"I left my wallet upstairs. Do you mind if I borrow some cash?"

The children and I were standing just inside the front door, getting our things together in preparation for a pre-Christmas shopping trip.

"Sure, just let me ... " I typed something into my phone and pressed send.

"OK, got it," I said, and handed the boy a twenty. He went out to the car.

Two daughters were still pulling on their coats. "We each just need to get a small present for our Secret Santas," one said. "Can we have $10 each?"

"Have, no. Borrow, yes."

The girl skewed her lips and reconsidered. "Better make it $5 then," she said.

"You can take it out of our bank accounts," the other said magnanimously.

"I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today ... " I murmured, typing another little note into my phone.


"We're not buying hamburgers, Mummy!"

"I was quoting Popeye the Sailor Man's bum friend. He was always borrowing money."

The girls looked at each other. They had never heard of Popeye the Sailor Man or his bum friend. What was it with parents, anyway?

"Anyway, we're going to pay you back," they promised.

And I knew they would, whether they remembered or not, because I had entered them in my magical new iPhone ledger. It is the most marvelous system!

Once upon a time, children could cadge cash and be pretty secure in thinking that a day or two later the grown-up who would have forgotten about the loan. Oh, there might be an awkward question along the lines of, "Say, did you ever pay me back the $5 you borrowed two weeks ago?" but that could be easily parried either with a vague, "Oh gosh, I've forgotten" or an "I think so," or more daringly with a "Well, you owed me $5 for babysitting, so we're even," which might even be true.

Now, however, chits get called in with merciless efficiency. It has been one of the perverse pleasures of the days after Christmas to go from lavishing the bounty of a Kris Kringle to harvesting the pennies of an Ebenezer Scrooge.

"Are you working?" my husband asked, coming in to the office to find me pulling chits off my phone with one hand, using my laptop for online banking with the other, and wholly suffused with stingy glee.

"No, I'm balancing the books, clawing back cash from our darling children."

"Excellent," he said.

There was $40 from V, $5 from P and $5 from another P. There was $20 from the second P, $12 from M and $10 for P. Then I came to the mysterious denotation of "res from M."

Humbug! "Res" probably meant "rest of" some vast sum, but having failed to write it down, I now would never know.

The new system is marvelous, but not imperfect.

It was at that point that I came to a note that made me blush with embarrassment. My children weren't the only scroungers around, it seemed. According to my smug little notes, a week before Christmas I myself had borrowed $10 from one house guest to cover the taxi fare for another. Oh gosh, I'd forgotten!

Meghan Cox Gurdon's column appears on Sunday and Thursday. She can be contacted at mgurdon@washingtonexaminer.com.