Saturday, February 9, 2013

Fun with Finances at Pacific Gardens

Pacific Gardens is a cohousing community, but it is also a condominium, so each year we are required to present a budget at our Annual General Meeting outlining our income and expenses and all that tedious financial stuff.

Now in other stratas I've lived in, the hapless owners got the budget delivered to them before the AGM, full of incomprehensible columns of figures, and at the meeting, were given a cursory explanation of what it all meant, before voting on it.

Not so at Pacific Gardens.  We do it differently.  First, we include everyone in discussions about the budget - owners, renters, and children. Second, we explain why we spend what we do in a way that people can understand. And third, we try to make it fun!

So, on Friday afternoon, we had a Fun with Finances table out in the atrium, with pie charts, wall posters, a list of frequently asked questions, quizzes, a draw for a prize, plus tea and ginger cookies.

This all took place amidst the usual bustle of activity in the atrium - children doing cartwheels, Matt replacing burnt-out bulbs in the hallway lights, and me distributing containers of soup left over from the Thursday night potluck.

Mia made sure that everyone who passed by got asked what they would like to see in this year's budget.  Anna, four, asked if there was money for bubbles. Her older brother, Joel, wanted a peach tree in the garden. Soma hoped we could have monkey bars for the kids to play on.

The adults mostly wanted to keep their strata fees the same, but when they saw how big the slices were for our hydro and insurance payments on the big colourful pie chart on the wall, they realized that might not be possible!

I used to be a reporter, and I was always told, "follow the money" when I was trying to figure out what was happening for a story.  If people were trying to hide how money was spent, you knew something wasn't right.

And if leaders of governments and organizations were open and honest about their finances and made a real effort to explain what they were doing, you knew they could be trusted.

Finances and budgets may seem boring, but how they're handled can tell you something about what a community is like to live in - whether it's run democratically, or just for a few, whether everyone's concerns are heard and respected, or ignored.

That's why we try to make finances fun at Pacific Gardens, because we want everybody who lives here to feel included.


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