Doing Finances on Paper

About half the time, I do my finances on paper. I’m not talking about the spending of it, I’m talking about the planning to spend it. I’m talking about the budgeting portion of it. If I can visualize my money, whether it’s in a couple of boring hand-written columns or whether it’s saving the world in a crudely drawn space armada, then I feel I can be more effective as a money manager.

Numbers on the screen don’t really do it for me. Maybe it’s because I’m of a certain age where I remember that we didn’t have to have a computer attached to our hands at all time. Maybe it’s because I’m a writer who has reams and reams and reams of paper that I’ve scrawled on in my own closet, but seeing it on the screen does nothing because it lacks a certain tangibility.

I like being a freelancer because there are two worlds at work.

The first is the ‘regular people’ world, where everything is steady and on keel. This is made of my regular customers: customers who I’ve had for more than 3 months and don’t expect to go away any time soon. This doesn’t mean that they won’t, but they’ve been with me for a few minutes and we’ve developed a good rapport. With them, I can currently count on about $2,000 a month.

The second is the ‘X’ factor. This is the world that’s off the chain. This one represents side hustles, new clients that are auditioning, any passive income I might have achieved, and the unpredictable world of freelancing in general. Currently, I can count on between $250-$500 a month in this category. I don’t necessarily know where the money is coming from, but I can tell you that the money is most likely going to happen.

For salesmen, this would be base + salary. For hourly workers, this is regular time + overtime. What it truly means is that budgeting can’t be super accurate for any given month because even though you know when some of it’s coming in, you can’t give those dollars that you don’t know about a name and a purpose. As a result, any super accurate anal budget fails at the first encounter with the ‘enemy’ — that is, the X factor.

At one point, I kept a paper budget and spending journal. It was in this notebook, and I’d budgeted out what I was going to do for the entirety of a year based on what I was making at the time. I was salary at the time, and my check was the same from paycheck to paycheck. I dug down and established this grand plan of spending and saving… one which (in retrospect) did not plan for certain regular events like grocery shopping and the possibility of ever enjoying myself.

The notebook for that foray was scrapped, but the idea wasn’t.

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