Saturday, December 29, 2007

Quicken (R TM) & Quickbooks (R TM)

I am an avid user of Quicken, financial software by Intuit that came pre-loaded with my Gateway computer back at the top of the millennium in 2000. My goodness, that's eight years ago. Prior to that, James and I used the old-fashioned Budget Sheet (visit to download your Personalized Budget Sheet for FREE) and Excel. We still use the Budget Sheet--established in our household in the mid-1990's--when payday rolls around; and the Excel spreadsheet when organizing our tax information for our Accountant.

As for Quicken, I don't know how our home would have been able to fiscally operate without it. In my opinion, it is user-friendly and has so many features that help me to stay financially organized. I like it because:
• it's similar to inputting entries into a transaction register;
• it automatically calculates my balances once I input an entry; so long as I keep the entries updated (e.g., debit transactions),
• it reflects a more accurate "real-time" balance than my bank. I could download Quicken data with my bank records, but I haven't gotten that far. Instead, I place my Quicken screen side-by-side to the bank's online screen so I can compare figures, see which checks have not yet been cleared, and reconcile my records to match that of the bank;
• I can create summaries, pie charts and graphs (e.g., how much money spent on gas and groceries in 2007);
• And much more!
Since I am also a small business owner, I have long wanted to become familiar with Quickbooks. I understand that it's integrative. If so, this is appealing to me, because right now, when I have a book sale, I go into my address book to add a book patron; my inventory spreadsheet to update the inventory; and Quicken to log in the revenue.

The South Side Innovation Center (SSIC) is providing training on Quickbooks for four sessions in January 2008. Cost: $40, but $20 for Southside Entrepreneur Association (SSEA) members (see 12-12-07 entry). Savings: $20. The benefit will far, far outweigh the cost for me.

Bargain hunting for tissue in bulk

The cold season is here. I've gotten my flu shot, but I still have the sniffles. I've never done this before, but I ordered boxes of tissues through the office supply catalog, because I can get six (6) boxes containing 100 tissues per box for $5.49. That's 92 cents per box; less than 1 cent per tissue. Okay, I won't get carried away. Free S&H, I guess because it's the holidays. Not bad, considering that tissue in the grocery store can cost me around a buck per box, averaging 70 tissues per box, a penny per tissue. Sorry, got carried away again. Yet, every time I look around, I'm running out for more. This should last us awhile.

What I am personally grateful for this Christmas Day

Unfortunately, Thanksgiving got so busy that I began drafting my journal entry to describe the things that I am most grateful for; and then time flew by and now Christmas is here! So here is the list -- I am thankful to God for:

- salvation in Jesus Christ; for God "finding" me at an early age as a little girl attending Catholic parochial school. Christ's journey as depicted through the stations of the cross held significance for me even then;

- James, my wonderful husband of 15 years;

- the basic necessities of life that I never ever want to take for granted: food, a roof over my head; clothing; transportation; utilities such as heat and all-the-while remembering and helping those who don't have these things;

- good health; and all-the-while remembering those who live with disabilities or chronic illnesses every single day;

- family, friends, three church families (as a result of moving around so much);

- jobs that we love--took a long time to truly discover what is it that I was made to do.

Apart from basic necessities and our occupations, notice that most of this list has absolutely nothing to do with money and material possessions. Here's wishing that you tremendously enjoy the non-tangible aspects of your holiday season.

Assessing needs versus wants and desires – even in the midst of holiday shopping

While out last-minute Christmas Eve window shopping with my sister and niece, the only thing I really needed was a can opener. I found a pretty red one for $14.99, on sale (or so I thought) for 10 bucks. You see, I've had my can opener for as long as James and I have been married, but I must've laid it down somewhere and forgot it, after taking soup to work. Turns out, the can opener was 12 bucks, because the sale sign that I saw was for the Day-after-Christmas-early-bird-price. Hmmm--do I come back day after Christmas beginning at 6 a.m.? I pondered? Nope, my time and my sleep is valuable to me. My sister then turns to me and asks, "What do you need, want, or desire as a gift?" To which I responded that her and her daughter visiting us is more than enough, and that I'm very happy, grateful, and content. "Materially?" she prodded. I told her I didn't want to tell her stuff just for her to buy and waste her money on things I don't really need, and that the can opener I just bought is all the kitchen really needs. She then proceeded to pull out the 12 bucks to gift me for the can opener!

Remember to ask for your receipt

I used my debit card to pay for my only-once-in-a-while fave coffee. The cashier asked me if I needed a receipt. How am I supposed to remember the amount paid for the coffee in order to log into Quicken if I don’t have a receipt—particularly because I used a debit card? (To read more about Quicken, see 12-28-07 entry) This would have been the case even if I make manual entries into a passbook. Remember, companies are getting so cheap now-a-days that they don’t want to even pay for the paper to print receipts on. But I can't say that I blame them if the customer truly doesn’t want or request it.

Business association early bird membership

I joined the Southside Entrepreneurs Association (SSEA). Should have cost: $100 for 2008 membership. The deal was to sign-up by January 28, and the cost of the 2008 membership will include free prime local radio advertising spots. Saved $50.

Do not be easily entangled

Remember the phone order thing I still won’t mention from 11-10-07 because I don’t want you to patronize their company? Well, it happened again with a different company, and this was even more excruciating than the last. I desired (operative word—this wasn’t a need) a special Christmas CD so I can listen to Christmas music driving to and from work, and since guests are visiting over the holidays. I had to listen to 20 minutes’ worth of solicitations for items I was not interested in; and couldn’t just hang up because my order was not confirmed. Further, because I opted out/declined allowing 3rd party entities from “hitting up” my credit card with their offers, the item I originally called about which was advertised at 9.99 jumped up to $14.99. That’s it! I’m done with phone-in, talk-only-to-the-system orders. There’s actually a Bible verse that warns us: “…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1 NIV) I felt so entrapped, ensnared and entangled while making this call…much like a fly caught in a spider’s web.

Another coupon savings

Went to CVS to buy some pertinent items. Should have cost: $21.04. Paid $16.04. Saved $5 with coupon.

Peer pressure to spend money

I received a call from someone whom I shall remain nameless. She was attending a conference in the northeast. It was a Friday night, and her roomies had gone out on the town. Nothing wrong with that, but she lamented that she simply didn’t have the money. Even though her sponsoring organization was picking up the conference tab—including airfare & transportation—she is cognizant that after spending a ridiculous amount of money for coffee and vendors’ convention food, she still has student loans and credit card bills to continue paying after the conference is over. Therefore, even though room service is in and of itself high, she reasoned that it’s more cost-productive than “going out on the town,’ where one spends money for taxicabs & fancy smancy restaurants. I say, "Hooray for her!" Peer pressure is hard, but delayed gratification today equals investment—and learning the art of discipline—in her future bank account tomorrow.

Let's talk about giving

Since Thanksgiving and the holidays are upcoming, let's devote a little time to address the subject of giving, shall we?

There are essentially 4 types of giving:

Monetary (giving money to help a person or a charitable cause);
In-kind (giving goods versus money, such as canned food for a Thanksgiving basket for a needy family—make sure it’s something that you would buy for yourself);
Time (taking time out of our busy lives to do something for someone else, even if it is listening & talking to them on the phone); and
Talents (such as lending our artistic expertise to help paint the backdrop for the school or church play).

There are also ways to give:

Cheerfully (or begrudgingly). The Bible says that God loves a cheerful giver (verse). If we were to give while gritting our teeth, it is actually better to keep it and to not give it at all;
Philanthropically out of abundance, such as when we have time on our hands to contribute to a worthy cause;
Sacrificially despite our own need, such as when someone truly needs our expertise, and we give by not charging that person a fee (I have actually been the beneficiary of such gracious giving); and
Anonymously, such as donating money and specifically requesting that one’s name not be mentioned or printed publicly.

I don’t mean to preach to you, but this really caught my attention: that same verse promises: “You should each make up your own mind as to how much you should give. Don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. For God loves the person who gives cheerfully. And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.” (2 Corinthians 9:7 NLT) Wow! Did you notice the words "always," "everything," and "plenty"? I sure did.

Additional recommended reading: Bill Clinton’s book titled Giving: How each of us can change the world.

Address correction

I noticed a misspelling on my address in the process of paying my business bill. I wrote the correct address spelling on the back of my billing statement and called the credit card company, as I don’t want any payment problems because of a simple mistake as this. And who knows how much—or what little grace—I may be shown if my next statement is not received by me in time to pay it due to the credit card company’s address error?

Refund restrictions

Remember our cable TV refund of $43.19? (see 11-21-07). After wondering where it is, I am now being told that it takes 6-8 weeks to process after closing the account! The CSR expedited my refund, but the amount they sent to me was $25.19, $18 less than what I was told on the phone. Why? They supposedly credited it to my bundled package (after I specifically requested a check, and not credit). Furthermore, they are currently airing commercials about upgrading one’s package. This is the way I see it: if they can’t get my bill right and are chintzy with my refund, I will simply ignore the commercials and turn the channel, regardless of what superstar they've paid to create a jingle endorsing their product or service.

Holiday Buffet Special

Rachel’s Restaurant at the Sheraton University hotel is offering a Thanksgiving special all-you-can-eat lunch buffet for Faculty, Staff & Students for $6.95 versus the normal price of $11.95. I need to count this $5 savings twice more, however, because I treated James there for his Birthday Lunch during on December 28th during winter break. Total Savings: $15.