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I am passionately in love with math. I, capital L, Love long division. When I was a kid (and maybe even a few months ago when I was home for the holidays), I’d make my mom give me strings of large numbers to divide by other strings of numbers – for fun! I got a 5 on my high school AP Calculus test and owned a graphing calculator. I also had great friends and a date to the prom, so don’t worry, this math nerd story has a happy ending. I love that with math, you get a straight answer. I find calm and relaxation in its square-ness. As an adult, most answers to questions come in shades of gray; but with math, there really is a black and white, a right and wrong. Two plus two will equal four, no matter what your hair looks like that day or whether you’re a Republican or Democrat.  Math feels like a strong hand to hold on the craziest of days.

Now, I know not everybody feels this way about my beloved. Math makes many people sweat and break out with anxious hives. And that’s okay, you don’t have to love it, but you shouldn’t be afraid anymore. Vow today to take control of your checkbook, to get a handle on your monthly budget and to call your accountant with confidence at tax time knowing that your deductions are itemized and in order. The secret? A simple Excel spreadsheet.  With just a few simple steps, the Excel spreadsheet will happily and easily do most of the work for you. Sure, call in the experts for the big stuff (even I don’t do my own taxes), but if you arm yourself with the knowledge to take care of the small stuff along the way, April 15th will be much more pleasant and you’ll have the ability to create a financial plan for yourself based on truth about your spending, not just a vague idea. Do you know how much you spend on food each year or shoes or supplies for your small business? You should. Having this knowledge will bring peace and calm to a subject that usually creates anything but, giving you the power to change what’s not working and to celebrate what is.

I am going to take you through creating a basic Excel spreadsheet step by step. Be warned, things are going to get scary at about Step 5 (or Step 1 for some of you) – just breathe. Use this opportunity to embrace your fears and to commit yourself to sticking with it. You will be so happy you did! Here we go:

Step 1

  • Open Excel, it’s that big green “X” in your dock (if you’re a Mac user, PC’s you’re on your own!) Do this now and then come back for Step 2, seriously go ahead, there is no time like the present to learn something new! I’ll wait . . .

Step 2

  • Name your columns going across the top of your spreadsheet. The header columns are labeled A, B, C, etc. Let’s say we want to track our basic expenses for the year. We would name our columns: Rent, Utilities, Food and Entertainment (yes I’m simplifying, but wouldn’t life be great if these really were our only expenses!)
  • Be sure to leave the first column empty, so we have room to name our rows in Step 3.
  • Now, go type those into your sample spreadsheet, starting with “Rent” in column B, “Utilities” in column C, etc.
  • Also, you can adjust the size of any of the rows or columns by hovering over the grid line, clicking and dragging. Easy as pie (mmmm. . . pie!)

Step 3

  • Now, save your document. Give it a fun name that will make you smile. Part of getting over our fear of math is re-framing how we see it. If you give your spreadsheet a name that makes you smile and laugh, you’ll be more apt to actually open it and use it. Seems silly, but it works! I’m a big fan of using song lyrics.

Step 4

  • Next up, name your rows going down the left hand side. These are labeled 1, 2, 3, etc. For our sample expenses spreadsheet, they would be the months of the year.
  • Start with row 2, so January doesn’t get mixed up with our column names. For those of you who remember playing the game Battleship – you’d be typing “January” into A2 (it’s a hit!), “February” into A3, etc.
  • We also want to name the row after December “Total”, so we have a place where it all adds up!

Step 5

  • This is where the magic happens. We are now going to create our math functions.  We want to add up all the months in each column, so we know how much we’ve spent in each category for the year. Put away your calculator, you don’t need it. Seriously, let it collect dust. Excel has got you covered.
  • Put your cursor in the Total box for our Rent column (That would be B14 for those Battleship lovers)
  • While in B14, click on this symbol in the toolbar: ∑.  Here is what will magically appear in your Total box: =Sum( ). In the parentheses, type “B2:B13”.
  • I know these numbers and symbols are scaring your right now, but hang in, keep reading. Take it step by step. You got this! Congratulations, you have just told Excel to add your Rent from January to December.
  • So when you enter your rent into this spreadsheet each month, Excel will do the math. Easy! Just for fun, try it. Type “500” into the January and February Rent boxes. DO IT! Did it total automatically? Do you feel giddy and awesome? Yes and yes!
  • Now, repeat Step 5 for the other boxes in Row 14, remembering to use the correct letter for the column. B was for “Rent”, C will be for “Utilities” and so on.

Step 6

  • Okay, we are almost there. Take a quick stretch and sit back down. Now you may be asking, what do we do for the categories that will have multiple monetary entries throughout the month?  Good question! Most people have one rent payment, so that’s easy to enter, but what about our Food column?  To add things as you go within a box is even easier than what we did in Step 5.  Let’s add up some food purchases in January.
  • Click into the D2 box and type this: =2.99+3.55 and then press enter. Voila! Excel added it for you!
  • Any time you have an expense to add for Food in January, click on that box and add it on (+expense amount, press enter). Excel will add it up there, as well as updating the yearly total down in row 14. Two equations for the price of one!

Step 7

  • Play! This spreadsheet isn’t real. We are making up the numbers. So, save it now and then go wild. Click around and add numbers and play, play, play! This is the best way to get comfortable with something new.
  • You can undo any “mistake” (Command Z for the cool kids) and mistakes are golden when you’re starting out. Make them here, so you’ll know how to handle them when you make your real life spreadsheet.
  • Save as you go and make it fun. Put on some music and get down with your math nerd self!

Step 8

  • Pour yourself a glass of wine or ice tea or chocolate milk and pat yourself on the back.  Feel proud of yourself for taking the risk to learn something new.  Rest easy tonight knowing that you have a new tool in your life skills toolbox to better manage your finances and therefore your life!  And if you have any questions, give me a call at BSLM, I’ll be happy to talk you through it.

Post authored by Erin Jerozal

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Traci Thomas (L), Tina Frey (C), Maria Skopas (R) hang out at NYIGF!

It was my pleasure to assist Tina Frey of Tina Frey Designs at the New York International Gift Fair held at New York City’s Jacob Javits Center in late January, with my fellow LMP Traci Thomas. This Fair is absolute heaven for design savvy shoppers featuring a gazillion booths split into categories like New York’s Newest, Accent on Design, Handmade and Tabletop & Housewares. Walking down the endless aisles is something like being caught in the looking glass of everything you could ever want in your  exquisite, palatial and epic fabulously over the top home, office, studio, world, life. Epic. It really was epic. Completely overwhelming in the best way possible and just as exciting and adrenaline inducing as the Barney’s Warehouse Sale. Really it was.

I was the luckiest to be there with the Fair’s most original, shiniest star, Tina Frey. Not only is Tina one of the kindest and most inspirational individuals I have had the pleasure to meet, but her hand crafted creations bring a smile to even the grumpiest, blackest clad, rain soaked and disgruntled New Yorker.

Here is a bit about Tina Frey Designs:

Inspiration for the designs come from many things: The shapes are inspired by organic forms in nature and objects found in travels around the world. The colors are inspired by delicious translucent popsicles, candies, and jelly beans.

The pieces in the collection are hand sculpted by Tina Frey in San Francisco, California. Sculpting starts with an idea that is cohesive with the rest of the collection.

When the clay design is completed, hand-made molds are created for each object and cast in resin.

The molds are used to cast each item individually by hand in small batches by color. Slight color variations between batches contribute to the beauty and uniqueness of each piece.

After the pieces are cast and removed from the mold, they are hand sanded. They are truly made with care. In this way, we can ensure the quality and integrity of each piece.

What I discovered as the days went on, is that each of these unique pieces has an infinite number of uses. I was drawn to the beautiful organic shapes as well as the amazing colors and realized I could do so many things with every piece! Imagine being surrounded by them day in and day out! Even this New Yorker felt the sunshine on her shoulder… and it’s February.

Here are a few of my very favorite uses for my newest very favorite things. Oprah, put these on the list. Readers, be sure to download Tina’s full spring catalog and check out her fantastic blog!

Entry Way AKA Drop Off Zone

Your entry way can easily be kept organized by using the Large Tray coupled with either Gerd or Pete Dish.  Perfect for keys, change, phones and other miscellaneous items we bring home and tend to unload everywhere…only to spend 20 minutes looking for them later. See more tips on dumping miscellanea and how to channel that here: The Pleasures of A Drop Off .

Tina Frey Designs

Desk and Office

A Desk can come alive with The Trio of Bowls for clips, post its, rubber bands, business cards etc…

The Deep Cookie Dish is great for pens and pencils and the Champagne Bucket would make for the most elegant of waste paper baskets.

Look at the killer ensemble Brooke picked up!

Jewelry

Let’s not forget our favorite…jewelry!

Woofy is perfect for keeping our rings in place. And he is cute cute cute.

The Baguette Dishes are excellent for keeping our chains from tangling.

The Pedestal Egg Cup is a perfect holder for studs, and the Pedestal Goblets are great for larger earrings.

The Small or Large Lapin pieces are exactly the thing for storing cuffs or larger pieces out of sight.

How handy… the Hans Dish for more earrings, bracelets, watches and cufflinks too!

Organizing can be as fun, funky and colorful as you are thanks to the fabulous Tina Frey.

Post authored by Maria Skopas

See what Tina has to say about the team at Brooke Stone Lifestyle Management:

I am so happy that I found Brooke Stone Lifestyle Management! Brooke and her team are absolutely wonderful and I want to share my experience so others can benefit also. My first encounter with Brooke was initially for a small task in New York City. I live in San Francisco and I really needed help on a task that same day. They tackled it quickly, with incredible professionalism, and good communication every step of the way, detailing their progress that I was truly amazed! I felt confident that the task would be done properly and it was very liberating to know that I didn’t need to follow up. I knew that this was the start of a wonderful relationship with her and her great team.
On my next project with them, I was traveling to New York for an upcoming exhibition and they were again able to assist me. Once again, they exceeded my expectations. Not only were they efficient with the tasks, but their warm and comforting support on tasks on the human level was more than I could have asked for. This was so helpful during the stressful time that I would highly recommend them to anyone.

I plan to work with them again on my next trip to New York and will continue to think of ways that they can help me streamline and simplify my life. They are truly a wonderful group and I look forward to wonderful work with them again and again.

The trick to setting up your files is there is no trick. Implementing a system that is simple and approachable is the key. It should be easy to manage and encourage frequent filing. Here are some tips on how to begin prepping your files for the tax season.

  • Use file folders and marked storage boxes to keep records organized – keep files for each year separate and easy to find.
  • If you have a filing cabinet, put the current year’s files in the filing cabinet and move them out at the end of the year to storage boxes.
  • For expenses, set up the files according to the line items on the tax schedules.

Keeping personal files separate from business files will also make your life easier when getting things in order for Uncle Sam. Here’s a breakdown of what might be in your Personal File.

  • Tax Papers
  • Bank Statements
  • Credit Card Statements
  • Income
  • Expenses

Personal Expenses can be broken down further into the following sub-categories:

  • Car
  • Charitable Contributions
  • Childcare & Eldercare
  • Medical
  • Real Estate (can be broken down by expense type per Schedule E – Mortgage Payments, Property Insurance & Taxes, Repairs & Supplies, and Utilities)
  • Personal (can be broken down more if you want to set up a budget)

If you have several businesses, keep a separate set of files for each business. Here’s what you should keep an eye out for and maintain in your Business File(s).

  • Tax Papers
  • Bank Statements
  • Business Loan Statements
  • Credit Card Statements
  • Income
  • Expenses

Business Expenses, like Personal Expenses, can be broken down further into the following sub-categories:

  • Charitable Contributions
  • Client Billable Expenses
  • Client Non-Billable Expenses
  • Contractors & Employees
  • Insurance
  • Legal and Accounting Expenses
  • Meals & Entertainment
  • Office Expenses
  • Office Rent
  • Telephone
  • Travel
  • Utilities

So, there’s the trick to a no trick filing system; implementing a system that’s usable, accessible, and approachable. It’ll help get you in tip-top shape for tax time and hopefully set you up for a less stressful one. Be on the look out for more of my Tax Tips in the coming weeks as we creep closer and closer to Tax Day.

Post authored by Elizabeth Metura 

People around me tend to be astonished at my ability to clear a deeply disturbing, buried in paper, seemingly alive, nightmare from hell desk in about 5 minutes flat. “How did you do that?!” they gasp, while I calmly sip my latte and settle them in for whatever the day has in store. How do you move the mountains squatting on your workspace? It’s simpler than you think.

Start at the top of the heap and start sorting into three categories – only these three please, don’t over think it:

To File (this pile includes all bills already paid, notes you are done working with, receipts you are saving, etc.)

To Deal With (this pile includes unopened mail, current paperwork you need for the day’s work, unpaid bills, reminders, etc.)

Things That Do Not Belong in My Office, Never Mind on My Desk (this pile includes gloves, sunglasses, tampons, empty cans of diet coke, snacks, lipstick, scratch tickets, your kids’ toys, etc.)

As you go, put the trash in the trash (novel idea, I know).  EVERYTHING fits into one of those categories. It really does. No, just do this and you will see – it REALLY does.

Put the To File Pile off to the side and schedule into your calendar RIGHT NOW (seriously write or type it in) a half hour at the end of the day to file all of this paperwork away. If it will take longer than a half hour call Brooke Stone Lifestyle Management because you have a situation on your hands.

Put the To Deal With Pile directly to the left or right of your keyboard. Schedule an hour into your calendar RIGHT NOW (seriously write or type it in) to in fact DEAL WITH this pile. Pay the bills, write the emails, etc. If there is something in the pile that will take more than 15 minutes to complete, schedule time into your calendar RIGHT THEN to do it later that day or week. Put everything you complete into the To File Pile and keep pending items in the To Deal With Pile.

Put the Things That Do Not Belong in My Office, Never Mind on My Desk Pile to the side. Schedule a half hour into your calendar RIGHT NOW (seriously write or type it in) to put everything in the proper room or place.

Simple right? Get to it!

Post authored by Brooke Stone

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