Too Many Responsibilities/Desires/Choices?

Let me see if this sounds familiar.  You go to the dentist for a cleaning.  The hygienist goes through the cleaning and looks your teeth over.  At the end the dentist or hygienist tells you that you have several problems. You need to brush more and floss more, and you also need to get a special toothbrush.  Then your furnace goes out, so you call the HVAC man to come in.  He fixes the problem and tells you that you need to make sure you get your ducts cleaned annually, your furnace maintained annually and that you need to change the filter every month.  Then you take your car in for an oil change and the mechanic tells you that you need to make sure you come in every 3,000 miles instead of 5,000 miles, that you need to use a special gasoline additive and that you aren’t rotating your tires often enough.  I could go on and on…

And now some fool with a blog is telling you – Accounting, Who Needs It?  You do.

The number of things you need to take care of sometimes seems infinite and I haven’t even brought up making choices about the fun things in life like playing tennis, going to movies, taking trips and going out to dinner, etc.  Finally, consider all the major decisions you need to make, such as choice of career, finding a romantic partner, buying a house or making a large investment and it is easy to start feeling overwhelmed about the enormity of it all.

How does one choose from everything life has to offer and everything life requires of us?  How does one even find the time to make the choices?  My answer, which I plan to pursue in several posts, is wrapped up in one word: value. 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.

Why I Started the Cash Flow Analyzer

About 10 years ago I had a problem.  I had tracked my finances with Quicken for many years and I had a good understanding of my financial situation.  My balance sheet was always an accurate representation of our net worth, and the income statements always told me how well we were doing financially.  But my wife and I always seemed to be short of cash, even though our financial statements showed our income and our net worth steadily growing.

I knew what the problem was.  My retirement plan was a huge part of our overall assets and on-going income, but the increases in the value of the retirement plan did nothing to assist us with our day-to-day finances because it was for the future and wasn’t to be used now.  The retirement plan was hugely important to us so I couldn’t remove it from my Quicken financial reporting, but I needed to find a way to remove its influence from analyzing our day-to-day finances.

After much thought and even more trial and error, the Cash Flow Analyzer was what I created to solve the problem. It has worked like a charm ever since.  Continue reading

Not TOO Expensive

When I first started talking about Shurts Accounting with my friends and colleagues the typical reaction I got was, “Well, you would be too expensive for me.”  Let me take this space to emphatically dispute this idea.

I believe to live your life well, you must do the best you can in all facets of your life, including your financial life.  This website and business are dedicated to giving everyone who crosses its path whatever it is they need to assist them in getting their financial house in order, regardless of the wealth they have accumulated.

That is why I offer assistance over a wide variety of cost options for people across the financial stratum- assistance that will help each of you understand your finances better and ultimately enrich your financial well being.

Everyone from a factory worker making $20 an hour to a CEO making a million a year can find something to benefit them here.  Consider the options:

Free – In future blog posts, I plan to give advice and tutorials on how to go about setting up and tracking your personal finances and investments.  But to go even further, I will explain in laymen’s terms how accounting works and why it is so vital to everyone, not just wealthy people or owners of businesses.  And just so you know, even many wealthy business owners often don’t understand its importance.

Less than $20 – Right now I am offering a spreadsheet I developed several years ago that finally gave me terrific insight into our family’s cash flow.  In addition, we are developing the basic idea behind that spreadsheet into a website application that will be sold for a nominal annual fee.  Furthermore, I have plans to offer a similarly low cost spreadsheet that will allow you to know your income tax situation at all times.

Less than $150 – Basic assistance and training in getting you started with your own financial tracking system.

$100 per month and up – Basic financial reporting for individuals who have accumulated some wealth and want to understand it, keep it and grow it over time.

$25 per hour – More advanced accounting assistance to help you in tracking your own finances or in letting us track it for you.

$75 per hour and up or a negotiated flat fee – My handling the accounting and/or business affairs for small businesses, family businesses or individuals who have accumulated great wealth.

As you can see, I plan to offer something for anyone who wishes to improve his or her financial life.  If you look through the material in the website you will see that my unique combination of knowledge, talent and experience can make this happen for you.

My Basic Philosophy

Hello, I’m Russ Shurts.  This is the first of what I hope to be many posts to this website, Shurts Accounting, as well as its sister website, Shurts Tennis.  Though the purpose of these websites is avowedly commercial- the selling of two services I have a great deal of expertise in providing- I hope these blog posts will provide something more than just good marketing.

I hope everyone who reads this blog will aspire to something better in their lives, and not just in accounting and tennis.  But before I begin, I think it is important, in the words of talk show host Mike Rosen, to ‘tell you where I sit before I tell you where I stand’.

In addition to accounting and tennis, for the past 16 years there has been one more passion in my life: philosophy.  In particular it has been one philosophy, Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism.  Before encountering Miss Rand’s writings, I had no idea of the importance of philosophy in everyone’s life.  Now, 16 years later, I know that philosophy, more than anything else, is what makes the world go round.  It is supremely important because everything human beings do comes from how they use (or don’t use) their minds, and it is philosophy that provides the underlying set of first principles (the blueprint if you will) for how each person uses his or her mind.

For further clarification of Objectivism, the philosophy that I follow, I offer what Ayn Rand said when she was asked to present the essence of her philosophy while standing on one foot.

“She said the following [about the four branches of philosophy]:

  1. Metaphysics [the study of reality] –  Objective Reality
  2. Epistemology [the study of knowledge] –  Reason
  3. Ethics –  Self-interest
  4. Politics –  Capitalism

If you want this translated into simple language, it would read: 1. ‘Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed’ or ‘Wishing won’t make it so.’ 2. ‘You can’t eat your cake and have it, too.’ 3. ‘Man is an end in himself.’ 4. ‘Give me liberty or give me death.’”

None of this is to imply I am an authority on either philosophy or Objectivism.  I am an avid layman who has seriously studied this philosophy for the last quarter of my life and applied it, to great benefit, to living my life.  I owe a great debt of gratitude obviously to Ayn Rand for discovering the philosophy, but also to philosophers such as Yaron Brook, Harry Binswanger, Leonard Peikoff and all of the intellectuals associated with the Ayn Rand Institute who have taught it to me.

And with that now said it is my intention with this blog to continually demonstrate and emphasize how to better your life, not merely your accounting or your tennis.  I want to show you how simple it is to apply the best thinking you can to each and every problem, in order to give yourself the best solutions to those problems.  If you are doing this, then it won’t be too long before you are enjoying the best and happiest life you can imagine.

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.