Sarah and I are sitting at my kitchen table, staring at the pile of unpaid bills stacked in the center. Between us sits Winston, gazing cross eyed at the scarred oak surface expectantly. Company plus table equals the possibility of food in his canine brain. Winston is a 14 month old 120+ lb bullmastiff with a head like a bowling ball and the body of a linebacker. Right now, thick strands of drool are streaming from the corners of his jowls. I'm hoping Sarah doesn't notice. She is rifling through the envelopes.
Since all of the bills are recent, and not even one of them past due, I think I'm doing pretty well in the money management department.
"I have a budget." I explain, "I spend what I have and if I don't have it, I don't spend it."
"That's not a budget," Sarah tells me. "It's a plan. You need to have a budget. What's your annual income?"
I shrug. I have no idea. I have a feeling we are about to have a financial intervention.
My sister has a Real Job. She leaves the house every day, dressed in nice clothes, freshly showered, and goes to work. She has a steady paycheck, health insurance, paid vacations, and a retirement plan.
I, on the other hand, have none of the above. I am a riding instructor, horse trainer, and professional stable slave. I do not have a Real Job. I am Self-Employed.
"How much do you make a week?" Sarah tries again.
"How's the weather?" I ask.
"Don't change the subject," she says.
"I'm not changing the subject. What I make depends on the weather. If it rains, I can't work unless someone has a covered arena. If it's too hot, no one wants to ride. If it's too cold, the same. And if it's too windy, everyone gets scared and reschedules. If it's 70 degrees and sunny, I have a full week. That's if a horse doesn't go lame."
Sarah gives me the look. I know that look. My mother, a Presbyterian minister, is a master of the look, but Sarah does a pretty mean version. The look is more effective than water boarding for extracting a full confession. The look still makes me feel about twelve years old. I think the look has something to do with having children. Sarah has two boys and lots of practice.
"Oomph," Sarah exclaims. Having been ignored for a full two minutes, Winston is attempting to crawl into her lap. At least, part of him is. His head and two front legs are all that fit. His back half remains on the floor despite his best efforts. Winston still thinks of himself as a cuddly little puppy. While extremely loving, he is not very bright.
Sarah pushes Winston off her lap and wrinkles her nose at the mastiff slime that now glistens on her jeans. "Gross! This is why I never wear anything I care about to your house," she tells me.
I consider being offended, but since it sounds pretty sensible to me, I let it pass.
Luckily, I don't care about nice things. I did once, and then I got Winston. He put the shabby in my shabby chic, and I have the bite marks in my coffee table to prove it. There is nothing like a mastiff puppy at showing you the foolishness of attachment to material things. Nothing is safe. I've given up.
This choice has been remarkably liberating. It requires much less disposable income.
They say the easiest way to make a small fortune with horses is to start with a large fortune. They are correct. Horses are incredibly expensive. I should know, I have a collection.
They also say if you do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life. I'm pretty sure 'they' never had to get up at 4 am to feed ten horses , clean ten stalls, drive two hours to stand for 8 hours in a hot sand arena teaching lessons , then drive two hours home to discover you have to fix fence and repair a gate before you can call it a night. Feels like work to me...
Other equine professionals hire someone to help them clean stalls, manage the barn, and/or do basic repair and maintenance. I try to do everything myself. That fits with my spend less, make less business philosophy. It can be a bit career limiting, however.
Other trainers have beautiful facilities. I do not. I have a ramshackle barn held together with baling twine and duct tape. It's seen better days, a lot of them.
Sarah must have read my mind. "You need a new barn. That's a business expense. How are you going to finance that?"
"The lottery?" I suggest. Sounds pretty good to me.
"Be realistic," Sarah is losing patience. "You need a budget. You need to get a handle on your income and expenses. Then you can save money for capital improvements, like your barn."
"I am realistic," I tell her. "I know where my money goes, the horses...feed, hay, shavings, farrier, vet bills. If I didn't have so many horses, I'd have plenty of money. "
"Good," Sarah says. "So what do you do about that?"
"Wait for them to die and then build a barn I won't need?" I suggest helpfully.
"Seriously?" Sarah sighs. "Natural selection? That's the best you can come up with? "
I grin, lean down, and pet Winston. He is sprawled out on the floor. His tail wags haphazardly.
"What do you think, Winston?" I ask him. He sits up and kisses my face. I look at Sarah and nod. Works for me.