Coffee heat rising

Excel vs. Quicken

So…how’s the bookkeeping working, after a year of using Excel instead of Quicken for Mac?

Last January I switched to Excel for tracking my bank accounts, budget, and credit card charges. After years as a Quicken customer, I’d really lost patience: data vanished in the transfer from Windows to Mac, Quicken for Mac was clunky, and I’d long ago had it with having to upgrade to a pricey  new version every time I turned around. It appears I’m not alone in those sentiments.

Excel has its advantages and its disadvantages vis à vis Quicken. Biggest negative: it can’t talk to your bank or your investment house. Quicken lets you upload and download transactions and data from those august institutions. Nor does Excel care to converse with TurboTax, Intuit’s tax preparation software. Excel talks to you and only to you (or so we hope).

If you want to integrate your bookkeeping with your banking and investing, however, there are alternatives, some of them out there in the Cloud. Programs such as (which, alas, was purchased by Intuit), Buxfer, MoneyStrands, Pear Budget, or Thrive sometimes do that sort of thing, and of course Mint will now interact with TurboTax. Not having tried one of these programs, I hesitate to state that any are better, worse, or the same as Quicken. But there they are: something to try if your patience with Intuit wears thin.

Excel has one helluva learning curve, especially for those of us with English-major math skills. After a year of working with it, I’d say my skills are no better than they were at the outset. A year of manipulating Quicken left me with a black belt in Advanced Quickening. However, a rudimentary understanding of Excel’s functions allowed me to build checking and savings accounts and to massage the data into something that I think will be intelligible for my tax accountant.

It’s useful to know that Microsoft now offers a variety of home and office financial  management templates, designed to work with Excel. But it’s pretty easy to build your own.

To build the new Excel workbook, I tried to ape the accounts and functions of Quicken. This entailed creating spreadsheets for each bank account, laid out in identical patterns, plus another spreadsheet for credit-card charges. The latter allowed me to reset the balance each month to the amount budgeted for discretionary spending (which is all that goes on my credit cards), so that the bottom line showed how much was left in any given month’s allowance.

Typical headers for bank account
Tracking credit-card spending against an $800 budget

Come the first of this year, I created what I hope is an intelligible spreadsheet for the accountant by merging data from the credit-card spreadsheet with the bank-account spreadsheet entries and then sorting all the data by category. This made it possible to summarize tax-related data while also making all the year’s transactions, organized by budget category, easily visible and transparent to her.

A number of revelations ensued as I tried to organize this material for the tax accountant. One is that it makes sense to number tax-related categories (1, 2, 3…), so a “sort” command will bring them up at the top of the “sorted” spreadsheet. For example,

1 Medical
2 Mortgage interest
3 Trade group dues

…And the like. When “sorting” data, Excel wants to put numbered items before alphabetical items; so, if you preface each tax-related category with a numeral, the “sort” function will gather all the tax-relevant categories together.

Yeah, I know there’s something called a “pivot report,” and yes, I do suspect it could solve all my problems. However, only a Druid could comprehend the instructions in Excel’s Help file. I gave up after several efforts at trying to call upon those spirits.

In addition to its impenetrability, Excel has the annoying quirk that the (very simple!) formula you enter to create a running balance sometimes comes unstuck for no discernible reason, giving you an incorrect balance. Occasionally I haven’t discovered this until I’ve tried to reconcile my books with the bank’s. Figuring out the problem can be really difficult, because it often results not from incorrect data entry but from some mysterious disjunct between what you’ve asked the program to do and what it decides, midway through the process, to suddenly start doing. When gut instinct tells you something like this is happening, the solution is to go up to a row where the formula is visibly working and then drag the “balance” cell’s qualities all the way down the column. This corrects the error, wherever the heck it started.

We know the irritants presented by Quicken. It’s bloatware. It’s vaporware. The Mac version is clunkware whose files can neither be read by the PC version nor converted to a readable version. Your accountant, you can be sure, uses the PC version. And worst of all, its maker Intuit forces you to buy new, ever-more-bloated versions every time you take a deep breath. IMHO, these are very, very large irritants.

So, of course, is the difficulty of learning and manipulating Excel.

For me, just now it’s a toss-up. For a brief, not-so-shining moment last month, I considered running out and buying the latest version of Quicken to restart my books in 2011. But, on reflection, possibly not. Quicken’s biggest advantage over Excel is its ability to commune with your financial institutions. I’ve never felt moved to use that feature; my financial manager does the buying and selling of shares, and it’s pretty easy to access the credit union, the IRA, and the brokerage accounts online. Comparing and reconciling them is very simple, and I don’t need a piece of intermediary software to perform the desired transactions.

So. To the extent that one can be said to any software, I suppose I Excel.

What program do you prefer for bookkeeping, and why?

Odd$ and End$

First crack out of the box this morning, it was off to the credit union at the (relatively) nearby West campus, there to hand-deliver 15 pages of paperwork.

Well over a month ago, M’Hijito and I had asked to negotiate a loan modification of the downtown house’s mortgage. They asked for evidence of every deep breath we’d taken within the prior 30 days, which after much thrashing around we scraped together into a big digital pile and e-mailed to them.

Well, this mound of debris reached the loan lady one day after the credit union outsourced its loan management. So now, instead of the six-day turnaround on a decision we had been promised, we were told there would be a one-week “blackout” on all information coming from this outfit, and that after that…they had no idea what would happen.

Weeks went by: nothing.

So I called Loan Lady the day before yesterday and asked her voicemail if I was correct in assuming that silence means “no deal,” since we would need to figure out how to pay the mortgage or decide whether we should take a walk, given last month’s munificent earned income of $161.

Within hours, comes a call from Higher-Up Loan Lady, who says that the credit union is “taking some loans back in-house,” among them ours, and would we please send the entire mound over again, only add written proof that I actually was canned and update several other documents, now gone stale. Translation: “we lost your documents.”

Of course, the fuck-you-very-much announcement on ASU letterhead was not in digital form. The new printer/scanner refused to scan it. So that made it impossible to e-mail the new pile of junk, which took a good half-day in the collecting and updating. The new printer/scanner doesn’t have a FAX, and even the old printer/scanner/FAX machine would not talk to Cox’s modem and so would not have sent a FAX anyway. She suggested I either mail it (about $2.00 worth of postage) or take it to the credit union and get them to FAX it.

I chose the latter. This ensured that someone there actually saw to it that the documents went through, and they gave me the printout of confirmation showing the stuff reached Higher-Up Loan Lady. The cost of the gas to drive over there—about $2.53—was probably as much as or more than the cost of postage, but at least it ensured that the pile of paper didn’t disappear again.

Despite the annoying waste of time and gasoline, this junket did allow me to take advantage of a serendipitous occurrence of the Money Happens phenomenon.

A few weeks ago, a client gave me a $25 gift card to Fry’s grocery stores, a nice little under-the-table lagniappe. I never shop at Fry’s, because the two stores in my general vicinity are located in pretty threatening neighborhoods. After the manager of the restaurant in the Fry’s shopping center at 19th and Glendale was murdered by thieves, I quit going there. On the way to ASU West, though, I passed a store in a working-class neighborhood that looked pretty safe, and so decided to spend the money there.

Not bad. For $20 I nabbed milk and eggs with which to make some excellent biscuits for breakfast, a small stoneware bowl of the sort I’ve been needing for a while, a bag of chunk hardwood charcoal, and some produce. The pork, much needed for Cassie, was ten cents a pound higher than Safeway’s, so I passed on that. But I did find a pair of kitchen tongs with handles, not those chopsticks on a spring that are currently popular. Real tongs have have turned into a hard-to-to-find item, as I discovered when my ancient pair wore out.

Yesterday I had a meeting that took place after I finished teaching in the middle of the afternoon. Because I couldn’t afford to have lunch out even if there were something available on the campus that I’d want to eat, by the time I stumbled in the door I was dead starved. It was evening by the time I’d fed myself and the dog taken the dog for the required doggy-walk and added more acid to the pool. Then I had to wrestle with the mountain of paperwork (above). After that was ready to go, I

was sooo tired I sat down to relax by working on a pencil drawing I started yesterday. The next time I lifted my head, it was quarter to eight and I was an hour late to choir practice.

Started to climb into the car to race down to the Cult Headquarters, but with the garage door open and the engine on, I realized I  just couldn’t do it. So went back in the house and missed practice. Now I’ll be in the doghouse again. Oh well.

My beleaguered former RA, who lives just a few blocks from me, was burgled last Sunday. They stole all her jewelry—most of it sentimental gifts from her mother with little monetary value—and her husband’s laptop. {sigh} This neighborhood is under siege from the cockroaches who inhabit the tenements across 19th Avenue. Burglaries are as common as falling leaves around here. I’m almost inclined to go back up to the pound and see if that fake “bloodhound” is still there. Whatever he was, he was no bloodhound. Neither did he appear to have any pit bull in him. But he was big enough to mean business, or at least to look like he might.

I don’t know. I can’t afford another dog. Just feeding me and little 25-pound Cassie is a challenge. On the other hand, I can’t afford to be burglarized, either.

Speaking of the neighborhood, when I got home late yesterday afternoon a carpet cleaning crew was over at Biker Boob and Bobbie McGee’s house, overseen by a hulking bruiser of a man swaggering around in a wife-beater. Turns out said bruiser was a great big, charming gay guy who is a Realtor. He strolled over to introduce himself and say Boob and Bobbie are history and he’s putting the house on the market. He’s asking $239,000, substantially less per square foot than the $285,000 our local Real Estate Empress is trying to get for the same model two blocks to the north and west. He said the place is in pretty bad shape and needs a lot of fix-up.

Not surprising.

As sweet as Queer John was, at one point he had five men living in there with him. (QJ was the original renter, an affable little guy but pretty nuts.) After QJ was chased down in a dramatic pursuit through the neighborhood and hauled off by a team of five cruisersful of cops, he was replaced by Biker Boob and his lady, Bobbie McGee, a raunchy cowgirl given to dumping car trunkloads full of mystery garbage in the big trash bin behind my house and Sally’s. We figured if whatever she was stuffing in there (neither of us cared to tear open the bags to see what it was) couldn’t go into the bin behind her house, it probably wasn’t supposed to go into the city garbage bins at all.

According to Zillow, $239,900 is what the present owner, who lives in upstate New York, paid for that house in 2004. He must figure the market has recovered enough to unload an ill-advised investment. Let’s hope he’s right!

While fooling with the Excel files yesterday by way of cranking the new reports the CU wanted, I made an interesting little discovery.

In January, I only spent $1,698. Multiply that by 12 and you get an estimated 2010 expenditure of $20,376. Optimistic, to be sure—summer power bills will raise that by about $200 a month, adding approximately $800 to the projected total: $21,176.

But if you include the tiny drawdown I’m taking from ASU’s 403(b) plan so as to qualify for the state’s sick leave payment (the net is only $385 a month), you come up with this net income:

“Pension” net: $385 x 12 = $4,620
Social Security net: $1,000 x 12 = $12,000
Net teaching income: $14,400 – 25% = $10,800

$4,620 + $12,000 + $10,800 = $27,420, projected net income

$27,420 – $21,176 = $6,244 positive cash flow for 2010

That’s a far cry from the $1,400 year-end balance I estimated by manually adding up all my projected costs, month by month, and subtracting them, month by month, from projected income (and, during the summer, nonincome).

So far I haven’t been able to account for the difference. I think I’ve included all predictable costs. The $1,698 January expenditure includes the $314 I had to cough up for COBRA, significantly more than either COBRA or Medicare will cost after this. The only thing I can imagine is that my month-by-month estimates of what the community college will pay must be wrong. But they couldn’t possibly be wrong by $4800…that doesn’t make sense.

Time will tell. If the shorthand calculation turns out to be correct, maybe I won’t have to teach three-and-three!


How We Get in Trouble: Sensitivity and nonmonthly expenses

This is a post by L. Burke Files, president of Financial Examinations & Evaluations, Inc.

I have seen hundreds of people in financial distress. Often the nonevent problems (as opposed to events such as medical, job, relationship issues) arise from two matters that are more devastating than problems that come up because of a single costly event:

1. Sensitivity
2. Covering nonmonthly expenses with credit cards

Sensitivity, or our sensitivity to financial change, is measured as the percentage difference between our total income and our total expenditures. If I make $100,000 and spend $95,000, my sensitivity is 5 percent, as it will be if I make $20,000 and spend $19,500. If I earn $100,000 and spend $85,000, my sensitivity is 15 percent. On a $20,000 income, I would have to restrict my spending to $17,000 to bring my sensitivity to 15 percent.

Five percent is both shamefully low and higher than the national average. As you can see, the lower your sensitivity rating, the more vulnerable you are to inflation and economic recession, the harder it will be for you to save, and the more you are likely to suffer in the event of a layoff.

Never has the issue of sensitivity been more tested and proven than over the last few years. Real wages have stayed the same while expenses related to oil went up substantially. Oil prices have affected gasoline for cars, energy for running our homes, the cost of food, the cost of medical (think of all the plastic stuff doctors use), and so on, at great length. Because we saw no increase in real wages during this time, while basic costs increased tremendously, in one three-year period we went from several years of saving 5 percent of our income to spending 105 percent. This deficit spending was financed by savings or by credit card. We wiped our savings and ran up our credit cards. We have never been a nation of savers, like Japan, but we had inexpensive housing and food, compared to the rest of the world, now we do not.

Check to see what you sensitivity is—it may surprise you. Take the amount you spend and subtract it from the amount you earn. Now divide the remainder by the amount you earn. The result is your sensitivity, expressed as a decimal:

In 2008, you earned $50,000.
You spent $45,000.

$ 5,000

$5,000 ÷$50,000 = .10 = 10%

Nonmonthly expenses are those expenses that we have agreed to pay but are not on our monthly budget or cash flow radar screen. These typically are annual or semiannual insurance bills, car repairs, and medical costs not covered by health insurance, but let us not forget school clothes and fees, veterinary bills, or unexpected repairs to our house. Most people manage by using a line of credit, usually in the form of credit cards, to bridge the gap. The balances grow and grow, because the root of the problem, failure to plan for these expenses, is never addressed.

How to address it? One way is to set up a small savings account or money jug at home. Estimate what your nonmonthly expenses will be for a year, and then divide that by 10. Put that amount of money in the account or jug. Yeah, I get there are 12 months in a year. If you estimated correctly, this will leave you have some money for the holidays and for savings. Over time, this practice will increase your sensitivity rating, allow you to avoid increasing debt, and improve your financial health.

Budgeting and strategies for saving

Some time ago, a financial advisor who was helping me figure out what to do with a small inheritance remarked that I have a special talent for accruing savings by bits and pieces. Well, that does appear to be the case. As we noted the other day, by the end of this year my emergency fund will exceed $24,000—above and beyond the $21,000 squirreled away last year to pay off the Renovation Loan for the downtown house. 

So…how d’you do that?

Truth to tell, I don’t know how others would do it. But here are the basics that work for me:

1. Get out of debt and stay out of debt.

At the outset of my financial journey, I paid off a five-year car loan in 18 months by adding principal prepayments to each regular monthly payment. This freed up the $300/month payments to put into savings. Within a few years, I also paid off the $80,000 mortgage on my house, partly by renting space in my home and using the income to deal with the mortgage.

Debt consumes an enormous amount of your income. Freeing yourself of debt payments effectively “increases” your income even if you never get a raise—you end up with more money to spend or save.

2. Build savings into your budget.

“Pay yourself first” is the operative principle here. This is another way of saying “spend less than you earn.” As I was paying off car and real estate loans, I also set aside a small amount for savings each month. Bare minimum has always been $200 a month. As debts dissolve, some or all of the amount you’ve freed up by paying down debt can be added to the monthly savings.

When you create a budget, an effective way to create savings is to find a place to put every dollar of income. In other words, rather than estimating what you spend on each category (such as food, housing, utilities, transportation) and stopping when those categories are accounted for, build a set categories that will account for your entire net income. One of the categories should be “monthly savings.” This approach is sometimes called “zero-based budgeting.” 

My own approach to budgeting was to carefully track expenditures for a month or two, using Quicken or Excel. This provides a picture of where and how much you’re spending. Expense categories become evident after a month or so of observation. This exercise not only allows you to see where your money is going, it gives you some clues to where you might rein in unruly spending habits (for example, have you run amok at restaurants? did you really need all those clothes?). 

Once I understood my spending patterns, I established reasonable amounts for each category, including a category for savings. Any difference between income and expenditure was added to the “savings” category. Raises in pay resulted in raises in savings; although I might not devote the entire raise to increasing saving (you do have to get a life sometime, after all), I did pay myself better savings on the rare occasions the university gave me an increase.

3. Build side income streams.

Find ways to earn above and beyond the income from your day job. A master’s degree in anything will get you an adjunct teaching job at a community college. Night courses are a lot of fun to teach, because they’re full of adults who are there because they want to be there. Such gigs are not well paid, but every buck counts. I put all my net pay from teaching directly into savings.

You’re not forced to stop with just one side job. If you have a marketable hobby, if you enjoy collecting junk and selling it in yard sales, if you can trade a skill or a product for someone else’s skill, products, or dollars, you can create income that also can build your savings account. In addition to adjunct teaching, I also indulge in freelance editing. Every penny that comes in from that endeavor goes…yep! Right into savings.

Besides helping to build savings, secondary income streams have an enormous potential benefit: you still have them if you’re laid off your day job. Having the experience and contacts in teaching and editing will allow me to ramp up both those enterprises in my coming enforced retirement, and, as we have seen, will support me in the manner to which I intend to remain accustomed even if I never get another full-time job.

4. Take full advantage of your employer’s 401(k) or 403(b) plan.

If your employer  matches contributions to a retirement plan, for heaven’s sake, go for it! Every dollar your employer puts in means twice as much long-term savings for you. 

Allocate these investments intelligently, putting 50 or 60 percent in stocks and 40 or 50 percent in bonds and the money market. You have to assume some risk to make money in your investments; keeping it all in so-called “safe” instruments means your total savings will not keep up with inflation. Though the market does drop every now and again (sometimes with operatic drama!), over time losses and gains level out and and your investments build principal. Put your money in low-load funds to the extent possible (if your employer allows you to invest with Vanguard or Fidelity, these are good choices), because management fees eat into profits at an amazing rate.

Outside of an employment-related plan, go for Roth IRAs. Although these are after-tax instruments, they have the advantage that withdrawals after you reach age 59 1/2 are tax-free, which is huge. Also, they allow you to pass money to your heirs without the nasty tax gouges inherent to 401(k) plans and traditional IRAs. Here, too, set up your IRA with a low-load provider such as Vanguard or Fidelity.

5. Cultivate a frugal lifestyle.

Try to stay sane about this. You don’t really have to live like Our Hero, Scrooge McDuck. But on the other hand, neither do you have to live like an investment banker riding high. Get over the temptation to buy every new gadget just because it’s out there; to accrue stuff because all your friends, relatives and neighbors accrue stuff; to own bigger things and more things than you really need. Learn to distinguish between want and need, and then train yourself to appreciate the nonmaterial riches of life.

Frugality and simple living are the keys to living within your means. Spending less than you earn makes it possible to build savings and, eventually, to achieve financial freedom.

Microbudgeting: Keep costs under control with a baby-steps budget

I’ve come up with a name for the week-to-week budgeting plan that I invented to keep discretionary costs (if you call food “discretionary”) under control: microbudgeting.

As readers who follow Funny know, I set aside $840 a month to cover recurring, nonoptional bills: utilities, once-a-month yard care, insurance. These represent the highest possible figures for the utility bills, which occur in three summer months here.

Then I set aside $1,200 a month to pay all other living expenses,including food, household goods, yard goods, gasoline, clothing, repair and maintenance on the house and car, vet bills, insurance copays, and on and on and on. This amount represents the microbudget: I divide the $1200 into four $300 “chunks” roughly corresponding to weeks, and coordinate those with the American Express budget cycle. All of these costs are charged on AMEX, and the bill is paid in full at the end of each cycle.

Some weeks, I’ll run in the red. But if I manage to stay in the black in one or two weeks, it usually evens out.

Here’s how this looked last month:

Week by week
Week by week
Whole month
Whole month

As you can see, even though even though I ran in the red three weeks out of four, over the course of the month I just broke even. Costs were high last month because of the new stockpiling scheme: I’d just bought a freezer and was stuffing it with one to three months’ worth of food. I’d planned to take money out of savings to do this, but as you can see, that wasn’t necessary.

Because I can spot, week-to-week, when I’m running in the red, I know when to cut back. Didn’t do the greatest job of that in February, but things are looking better in March. So far.

Microbudgeting turns out to be an effective tool for helping yourself to stay on budget. Except for extraordinary expenses that needed to be paid out of emergency savings anyway, the week-to-week strategy for staying on budget has worked to keep spending under control pretty well. It breaks a longer period, during which you might be tempted to overspend on this or that activity or impulse buy, into smaller pieces that give you an opportunity to climb out of the red without feeling like you have to pinch pennies the entire. grinding. month. It’s a lot easier to economize for one week than for two, three, or (if you’ve overspent early in the budget cycle) four weeks. Once you’ve got yourself back in the black, you feel a lot more confident that you’re coping.

Notice that I carry forward the red ink into the following week. This prevents “cheating” by pretending to start over with the full amount budgeted for that week, despite having spent more than desired the previous week. I ended up $11.13 to the good at the end of the month, because even though I overspent in three weeks out of four, I managed to stay enough in the black in week 2 to cover the excess spending.

Normally I try to stay in the black at least three weeks out of four (ideally, four weeks out of four!). February was stressed because of the food stockpiling, and because I chose to pay for it out of cash flow instead out out of savings. Had I taken some money out of savings to cover the hoarding scheme, I would have ended deeper in the black, and probably would have stayed in the black at least one extra week.

This scheme requires some OCD tendencies: it demands that you hang onto every receipt and enter it in a spreadsheet or hard-copy account book. But I don’t find this onerous. I stick the receipts in my wallet and then sit down and enter them about once a week. It takes maybe 10 minutes a week to accomplish.

To build habits that keep you in the black without leaving you feeling blue, it’s well worth the time!

No-shop days boost frugality

Despite an extravagance (bought some dishes at Pier One), it looks like I’m going to end this month’s budget cycle in the black, for the first time since the memory of Person runneth not to the contrary. All I have to do is make it to Sunday without spending any more money.

This accomplishment came about simply by staying out of stores. Every day you can stay away from a store (or a gas station) is a dollar saved. With the week-to-week budget, I’ve found that if I can avoid laying out cash in, say, week 2, there’s enough in week 3 to cover the deferred spending. Or if I overspend in week 2, I can catch up by pinching pennies in week 3.

A day or two, or even three, is not an unreasonable length of time to hold off buying most necessities. I’m completely out of onions, for example, but so far the deprivation hasn’t killed me. I’ve evaded emptying the gas tank by telecommuting a day this week; I’d planned to telecommute again today, but in fact there’s enough gas in the tank to get me to campus and back, and so I’ll probably go out there this morning. If the gauge were closer to empty, though, I could make the round trip on two gallons. Six dollars would not push me into the red this week; though in past weeks it would have.

Before the run-up in gas prices, I had to make a conscious effort to stay out of the stores where I routinely buy supplies: I’d work “no-shop days” into my schedule. But thanks to the exuberant increase in the price of gasoline, no-shop days have become habitual. Not only that, but because I now shop exclusively in stores along my commute, I no longer shop at Home Depot.

And that, my friends, generates a surprising savings.

Last weekend I needed a few things I didn’t think I could find at the Ace Hardware, plus some potting soil, which is overpriced at Ace and at the nursery. So I made a special trip up to the Depot, several miles from my house.

One bag of potting soil, three timer gadgets for the garden hoses, three $1.37 bags of plastic plugs to cut off the irrigation lines, two cheesy plastic cord reels (last time I was in there, they hadn’t had the kind of reels I needed for months—grab it while you can get it), a bag of palm tree fertilizer, and a six-pack of tiny bedding plants came to $107.

I couldn’t believe it!

The largest single expense was the hose timers: about $20 apiece. Coincidentally, the style I wanted (a thing that resembles a kitchen timer) was the cheapest available. So that accounts for $60 + 8.3% tax: $65. With any luck, that cost eventually that will pay for itself in water savings—if the plastic junk doesn’t fall apart before the timers have recovered that much from the water bill. But forty-two bucksfor a bag of dirt, a bag of nitrogen, a few pieces of plastic, and some seedlings?

Apparently I’m not the only one who’s concluded that Home Depot cuts too much out of the budget. At 1:00 on Sunday afternoon, the parking lot was half empty. Without using my disabled sticker, I got a space right in front of the door. I’ve neverbeen able to park in front of the store; not ever. On weekends especially, the place was jammed.

No more.

The weird thing is, I’m not missing Home Depot. Its bazaar-like layout leads you to spend more than you have to on things you don’t really need. The flimsy cord reels, for example: I needed them last Christmas. Somehow I’ve struggled through nine months without them. Clearly I could have lived the rest of my life unburdened by cord reels. And had I been in Ace Hardware, I would have gone directly to the shelves that stocked what I needed and, not wandering through the electric department in search of irrigation plumbing, I probably wouldn’t have been reminded that I “needed” cord reels. Nor would I have purchased the plants, since Ace doesn’t carry them: that impulse buy would have been deferred until I could make a special trip to the nursery, at which time I’d have a list of the specific plants I needed and so would not have picked up just anything that struck my fancy.

After the $107 hit at Home Depot, I made a run on Costco for food and gas ($111), stopping by Fabric Depot along the way to pick up some yardage to make the coveted placemats ($32). This left $125 in the week’s budget—the final week in the August-September budget cycle. I did spend nine bucks on a miserable little lunch on the campus one day this week, only because I was so hungry I couldn’t go without some food, and another twenty on a few groceries. After subtracting last week’s $77 overrun, I’m still $17.51 in the black. And for the whole month: $151.99!