My Personal Financial Odyssey – Part 1

In a previous post,  I discussed the need for every person to engage in accounting to keep track of their own personal wealth.  In an attempt to concretize this idea I plan to go through how I developed the program I use today which has helped me, my family, and my wife’s family immensely through the years.  Indeed much of the reason why I now have the freedom and the time to spend in developing Shurts Accounting and Shurts Tennis can be attributed to all of the information I gleaned about our family’s finances through this program.  And I have employed it in one fashion or another for my mother and my mother in-law through the last 20 years to help them live comfortably after their husbands died.

Far from being a constricting straight jacket that doesn’t allow you to enjoy the money you have, a good financial accounting program liberates you by giving you the peace of mind that you are doing well and the early warning system to tell you when danger is on the horizon.  With the information you generate from such a program you can see weeks, months and even years in advance when a financial problem might be coming, or you can be re-assured that your wealth is growing and you are going to be able to do all of the things you want to do in life.

There are three major components to my program, but also a number of sub-divisions to these major components that I plan to write posts on. Continue reading

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Too Many Responsibilities/Desires/Choices? – Part 4

In the previous installments of this series and in response to the innumerable choices life constantly throws at us, I have discussed how important it is to ‘Value’, how the values you try to achieve must be ‘Objective Values’ and finally the importance of establishing a ‘Hierarchy of Values’  if you are going to successfully navigate through all of the responsibilities, desires, and choices available.  You may think that with this we are done, but even if you have developed a perfectly wonderful hierarchy of values that fits you to a tee, you still are faced with the fact that there are only so many hours in the day.  In order to make your prioritized set of values work the best they can for your life, you must learn how to organize your time as efficiently as possible.

When I worked at Colorado Container, our CPA would constantly marvel at my clean desk.  Continue reading

Accounting, Who Needs It?

If you are reading this, then you have spent some money to be able to do so.  You have purchased a computer or a smart phone, some software, an internet service or phone plan and electricity at the bare minimum.  For the next activity you engage in after reading this, unless it is a walk in the park with no clothes on, you have purchased something to engage in that too.  In the culture we live in, everything you do in order to live your life requires you to purchase something in order to do it.

Far from decrying the material crassness of such a culture (as you would undoubtedly encounter from many commentators), I embrace this culture fully because of the immense freedom it provides to shape my own life.  For the time being, nobody forces anyone to buy what they don’t want to buy.  Given the admittedly dwindling freedom we still have, there remain an almost unlimited number of choices available on which to spend your money and your time.

The difficulty with such a world lies, then, in this tremendous number of choices, because everybody has only a limited amount of money available to use in pursuing them.  In order to get the most out of your own life, it is incumbent on you to do the best thinking possible about what you value most in life and then figure out a way to acquire it.  Amazingly enough, accounting is essential to this process.

If you don’t believe it, then consider how else you are going to keep track of the limited resources you have available so they are used in the manner you most want them to be used for.  Accounting cannot tell you what your values are or how to organize their importance in your life– how to go about that process is the subject of a future blog post.   But once you have decided what you want to accomplish, doing some kind of accounting is the only way you are going to know whether you are reaching your goals, whether your money is sufficient to achieve your goals, and whether your future plans are realistic or not.  Without accounting you are truly swimming in the dark because you have no information about where your money is being spent, and therefore you have no information about whether you are achieving your goals or not.

Like it or not, and I very much do, you must earn and spend money in order to live a full, successful, happy life.  Accounting is one very important part of making that happen.  So, Accounting, who needs it?  You do.

The World’s First Accounting Detective

Just like Sherlock Holmes, who always referred to himself as “The World’s First Consulting Detective,” I approach accounting problems with the same kind of relentless pursuit of the underlying reality of a problem as the legendary fictional detective.  I liken the process of untangling a set of accounting records to detective work, and through many years of experience I have become a very good accounting ‘detective.’

As you will discover, I have been doing this work for a long, long time.  In that time I have worked for or on over 100 different business entities.  With that kind of experience, I have seen just about any kind of accounting problem imaginable.  I can honestly say I have never found a situation or a problem that I can’t find a solution to.

My name is Russell W. Shurts, but I go by Russ.  I am completing my 34th year as an accountant, and am starting out on a ‘new’ venture that is really just a continuation of the primary work I have done for all of those 34 years.   Similar to CPAs, I have worked with a large number of entities, but unlike CPAs, I have done the vast majority of my work as an employee for two different companies that were not CPA firms.  Simply by the nature of this relationship (as an employee working for a single company) I have received the kind of day-to-day experience that a CPA never gets because they are always outsiders to the business entities they take care of – no matter how close the relationship.  Working within the structure of a business and attempting to continuously improve the performance of that business has given me a perspective about working with non-financial colleagues that lets me provide solutions that typically wouldn’t occur to most CPA’s.

Before I go into all that I have done in my career, let me first describe how I have always approached my work, and how I would approach the work I would do for you.

The most critical attribute an accountant must have has nothing to do with accounting and everything to do with morality.  Integrity, honesty and discretion are the most important qualities for an accountant.  Because people are entrusting their livelihoods and an inside look into their lives to us, it is imperative they be constantly re-assured first, that their wealth is being properly looked after and handled according to their wishes, and second, that nobody else will learn the extent of that wealth or how they spend their money.  Without establishing and continually reinforcing this trust, nothing else an accountant does will be of any value at all.  I establish this trust in the following way:

  • By always keeping my word.
  • By providing reports that accurately reflect the state of the client’s wealth and financial activity.
  • By always being ready to answer any question about the reports I provide.
  • By being willing to trace every transaction back to its original source.
  • By always inviting outside scrutiny of what I am doing.
  • And finally and most important, by always owning up to any mistake I have made just as soon as it is discovered, and by making the consequences of the mistake known to the client.

The second most important attribute an accountant should have is competence.  Contrary to common perception, true competence in any human endeavor is rare indeed.  To me, competence in accounting includes not merely recording and reporting transactions in accordance with accounting principles, but a whole host of attributes.  When I talk about competence for an accountant, I mean (in no particular order):

  • Accurately recording transactions, keeping them in accordance with reality.
  • A willingness to dive into detail no matter how voluminous in order to find answers.
  • Taking big, complicated problems and breaking them up into smaller components that are much easier to understand and therefore much easier to solve.
  • Providing financial reporting that properly communicates what is going on, especially for non-financial people.
  • A willingness to look at problems from other points of view in the organization, and to work towards solutions from that different point of view.
  • Accepting that it is you, the accountant, who is in error if the receiver of your information does NOT understand it.
  • Responsiveness – taking care of the little stuff first and quickly.
  • Respecting other people’s needs and time; if they have requested something from you try to get it for them quickly, within 5 to 10 minutes if possible.  And if it will take some amount of time to provide whatever is desired, then communicate that fact and provide, if at all possible, a time estimate for when you will have the answer.
  • Organization – understanding that efficiency in any endeavor comes from how well the work is efficiently organized.  How I insure this is by spending excess time organizing my work up front so as to make the subsequent handling of the same transactions and activity quick and easy.