Rusty Skills

Source: Freepik

Math and numbers have always been my Achilles’ heel. In college, I alone apparently discovered a loophole that if I took three science courses, with labs, they would substitute for the stated requirement of an undergrad completing one mathematics course in order to graduate. At senior checkout, I watched nervously as the admissions clerk cross-checked my curriculum record. She listened intently to my explanation and then consulted with her superior. “No one’s ever done that before. You did it solely to avoid taking a math course?,” she asked me.

I recall responding by self-deprecatingly paraphrasing Pippi Longstocking’s thoughts on “plutification” to pursed lips and silent judgment, as they grudgingly signed off on my paperwork. Graduated yes… but for all I know with an asterisk.

Honestly, I blame my junior high math teachers. I don’t recall much compassion in guiding me to understanding all of the important concepts. Rather, they endeavored to use shame under the hot glow of fluorescent lights and the silence of the classroom. One teacher in particular, whom I fondly recall now as the Castrating Denominatrix, was especially good at getting my pubescent sweat glands to work overtime. I was no budding Archimedes, but it was thankfully here that all those Groucho Marx imitations my dad had taught me came to the fore. I couldn’t for the life of me explain how integer sets are arranged from greatest to least, but I was still killing with my classmates.

During my work career, I naturally had to produce spending reports and maintain budgets, and I always did so with a degree of trepidation. I had taken those required training sessions on Lotus 1-2-3 back in the nineties, and unfortunately never really grasped it. Later, Microsoft thankfully took pity on people like me and created Excel, which allowed mere simpletons to finally be able to do some easy equations. In time I even get a bold enough to start linking different sets of data from related columns and sheets. I was still painfully a novice, but I was at least able to report procurement expenditures accurately without HQ alerting the audit teams.

Since retiring, I’ve created several simple household spending budgets. There was the initial pre-retirement, “Holy Sh__, Can We Actually Do This?” spreadsheet; the second year of retirement, “Olive Garden Every Other Wednesday, Baby!” estimate; and the lockdown-era, “We’re Freakin’ Rich Because We’re Not Going Anywhere or Doing Anything!” balance sheet. All had the same distinguishing characteristic: one column of line items and a total at the bottom. Gorgeous, who had never so much as even looked at a spreadsheet before our marriage is always impressed.

We do live to make a good impression with our significant others. Or at the very least not embarrass them.

Source: indeterminate but possibly at Moneycrashers

Just a few weeks ago, however, all of my skills, such as they now are, were put to an extreme test. The entity which manages my retirement savings announced a contract to a third-party provider for the purposes of upgrading its IT architecture. An entirely new system and interface has been introduced, causing considerable consternation and hand-wringing among the plan’s participants, myself included.

Amidst all the new features to now learn, I discovered to my horror that a key hallmark of the previous system is no longer available: a user-generated date history to see one’s account performance for a specific period. I had grown accustomed to regularly checking my balance history for the previous week or ten day period. The new system allows for that, somehow. But it involves the use of a complicated report-creation feature, which after trying once, and noticing how many confusing screens it took to produce it, I decided I’d rather listen to endless plays of Charlene’s “Never Been to Me” than to ever try it again. Oh go on, I dare you. Click on the link. Yes, I’m telling you it’s that bad.

So I decided that I was on my own here. It meant I’d have create something of my own to track the performance of my retirement savings.

I know what you’re thinking at this point, dear reader. “There’s an app for that,” yes?

Indeed there are quite a few portfolio tracking apps available in the App Stores. But call me paranoid, the last thing I want is to share my personal financial information on some dodgy server in Silicon Valley, or one in a foreign country for that matter. No, this is something I need to make by my lonesome, under the soft lights of my home office — and no mean teachers browbeating me this time around.

I recall that my former HR officer, now also retired, has kept a spreadsheet of his 401(k) holdings for nearly 30 years (hi, J). He wrote recently that he still updates it after each market close to enter the daily valuations. I can’t imagine having anything that entailed. I just need something simple.

Sustenance, my friends, sustenance!

So I got to right to work. I spent hours googling spreadsheet calculations, particularly in how to arrive at a weekly percentage change compared to the previous balance entry. I was rusty at all of this. Without the pressure of any management entity demanding a date certain report, I also noticed that my attention span started to wane after several failed attempts. Did you know, for instance, that NPR’s Fresh Air is now available via a podcast? I didn’t either, but I learned that while goofing off and reading unrelated news (I might have listened to an old interview Terri Gross did with George Carlin, but I’m not admitting to it here).

Gorgeous looked in from time to time, mostly to see what I was eating.

Five hours later — which included pretty much all of the late morning and most of the afternoon, I completed my new spreadsheet. It ain’t very fancy, and it certainly won’t win any awards. But it works. I’ve tested it several times using practice data and nothing strange has happened. So I can now track my savings, which by the way is the most depressing thing any of us can do at the moment.

Bye, money!

I plan on living off the fumes of this success for as long as possible. “Paint the bathroom? No, sorry, honey. I’m tired from figuring out that spreadsheet.

Until next time…

Source: The St. Augustine Record, August 28, 2022

37 thoughts on “Rusty Skills

  1. I read that blog and here’s my takeaway. Holy cow! How much food does he keep on his desk? 🙂 For a rookie, I was pretty impressive with Excel but that was BEFORE I retired and they updated it a thousand times to make it easier (NOT!) I’m very impressed that you created a spreadsheet but much more impressed by your food selection. Not a fan of brown speckled bananas though. Those should be given to Gorgeous for banana bread.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. lol I’ll mention that to her, Kate. Story-within-a-story on the picture. For the life of me, I could *NOT* find a free picture (or clipart) on the web of anyone eating at their computer. They were all protected. So after searching for way too long, I just decided to make my own. Someone else can use it now, I guess. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Good job, Marty! I’m a retired IT professional with a math degree and I don’t like the lack of transparency in all these apps either. I keep my details on a spreadsheet I update weekly (which has been exceedingly depressing lately), as does my husband. You’re in good company!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What is this spreadsheet of which you speak? I just watch the stock reports everyday, and blow imaginary goodbye kisses to my lost money, while simultaneously showing the television my newly manicured middle finger. Oh well. 😫

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Math wasn’t a great subject for me either (why didn’t I know about the science loophole?) but, for some reason, I like spreadsheets… probably because they do all the mathy work for me. My husband, a retired engineer, is a wiz at spreadsheets and has made several to track our finances. I leave the complicated ones to him.

    Kate has already commented on your snacks, I’ll just add: “sit up straight, you are straining your neck!”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. lol Janis. I really do need a more ergonomic chair for sure! The funny thing is, I like spreadsheets too. I actually have several for different things. But none of them are very complicated — mainly just one column and a balance at the bottom. 🙂


  5. Good for you for sticking with it! And Congratulations on your achievement. But I have to note – I really studied all that food on your desk, too. What else is on that plate with the apple? I can see the Hershey mini and the mini Mr. Goodbar, but is that brown thing a cookie? Where are the utensils to access the peanut butter? And not a napkin in sight! Am I giving you flashbacks to math class? Oh, and one more thing. That doesn’t look like a spreadsheet on your computer screen. And it doesn’t look like WordPress either. Good thing Gorgeous is checking in on you! In any case, thanks for the chuckles, and I won’t even mention that Rolodex on your desk.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Betty, I read this aloud to Gorgeous just now and could barely get through it because I was l laughing so much. Well done, you! I spent more damn time on this post looking for a picture of people sitting at their desks surrounded by phone. They are out there aplenty, but all have usage restrictions on them (copyright or otherwise). So I decided to just create my own! What’s up on the screen is in fact this post in the WP block editor — indeed, not a spreadsheet at all. 🙂 We had fun setting up the picture — but definitely had more fun reading your comment. Thanks for the laughs!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m with Jane. I track my investments weekly on a simple spreadsheet – have done this for years (since before the big bursting sub prime bubble of 2008). Mainly just to toughen myself to the up and down nature of the market. It has worked. I no longer panic when things go down the toilet – instead I pick up the phone and tell my guy to get me some bargains with any loose change hanging around my accounts. Now if only I can live long enough to recoup my current losses…🤣


    Liked by 1 person

    1. That site looks so familiar, Donna. I think in my online travels the other day, I must have come across it. But it obviously didn’t show anyone pigging out as I apparently wanted. 😉 Many thanks for it, though. I’ve duly bookmarked it for future use! 🙂


  7. Beyond all those snacks, I noticed a mini rolodex (you know you can put all that stuff in a spread sheet right?) Good for you, working the spreadsheets. My husband will create one faster than I can write something down on a sticky note. They do come in handy, but I only create them when absolutely necessary. This blog reminded me of how much I hated math too. I blame it on the teachers. Freshman year of college I took a class called “The History of Math.” It was seriously life changing. So, I did take several math classes, but they were hard!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My poor rolodex! lol. I can’t seem to give it up. I suppose it’s sentimental more than operational these days, though it has come in handy for tradesmen business cards. There was a wee bit of math in those science classes I took, but fortunately the professors took pity on any mistakes I made. Much better than trying my hand at trigonometry! A history of math? Oh, dear. 😉


  8. I have a love/hate relationship with spread sheets. IF we’re doing well, I’m all about them like your “We’re Freakin’ Rich Because We’re Not Going Anywhere or Doing Anything!” balance sheet. That’s a good one. BUT if the darned thing displeases me with its numbers, I tend to ignore it. That’s sound financial planning, right?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sound enough for me! Budgets are always end up being emotional, don’t they Ally? Except if you’re an account perhaps. When things are especially tight, I tend to create them to prove things aren’t as bad as I fear. So I suppose they run in both directions on that spectrum.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Complete maths dud here Marty! Himself was telling me about this nifty feature that used to be in Excel but was removed and made into a standalone feature you have to pay for between an old version and new release. Frustrating! I do use Excel (when I’m forced to for work), but am always terrified I’ve made a mess of the equation… so I check my calculations with calculator as well as paper & pen.

    Nice work on avoiding the painting 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I used to hate it when they’d suddenly remove a feature that you had gotten used to and depended upon it. There was a point, I think in the late nineties and early aughts, when Microsoft was merciless about upgrades. Free web-based apps changed the pricing dynamic, but they bring additional security concerns too. It’s a little too much for me at times, Debs!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I’m impressed Marty! I was a science and maths major at school..since it was the only pathway that didn’t involve English. I don’t have a spread sheet that impressive. Only one to record all my bills so that they are paid in time.
    As for my retirement funds? I have no idea what I am going to live on? Here is hoping the government still got enough money in their coffers to give us a pension.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I figured your expertise was in math and science, your being a pharmacist and all, Vy! Your kind were always the ones I was envious of back in school. Ah, retirement…. right now those funds are all in the toilet for me! As a friend of mine said recently, “Well, it was paper yesterday and it’ll be paper tomorrow.” lol

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I kind of nearly flunk English I school so the only other option was science and sport . And since I flunked Physical Ed. It left me with science 😂
        Maths comes in handy when I groceries shop as I can quickly calculate how much a toilet roll of paper costs 😂 Science not as useful. Pharmacy is all about memory work more than anything.


  11. Hi Marty, Okay, I have lost (or gained?) a few minutes of my life by clicking on plutification? …egad…not in the dictionary?

    Another egad on a new contract and provider. Major kudos to you for attempting all of this… a visual spreadsheet always makes a difference…like you say, many apps for tracking.

    My rabbit hole the past few days has been dealing with sending files…”zipped files” that the other party cannot open…dealing with apples to oranges…really Apple to PC’s…

    You remind me Marty, how all of these challenges help keep our synapses in (sort of) fine shape. And you have wowed Gorgeous (and little old Me) once again.😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh dear. So sorry for filling your brain with the “plutification” reference, Erica. It’s the one thing — perhaps the only thing — that I recall from the Pippi Longstocking stories. I do remember using it at the senior checkout meeting, but I think it received a blank look of ignorance. Or revulsion. 😉

      Yes, I suppose you’re right. All these changes do challenge us in a good way. Good to get the brain muscles working.

      Keep those wonderful pictures coming on your Insta page!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I love spreadsheets!! I use them for everything. But I will admit, none are overly complicated. I don’t track my investments other than updating a quarterly net worth spreadsheet. I try not to look at our balances any more than that. Too depressing right now!! Although my company’s stock has really jumped recently. Too bad I don’t have more of that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ugh, this response of yours went into my SPAM folder for some reason. WP is acting so weird lately! Anyway, yes, I pretty much use them for everything myself, though mostly for budget reasons. My investment savings I usually let the official platforms crunch the numbers because that usually means a higher skill level is required. This time, I had to up my game, as it were.

      I like that you only check yours quarterly. That makes it less depressing!


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