"It's declined," said the nice woman at the supermarket checkout.
I say "nice" because she showed remarkable patience with the stressed woman in front of her.
"That can't be," I said, immediately, suspecting some sort of internet fraud had drained my bank accounts of cash. "Here, try this one," I said thrusting another eftpos card at her.
I gazed out the window, I hummed a tune, I did everything in my power to look like a woman on top of her finances.
"No, doesn't seem to work either," she said sweetly.
"Oh, damn my husband," I said in my laughing voice. "Probably spent it all on books or beer or something. Ah, here we go. I know this one will work," I said giving her my credit card which, last time I looked, was maxed out.
My 13-year-old daughter was gazing at me with a look of absolute astonishment.
"What's going on?" she said, incredulous.
"Oh, nothing darling, don't you worry, just a little hiccup with the finances," I replied hastily before adding a "ha, ha", for the benefit of the long queue forming behind me.
"Sorry love, not working either."
The last time this happened I was 21 and had not been keeping my chequebook balanced. I went to the bank to withdraw money from my account, as you did in the days before eftpos, and there was nothing left. My heart pounded, my face flushed and I nearly burst into tears, faced with getting through the next three days until pay day.
Twenty-eight years later, I felt the same symptoms. I was going to be that person who has to put all their groceries in the naughty bin at the information desk to claim them later.
My daughter looked frightened. She has never experienced the no-money syndrome.
Then I remembered my secret credit card. The one I keep for emergencies for special purchases I don't particularly want to share with my husband.
"So sorry, everyone," I said to the restless, stirring crowd behind me. "Be done in a minute."
I handed it to the really nice woman and held my breath. So did my daughter. So did the man next to me, the woman behind him and the family of five behind her.
"Yes!" shouted the checkout woman.
Someone clapped, my daughter muttered something about meeting me at the car and was off.
"Are we in a recession?" she asked on the way home.
"Yes there is a recession of sorts," I replied.
"Are we poor?" she whispered.
We were experiencing what is known in business as a cash-flow crisis. We had just independently published my latest book and paid our tax bill, which equalled cash out. Several of our clients had not paid on time, equalling no cash in. I explained the business principle to my daughter but it was evident she was in a state of depression and her vivid imagination had her in the poorhouse of Charles Dickens' novels.
"It's okay," I said as I wondered what I had done with that $30 Onecard supermarket voucher and if I went through all my handbags and searched on the floor of the car how much cash I could find.
In the end, the cash crisis lasted all of 48 hours before one of our clients paid us.
"Can I get a savings account?" asked my daughter the next day. "I never want to live through that again."
* Wendyl's book, Mother's Little Helper - an old-fashioned guide to raising your baby chemical-free, is out today. It has 84 natural recipes that avoid using toxic chemicals.