Monday, June 25, 2012

The Toughest Budget Committee On Earth: My Parents

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.



Anyway

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.


12 comments:

  1. Your parents had the right idea, Martha. Mine were also reluctant to throw money at something without a full and proper investigation! We didn't have a car, and my mother even refused point blank to have a phone installed! On the other hand they never got into financial difficulties and we always had plenty of food, heat and the occasional treat without going bankrupt. It drives me a bit crazy when I see how easily parents cave in to their children's every whim and spoil them rotten. What does it teach them?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We never had a car either, and it didn't really matter. We lived in the middle of a big city and public transportation was amazing. And like your folks, my parents never got into financial trouble, and never gave in to any of our demands. Not that we had that many to begin with. We learned from an early age that we couldn't have whatever we wanted.

      Delete
  2. I grew up in a working poor family and learned the same lessons from my Mom. She had to tightly manage literally every penny of the family finances. We quickly learned the difference between a "want" and a "need." That's the essential lesson that people drowning in debt don't know.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I had the same type of upbringing as you as we lived poorly when I was very young. Our budget was very tight but we had plenty to eat and we had a lot of fun as children, and as a family. No complaints from me; those years taught me very good lessons.

      Delete
  3. Great post Martha. The line between wants and needs has definitely blurred in the past fifty years. My parents didn't have much money to factor in the 'wants', but they owned their own home and we were always well-fed. The 'extras' like vacations were out of the question. As a result, I am contented and very appreciative of every blessing I receive as an adult. You can pretty much buy whatever lifestyle you want nowadays, but you can also get yourself into a lot of hot water doing so.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm the same way, Jane. I appreciate - and take care of - everything I get, and I never buy something beyond my means. Whatever goes on credit has to be able to be paid when the bill comes in. If it can't be, no purchase! The idea of drowning in debt scares the heck out of me. I'd rather sleep soundly at night.

      Delete
  4. I think there were a lot of us in that boat. My folks even had a garden and we bottled/canned a lot of food because the grocery store was so expensive. When I was making a lot of money I never notice the change in me. My wife and I ate out all the time. If we wanted something we just bought it. We didn't go crazy and rack up credit card debt because we had the money to buy those things but it was such a huge waste for stuff we really didn't need. Now that times are tough I have really learned a lot and seen the wastefulness of past. My hope is when things turn around again I don't lose perspective of where I just came from.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As long as you are able to support the lifestyle you have, that's fine. You are not living outside of your means and don't load up credit cards. As far as waste goes, I think most of us are guilty of that!

      Delete
  5. They did indeed and boy can I relate to that post. (I mean I related through my laughter.) It does seem to me that the idea of saving for something before you buy it is a thing of the past. I guess there are many reasons for this but it does worry me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It definitely seems a thing of the past. They used to have a layaway plan back then, which was a lot more sensible. You'd pay a little at a time until the full amount of what you wanted was satisfied, and then you could take product X home with you. Never before that. Makes such perfect sense! Now it's the othe way around, and that's why people are drowning in debt, getting themselves into all kinds of financial trouble.

      Delete
  6. Martha, your post is not only spirited and funny, it is also so true. We are living in a society of instant gratification, of materialistic aspirations, and of disposable everything. I, like you, grew up in a family where money was budgeted. Big gifts were only given on special dates and gifts outside special dates were scarce. My dad was the only one who worked and my mom took care of me and the house. And man, was I happy. Every gift had such a meaning... I learned at a young age the difference of want and need and that my value was not based on what I had but who I was.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So right! Every gift had a lot of meaning. You cherished whatever you were given because it was a rare and special treat. And we found happiness within ourselves; we didn't try to find it in material items.

      Delete