It's that time of year again. The magic of Christmas has dissipated like the last of the Christmas cookies and I realize I've been watching Australian football for the past two hours while rooting for the Chiefs.
My well-deserved rest after a hard harvest has stretched into a slothfest of lethargy worthy of a python after eating an entire pig. (My memory is fuzzy—but surely not!)
In the back of my calorie-laden brain, a whiny voice is carping, "Get the accounting done before the desk composts!” Against my own instincts, I warily approach the office.
There the full horror faces me with all its ugliness. Stacks of unpaid bills, unentered checks, credit card receipts strewn like candy wrappers—no, wait, those are candy wrappers. The flotsam and jetsam of farm commerce adrift and ignored for months quiver in anticipation of their overdue acknowledgment and righteous dividing.
Fearfully, I open my accounting program and find the last check I entered was for $250 of anhydrous ammonia. OK, maybe I've let this go a little too long.
So it begins. Essentially, I reconstruct my financial history like an archeologist works to recreate ancient civilizations, only the Internal Revenue Service doesn't penalize Etruscans. Scrap by scrap, I puzzle out clues to where my money came from and, even more mysteriously, how it left so rapidly. And without saying goodbye.
Credit or debit? Entering the checks is OK. Or would be, if only I'd bothered to stub a few more of them or even write legibly so I can read those little replicas the bank sends back now. The "miscellaneous expenses” category begins to suspiciously swell.
The good news is we all write fewer checks these days, thanks to the proliferation of credit cards. The bad news is splitting a four-page credit card statement into the proper accounting categories without painkillers can shrivel my personality. There is a reason why accountant jokes are funny, you know.
Buried in those line-by-line descriptions of my patriotic economic-stimulating is the dreaded second level of complexity: entries from Wal-Mart, Rural King or Victoria's Secret that just may contain legitimate deductible farm expenses. This triggers an eye-straining search through the haystack of receipts for a verifying hard copy that further fractionates the item into the good, the bad and it's-worth-a-shot.
Signs of progress. Months later, I realize I fell asleep in the middle of entering March information and drooled all over the pesticide bills. Nonetheless, I brighten at even tiny signs of progress. Last year I actually lapped myself, entering March 2007 information in March of 2008. Only nine more months to go!
It doesn't help to live with someone who enters all her checks within two minutes of returning home and has a balance in her checkbook.
Still, the exercise of retracing my monetary tracks can be diverting. I try to remember that visit to Sam's Club, where I apparently bought an "M23B56 Sens. GLtor.” Oh, yeah, sounds like mechanical repair.
My efforts are punctuated by the monthly reports, which can be breathtaking. For me, however, this is the only funny part—when I enter the "actual” column in my budget spreadsheet. It's like double-entry accounting by Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
But, hey—it's only last March. I'm sure it will balance out as the year wears on. Meanwhile, some faintly remembered techniques like adjusting personal car expenses for business miles are relearned. As this requires messing with the inscrutable general journal, the odds of getting the credit and debit assignment wrong are 50/50, or, rounding up for accuracy, 100%.
Obscure transactions involving accounts payable (those few I seem to recall), inventory (I know how to fill 'em to get that much in the bins) and the darkest mystery of all—retained earnings—are experimentally poked to see what happens.
Time passes. Children grow to maturity, kingdoms rise and fall and my data entry continues. About the time I get to October entries, it's obvious I am only one financial miracle away from making these numbers approach a rational financial outcome. Time to adjust the land values.
Finally, I print the reports. Breathing nervously into a paper sack, I review my fiscal fitness and performance.
That can't be right. Can it?
John Phipps farms in Illinois and is the host of "U.S. Farm Report.” Visit www.agweb.com for station listings. To view past columns, visit www.farmjournal.com or www.johnwphipps.com.