Current Balance: $600.00 $300.00

Well, it turns out my quest to document every last penny of the six hundred dollar tax incentive check the government sent me is going to be easier than I thought: I only got 300. The IRS did half the work for me! Thanks, Uncle Sam!

I don’t know what I read wrong or what changed, but I could have sworn I got a notification saying I was eligible for 600. Well, it’s just one more battle lost in the psychic war between me and pieces of paper with important numbers on them.

(P.S. Does anyone else find it awesome that George Bush is book-ending his presidency with $300 checks? What did you lose for six hundred dollars over the last 8 years?

a. Dignity

b. Self-Respect

c. Civic Pride

d. Your Job

e. Six Hundred Dollars)

I’m going to stick to my original plan: cash the check and document the money spent as I spend it, down to the penny. I’m betting it doesn’t last through the summer. Not because I’m hard up or I won’t be able to control my spending; I’m in a much better financial situation than I was when I started this column. I have a steady job, my rent’s up-to-date, and my bank account is in the black.

However, the national trend is in the other direction. Food and fuel prices are up while wages are down. The economy has ground to a near halt, posting only modest growth which most experts link to the incentive checks, according to a recent NY Times article. Jobs are down across the board — except in food service. Luckily for people like me, most Americans still don’t know how to make a sandwich.

I’m not sure what my government wants me to spend the money on to help stem the tide. I know I need a bike and a sleeping bag. I know my wireless and electric bills are past due by at least a month. I know I owe my friends and loved ones for everything they gave me when I was really hard up last month and the month before that. I know I want to lie naked on a beach with a rum drink in one hand and body parts in the other.

Even sandwich makers have dreams. Johnny, start the counter.

The U.S. government will be sending out economic stimulus checks on a timed schedule based on the last two digits of the taxpayer’s Social Security number. According to the IRS website, my bracket of paper checks will be mailed “no later than” June 27.

Which means, of course, more months of barely scraping by, bouncing checks and saving money until I receive my check some time in July. By then, what with all that scraping and saving going on, I won’t need the money like I need it now.

Things have been tight, to say the least. I moved back to Buffalo from Boston with no job on April 1, and I finally got a steady job a week and a half ago. I haven’t gotten my first check. I’ve been buying food at gas stations with outdated credit card software because I know the transaction will go through and I’ll be able to walk out with something, even though I know it will be sinking my checking account further into the red and creating more overdraft charges for when I actually get some money in the bank. Things like cable Internet service or staying current on my cell phone bill that were previously just expenses now seem more like long term goals, something to start a change jar for like a trip to Six Flags or a new bike.

Now this. This idiotic Band-Aid solution to the nation’s financial problems. As a matter of policy, I don’t even want the check. The idea is to give everyone $600 and hope for the best. Hope they spend it in ways that stimulate a flagging economy. Hope they don’t save it or use it to pay off some debt like they should. It’s not a government assistance program, it’s not really government at all. We are being handed a modest sum and told to fend for ourselves. It’s individualistic and it misses the root of the problem: the people who need this money the most aren’t getting by on $600 checks. Between rent and the groceries and transportation costs and utilities– the money’s gone before we get it in the bank.

And so I disagree with the program. But, of course, I need the money. And there was constant noise about how May, May would be the month when we’d start to see this small, irresponsible brand of relief. Now I have to wait two more months.

It’s a good thing I listed my father’s address on my tax return. I’d done it because I was moving at the time and didn’t have an apartment yet in Buffalo. As it stands, my check will be even more delayed because my father will have to forward it from Albany. Let’s hope that after these next two months I’m not evicted, with the bank holding everything I own, forced to move back to my father’s to receive my check on time.

The federal government has informed me (and others) that it will be sending out a check for $600 to aid me in my financial endeavors some time in May.

Owing to the fact that a dollar doesn’t go as far as it used to (and neither do six hundred of them), I’ve decided to chronicle the story of my $600 tax incentive from the time I get the check until it’s completely gone. In order to track the money properly, I’ve decided to cash it right away and keep track of the cash so as to not mix it up with money I receive from work. (If you have better ideas, let me know, but starting a separate account for it costs too much money.) I’ll post my experiences here with a “600 and falling” tag.

Posts will probably feature such exciting narratives as:

Paying my cell phone bill.

Deciding between Banquet or Hungry Man frozen dinners.

Philosophically wrestling with the urge to blow it all on booze and women.

Half-mad diatribes on the state of the working poor.

Occasionally blowing small sums of the money on booze and women.

The ins and outs of discount meats and pet care supplies.

And so on.

The check should come within the next few weeks, so watch for updates. For now, take a few minutes and read the story that inspired me to whatever modest action comes out of this project.