January brings us face to face with some cold, hard truths. Most businesses take inventory of what’s on hand, and as individuals, this is the time to evaluate what did, and didn’t, work last year. The main areas most of us need to inventory concern the use of time and money.
January was a quiet month at my childhood home. We didn’t see much of Dad after the cattle were fed, because he was ensconced in the den going over the books. A muffled swear word floated out now and then and occasionally he got out of his chair and walked outside to clear his head, or came to the kitchen to have words with my mother about her extravagances. Both had vivid memories of the Depression, which left them with opposing attitudes toward finances. Dad squeezed a nickel till it squalled, and Mom was determined to enjoy some of the perks she had had to forego in earlier times. I mostly take after my dad, but now and then I have a runaway.
I never wanted to be a bookkeeper but, eventually we all get to be in charge of our own lives and, since ranching requires accountability, January finds me at my desk, with Dad’s ghost looking over my shoulder. We used to kid him about his philosophy of “making a trip out of it.” If he went to town for a funeral he picked up a load of feed too, and buying groceries coincided with his monthly Masonic meeting. One unpleasant truth I’ve noted concerns the fact that I spent more on gas, than on groceries last year. I’m pretty sure I know what Dad would say about that. Adjusting the budget for 2020 also means making better use of my time.
Dad and Mom were opposites in their approach to time management as well as money matters. Work came first with Dad, but after that he was up for a fishing trip or card game. Mom never sat down if she could help it, and her social activities were generally connected with a meeting, or other occasion that required filling the gas tank. I seem to have drifted into some semblance of my mother in that regard. My most enjoyable memories of childhood are of evenings when neighbors dropped in to chat, and we kids played ball, or hide and seek, so obviously, I need to simplify the schedule.
I’ve been re-reading The Money Drunk, a small, but powerful book by Julia Cameron and Mark Bryan, aimed at those of us who need to get a handle on spending. One of the exercises involves carrying a small notebook and writing down every expense, the amount, date, and what was purchased, noting whether for wants or needs. This is nothing new. My dad did it; so did many of his peers. I have one of those notebooks someplace. Thirty seven cents for six-penny nails at Larsen Lumberyard. Dalton’s Service Station; $2.79 for gas. Zero Herefords; $500 for bull. Most all entries reflected a need, as he had very few wants. That notebook was a pretty good record of how he spent his time too.
Inventory is a lot of work, and accountability reveals painful truths, but truth makes change possible.