Balancing the books
I had been battling the auditors these last few days, a real challenge for me, given that my understanding of the subject was, if possible, negative. I could not acquire the highest professional qualification in my field as I could never better the financial management paper. It has been my responsibility to sign the final accounts of the unit I had been heading for more years than I remember, and I merely signed where I was told to, and depended on the professional accountants in my team to decipher what it all meant.
My domestic finances are managed by a professional, who handles my tax, budget, expenses, savings, investments and everything without charging anything, as she is married to me, and manages all aspects of my life as well.
But this was not always the case. This is a story of my early struggles with managing the budget.
I had to manage my own funds for the first time when I left home for the hostel. The first skill we learnt in college was writing home for money. In those days money arrived by money orders. When this arrived, a notice was put up outside the hostel administration office. Expenses were always on credit. The canteen, cigarette shop, chai wala, dhobi, laundry, everyone extended credit. The arrival of the notice brought them all to the door of their debtor, and chaperoned by all, I would claim the money, clear my accounts, and be left with nothing. So I would pick up the pen and start writing home for money afresh. How the money disappeared was a mystery I could never fathom, and the vicious cycle continued.
When I was gainfully employed by the benevolent government, I thought the problem would be solved. Four friends shared a flat for economy, and it was decided that everyone would record whatever they spent, and accounts would be cleared on month end, or whenever everyone was solvent.
Initially this worked fine, but as expenses continued to surpass incomes by a distressing margin, an analysis was done.
Immediately various objections were raised.
“How does auto fare get included in the common expenses?”
“How would I carry back the weekly groceries without a rickshaw?” was the retort.”And the nearest wine shop is miles away”
It was agreed that reasonable costs incurred towards procurement of shared commodities would be part of the common budget.
“When did you get toothpaste?”
“I brought it from home and all you guys were using it, so I added it to the costs “the cleverest roommate explained.
“But it was already half used “someone protested.
“All right, I will add a depreciated amount” this brilliant economist conceded.
Incidentally, this enterprising economist is currently a millionaire merchant banker running his empire from an international financial hub.
“The kitchen and bar expenses are way too high; four of us can’t spend so much”
“It’s all the partying! We have too many guests eating and drinking us to bankruptcy”
“From now on whoever invites a guest pays for him. We will add an extra man day per guest to him” the smart economist decreed.
“Not fair!”protested the popular guy from the fashion industry “You guys hang around flirting with all the girls who come to see me while I slave away in the kitchen! You guys can’t talk to the girls in that case!”
The economist found the solution. Male guests will be debited to the host member, while ladies were common guests and could be entertained from the common fund.
A while later I acquired a life mate; and my roommates moved out to make space for her in our tiny flat.
This time it was truly a common fund and neither of us cared who spent how much on what. However, one aspect continued; we still could not make the funds last till the next salary, and were clueless where the money went.
We therefore decided to keep an account of all that we spend under various headings. At the month end an analysis would show where the cash disappeared.
On auditing the accounts we found the two heads of accounts that were the guilty parties.
One was GN or God Knows. It was the money spent without the slightest recollection as to where it went, or the inexplicable gaps between cash drawn from the bank and pittance left after accounting for all the expenditures we could recollect. This mysterious Bermuda Triangle that swallows up our hard earned moolah continues to plague us to this day and we have agreed that this is one of the mysteries that are too complex for the human intellect to solve.
The other was Experience. Any absurd, unproductive investment or expenditure we made, like buying gadgets that did not work, or trying money saving methods that ended up guzzling our spare change, which we swore that we would not repeat again, we debited to experience.
Over the years we have learnt that experience is a black hole, it will swallow every penny we don’t keep tied down, but give nothing back in return.
We finally decided to give up trying to balance the budget, and follow the national economy in deficit financing. This was made possible by two brilliant inventions, the credit card and the EMI. Now we do not have to live within our income, but earn just enough to cover the interest, as all major economies do.
Thus I have progressed way beyond those stony broke days in the hostel. Now there is no needing spend keeping these short term earnings in mind, but the hope of all possible future earnings. So I continue to live happily ever after in ever mounting cycle of debt, certain of being remembered when I am gone.
Balancing the books