I grew up in a working class family where a tight budget was followed to make sure that we ate properly and had a roof over our heads. My father would take care of the rent (mortgage in later years), utilities and major household expenses, and my mother would take care of the groceries and all other expenditures such as clothing, school expenses, extracurricular activities, outings, holiday gifts and so on. All within a very strict budget. My parents were quite disciplined in this.
Anything that did not fall into the ‘regular expenses’ category was questioned and examined scrupulously before it could be approved - or not. There was a step in this process that included a question period conducted by the established panel; a committee of only two members: my parents. Although, some decisions could be made independently by the member with slightly more clout: my mother. Let’s just say that she could sway the other committee member if she set her mind to it.
So what you had to do was file your request and wait to be called in to meet with the committee where you would - inevitably - face an intense question period. This meeting was to determine whether the item in question was essential or whether it was an indulgence. Your mission, basically, was to gain the approval you needed by presenting the board with a damn good reason why you should have what you were asking for.
The whole process reminded me of the show W5, a Canadian news magazine television series, whose title refers to the five Ws of journalism: Who, What, Where, When and Why? Those five Ws were regular questions in our household.
Who is asking for it?
What is it for? What will it cost?
Where do you get it from?
When is it needed?
Why can’t you substitute it with a cheaper option?
It was important to think very carefully before you spoke in order to answer the questions with logical, sensible and acceptable answers. If you slipped up and used foolhardy arguments such as...
“Because all the kids have it”
“You never get me anything”
“Because I want it” [said with whiny voice]
“No fair!” [stomp foot for emphasis]
...your application was not only denied, it was obliterated. And you were dismissed. Pouting all the way.
I‘ve obviously exaggerated, but I haven’t ventured too far from the actual truth. And all kidding aside, I have a deep admiration for the way my parents handled their financial affairs, and how easy it was for them to say ‘no’.
And mean it.
In a society where instant gratification and the desire to keep up with the Joneses is prevalent, and where families are drowning in debt because they have to have this, that and the other latest gizmo or gadget (by putting it all on credit), my parent’s sensible approach is refreshing. It taught me the value of money. It taught me to work hard towards something I wanted. It taught me to appreciate whatever I acquired because it didn’t come easy. And It taught me to live within my means.
I thank my parents for this invaluable life lesson.