Saturday, February 26, 2011

Time Banks

Time Banks have taken a while to catch on, but now they're being run by the City of New York and the Freelancer's Union. This year Mayor Bloomberg started NYC Service, a time bank for New Yorkers.

Freelancer's Union calls it "mutual aid in the form of an alternative currency system"; it's basic bartering. Bartering is as old as trade itself, but it's becoming more popular than conventional currency in today's feeble economy.

Time Banks are good for the cash strapped and those on a budget, but you have to have a skill to offer. They work like this: you donate an hour of your time to someone else and that hour you "donated" can be stored in a database and used to "purchase" an hour of someone else's time.

At the Freelancer's Union they say that everyone's time is equal, but I don't agree. A doctor's time, for example, should be worth more than mine. He can slice me open and fondle my liver without killing me; I can consolidate his student loans or write him a nice short story. That's not an equitable exchange, especially when you consider how much it cost him to pay for medical training in a New York Ivy League university.

But say you were an accountant needing some work done on your house; you could reach an agreement with a like-minded contractor without quibbling over fees. Or say you needed to learn photoshop and could offer one hour of training in return? This type of bartering could keep everyone in the community employed.

Visit Time Banks here for more information.

Monday, February 21, 2011


Many of my clients are astounded when they ask to see a bank statement or bill and I effortlessly pluck it from the drawer. "Wow!" They gasp, and look at me as if I've just shown them my Nobel Prize for bookkeeping.  When a client calls me to ask me where their cheque book is and I direct them to it in 15 seconds, they seem incredibly grateful: "I just ask for it and there it is!" They say in wonderment, because to have an organized office is tremendously satisfying.

"Filing" has got to be one of the most repellent words in the English language and is right up there with "dieting" or "exercise". There's nothing worse than trudging into your office on a Monday morning and being greeted by a large pile. Of course, there are some clients, like writers and designers who spend their desk-life immersed in a sea of paper and claim to know where everything is. I have one client who tapes paperwork to the walls in his office and I completely understand: yes, it is like laying out your "in" box. If he tapes his American Express bill to the wall, he will be more likely to pay it. Makes sense! In fact, this is a lesson for those with a high credit card balance: tape your bill to the front door and glance at it before you leave the house to go shopping. But I digress.

Organization is the key to success. You might not have any money in the bank, but if your paperwork is organized and your filing is up-to-date you have complete control over your business or personal finances. If you are able to access your price list at a moment's notice, you can inform your customer exactly how much the job will cost while you're on the phone.

Think briefly about the enormous amount of paperwork required to show potential (mortgage) lenders or investors and if it takes you 30 minutes to retrieve and photocopy all of it, you're in a powerful position.

For your paperwork:

- open your mail as soon as it arrives;
- put unpaid bills in their own folder;
- if you don't have a filing cabinet, buy free standing concertina files;
- file all your business documents alphabetically;
- file everything by date "latest first" so your latest bills are more accessible;
- shred all unnecessary statements and paper: weed out the extraneous items to keep your files more easily managed.

If you are filing electronically:

- add a date to your document names (amex_060809.xls) so you know when you saved it;
- if many people make similar files in your business add your initials to your file before you forward it (jnu_amex_060809.xls) so the recipient can see who created the file (thanks PT);
- make desktop folders for all current items;
- file bills in folders by month.

It's such a small weekly chore, but like credit card debt, it piles up when we're not looking. And like dieting or exercise, you'll feel better afterwards.

More important, it's tax time and you have eight weeks until the IRS 2011 tax deadline of April 18th, 2011.

Start with your 2011 receipts and work from there.

Monday, February 14, 2011


I am an economist by chance, through the evolution of my career: 15 years' worth of business experience derived from a broad and diverse range of sources on two continents. I have worked as a photographer, writer, editor, producer and bookkeeper. Clients have included musicians, magazines, newspapers, artists, artisans, producers, directors, designers, architects, lawyers, investment managers, editors, marketing executives and eminent thinkers.

Last year, I set up my own business entity, Back of the Envelope LLC, an operation providing counseling in personal finance, bookkeeping, coaching and business services in London and New York City.

This blog will serve to provide weekly tips, tools and advice for readers and customers in tandem with my business. I seek to use my eclectic and extensive knowledge to empower you to take control of your finances regardless of your employment, status or background; improve your relationship with money through counseling and information in a nonjudgmental environment.  In terms of the individual: so many of the tools for successful personal finance are very simple, but the knowledge thereof seems to be out of reach for so many.

The fact is that we are all economists by chance and necessity because we must all balance our cheque book and monitor our cash flow and investments.

Basic bookkeeping is an unsophisticated discipline and orderly finances allow you to focus your attention on the fundamental aspects of your life and business.