Questing for Zero

I've spent much of January questing for the elusive zero.

I've written about what zero means to an accountant before - peace, balance, completion. My task, to be completed before Thursday, January 24, was first of all to find zero in all of the activities of 2007 in my workplace, then to paint a picture of 2008 with a beautiful, shiny zero at the center of the tale.

The quest is simple in concept: identify everything that belongs in the year that just happened, and record it. The wear and tear of equipment, hours worked in one year and paid in the next, everything other people owe you, everything you owe to other people. It takes time, though. And when you are closing in on writing the last page of the year's story, all of your errors surface, and have to be corrected.

When I finally cornered the beast, it was colored red.

As I investigated deeper, the red started to fade. 2007's story included using money left over from 2006, and I had not yet recorded that transaction. Once I did that, take some money out of savings (known in the trade as fund balances), and issued one last bill, the deficit was less than $2,000. I was able to sleep well at night once more.

The problem then shifted to the story I must paint of 2008. The tentative budget was hoping that 2007 would be self-contained, and that the 2006 money could be used in 2008. It could not. And utility bills are going up, up, up, up... to be honest, the cost of fueling and maintaining buildings terrifies me. I knew how I could fix 2008's problem with one broad stroke of my fiscal paintbrush, but it would constrain us as we restructure staffing in 2008.

Another long week lay ahead... While everyone else took Monday off to celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I was alone in front of my computer, questing.

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