Spokane Journal of Business

Helping impulse shoppers resist


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William Schara doesnt merely crunch numbers for a living. Hell help you crunch your personal budget numbers, too, so youll know precisely when youve blown your entertainment budget or need to hold off on a clothing purchase.

The Spokane mining executive and certified public accountant has patented a household budgeting booklet, called a Schara BudgetMap, that replaces a conventional check register inside a checkbook. The budgeting tool allows an individual or a family to track spending by budget category and determinewith a glance at the BudgetMapwhether it has the money to meet a certain expense.

Figuring out what to do on a Friday night? Review the BudgetMap to see if you have enough money in your entertainment budget for dinner and a movieor if youd better stay home and watch TV. Thinking of buying a new lamp for the living room? Check out the home-goods category in the booklet before heading to the checkout stand at the furniture store.

A lot of people are trying to get out of debt, says Schara, who sells the booklets through a home-based business called Schara Co. What they dont have is a simple tool to help them do that. As you can see, this is not rocket science.

Schara, who works full time as vice president of finance for Yamana Resources Inc., of Spokane, says that sales of the BudgetMap have picked up recently, thanks to Internet marketing that he began late last year. He sold a total of about 500 kits that contain the budgeting booklets via the Internet in May and June. In the five years before he began offering the product on a Web site, he sold a total of just 350 kits.

Hes run into his own budget glitch, however. Recent sales have exceeded what he had projected for the BudgetMap, and his small enterprises inventory of the product now is nearly depleted, he says.

I had to pull some advertisements, because I cant keep up with the orders, Schara says.

Schara expects to replenish his supply of the BudgetMap early next month. Each kit retails for $16 and includes instructions and three of the booklets, typically enough for about a year.

The product receives a ringing endorsement from LeeAnn Bonds, a Priest River, Idaho, homemaker with a family of four who bought one of the kits about three years ago at the annual Christian Workers Conference, in Spokane.

Its been the difference between control and chaos, she says of the BudgetMap.

By using the tool, her family has been able to do a better job of preparing itself for major periodic expenses, such as property-tax and insurance bills, Bonds says. In addition, she says, her familys improved budgeting practices have made it possible to earmark funds for a home-remodeling project thats under way. She says the family has been able to pay for the project without taking out a loan.

Its the best thing that ever has happened in my financial life, says Bonds, who bought the BudgetMap at first because it was easier to use than other household budgeting tools shed tried. Also, it fit in her checkbook, and she didnt have to carry it around separately.

The budgeting booklet looks similar to a conventional check register, but each page folds out to provide additional space. Along with the usual columns for recording the number, date, and description of each check and entering the check amount and updating the account balance, the BudgetMap has 12 columns for tracking the balances of amounts set aside for different purposes in a household budget.

At the top of each of those 12 columns, a user labels the expense category, such as for housing, car, food, entertainment, or other expenses, and enters in each column an amount thats budgeted for that category. After buying something or paying a bill, the user subtracts the amount from both the account balance and the applicable budget column. The latter calculation deducts the expense from the amount allocated for that type of expense. If a household has $200 left in its clothing budget, a family member could see instantly that the budget still includes enough money to buy a $100 pair of shoes, but not a $250 sports coat.

Schara says he came up with the budget map in 1995 after seeing a need for such a product while working as a public accountant, before he joined Yamana. He obtained a patent for the product in March 1999. Initially, he sold the BudgetMap at conventions here that catered to middle-income families, the demographic group thats mostly likely to be interested in such a tool. Sales didnt begin to rise dramatically, however, until last November when he patented the BudgetMap and began selling the kits over the Internet. Schara Co. henceforth will market the kits exclusively through Web sites and conduct sales mostly via the Internet, Schara says.

By doing so, the company hopes to be able to maintain its recent sales clip and grow the business more, says Schara, whose immediate family helps him package and ship orders. The company has no full-time employees.

It has marketed the BudgetMap through advertisements on two family-oriented e-mail newsletters, Main Street Mom and The Dollar Stretcher, and plans to start advertising again on those and other e-mail newsletters after the next batch of budget-map kits arrive from the printers.

Linn  Parish
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Editor Linn Parish has worked for newspapers and magazines since 1996, with the bulk of that time being at the Journal. A Montana boy who has called Spokane home for some time now, Linn likes Northwest trails, Deep South foods, and lead changes in the ninth inning.

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