A recent blog post over at bereavedandbeingasingleparent regarding the insignificance of a discount he received from his electricity supplier, reminded me of an incident that occurred around 1959/1960. This was many years before Aotearoa New Zealand converted from Stirling (Pounds, Shillings and Pence) to Decimal currency (Dollars and Cents).
My father worked for the New Zealand Education Department as a PhysEd (Physical Education) specialist. His role was to visit schools and to advise the educators on all aspects of PhysEd from swimming pool and playground safety to the supervision of individual and team sports to instructing teachers how to teach folk dancing and Māori action songs/dances.
This story revolves around a cheque he was sent. I don’t recall whether it was to make up for a shortfall in his salary or for an underpayment of expenses, but the department sent him a cheque for half a penny at the end of the financial year. He thought it was hilarious, as the postage alone cost four pence plus the cost of the envelope plus the cost of typing the message detailing how the shortfall had occurred. Additionally in those days there was a two pence stamp duty on each cheque. The postage and stamp duty alone came to sixpence. My father framed it and hung it on the wall as it would have cost him a two pence processing fee to bank or cash.
Every month following, the accounts department sent him increasingly desperate letters asking him to bank the cheque so that they could “balance the books” – each letter costing another four pence postage, plus whatever it cost to process. My father ignored the requests for six months, but finally he received a phone call from Head Office and the caller sounded to be quite upset, so much so that he felt he should do “the right thing” and bank the cheque.
Cheques were valid for six months and by the time he tried to bank it, it had expired by a day or two. He sent it back from his office to head office, which again cost the department four pence in postage, explaining why it was being returned. I don’t know how the department and my father finally resolved the matter, but that half penny cheque incurred direct costs of at least eight postage stamps plus the stamp duty totalling 34 pence, not to mention the the eight envelopes, eight A4 sheets with departmental letterhead, plus the time of the accountant and the typists to prepare each letter.
Back then accounting was processed using mechanical accounting machines, and perhaps there was no practical way of carrying that half cent for an individual employee from one financial year to the next. I wonder, in these day of electronic funds transfers, if similar situations still arise from time to time.