Yin and Yang

Travel is but one of the massive benefits of QBO training. In my travels there occur, at times, thought-provoking, touching or just downright amusing events. I thought I’d document some such events in a series I’ll call “One for the Road.

Sometimes things just work out

I’m at the MacDonald Cartier airport, sitting at Gate 14 waiting for AC475 to Pearson. I hear, oh-so-faintly, the voice of an Air Canada employee announce that boarding is about to begin. He asks all Zone 1 passengers to present themselves. No one gets up. He then barrels through more boarding zones–2, 3, 4–and I begin to chuckle because still no one gets in line.

My first thought is imponderable, “Why can we barely hear these announcements? Someone forget to pay the electrics bill?” My second, even more so, “Is it possible there are no passengers in any of the announced zones? Is everyone on this flight a cheapo Zone 5 traveller like me?” I dismiss both possibilities. And then I think a happier thought, “Am I, perhaps, about to board–oh joy of joys–a near-empty plane?” A less than capacity flight, as we all know, is the holy grail of flying. A whole row of seats. All of them vacant. Empty space in the overhead bins. No one crowding the aisles because there are no bathroom line-ups. The benefits are endless.

I sit and wait a bit longer and I then make out, over the anemic PA system, what sounds like AC475 (Hey! That’s my flight!) and I also hear something about Gate 15. Gate 15? Did they just say Gate 15? Here I am with forty or so passengers sitting at Gate 14, which, as illustrated by departure monitors scattered throughout the airport, is the supposedly correct gate. And yet no one’s moving. Are we at the wrong gate? I look around. Everyone seems content to wait it out.

Ever the sleuth, I decide to investigate. Strolling over to Gate 14, I glance up at the departures monitor again and see that the Gate 15 flight is departing for Frankfurt. I also see that the plane at Gate 15 is on the large size. And big planes are unheard of on these YOW-YYZ legs. Hmm. Curious.

So I walk up to Gate 15 and I’m about to ask a ticket agent whether this is indeed the Pearson flight. But I’m beaten to it by a young lady, behind me, who shouts out that very question. I turn around, laugh, and say, “I was about to ask the very same thing!” She then goes on to describe how she’s all about inclusion and fairness, and she proceeds to explain to the unwitting ticket agent that there are a bunch of even-more unwitting passengers sitting at Gate 14. The ticket agent shrugs and then picks up a phone.

I shrug too, and think, “OK lady, looks like you’ve got a handle on things, you stay inclusive and I’ll go ahead and board.”

And I find myself on a nice, and nearly empty, Boeing 767. Fist bump baby! What a pleasure this plane is, such a difference from the little tin cans that AC usually flies on these routes. I find my spot–19F–an aisle seat not far from the forward cabin, and I make myself comfortable. Mere moments later a flight attendant approaches to say there are premium seat available further up and I’m welcome to one. Fist bump times two! So I say, “Sure I’ll grab one of those seats!” The attendant then asks my seatmate whether she’d like to move up as well. I get up, fetch my suitcase from the overhead bin, scurry to the front and when I arrive, I find that my now ex-seatmate is much quicker on the draw. She got there ahead of me, plucking the choice seat–tons of legroom and a window too–that, except for my dawdling, might have been mine. So, instead I settle into what turns out to be a near-identical seat to the one I just vacated, aisle middle row, with maybe six inches of additional leg room. I sit down. I glance over at my ex-seatmate settled so comfortably in that cushy window seat with all that leg room, and I let out a long sigh. She’s oblivious though. She’s hit pay dirt and, she’s quite rightly, enjoying her new digs. To be honest, I can’t say I blame her. Then I settle back and think, it’s the yin and the yang. Sure, it’s easy to get into a kerfuffle over seat allocations or boarding gate mixups. Get stressed out and accusatory. Dress down some poor ticket agents or flight attendants for screwups not of their doing. But life’s too short for perceived slights. And hey, things balance out, right? I’m on a nice plane, quiet and comfortable, it’s almost empty and I got a seat upgrade. Yeah, sometimes the yin is soon followed by the yang.

And things just work out. Quite nicely too, don’t they?

A Sad Day

It’s incredible that these things can have such an effect. I mean I never knew the man, never met him. Just saw him on TV mostly, and read about him in Road & Track magazine. I did once manage to get within a shout of him. In the late seventies it was. At the Canadian Grand Prix, I somehow managed to sneak into the pits. And there he was. There was the great Niki Lauda sitting in his car. A Brabham-Alfa Romeo this time. And not his mythical Ferrari. So yeah, that was my moment. My claim to fame. “I took a picture of the great Niki Lauda.” Pretty nice shot too.

So yeah, I never knew the man. But yet, late last night, when I saw on Twitter that Niki Lauda had passed away, there were tears in my eyes.

I remember Lauda from his halcyon days. Or maybe they were my halcyon days. Don’t really know, but I do know that I vividly remember Lauda racing his Ferrari with wilful precision. Always precision. To me he was a cold and calculating F1 pilot. An almost emotionless man who, in a sense, became part of the machine that he drove so well. Just another component in a racing system designed to go flat-out. Go bloody fast. And scare the wits out of mere mortals.

His life is legendary. The stuff of fiction. His arrival in F1. Seemingly out of nowhere, and straight into a Ferrari. His Nurburgring crash in 1976. The heroic and near-miraculous return to his Ferrari’s cockpit only forty days after receiving the last rites. I mean, come on, everyone thought he was dying. Everyone but Niki anyway. And to think that he returned to contest that 1976 World Championship, contest it against his friend (and nemesis too), James Hunt. And to lose said championship by one point. Lose it because he decided to park his car in that last race. That Japanese Grand Prix, the one held on a day of monsoon-like conditions. Conditions that were near-impossible. Conditions that, today, no race steward would allow any F1 event to so much as begin.

I remember all of that. And I still wonder what went through Niki’s mind when he stopped his car. Did he say, “Hell with it. Life’s too short?” Did he say, “Screw this, I’ve been through enough?” I have no idea, but I do know that no one begrudged him of his decision. 

He went on to win two more championships, you know. The next year–1977–again for Ferrari, and then 1984, this time in a McLaren. From there the man went on to fly airplanes, and start his own airline, and then, years later, help build the mighty Mercedes F1 team. It was Niki, apparently, who convinced Lewis Hamilton to leave McLaren for Mercedes. Quite a gamble, for both of them. And quite an accomplishment too.

He accomplished so much. So much. And now. And now the man is gone. 

There were, to me, three men—three larger-than-life men—who drove for Ferrari. The first, of course, is my boyhood hero. The giant of them all, Gilles Villeneuve. The second was Niki Lauda. And Michael Schumacher was the third. When I think of any of those three, I immediately picture a red car. A Ferrari. To me you cannot separate the men from those machines. They’re synonymous. They’re inexorably linked and intertwined. By fact, by history and by giant near-mythical moments.

Men like Lauda. They’ve accomplished so much. And I often ask myself, “How did they achieve all of that?” Was it fate? Was it a God-given right? Was it sheer purpose and determination? I don’t know. Because we–the rest of us–the mere mortals, we lead our lives, and we accomplish whatever it is that we accomplish. And we feel more significant. We somehow feel more significant just because of our distant affiliation, our appreciation, for the giants of men like Niki Lauda.


An Unappreciated Service

Last week, between the hours of 4PM on Tuesday and–let’s say–8AM on Wednesday, some forty centimetres of snow came down on Montreal.

I was teaching in Granby on that Tuesday. Teaching QuickBooks Online with my colleague Ricky Duquette. And by the way, if you’re stuck, if you’re looking for help with QuickBooks or any other business software, give Ricky a call. Especially if you’re in Québec, call Ricky, he’ll get you sorted.

So yeah, that whole Tuesday the talk—on the radio, on my social media feeds, everywhere—was about the advancing snowfall and the ravage it would leave in its wake. Wrapping up the training session around four, chatting to a few attendees until 4:30 or 4:45, when I finally left the hotel shortly before 5PM, the snow hadn’t started yet. So I got on a dry Highway 10 and decided to hightail it back to Montreal. On the highway, I was following one of those big pickups—a Ram F150000 or whatever they’re called—I was following that truck and I was wondering to myself, why do people drive those big behemoths anyway? I can understand needing one if you’re in the trades, but this truck looked pampered and fancy. Not a work vehicle at all. And me, of course, being a number-cruncher and therefore unable to help myself, I also pondered the heavy financial burden of just such a vehicle. Depreciation, ineligible leasing costs, fuel consumption. On and on, my mind went. On and on.

Anyway, whoever was driving that truck must have had a similar goal: get as far west as fast as possible. Checking my speedometer, I saw that I was travelling at a a decent rate of knots (somewhere, oh, around the speed limit) and I also saw that I wasn’t making any headway on that Ram pickup as it left a rooster tail of exhaust and vapour some fifty metres ahead of me. For forty or fifty kilometres, we maintained the status quo. We (me and that Ram) were heading west on a bare and dry Highway 10 with the radio (mine anyway) on a local news station, the whole while listening to the radio announcers as they did their best to gleefully sensationalize what they were describing as the end of our civilized world. Based on the ominous warnings coming over the radio, I knew I’d eventually hit the leading wall of that incoming storm. But so far, nothing. Still though, you could almost hear those announcers rubbing their hands together greedily and smirking evilly as they warned of all manner of doom and gloom. I actually chuckled at one point, listening to some traffic guy, some guy out of Montreal named Jonathan or Jackson or Jeremy. You know those  people who try to be witty and funny? And no matter how hard they try to be witty and funny, they fail? Well that radio announcer was such a person, and those types of people often annoy me. Maybe it’s because I’m one of them too. Funny, unfortunately, just isn’t my thing. You know how it is right? We damn number-crunchers, we just can’t do funny. A sad fact, but a true one.

Anyway, this guy was talking about the terrible traffic and the ever-worsening road conditions, and at one point he explained with great relish, how the south shore, especially Highway 10 outside of Montreal was suffering near white-out conditions. Travelling on Highway 10, the radio guy assured us, was hopeless. Hopeless and dangerous. Really? Really? I was on that very stretch of road, and yes there was snow beginning to swirl about, but nothing, and I mean nothing near as bad as what this ridiculous reporter was making it out to be.

Sure enough, somewhere near Highway 30, the snow truly began flying. The winds were high though, and that wind was preventing the snow from actually accumulating on the autoroute. Visibility was good too, so we could still move at a decent clip, somewhere around 90 or 100 clicks. Once at the Champlain Bridge however, things were different. The snow was starting to come down more heavily, the roads were getting slicker and the traffic heavier. I pulled out to pass a slow moving vehicle just as the Champlain merges with Highway 15. There was a slight curve in the road and even though I wasn’t moving that fast, maybe 70 clicks, I could feel my car moving around underneath me, the front tires no longer obeying the direction they were asked to assume. So yeah, I slowed way down.

I got into Montreal easily enough though, and I was surprised to see that my commute was no more than fifteen or twenty minutes longer than when conditions are ideal.  So yeah, in spite of it all, a relatively easy drive. For which I must also give an appreciative nod to my ever-present travelling companion, Waze.

It was later though, in the wee hours of the night, that Mother Nature unleashed her fury. Which meant, by Wednesday morning, forty centimetres had fallen. I had some work to do, a few phone calls, a short webinar, and by 2:30 PM I was beginning to get cabin fever. And with that came the eventual decision to drive to Ottawa. I consulted the traffic-cams, both in and around Montreal, and then the same for Ottawa. To my surprise, the roads looked good. These were passable roads, Nearly bare roads.

And so off I set. Sure enough, except for a brief squall around Vankleek Hill, the roads were mostly wet. Not icy, not snow-covered, not slippery. Just wet.

How could this be? How could it be that, not even twenty four hours after a major dumping of snow, the road crews had not only made the highways passable, but had even rendered them perfectly safe? As though nothing more than a little bit of rain had fallen? These people, these people coordinating things, these people driving the plows and the graders and the salt-dispensing thingies, they’re magicians I tell you. Absolute magicians. And they’re not thanked anywhere near often enough.

All too often we come across a service we take for granted, a service that we consider not one iota. And today, after a safe and easy journey in conditions that were challenging at best, I thought I’d take a moment to say thanks for what is truly an under-appreciated service. So listen all you snow-clearing people, thank you! Thank you very much. Thank you for helping guys like me (and that person in her Ram pickup) get home with nary a scratch and barely a concern. Safe and sound, yeah, safe and sound.

So yeah, thanks guys, you really did a solid job.

You’ve Got to Go

It’s mere days away. But it’s not too late to register. QuickBooks Connect. Downtown Toronto. Dec three-to-five.

You’ve got to go.

Why? If you’re a number-cruncher. A tax preparer. An IT type. If you have clients that rely on you. Then you need to be at QuickBooks Connect.

Our profession is changing. It’s transforming. Listen, I’ve been at this game more than twenty-five years. And never, never, have I seen our profession evolve. Never like it has in these last two, maybe three, years.  You’re a seasoned pro? You remember the dawn of the PC age? Think that was big? That’s nothing compared to today.

The dust has settled. Cloud is in. Cloud won.

The way we deal with data. The way we interact with clients. The tools we use. Our internal practice-management tools. Our client tools. Communication. On-boarding. Payment, Billing. It’s all changed.

You still keeping timesheets? You still using cheques? You still have legacy desktop software? Backups and software-versions? Well, that’s why you need to be at QuickBooks Connect.

Times have changed. Time are changing. You need–we all need–to keep up. Or get left behind.

QuickBooks Connect. You’ve got to go.

Is it Better Cold?

I love this place. I love le Vieux Québec.

I’m here for two days. Two nights and two days. Teaching QuickBooks Online. Got here early evening Tuesday, leaving Thursday night. After checking in yesterday, I walked around. Walked down La rue St-Louis, down to where you’ll find Le Chateau Frontenac. I took the funicular down to basse-ville. Walked past places I’d been before, Le Lapin Sauté, l’église Notre Dame des Victoires. It was all so evocative of earlier visits. Pleasant visits.

This morning I woke up promptly, walked in the early morning, pre-dawn light, down to la Rue St-Jean, got to Boulangerie Paillard at 7:00 AM. It had just opened.

There’s something about this city. It just feels right. It always feels right. But this time, if felt even better. It felt more whimsical, more expressive, more romantic.

After teaching QuickBooks all day, it was dusk. The sun was going down, the landmarks–those romantic gates cut in old stone walls–were lit up. Buildings too, they were all lit up. Light, playful light, shone on churches. Light shone on old homes converted into hotels (like the Manoir d’Auteil where I was staying), light shone on statues, carvings, walkways.

And the air too. It was crisp, it was cold. Not uncomfortably so, nothing distressing.

And that’s when it hit me. As much as I love Québec, can it even be better when it’s cold? Is it better when the sun sets in the early evening, and rises later in the day? Is Québec more memorable in the late fall when everything is lit up and there’s a nip in the air? Is it better at this time of year because (let’s face it) there are less people walking its beautiful, historic streets?

You know what? I think it is. I think Québec is better when it’s cold.

You walk quickly–you want to warm up. But you can’t help but pause and admire this old house, that beautiful church. Everything lit up.

There’s some kind of va et viens. There’s an anomaly, a contradiction in terms. It’s cold, you want to hurry and get indoors. But it’s too beautiful and you linger a little bit, talking in the sights. And when you finally do get inside, a cosy little restaurant, and you sip that single malt–pour me réchauffer–you tell the waiter, well even that first sip is made more vivid.

Hmm, maybe it’s true, maybe it really is so. Yeah, I do think it’s true. Québec is better when it’s cold.

Great News if You’re an Accountant

Journal Entries. We accountants, we love our journal entries, right? Love them so much there’s even an accountant’s credo. There’s nothing that can’t be fixed with a neat and tidy journal entry. Yeah, journal entries, they’re the WD40 of number crunching; the duct tape of data entry.

And yet, for accountants, there’s always been a bit of a problem–a perfect storm of frustration–that would come crashing down whenever three particular elements converged all at once. And those three elements were:

  • QuickBooks Online
  • Journal Entries
  • Sales Tax Accounts

You know what I’m talking about right? I have certainly written about it before. Even offered a nifty workaround.

But now (well, as of mere weeks ago actually) it’s all good. If you’re an accountant, and you want to record a journal entry in QuickBooks Online, and you want–in that journal entry–to debit or credit a sales tax account. Well, go ahead. Knock yourself out. It’ll all work out. You won’t mess anything up and everything will remain in sync and in balance. All thanks to a new feature that adds a Sales Tax column in the journal entry window, a column that  now allows you to pick a destination line number on the corresponding sales tax return.

Which means, with this new feature, the GL and the sales tax report will always be in sync. No more out-of-balance reports. No more head scratching. No more adjustments. Which also means that your clients will, once again, view you–the fearless accountant–as the rock star that you truly are.



Yes, You Can

There’s been talk, a lot of talk, regarding QBO and sales taxes. The gist of that talk, of course, is about the inability to mix journal entries and sales tax accounts.

The fail is known by most of us. To recap, it goes like this. Debit or credit a sales tax account and, yes of course, QBO will update the general ledger. However, what QBO won’t do is capture that amount in the sales tax reports. And it won’t reflect it in the File Sales Tax routine either. Which means you’ll end up overpaying or—perhaps even worse—underpaying the sales taxes owed to CRA or other government agency.

This is not a good thing. And we all therefore go out of our way to avoid mixing jounral entries and sales tax accounts.

But did you know you can use a journal entry for sales tax accounts? And did you know that it actually works? What I mean is that, not only will QBO update the GL but the sales tax reports as well?

All it takes is a little workaround, and a clearing account. Here, let me show how to do it.

Let’s say you want to record a $50.00 GST credit. And let’s say you also want to debit a revenue account for the same amount.

The first step involves grossing up the sales tax amount. All  you need to do is figure out the grossed up amount of the aforementioned $50.00. In other words, assuming that the $50.00 reflects GST, then you have divide that fifty bucks by five percent. Which gives you a grossed up amount of $1,000. And that, right there, is the hardest part. You’re now ready to record your journal entry. Don’t forget, though, that you also need that clearing account I mentioned earlier.

OK? Alright then, let’s record the journal entry

Start by crediting $1000 to a clearing account. Then, choose GST in the sales tax column. Notice what QBO does at the bottom of the window? It adds a $50 credit to GST.

Now, debit $1,000 to that same clearing account. What you end up with, of course, is a wash. In other words, those two clearing account entries cancel each other out. Which means your final step is to debit $50.00 to your desired revenue account and, voila! Job done.

Using this method will mean that your GL and sales tax reports are always in balance. If you don’t believe me (and it’s OK that you don’t, you’re an accountant. You’re paid to be skeptical), here’s proof.

Here’s the GL: 

And here’s the Sales Tax report:

So there you go. Journal entries and sales tax accounts. Yes, you can.

Kinda cool, no?



How to Track 50% HST in QBO

This much is true: If you’re an entrepreneur, you have expenses. And if you incur those expenses in order to get more business, then those expenses are tax-deductible.

However, in their infinite wisdom, the kind folk over at CRA (Canada Revenue Agency) have determined to make Meals and Entertainment expenses only 50% deductible. Their logic, as I understand it, goes like this. If you take a client to a nice restaurant, the pleasure they derive from that fine meal is fully deductible. Your portion of the culinary treat, on the other hand, is on your own dime.

Hence the 50% deduction. And that’s the bad news.

The even worse news, though, applies to those that are GST/HST registered. CRA, driving the point to its logical conclusion, goes on to say that you can only claim 50% of the tax on that meal. Yes, you read right. When it comes to meals and expenses, you cannot claim the full GST or HST amount.

And so, in order to stay compliant with CRA’s rules and regs, this means you’ll have to set up a special sales tax in QuickBooks Online (QBO) that captures only 50% of the total tax amount.

Here’s how to do it.

Step 1:  With QBO running, click on Sales Taxes (in the left-hand Navigation Bar).

Then, in the Sales Tax window (below), click on Add tax.


Step 2: In the Add tax window, select Tax rate

Setting it all up is actually quite easy. Just keep in mind that, in order for QBO to properly calculate the tax amount, you’ll need to set up two taxes, each of them for 50% of the actual tax paid. The first tax you set up will track the amount of HST you’re entitled to receive as a refund (CRA calls it Input Tax Credit). The other tax you set up will treat the non-deductible portion as an expense

Also note, in this example, the assumption is your business is in Ontario and is therefore subject to 13% HST.

Okay? Great! Let’s move on.

Step 3: In the Add tax window (from Step 2) enter a tax name and description for the refundable portion of tax. Note we’re using M as the Tax name. “M”, for meals obviously.

Next, select Receiver General as the tax agency.

Now, click the Purchases checkbox, enter 6.5% as the tax rate, and select Liability as the type of account. Then, in the Show tax amount on return line field, choose Input tax credit (ITCs). 

Now click Save to close the window and proceed to the next step.






Step 4: Repeat Steps 1 and 2 and QBO will bring you back to the Add tax window. And this time you will set up the non-refundable portion of the HST amount.

As in Step 3, enter a Tax name (in this example “M Exp” which is an abbreviation for Meal Expense) and then enter a description. Once again choose Receiver General, click the Purchases checkbox, and enter 6.5% as the tax rate. This time though, in the Account field, choose Expense. Finally, click Save.






Step 5: In this last step, you need to group the two taxes that you set up in Steps 3 and 4. To do that, as explained in Step 1, click Add tax, and then select Group rate.












Enter a name and description, such as 50% HST, for the grouped tax, and then choose the two tax rates that you created in Steps 3 and 4. Make sure to select Net amount for each of the tax rates. Click Save and you’re done,










To use your new sales tax rate–in an Expense form for example–just select it in the sales tax field. In this example, we have a restaurant receipt for $113 which includes $13 HST.


In this window you can clearly see the background journal entry confirming that QuickBooks is treating 50% of the total HST as a refundable amount, with the other 50% going to an expense account. Which will make the kind folk over at CRA nod in admiration of your efficient bookkeeping practices.



Alive and Well

Invest Ottawa Logo

Thanks to the good folks at Invest Ottawa, who host my small business seminars, I am lucky enough to get a front row seat to this town’s entrepreneurial spirit.

What I mean is I deliver, roughly every quarter, two information sessions. One, called Cash Rules, illustrates the importance of proper capitalization and cash flow management. The other, named Cloud VS Desktop, discusses the various billing and accounting software tools available to today’s entrepreneur.

Just yesterday we delivered another round of these sessions. And from the people in attendance–people running brand-new businesses, people about to launch their businesses and people doing their due diligence, researching their planned businesses–the state of entrepreneurship is indeed a healthy one. It’s strong. It’s blossoming. And–to my eyes–that is an encouraging sign. We need entrepreneurship. We need dreamers and risk-takers and people who are willing to follow through on the What If’s.

And so let me just take a moment to wish all those newly-minted entrepreneurs in attendance yesterday the best of luck in their ventures. It will be a challenge, I’m sure. But I’m equally sure it will be a wonderful learning experience, a ready and steady growth path and, best of all, one hell of a blast!

Oh and, if you’d like to learn more about my information sessions, just click here.