Welcome to the new week everyone.
Over the weekend, I spent a little bit of time at the local public library volunteering with people — who were almost exclusively a bit older — looking to get a little more computer literate.
A bit of musical chairs happened as the volunteers paired themselves off. I quickly became “the Excel guy” and sat between a delightfully gregarious older woman — let’s call her May — and a quiet but still very eager older gentleman who I’ll call Phil.
The computers had an Excel tutorial for beginners so I suggested we start with that. They did the first few screens attentively, but it was clear that they had both used the program before. To switch things up, I asked them each what they thought their level was — beginners! — and more importantly, whether they each had some that they hoped to accomplish using Excel.
May, the talker, was of course the first to speak up; her company was making her take an accounting class and this week’s assignment had her doing some ratios using Excel.
I suppose it’s important to note here that I’ve taught accounting in the past and absolutely loved it. (Frugal tip: Come get tutored in accounting by me at the library!)
Then it was Phil’s turn: “I just want to put together a monthly spending budget,” he said.
My eyes must have lit up as I felt my brain floating away to nerd heaven. It was all I could do to not scream out, “WELL TODAY’S YOUR LUCKY F-ING DAY, OLD PEOPLE!”
I settled myself and we got started.
A little bit of accounting and a little bit of budgeting
May happily charged along, satisfied with plugging numbers into the formulas as quickly as I defined them, humoring me just enough as I interjected unsolicited intuition into the numbers; for example, I tried my best to explain why a business might be concerned with figuring out their current ratio (to get an idea of how risky their operating cycle is) and not just how to find it (Dividing current assets by current liabilities).
Phil really was starting from zero when it came to his budget, so I talked him through it.
“You’re gonna want to separate your different sources of income from your expenses…”
“Your savings account probably doesn’t belong here unless you’re implying a plan to draw it down or build it up…”
“It’s probably a good idea to label these as fixed and variable… also separate between needs and wants… just trust me with this.”
“Are you sure that’s an expense?…”
“Oops. Make sure you’re including the effects of tax.”
And so forth.
Finally, he had everything on the screen. I walked him through a few formatting changes just to make the data easier on my own eyes and suggested that he pull out his thumb drive and save it before we started talking through it.
The missing money
On paper, Phil looked like he was doing great. He was drawing social security, receiving a pension, and had a part-time job.
On paper, his expenses looked very sensible as well. There was rent, food, a little bit of entertainment and a few other things — all at levels well within his means.
Wait, but why have I used the phrase, “on paper” twice here?
I taught Phil how to sum his income together and sum his expenses together. Then I had him subtract the difference; it said that he was bringing in $1,200 more each month than he was spending.
I looked toward Phil, ready to high-five him, but he was appeared pensive.
“Hm,” he said. “That’s funny. It always feels like I’m just barely scraping by at the end of the month.”
He added a “miscellaneous” row. Then, he started racking his brain, talking his way through every other thing he might be spending money on. I could see he was struggling and getting frustrated.
“Phil,” I says. “Can I offer a suggestion? If you’re cool with it, I want to give you something of an assignment. Right now, the best we could do is guess about where that money is. Instead, why don’t you use the month of April to write down EVERY SINGLE THING you spend money on as it happens? You can….”
I stop myself short of telling him that he could just download one of a number of apps to his smartphone to record and track his spending.
Phil likely sensed this as he reached in his pocket, pulled out a notepad with a pen, and smiled. He agreed and would try his best to note everything down.
My new side hustle?
The group got to a natural stopping point so we wrapped it up.
Both of them asked if they could “reserve” me the next time I came in. This totally warmed my heart and I said yes.
May thanked me profusely, looked around a bit and leaned in, “Well you helped me so much, I’m going to pay you.”
I vigorously waved her off from reaching into her purse, told her I had a great time and would be happy to keep helping as a volunteer.
“Well I made you talk so much and your voice sounds parched; here’s some water.”
I let her give me a bottle of water.
And that’s that. Needless to say, I think I’ve found a volunteer position I’m really happy with.
Hope you all have a great week!