I did a smart thing earlier this year and managed it in a very dumb way. I transferred my banking accounts to paperless reporting via the internet. I patted myself on the back for not wasting all that paper and helping to reduce both ours and the banks carbon footprint, marveled at the way you can categorize your expenses right on line and print off the neat little reports, and went on my merry way. Each month I received an email from the bank reminding me my paperless statement was available on line. “That’s nice”, I would think to myself, “it’s ready”. It really wasn’t necessary to do anything, I’m paperless right? And I can check my account on line anytime I want….. My little three ring binder where I would usually put my statements and check copies stood empty all year save for the first statement and the pretty reports I put in it.
Then day before yesterday I sat down to do my taxes. Pretty straight forward here, income from my day job and Jeff’s part time endeavors and the farm. Expenses tracked via statements, check stubs and receipts. I quickly realized I had no statements saved or printed, no pretty reports, no categorization. Eight hours, a stiff neck, a good ol’ excel spread sheet and a bottle of wine later I had captured the year, completely run out of black ink in my printer, and our taxes were 99% done! This year I will remember the stiff neck and the entirely wasted day and send myself little annoying reminders regarding due diligence.
The interesting thing that happened as a result of all this is I categorized not only the expenses for the farm, but every expense we had over the past year. Some 1200+ transactions. I am not much of a budgeter and we tend to live feast or famine, we are very frugal and always live well, but I’m into effortless these days and preparing for worst case, and let’s face it, when you are a farmer, some months are better than others. Please indulge my feeble attempt to explain my utter disregard for saving money for a rainy day here.
I took the total of every expense and divided it by twelve to get our average monthly expense. (I would love to say I always knew these figures in the back of my brain, but that would be a lie) I then compared the expense against our average monthly income after taxes insurance and house payment. I then added in our projected refund from our taxes and portioned that out on a monthly basis. Sure we will soon have money in our savings, but over the course of the year that will go out and not come back in. We were still 200 dollars a month short! At this point I panicked! I can’t demand a raise! I am lucky to still be working! I could sell 20 more CSA shares….. but where would the time come from? Jeff could get a full time job, but who would take care of the farm? And there goes the CSA! We could give it all up and move into town into one of those “Bank owned houses” that are now selling for about ¾ of what they are worth, totally not an option.
So I sat in my wine induced eureka moment and thought of ways to shave it off the expense.
I looked at the phone bill, and realized we don’t really NEED call waiting or caller ID or long distance for that matter. And we have a good ol’ fashioned answering machine. We all have cell phones which combined are cheaper than our ATT bill. However being in a rural area we do need basic local service for internet. -75.00.
Our electric bill has been the bane of our life for the entire time we have lived here. We heat our home with wood, but somehow our electric bill is always huge. We do have a hot tub that we enjoy most mornings and we do not wish to give that up. We have to run 2 freezers and refers to preserve and keep the harvest. I have given up fighting with PG&E and am going to put us on an automatic payment plan that averages your expense over the course of so many years. -25 at least.
Then I had to look at our grocery bill. We love to eat, and eat for fun and enjoyment! It is our entertainment, we don’t get out much. Jeff is a fabulous cook and I am a fabulous eater and a food junkie. Food to us is wealth. And our expenses show it. Food is the bulk of our expense other than our house payment. I made the commitment to myself to save 400 dollars a month on food BANG, just saved it. I know there is room in there, and we have all the veggies and fruit that we need from the summer, that is as long as we keep the PG&E going to keep the freezers running. Thus the Toni and Jeff challenge. Oh yeah baby, there will be more to say on this topic!
We’re all going to be slapping ourselves in the head for the stupid things we’ve done and banging our heads into the wall for the things we can’t do over the next months. Each of us lives in our own economic reality. I am convinced that we can all make it through if we support each other. Everyone has the right to a decent life, a home, food. I welcome your ideas and comments, (don’t try to hurt me though or I’ll cut you out). At Greenjeans we have a policy to share. We learned this early on in Cloverdale. A jar of jam would get you a dozen rose bushes in the form of sticks you could stick in the ground that grew the most fantastic roses the first year!, or 40 tamales for 20 tomatillos! Or someone who asked to pick our plums and came back to us with the most delicious plum sauce ever! Then someone gave you a huge bag of beautiful Meyer lemons and you made marmalade and the cycle went on. I appreciate your comments and tips on this subject and will be sure to share!