Category Archives: number crunching

Rank, Revenge and Money

Recently I was reminded of the complexity of a crucial couple’s money knot: what happens when one partner “controls” the money?

I was asked by my friend, Kathleen Burns Kingsbury to be on her new Breaking Money Silence® Podcast Series.  She’s hosting conversations around money myths that we hold.  The one I chose to talk about was “I have to know everything about the money to feel safe”.  We had a really great conversation which covered many aspects of the myth.  Here’s the link to the podcast so you can check it out:

One of the things that’s really intriguing to me about this topic is the concept of Rank and Revenge around money.  Let’s dig more into that one, okay?

Frequently in a relationship money is the place where power struggles are uber visible.  We’ve all seen the dynamic where one partner controls the money and the other partner ‘acts out’.  It was in some ways the cultural norm before the sexual revolution, right?  The husband controlled the money, but the wife would then go out and splurge.  In that instance the husband holds the “rank” in the form of control, and the wife practices the “revenge” in the form of spending extravagantly.  It’s a game or dance we have all seen in our families, in novels or in film.

If one person holds power in a negative way, the other person is likely to find a way to exert some revenge.  What’s really going on is an attempt to find some equilibrium.  The power in the relationship has become one sided.  It’s no longer a partnership, it’s a tug of war.

Struggle is a normal phase in a romantic relationship.  It’s that time when the ways you are different no longer seem cute and amusing.  Why can’t your partner just be more like you?  Why can’t you be right?  Why can’t you be the top dog?  Money is a place where this often plays out. Unfortunately some couples never move out of the struggle place around money—or other things, for that matter—and keep tugging on the ropes.

At the end of one talk I gave, a women came up to me and said: “You need to FIX my husband.  He’s driving me crazy.  He has these spreadsheets.  He’s always fiddling with the numbers and it’s just crazy.”   Seems ironic, in a way, doesn’t it?  This husband was being the number cruncher and his wife, being of the opposite view, thought it was crazy.  Mostly we think the less number crunchy person is the wrong one…the truth is that neither one is right or wrong, they just have different strengths and talents.

We all know opposites attract!  This issue is how have money effectively managed while NOT stimulating rank and revenge in your relationship.

One that often works is for the more natural number cruncher to translate the information into pie charts or bar graphs.  It’s likely that the opposite of the cruncher will be able to grasp proportions at a glance while numbers may just baffle them

One of the things Kathleen brought up in our conversation that I just loved was that as we share in the management of our finances with our partner the intimacy between us increases.  I think one of the reasons that is true is that when we finding a way to share this crucial area we have to honor and respect each other and our differences, and that makes for a closer connection.

Money, and the day-to-day management of it, is a crucial thing in our lives.  How can you facilitate a better way of sharing the money responsibilities in your relationship?


Shell Tain, The Untangler

Want to talk more about rank, revenge and money, give me a call 503-258-1630 or check out my website at

Sometimes Crunching the Numbers Helps

Yes, I’m known for touting that you don’t need to be a number cruncher to be in a good relationship with your money, which is true.  What is also true is that sometimes crunching the numbers actually helps.

CalculatorWhen it really helps is when you “make things up”, when you decide that something is true without checking the numbers.  We often decide that money stuff is worse than it really is.  It’s another one of those places where our little kid brain is running the money.  A place where you get stuck, sometimes for years, assuming a situation that just doesn’t add up.

Ironically there are often two almost opposite reasons people shun crunching numbers, both of which are motivated by fear.

One reason is waiting to make a move until something feels uber safe.  One example of this is that you can’t quit the “day job” you hate for the “dream job” you love until you have bunches of money saved.  The pivot point here is, “How much is a bunch?”  What amount will have you feel safe?  Hard questions often made harder by not actually crunching the numbers.

For example: recently a client had the idea that she needed $30K in savings before she could make the shift from a job she hates to her budding career in Real Estate: $18K for living expenses and $12K for business expenses.  There was a crunching error in here in here that was making her goal seem doubly hard to attain.  The real number that she needed for a 6 month “Back-Up Fund” in her situation was $12K for living expenses and $3K for business expenses.  Her fear has caused her to push up the living costs and to way over estimate the business costs of the new job.  Now she’s going after a number of $15K, which is much more attainable.

Often the other reason to shun the crunching is the “Ostrich Effect”.  You know that one, right?  The “stick my head in the sand and pretend” idea.  This one usually is about overspending.  It’s driven by the little kid part of us not wanting to have to “stop playing and do our chores”. This part of the little kid is often coupled with another part: “the monsters under the bed” part—the fear that once the truth is known it will be so awful you will not be able to tolerate it.  The truth is that once we know what is really going on we feel better.  There is something about knowing what is going on that has us dig in, make plans, and focus on what is really important to us. I’ve seen this happen many times over the years.

What both “seeking safety” and the “ostrich effect” have behind them is fear.  Fear that it will be insurmountable—it isn’t.  Fear that if you look it will get worse—it doesn’t.  Fear that you can’t ever get this money knot untangled—you can.

See, the problem is not actually the money or the number crunching.  It the fear.  FDR said it best: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”  Why not see if crunching a few numbers can help you realize what really is possible and set the fear aside?


Shell Tain, The Untangler

Need a bit of support around the crunching? Give me a call at 503-258-1630 or check out my website at

The Purpose of Accounting

One of the things that I find intriguing about business is this misconception of the role and purpose of accounting.  It’s been coming up lately in conversations with several of my clients. I have a different take on it.

Having spent much of my life working on the money side of businesses I often refer to myself as a “recovering accountant”.  I worked my way up in the profession from a clerk to a CFO.  I know the “game” and I know the process, and in my opinion, many people have missed a crucial piece of the purpose of accounting.

Here’s a standard definition:

“The purpose of accounting is to provide the information that is needed for sound economic decision making. The main purpose of financial accounting is to prepare financial reports that provide information about a firm’s performance to external parties such as investors, creditors, and tax authorities.”

I worked in many a company that played by that definition and many companies still do.  It’s only half of the job.  What my dad taught me years ago, and what I held as the standard for the accounting departments I ran, was: Tell management what is going on in a timely enough manner that they can “turn the boat”.great-ships-the-titanic

Sure, it’s important to have accurate end of the period reports for taxes and investors.  It’s good to get it all done, balanced and pretty.  And often by then it’s too late to avoid the iceberg.  It’s even more important for the people inside the company to have the numbers, than for those outside to see what’s going on.

The purpose of accounting is to give management the information they need expediently.  You can’t wait until it’s all done for that.  You have to do estimates and even projections.  By the time the Titanic saw the iceberg it was way too late.

It’s very likely that most of you reading this don’t have a big company.  You may not even have a company at all, it may be just you.  And yet the numbers are still there to tell you how you are doing, to help you know when to turn the boat.

How often do you look?  Do you wait until your tax return to see how it’s going?  Do you look and see where your money comes from? Who your clients really are?  How much it costs you to make a sale?

Do you look?

It doesn’t have to be accurate to the penny to be valuable information.  It doesn’t have to be perfect.  What’s the trend?  Are you looking for clients in the wrong places?  Are spending money on things that aren’t effective?  What’s going on?

If you want to know, it’s right there in the numbers.  Not just the shiny, neat ones at the end of the period but the down and dirty guesses in the midst.  Take a look.  See what it’s telling you and act on it.  After all, you are spending time and money on the process of accounting so why not have it serve its purpose: providing you with timely information?

Want to explore some more innovative money ideas for your business? Give me a call at 503-258-1630 or check out my website at


Shell Tain, The Untangler

Math Anxiety

There’s a lot of speculation about what causes math anxiety, or math phobia as it’s sometimes called.  It seems pretty apparent that it’s much more common in women than men.  Some of it has to do with a long history of culture that supports gender differences.  Others postulate that is has to do with some embarrassing moment, like a math error in front of the class.

Many actually tie math anxiety to money.

I find that one challenging.  It’s an interesting belief.  Pretty much the only thing money and math have in common are the symbols they use.  These days, there is very little math needed to do money.  We don’t even need to add or subtract.

I have great empathy for the math.  They certainly didn’t choose it consciously.  It seems pretty logical to me that if one has dyslexia, math is one of the things that would make you anxious.  Knowing that if you transpose two digits, the difference will always be divisible by nine is hardly a consolation.  You’ll still have the wrong answer.

The cause of math anxiety that I’d like to talk a bit about is something like transference, or ‘reading the emotional field’.  Others have referenced it.  I just think the effects and results are bigger than we think.

Let’s go back to elementary school, or what I called grammar school.  An article in anxietyWikipedia on Math Anxiety says: “Students often develop mathematical anxiety in schools, often as a result of learning from teachers who are themselves anxious about their mathematical abilities in certain areas. Typical examples of areas where math teachers are often incompetent or semi-competent include fractions, long division, algebra, geometry “with proofs”, and calculus. In many countries, would-be math teachers are required to obtain passing grades of only 51% on mathematics exams, so that a math student who has failed to understand 49% of the math syllabus throughout his or her education can, and often does, become a math teacher. His or her fears and lack of understanding then pass naturally to his or her students.”  Now I don’t know if people who understood only half of their math education “often” become teachers, but certainly many do.  And many of us have had to endure one of them somewhere in our education.

We know that children learn from watching adults.  The part I think that we don’t really acknowledge is that what children learn isn’t based on what the adults say.  It isn’t based specifically even on what adults do.  It’s based on the emotions that the adults express while they are saying or doing.  Are the adults happy or are they anxious? Are they calm or worried?  If they say they’re happy, but act worried, what do you think the kid picks up on?

Remember that 2nd or 3rd grade teacher you had.  You know, the one you really liked, the one that was so nice.  If she somehow subtly expressed that math made her the least bit hinky, and if you liked her, and wanted her to like you, then you would at some level adopted her perspective.  Part of how we create relationships is to adopt similar beliefs and perspectives, and I think most of that isn’t really overt.  I think it comes from sensing what is going on and by reading the emotional field.

This reading the emotional field thing I mention is like the mood in the room.  You’ve all experienced that.  You walk in a room and just know that something is amiss, something is off or wrong.  Children start to pick that up long before they get language.  And we continue to develop that sense.  We know when someone says “everything is fine” and in truth everything isn’t fine.  So when the teacher isn’t comfortable with the subject, we sense there is something off or wrong with the subject.

It’s somewhat chicken and egg.  Who knows when the Math Anxiety thing for women started or why, but it sure has perpetuated. And I think it’s more based on mood and subtle emotional nuance than we’d like to admit.

What do you think?



Ritual Banking

Recently I heard a talking head speak of ‘Ritual Banking’.  Mostly they seemed to be alluding to the fact that we don’t actually use ‘money’ anymore, we use numbers in the cloud.  This is quite true.

However, Ritual Banking is a bureaucratic phenomena that what we haven’t reallybanking accepted.  What this really means is that it’s still an illusive butterfly.  As fast paced as money transactions are, whether on the stock exchange or the seven seconds it takes for your credit card transaction to zoom from the merchant, through the jungle of the web to your bank and back, we are slow to see the changes in money.

For centuries there was the ‘Gold Standard’ which basically meant that a country didn’t print money unless it had the value of it in gold.  That’s changed, drastically.   Thus the idea that banking has become a ritual.  We decide the number has values and exchange numbers more than paper.

Thus “Ritual”: a solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order.

Pretty apt description of money, isn’t it?

Money itself has become more ritual than real.

The purpose of my musing is not to get into the big national and international repercussions of that, the macro economics. It is instead to illuminate what it means for us as individuals.  How does it affect our lives?

It changes one huge dynamic, that if we could really grasp it we could be much more effective.  Since there are not actual limits on how much of the stuff there is, since it’s now numbers rather than gold, or even paper, it means that how much someone else has doesn’t actually limit how much you or I can have.    It’s no longer a scarcity based system.  That may be messy on a global basis, but it’s good news for our own individual goals.

The thinking that how much the rich have somehow limits how much the rest of us can have really holds us back.  While it used to be that a handful of people could somehow acquire all the gold, it is no longer the case that a few can acquire all the money. That old kind of thinking has us succumb to a feeling of futility.  Feeling that we might as well not try.  We spend time and energy worrying and fussing about how much they have instead of focusing on what we are up to.  It’s an amazing yet destructive distraction from being effective with your own money.

So while you may spend time being angry and working for change in many of the ways that the uber wealthy behave, please understand that having them have less won’t actually get you more.  It’s not a closed system.  It’s not even printed paper anymore, it’s numbers.  And numbers are available to everyone.

What might be a Banking or Money Ritual you could create to bring your focus home to you instead of out there on some nebulous “they”?



Except When It’s Not

One of the things that gets us all into trouble is Fixed Beliefs.  Those things we say, or think, with assurance as if they are the absolute truth.  We have these beliefs about all sorts of things, including money.

A few the money beliefs I hear most often are:

          Asking for money is wrong

          There’s never enough

          Rich people are bad, mean, greedy

          You can’t make money doing art

          Couples fight about money

          I can’t do numbers, so I can’t do money

The list goes on.

These beliefs aren’t helping us on two fronts.  First and foremost, they aren’t actually the whole truth.  And second, each time we say them we are reinforcing and strengthening their presence in our brains.  As we keep reinforcing our beliefs, other possibilities become harder and scorpionharder to embrace.  Eventually, we just drift towards stopping seeing or trying them at all.

Let’s make a distinction here between ‘Belief’ and ‘Truth’.  ‘Truth’ is something that is the same 100% of the time.  A  matches reality.  It’s never not, it always is.  There is less and less in life that is the truth.  Rocks aren’t hard anymore…turns out there’s a bunch of space between atoms…geez!  And more importantly our ‘Beliefs’ are not the ‘Truth’.  Our beliefs are ‘feelings’.  They are assumptions, often based on evidence.  The problem is that there are times when they just aren’t the only option.

Look at the money belief list above.  Are those always true?  Is there sometimes enough?  What about Oprah or Paul Newman?  How’s Yoyo Ma doing?  Know some couples that don’t fight about money?  And what does numbers really have to do with money these days?

Hmmm.  What to do?

It’s really pretty simple.  We need to broaden our perspectives just a bit, so the trick is that whenever you make one of those ‘belief’ statements, you follow it immediately with an appropriate version of one of these options:

          Unless of course it’s not


          Except when it isn’t


          Rich people aren’t as nice as poor people, except when they are.

          I just can’t save money, except when I do.

          All used car salespeople are rats, unless of course they aren’t.

          My family never pays me back when I lend them money, except when they do

Get the idea?  It actually is kinda fun, and it both softens your view, and changes your brain, unless of course it doesn’t. (snicker)



Your Porridge

Do you think your porridge is the perfect temperature?  That’s what you are betting on when the very first thing you tell someone is how much you charge.

It happens to us all the time.  We meet someone and, right after they ask what we do, they ask what we charge.  Don’t answer that question at that time.  It’s a trap.  What they are unconsciously doing is distracting themselves from actually finding out about you and your services.  And you are helping them succeed at the distraction.

Once you answer the question of what you charge they are no longer present.  They are in that part of their brain that is analyzing what you just said.  And what they are thinking is most likely either: “Wow, that’s a lot!” or “Gee, that seems too cheap”.  The likelihood of your number being perfect “porridge” is pretty slim.  Remember, unless it is perfect, in their mind, you have lost their attention by giving them the number.

Instead, wait until you know more about them, and they know more about you, before you talk price.   Here’s how that works.  By all means, acknowledge the question. If you don’t, they will be wondering why you skipped over it, and again be somewhere else other than with you.  But instead of giving them the number, steer them back to talking about what they might find valuable in what you do.  It could sound something like this:  “I get that you are interested in knowing how much working with me would cost…and…before we go there, tell me more about you.  How might I be able to help you?”

Create rapport and relationship.  Present to them some positives, be they actions that could be taken or results that could be achieved, so that when and if the money part gets stated, there is a context for it.  They will have value to judge the number by. The money won’t be the only thing they are thinking of. They will also be aware of what the result of the expense will really be. The will see the value they get for their money.

That way they much more likely to want your porridge!

Meat’s not meat till it’s in the pan…Part Two

Okay, so when we last left our hero (that’s you!) we had gone through how to set up your billing and invoicing in a way that is most likely to get you paid quickly.  We started the process of creating an atmosphere of professionalism around this part of your business, which tells your clients that you are serious about getting paid.   It does so in a professional yet nice way, which communicates that you are paying attention.  All this will improve how quickly the money comes to you.

Now what?  Now what we need to do is give you the tips on what to do when they don’t pay you, even though you have done all the right things…in other words, the dreaded word Collections!

Collecting money is a scary prospect for most people.  Collections is like the twin brother of the smarmy used car salesman.  Our idea is that we will have to turn into a mean stalker in order to collect what is due to us.  Not so.

Here are some great tips to keep in mind throughout the whole collections process, whether you are collecting from individuals or from a company.  Following these will have you being considerate and respectful of both yourself and your client.

Neutrality:  You want to keep an even temperament when asking people for money.  People that haven’t paid are likely to have some big emotion about this topic, and you don’t need to add to that, or even respond to it.  In a company, the person that hasn’t paid may be embarrassed.  Either way, you staying calm and neutral will help stabilize the situation.

Stand Back:  Let them figure it out.  Don’t offer suggestions.  Don’t try to fix it.  Don’t offer payment plans.  Here is what to say:

For an individual who owes you:  “When can I expect payment?”

For a company that owes you:  “When is this invoice scheduled for payment?”

That’s it!  Say that and the BE QUIET.  Let them answer the question.  Let the silence sit for a while if you have to.  The main point is that you don’t want to take responsibility for this in any way.  Let them have the ideas and make the commitments.  Don’t get engaged in the excuses or problems.  Listen to them, sure, even offer condolences, but don’t engage in them.  Be sure the conversation comes back to “When can I expect payment?”

Negotiating:  You can negotiate or accept some plan, but don’t volunteer it.  If you volunteer the plan, they won’t follow it.  It’s your plan not theirs.  I can hear you out there saying “But what do I do if they say ‘I don’t have the money’, or ‘I lost my job’, or ‘I’ve been sick’, or a myriad of other things”?  After all, you aren’t heartless and you aren’t a mean person.  True. But you also deserve to be paid.  So when they say those things, you say “Gee that’s tough.” or “I’m sorry to hear that.”  And then let there be more of that quiet space.  And then if you just can’t stand it any longer, you can say “What’s a plan to pay me that will work for you?”

Consistency:  Predictability and follow-up are the key to getting your money.  If you decide to send monthly statements, then send them every single month on the same day.  If your invoice says the payment is due by the 5th, don’t wait any longer than the 8th to call and ask about it.  If you say you are going to call back in 5 days, then call back in 5 days. Create a collections process or plan and stick to it, religiously.

Many times, if people aren’t paying, they are hoping you will just give up and go away.  Consistency tells them you won’t do that.

Call them:  If you want to actually collect the money, call and talk to a person.  Don’t just send an email, or a reminder: call and talk to the person directly.  You don’t have to get yourself worked up to do that.  Remember, you are only going to say this:

“We haven’t received your payment of $350 (or whatever the amount is).  When can we expect payment?”

Self-Management: Remember please, that whatever this problem is, you didn’t create it, and you are not responsible for fixing it or getting them out of it.  Keep your own emotions in check and out of the collection process.  You are bound to have some. After all, someone is not honoring an agreement they made with you, and none of us like that.  But your being emotional around this will not help you get your money.

Know when to let go: A final concept here.  There are times when you just need to ‘let it go’.  Declare it a loss.  Stop.  Maybe there is a death or a catastrophe.  Maybe they are just not going to pay you, ever.  Maybe they are angry about something you did or didn’t do.  Somewhere in there you either have to take them to court or stop.  Know when that is.  And once you have gotten there, take the amount off your books, clear it, put it to bed.

So there’s the plan of how to get the ‘meat in the pan’.  If you get stuck, or find yourself resistant along the way, let me know.  I’m sure ‘we all can untangle that thar’ knot’!

Meat’s Not Meat Till It’s In the Pan…Part One

By now you all know some things about me.  I was an accountant, controller, CFO, whatever you want to call it.  And I was born in Wyoming, and summered there after we moved away.  So it is not remarkable that I love the work of western artist Charles M. Russell.

In my office at work I had a copy of his painting: “Meat’s not meat till it’s in the pan”

The hero of the painting has effectively shot his dinner, yet can’t figure out how to  retrieve it.  When someone would come in to my office boasting about a great sale they had made, I would smile and point to the painting.  Ah….

This painting is a great metaphor for collecting money.  You may have done the work. You may have invoiced for it.  But it’s not money till you’ve collected it.

The ability to collect money effectively starts early in the process, just like the cowboy needed to think further than shooting the Big Horn sheep.  Even though these steps may seem obvious, let’s see if as a business person you are actually doing them:

  1. Be clear at the beginning how much the service or product will cost, as well as the payment terms.
    • Hint: have a contract, agreement, letter, purchase order, even an email, detailing who does what, and what it will cost.  It gets things clear.
  2. Consider a retainer or “up front” payment, especially if you are creating a product (ie: website, tax return, design work, etc.)  
    • Why? It establishes a commitment on both sides, helps your cash flow, and may cover your basic cost if the client doesn’t like the end product.
  3. Invoice promptly.
    • Hint:  You can assume that the client will take the time between when the service was delivered and they received the invoice, at least double it, and then maybe pay you.
  4. Have a professional looking invoice
    • Hint: If you aren’t serious about the money, they won’t be either.  Don’t just use the canned invoice form without adding your logo, changing the font, sprucing it up a bit.  Make it look official and professional. 
  5. Have a specific due date on the invoice
    • Why?  People are used to due dates.  You find them on your bundled TV/Phone bill, credit cards, etc.  The old convention of terms isn’t really acknowledged, especially if your clients aren’t large companies with an Accounts Payable department.
    • Hint:  They will pay sooner because you are clear, direct and on top of it.
  6. Collect the money!

Yes, I stopped there…for now.  This is part one.  If you follow the steps above more people will pay you on time, really!

So what if they don’t pay you on time…what then?  Well that’s what “Meat’s not meat till it’s in the pan…Part Two” will be about…

The “what to do then” piece deserves it’s own article.  It’s not hard, but it does tend to trigger more emotion.  We’ll suss it out next time.  Meanwhile, get these steps spruced up and incorporated into your business!

Where Are You Great?

We all have talents and strengths.  Sometimes we forget.   Sometimes we try to do better at the things we aren’t good at.  Seems like a good idea.  Sometimes it is, if not a good idea, a necessary one.

Here’s the problem.  When you try to do better at the things you aren’t good at, the things you don’t have a natural aptitude for, the best you can do is go from crappy to adequate.


Think about it.

Now, if you take the things you already have a talent for, the things you have a natural proclivity for, you can go from being good to being Tony the Tiger grrreat

So when you have a choice (and you usually do) why not do something you already show some affinity for?

It’s part of how I feel about you and money.  You don’t have to struggle through number crunching to be good with money.  You DO have to find a way to connect with and understand what money is telling you.  There are a myriad of ways to do that.  Some of them are even fun.

So what are you already good at?  And how can you use that talent to create a better understanding of and relationship with money?

If you need some help figuring that out, click here to contact me.