• Accounting for Patience: My Debit Balance with My Mom

    by Lance Gunkel CFP® CFA Managing Director | June 20, 2022

    I was good with numbers in high school, and I quickly learned that I also had an interest in business. An introductory accounting course sounded right up my alley for my junior year.

    The first semester I spent in cruise control; the accounting principles came to me quickly, and I did well on my practice sets and exams.

    The final project for the semester was given to us months in advance and required us to act as the primary accountant for a fictional manufacturing company. We had to work through a year’s worth of transactions, recording every debit and credit in the correct place, then perform closing transactions, and finally create a year-end balance sheet and income statement.

    Given how well I’d done in the course, the final project didn’t faze me; I presumed I could breeze through it. The night before the close of the semester, I sat down at the table to begin my work – and then it hit me. I dramatically underestimated the work involved!

    A couple of hours in, it became quite clear to me that I didn’t have anywhere near enough time to finish this by the time I had to turn it in the following morning. Around that time my mom came into the room to check on my progress. She could see that it wasn’t going well.

    Using an amazing amount of motherly patience, she gently asked me to walk through what needed to be done. I admitted my hubris in thinking this project was super easy and now I was at risk of being unable to turn it in, thereby receiving a big ZERO. 

    In addition to a truckload of patience, my mom also had accounting skills. She walked me through each transaction and step in the accounting process at a pace I’d never be able to achieve on my own.

    Our little accounting department of two worked through most of the night together, finishing up with enough time for me to grab a tiny bit of sleep. I turned in the project with a yawn and even earned a good grade.

    Never once did my mom admonish me for failing to do the work earlier or complain about helping me, even though it meant she also didn’t get much sleep.

    I admired this at the time but can appreciate this act even more now that I’m grown and have children myself. I strive to achieve this every day, but it’s admittedly a work in progress.

    I learned to never underestimate a task and to begin early to allow for the inevitable bumps along the way. I also learned more about my mom that night. She was unflappable despite my self-imposed time pressure, and she helped me keep a cool composure. I try to emulate many of her traits in both my personal and professional life, and I often look back on my accounting project and the example she set for me.

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