Monday, August 23, 2021

On Financial Tracking

 Once upon a time, when we first got married, I used Quicken to track our expenses.

My parents used a paper based binder system for tracking their expenses which they inherited in turn from my material grandparents (said binder still exists at my parent's house, with expenses entered up to February of last year).  It is one of the memories I have of them, sitting at the table at least once a month going over the entries (the other memory I have is my father bringing out the shoeboxes of receipts on an annual basis and muttering something about "taxes", which I scarcely understood for many years).

But it became our responsibility in turn, and so getting our fancy new Macintosh in the early 1990's I started entering them in.

It became  pain, of course. I was not terribly well versed in finance and had to teach myself as I went.  We also lacked the ability we have now to electronically look up (and download) our statements and so painful hours were spent combing through bank statements and card statements to try to capture everything.  And statements for retirement accounts, when I got them, were even worse:  not only did I not know how to enter the principal, how did one enter the "gains"?  

But in spite of all my trials and travails, most things worked their way into the sheet and over time, we built up a record of expenses and a Net Worth.

Oh, how I loved that Net Worth. I  would look at it as it slowly grew, so very proud of ourselves.  I liked charts and historical graphs and there it was, in loved colored bar chart form.  Graphs and reports, I thought, were great.

And then - like it always does - things changed.  In our case three things:  The Firm, Hammerfall, and our computer.

The first two - although financially a bit devastating - were pretty clear cut:  The Firm crashed our ongoing finances, and Hammerfall precipitated the loss of our home equity.  Tracking your Net Worth is magically a great deal less fun when everything is going down.  And the computer - well, when the computer got changed, we needed to change our version of Quicken and port it over, which never seemed to be important enough to get done.

We have adapted in the years since then, and use much less glamorous tools. Our spending plan is a spreadsheet with income in two columns and spend for each category deducted in an adjoining column.  Our assets sheet is a simple two page spreadsheet (no glorious colors or reports) that tracks everything on a monthly basis.  

We have a pretty simple division of duties at this point.  The Ravishing Mrs. TB handles the monthly expenses, I handle the assets.  Instead of spending hours coaxing information from the reports, I spend about 30 minutes once a month updating everything.  Oddly enough, everything outputs just as nicely as it did.  Yes, we do lose some granularity as to what spending went into what categories, but I find I am less concerned about the particulars, only the overarching whole (and to be fair, one can always look that up on-line as well).

The cost of such tools, as you might imagine, is greatly reduced from the original cost of Quicken or the now ubiquitous month subscription charge for such things.  I run LibreOffice and so the cost to me is only my time; The Ravishing Mrs. TB uses the Excel that came with her computer so again, the cost has effectively amortized away.  It is interesting to me that over time, the cost of a specialized program has become reduced to almost nothing, if it will serve your purpose.

Every now and again I think about those old Quicken sheets.  I still have the information, stored away in my portable digital archive (which all fits on a memory stick, another poignant reminder of the times and technology).  But even if I wanted to, I do not think I could get at it now as that operating system is long gone.

Which is, I suppose, okay. I can always just make a graph if I need one.


16 comments:

  1. I always used the shoebox and receipts. When it comes to finance I like paper. I don’t like reducing my finances to ones and zeros on an electric device that becomes useless when the power goes out…

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    1. Fair Glen - and used successfully by millions of people for at least 150 years. I used to, but console myself with the idea that if the power goes out, so will my taxes as everything is electronic now...

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  2. This brought back some memories. :) I remember trying one of those fancy budget programs back in the day, but finally concluded that it was more trouble than it was worth because I didn't enjoy doing it. So a 6-column Columnar Pad worked well for years.

    Things got considerably simpler when Dan retired; I no longer had to keep track of all those little debit card purchases that were necessary when he was over the road. Going to a basically fixed income really helps keep things simple. Now, enough stays in the bank to cover bills (a relatively static amount) and fuel (paying for gas at the pump is an convenience we agree to indulge in). For everything else, we use a cash-and-envelope system. Each week has it's own envelope of cash, and when it's gone, we're done spending for the week. If there's some left over, that goes into the surplus cash envelope, which often comes in handy.

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    1. Leigh, I can imagine that keeping track of finances when Dan had his trucking job was a complete pain.

      We have tried the cash envelope system and it works for some items, like car and home repairs. But for others, it has not really taken hold - and with the ability to earn points for travel (a handy thing now that I go back to Old Home so often) it has become a real blessing.

      I remember my dad telling me how much their expenses simplified later in life. By the end, they were spending money on electricity, cable, phone, groceries, gas, and dining. That was really it.

      I did like the ability to generate reports in Quicken, but frankly trying to back enter data became overwhelming as a thought.

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  3. Mom had a paper sack from Furr's that she put all the receipts in. She did the taxes over a weekend, and we knew not to bug her.

    We used the envelope system back in the 80's. Then, when I started my side work, I bought Quicken. Too much effort. I'm still not as mindful as I should be.

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    1. My parents did the same short period of time for taxes STxAr, and we too learned not to bother them.

      We used Quickbooks when we had the firm. Honestly, were I to have another small business, I might just do manual again. It is a great deal more straightforward and to Glen's point, not dependent on an operating system or electricity.

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  4. I have tried a couple times to use Quicken and other methods but eventually I found out a much better and simpler way. Since my goal is to not earn any income some day, I simply track our progress towards full on retirement. We put money into our retirement accounts first. With what is left, we just put into our checking and savings accounts until they reach a point we are comfortable they cover all our expenses and any unknown emergency that might arise. When those accounts cross those thresh holds, I plow any surplus back into accounts meant for retirement. I couldn't tell you what I spent in any single category for the last two decades, but I could tell you exactly how much we saved towards our retirement in any given year and if we are on track to meet our goal. All told I spend less than an hour annually keeping track of this information.

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    1. Ed, that is kind of the modified version that we ended up with as well. I know how much goes into retirement and asset management and what the savings cushion is; as long as the rest of it is within agreed upon limits, I really do not follow it as much (and to be fair, only get questioned if there something out of the ordinary).

      Like you, my monthly assessment is less than an hour a month.

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  5. I have used Gnucash as a simple financial register for years, very happy with it. You can make it as simple or as complicated as you want. Runs under Windoze or Linux, is free and well maintained.

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    1. Interesting NM and thank you for the recommendation. I am always interested in a new software platform (and free is good!).

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  6. My professional organization lost our Treasurer, and my term as Regional Director was coming to a close, so we decided that I was a grande candidate to fill in on an interim basis (knowing that the ravishing Mrs. Just So is a CPA). Needless to say, my interim term extended over to an elected term as said organization's Treasurer.

    Our tool of choice was Quickbooks. The association dues were sent to me as a check by each individual member. Organizational expenses were generated and I signed the checks and entered data into the account. The knowledge my wife imparted helped us clean up the books from the previous Treasurer, and I handed off the position after my 2 year elected term.

    Needless to say, that was my last foray into Professional Leadership within the organization. Now, it is for the younger generation to carry this information forward, and take over the responsibilities, and the dangers inherent in safeguarding the accounts.

    Time Served, and Good Behavior, and all that.

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    1. I admire your service Sir. The Ravishing Mrs TB is a book keeper by trade, and so has lent her expertise to all of the kid's support organizations over the years (nothing like expertise to make one the perfect volunteer). I can barely manage myself to stay out of jail, let alone an organization, so am grateful others are willing to do it.

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  7. I still use Quicken. I've used it since the early 90's, when it was Quicken for DOS. One time, when trying to update to a later version of Quicken, the newer version wouldn't allow to the earlier version to port over. I ended up moving to Microsoft Money, which I didn't like. Then I thought, "What the hell?" and tried porting Microsoft Money into the newer version of Quicken I had already bought. IT WORKED! So on I went with Quicken. Then, one day, the data file corrupted. I was able to restore it to the point I could read what I had entered, but the math wouldn't work right when I went to add anything. I ended up having to start a new data file about four years ago. It's worked OK since then, and I back up to alternating drives every other day, so if the corruption happens again, I'll have two known good copies. The bummer here is that I no longer have a seamless, continuous record of my finances going back to 1993. The upside is that the farther from the jump to the new file I get, the less that matters.

    I used to do the shoebox thing. I'm just not good at organizing, and my wife is even less good at hanging onto receipts. BOTH of us suck at managing money. Quicken takes care of all those handicaps, and makes child's play out of making sense of our money. I'll be sticking with it, I suppose...

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    1. Ah, the seamless continuous record. I miss that too Pete. It was nice to have the record from 1993 to 2004 or thereabouts available for data picking.

      It is funny to me that as I go, the less I am concerned with the minutiae. Perhaps in some ways that is accounted for by the fact that we have a level of financial freedom we did not have before.

      The thing I do miss is the ability to overcome those handicaps of my own making.

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  8. Talking about Quicken...reminds me of the days when I worked. That was the software I used for the company books...hated that job lol...I also use Excel now just to keep my budget going. I'm not anywhere near having a net worth yet, maybe in a few years lol! :)

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    1. We used Quickbooks at the Firm, Rain. I am sure that I did not use it to its full potential and now, given that it is far more complex than ever, probably even less successfully. A spreadsheet seems to fill the bill.

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