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Time for Some Accounting


~by Michael Wilcox

Assistant Director and Program Leader for Community Development / Purdue Extension
Associate Director / North Central Regional Center for Rural Development (NCRCRD)


Community and Regional Economics Specialist / Dept. of Agricultural Economics / Purdue University

Senior Associate / Purdue Center for Regional Development


The end of one year and the beginning of a new one inevitably results in two things: top ten lists that retrospectively examine the “best of” the previous year and advice on how to make the New Year even better. Given everything that took place in 2020, the consensus seems to be that the bar was set so low that it will not take much for 2021 to feel like a positive step in the right direction!

In terms of community development, we can examine the current situation from the perspective of individuals, families, businesses, governments and communities. The challenges faced in 2020 affected all of these groups in many different ways, especially financially.

So, while people implement their New Year’s resolutions (more exercise, less chocolate!), take a moment to consider where you and your household are at from a financial standpoint. As recent articles discuss (AARP, WSJ and NY Times), living through the pandemic in 2020 provided a gut-check for most Americans in terms of their financial health. Whether it was lost income (see the excellent “When Your Income Drops” series by Purdue Extension), changing spending/saving patterns (to satisfy needs or pacify wants), or having to completely re-prioritize, we continue to be forced to make decisions that will have long-term effects on our well-being and the well-being of your household.

Your bank or credit card(s) may make this easy for you via a year-end statement that breaks everything down by category. This is a nice macro-level approach. However, if you are like me, you will need to get into the weeds. You can use a worksheet to map out your weekly/monthly or annual costs. Even better, take the Purdue Extension’s “Where Does Your Money Go?” online course! Find a way (I have used Excel and Google Sheets) to take account of what is coming in (from where and how it changes over time) and what is going out (to where, for what, how and when). At the end of the day, it is just as important for you to account for your household revenue saving (a must!) and expenditures as it is counting your calories.

A final thought (along with a shout-out to my dear mother-in-law, who is a retired social worker!), this year, perhaps even more than last year, needs to be a time that you take a long, constructive look at your “emotional bank account.” Introduced in his famous 1989 book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” author Stephen Covey uses this concept to explore how people build trusting relationships with others. The ability to build trust relies on your ability to make deposits through acts of courtesy, honesty and kindness that promote a sense of reliability. Constraints on your ability to build trusting relationships occur when you make “withdrawals” through acts of discourteousness, dishonesty, and disrespect that can result in alienation. If you do not have a positive balance in your emotional bank account, it will be difficult for you to cultivate trusting relationships that lead to ‘win/win’ outcomes in your daily interactions.

At the end of the day, accountability comes down to every one of us. Doing your part, and constructively helping others do theirs with compassion and understanding, will go a long way in making 2021 a much more promising year.

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