Budgets, Budgets Everywhere

So guess what we’re covering in Managerial Accounting this week? Budgets.

So guess what I’ve been tasked with at work? Budgets.

So guess what the motorcycle, a payroll frequency change and a misunderstanding over the availability of paid time off have ruined? My budget.

What I think is really amusing about budgets is that in many ways they are like any other kind of plan, in that they are inevitably broken. Here at work, our 2008 budget, or as we refer to it, the Plan (ha!) did not take the recession into account, and as such, it’s fairly well worthless. I get to report cumulative sales everyday and what percentage of our monthly sales goal we’ve met and where we are compared to last year. Last year was a nice year, so I generally get to say that we’re down $x. It’s great. What’s even greater is that I saw the 2008 Plan being created, and it was basically the income statements from 2007, marked up by 20%. Hello?!

In school, we learned that top-down budgets are not effective because lower level managers don’t buy into them. Of course, bottom-up budgets aren’t effective either, because when the lower level managers get to set their own goals, they utilize “budgetary slack”, which means that they leave room for screw ups so that they can pretty much do what they want and still hit their budget numbers. Bottom line? Budgets aren’t effective.

My budget isn’t all that effective either. I plan for what we make, what we need, our bills, and anything else I know to expect. It’s all in a handy Excel spreadsheet that I update when I balance my checkbook (every three or four days, yo). I do all that planning, and then the cat gets sick, and WH’s headlight on the bike goes out, and something else happens, and all of a sudden, the Plan is all to hell. There are times where nothing happens, and the Plan is right, and it is good, and I can maybe even sneak some treats in there somewhere, somehow, but I think you see my larger point here.

We rule our lives by Plans that we’re not going to make. We try to account for all known opportunities and risks, and we can’t. Then we get upset because we’re not making Plan. So we fire people. Or we spend more money, under the adage that you have to spend it to make it. Or we play the “rob Peter to pay Paul” game.

My neurosis can hardly wrap it’s mind around this, but what if we all stopped making Plans? What would happen? Would we all be a lot happier, because we aren’t measuring reality against our idea of what reality should have been? Would we all just flounder aimlessly through life, because we aren’t trying to meet a Plan? Would we rip a hole in the time-space continuum by not worrying so much?

Internet, I don’t know how much of this is revealed in my posts, but I’m hyper-vigilant. What that means is that I have a strong internal belief that a watched pot is a safe pot, and that if you turn around for a minute, that fucker will come flying off the stovetop and smack you in the face. When I was a little girl, I actually thought that I could prevent bad things from happening if I worried about them enough. If they did happen, it must have been because I didn’t put enough mental energy into preventing it. Kind of a sick and twisted opposite-like version of the law of Attraction. It was exhausting. Frankly, I’m too busy now for that level and tenor of vigilance. I know that it’s not so much a matter of making progress, because I still catch myself watching pots when I have the time.

Last night, though, while I was beating my head into my desk and thinking about sticking a pen in my eye, it occurred to me that maybe we should all just stand up and say “Screw Plans. What’s gonna happen is gonna happen, and we’ll still be breathing”. What kind of collective inner peace could we achieve that way?

Meanwhile, is there any catastrophe you’d like to me prevent with my special brain power? 😉