Cooking the books

After spending an hour balancing our bank account last night I was ready to hire someone to do it for me. Really, I'm at odds between my compulsion to track things to the penny and my fatigue at doing all the manual labor. I'm not sure when I started having such a hard time keeping up with it. I know part of it was all the house construction going on. That was also about the time we suddenly had two gas bills, two electric bills, two water bills and two mortgages for our two houses. Those bills are never due on the same day and the gas, power and city people can't comprehend that you might need a little more info about which bill it is other than it's the account ending in #7441. Would a street address kill you? So yeah, I've started to dread sitting down and tallying it all up.

We use Bank of America for all our accounts and I have used Microsoft Money for over 10 years now to track spending. I use Money to list every expense and deposit for our checking account. I can tell you how much I spent on my pavilion (purchased 6/5/2006), the shed at our old house (purchased 5/16/2005), and my laser eye surgery (performed on 7/1/2005 for the new fiscal year). These things are important to me to track and log somewhere electronically. But I can also tell you how many times we ate at Panera Bread last May (six) and how much our regular meal at Pho 79 costs every time we go there ($27.39).

Some of these facts are more important than others. I tell myself that I like to know what we're spending where and that Money has a ton of graphs to report that to us. I just wish there were an easier way to get the data into the system in a tidy format other than my manually typing it in twice a month.

I think our next plan is to put all our miscellaneous charges on the credit card and pay it off each month. The largest number of purchases each month is "dining out" and "miscellaneous" by far, not necessarily in amount of money but number of transactions. If I could just pay off a chunk of money each month and call it "food" in our bills, I would be happy. I would be happy to never have to enter a Starbucks receipt for $4.06 again.

I like knowing all this information but I just want it to be more on automatic pilot. I've got most of my bills set to auto pay now except for our water bill which doesn't have that option and a few others. I'm just convinced that one day we're going to come home to a very cold house and it will be because I forgot to pay a bill.

As I drag out all our papers to do our taxes, I'm glad I can do a quick tally in Money to tell me how many charitable contributions we made last year. I'm glad I can see how much heat costs in this house versus our old house. I'm glad I can know when the electric bill is due without hoping I haven't lost the paper slip in the mail. I just would like something a little more elegant.