that. Twice. *headdesk* It’s an expensive stupid mistake to make to completely forget to put the new tags on.

  20. Jeff says:

    As another commenter noted, it’s shocking that you’re not having your paycheck directly deposited. I think that bears some explanation, because you’re crazy not to use direct deposit if it’s available.

  21. MinTX says:

    Worst procrastination story I’ve heard is a co-worker not filing tax returns for years since buying a house. Basically, letting the IRS hold their refund money. Unfortunately, there is a limit of 3 years (IIRC) beyond which refunds aren’t issued.

    Even if you don’t lose thousands of dollars through a time limit running out, there are much better ways to save than using the IRS for this purpose.

  22. Andy says:

    Funny related story. I was driving to Rochester, NY to visit some college buddies this fall and I was bringing my bed home that I was supposed to sell to a buddy. Because of this, I had borrowed my dads truck. Anyways, I got about 2 minutes away from their house and was kind of out of it after driving for 6 hours. I got pulled over by the cops for speeding.

    When asked for the registration and insurance I said sure and told them they were in the glove box. So I pull them out and I check them to make sure they are the current ones (my parents like to stock pile the paperwork in the glove box). I see that the registration card expired in 2001. I explained that it wasn’t my car and said that there was probably a current one in the glove box. There wasn’t. The insurance card was expired as well.

    Nothing like explaining to a sheriff why you are driving an out of state vehicle at 1am carrying a case of beer and having long-expired registration and insurance cards.

    He let me off with a citation for speeding. I assure you my parents got an ear full when I returned to PA.

  23. CMC says:

    I can definitely understand your point because I was in a somewhat similar situation. I had a lapse in my insurance several years back and I was pulled over and the officer discovered that my registration had been suspended as a result of the lapse in insurance. The breakdown of my cost was $90 fee for lapse, $200 for time away from work and a $50 surcharge. Just because I procrastinated it cost me $340. Meanwhile, had I surrenderd my plates, it would have cost me – get this – $1. Hind sight is indeed 20/20 !

  24. Dan Tanner says:

    When you are in a mild depression procrastination is mutual ally of yours. It says do not do it, do it some other time. Its inherent in the psyche and work and all whats going around you.

    Things gets overlooked, postponed, and remain unchecked. It creates a havoc in lifestyle and income.

    Whenever you find kidding yourself, forcefully do the thing right than and there. The present moment is the best one you got.

  25. Liz Kay says:

    I’m just glad I’m not the only one! I renewed my tags online as soon as I got the notice and received the stickers with the new exp. dates soon afterward … but kept telling myself I wanted to wash the car first. Then a full two months passed until I found myself attaching the new stickers hours before the old ones expired (and still not washed). I’m just glad I remembered in time — the meter maids are trigger-happy in my ‘hood.

    I started reading a book about procrastination once, but never finished it. :] I have to agree with the previous commenter, though — David Allen’s systems (and LifeHacker’s streamlined approaches) can really help you Get Things Done.

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