Sunday, 14 July, 2013

As part of my post-Supanova post-adrenaline slump, I've finally tackled our accounts after four months of procrastination. It doesn't actually take that long from month to month, but I always put it off because I'm lazy and, despite apparently having the Myers-Briggs personality type for accountants, I find it tedious and boring.

But anyway, these things need to be done as part of regular housekeeping (or, as Gaby Hinsliff likes to refer to it in Half a Wife, “wife work”—a convenient shorthand for all the stuff that stay-at-home mothers traditionally have done [i.e. calendar management, administration, housework, gift-buying, logistics, etc.]). So I got out my box full of receipts, sorted it by month, put them in date order and then went through all our financial transactions for the last four months using ANZ Money Manager, which, I find, is the most helpful tool in the management of our money that I have ever used.

You don't even have to be an ANZ customer to use it: you just give them access to your electronic banking and they import all your transactions into their database for you. They can't do anything to your accounts; all they can do is take that information and present it to you in a way that's helpful. So you can view your transactions by date, by account, by category (which the database will assign for you based on past history, though they often get it wrong because sometimes it's not clear from the transaction description, so it's worth going through and checking them all). You can generate reports that show you how much of your spending is going to what. And you can also set budget goals for each month and view reports on how your spending is matching (or exceeding) your budget.

So, theoretically, once a month, I go through all the transactions and make sure they're in the right categories and sub-categories (yes, you can set up your own sub-categories too—for example, under “Groceries”, you can have things like “Meat and fish”, “Fruit and vegetables”, “Other” and so on), I match receipts to transactions and get rid of them (or I split the transaction into particular sub-categories if needed—for example, if one item is actually a gift for someone while the others were things for the home), I take note of cash transactions (which I usually enter by splitting ATM transactions because ANZ Money Manager currently has no way of recording cash transactions, only electronic ones), and then I look at our spending overall and get mystified and leave it at that until the next time I have to endure this tiresome task.

This time, armed with the knowledge I've been piecing together about money, I did all of that for four months' worth of transactions and then tried to work out our budget for this year (since the budget we've been working from is from last year, I think), and then tried to get more of a handle on the money situation so I could come up with some sort of savings plan for the future (that is, a more intentional savings plan, rather than a haphazard one that we've been limping along with). The MoneySmart government site was very helpful for the budget stuff: their budget planner covers most of the bases and will do all the annual/quarterly/monthly calculations for you automatically. At first, it looked like our spending was far exceeding our income, but then I realised I hadn't taken into account a part of our finances that's actually a bit more complicated than normal, and once I'd adjusted that, we no longer looked like we were slowly going bankrupt. Then I opened a dedicated high interest savings account and set up a regular scheduled transfer to put money into it.

So it's small, but it's a start. The somewhat terrifying thing is the gulf between what we'd need to purchase a bigger place and what we have—an emotion I'm sure all home owners go through initially and then eventually get used to. (Unlimited wants and limited means means that I must sacrifice some of my dreams—specifically the one about being able to continue living in this area in a bigger place because that just may not be possible.) But at least we have a plan now, and plans always make me feel a bit better about everything (it's the illusion of control …)

Next thing on the financial To Do list: set up a holiday fund so that we actually have money to go on vacation and are more intentional about it instead of haphazard!

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