Business

Money management help

Chris and Tracey Groves of Freeland balance their checkbook together Thursday evening as Andrew, left, and Amanda use the quiet time to work on their homework. - Jennifer Conway
Chris and Tracey Groves of Freeland balance their checkbook together Thursday evening as Andrew, left, and Amanda use the quiet time to work on their homework.
— image credit: Jennifer Conway

Chris and Tracey Groves of Freeland have a strategy for keeping track of their money.

It's not complex and is, in fact, probably the first thing they both learned when they got their first checking accounts years ago.

The secret? They balance their checkbook on a regular basis.

Chris Groves said he tries to enter transactions every time he or his wife use a check card or write a check. Groves, who is going to college full time to study computer electronics and engineering technology, said staying out of debt can be difficult. So he and his wife use a common sense approach.

"We don't use a credit card at all," said Tracey, a kindergarten teacher in Coupeville.

But that strategy doesn't work for everyone. That is a good thing for some enterprising islanders who have gone into business to help those having trouble tracking checks, credit cards, balance numbers and decimal points.

Eric Falken, a Langley-area resident who recently went into business as the Daily Money Manager, is one of a few people who can assist with the time-consuming and sometimes aggravating job of money management.

Falken said there are several reasons people might need assistance with their finances, from procrastination to confusion. For example, he said, a widow or divorcee might find herself taking over the bill paying after allowing a spouse to do it for years or decades. That transition can be difficult, Falken said, especially for an older person.

"Seniors are the first people that come to mind," he said.

Falken said money managers can help seniors remain independent.

"It helps relieve their adult children from having to help with everyday financial responsibilities."

Credit card debt is another reason Falken said customers might need some help regaining control of their finances.

"During good times people spent a lot," Falken said. "Now they are paying for the things that they bought two years ago on credit."

Even with the challenges presented by the present state of the economy, Falken said staying on top of finances is simple, as long as a person -- or his or her bookkeeper -- is diligent.

"I think it's important to put down on paper what you're spending every month," said Falken.

While Falken is new to the personal money management business, Brenda Cole, co-owner of Boomerang in Clinton, has been helping clients keep track of their finances for years. She said the business has a wide variety of clients. Many clients who use Boomerang's bookkeeping and tax preparation services are in business for themselves and need help doing the books because that is not their area of expertise.

"People went into business to do what they do; they aren't interested in payroll and things like that," Cole said. "It's more economical for them to bring it in, rather than pay someone full time."

Cole said she typically meets with a customer a few times a month to stay on top of finances.

"We customize it to what the customer wants. The client decides how much or how little, and what type of help they need," she said. "It ranges to what they're comfortable with."

Still, there are people who prefer to remain self reliant when it comes to bookkeeping. The Groves, who have three children ages 11, 10 and 18 months, still do like generations of married couples before them by periodically spreading the bills and account balance books on a table for a night of numbers work.

Lacking credit card bills, the couple's debt is primarily in the form student loans, a familiar situation for many young families. Tracey Groves said staying on top of living expenses, raising three children, her husband going to school full time, and continuing education expenses for her teaching position, can be tough. Here again, they apply common sense.

"We have stay in our budget, we don't have a choice," Tracey said.

They also use the tools available to them. The Groves said using online banking has been a big help in keeping the bottom line in the black from month to month.

"It makes it so easy when you can see it online," Tracey Groves said.

Noting that the past two years have been "a disaster" financially, Eric Falken said he is in business to keep a balanced budget for those people who might be overwhelmed by the sorts of things the Graves are able to handle. Not everyone, he said, can balance both life and the checkbook.

"Paying your bills -- even getting ahead -- is just hard to do these days," he said.

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