Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Minutes from the Family Budget Discussion

This sets off the sitting around the table, just as any family would, to discuss what are our priorities and how do we balance those priorities with the need to be fiscally responsible.”
— Rep. Mark Kennedy, R-Minn., on President Bush’s budget plan

The family budget meeting was called to order by Father.

“You’ve all had a chance to review the budget,” he said, looking at his watch. “Speak now or forever hold your piece.”

“Umm, Father, we only saw it at dinner and had to share a copy,” said Ben. “It’s hard to put it all together.”

“You never were good at math,” Father harrumphed. “I’ll break it down for you. We have limited resources and potentially unlimited ways to spend them. Therefore, we must set priorities — where we will increase spending, where we will cut expenses and what we will eliminate altogether.”

“What about how we will increase resources?” Jenny piped. She still didn’t get it.

“Don’t interrupt! Are you saying I’m not a good provider? That I don’t love my family? That I don’t work hard?” He looked at her fiercely. “Being Father is hard work. If you want more in the budget, you are welcome to contribute.”

“But I’m only 12,” Jenny squeaked, “and I already gave up my allowance.”

“Precisely,” said Father. “Entitlements were draining the budget. Where do you think the money comes from?”

The question was rhetorical, but Jenny answered anyway. “Well, from your business, of course, and mother’s taking in day care and Ben’s lawn mowing and my baby sitting.”

“From my business… and you know how difficult running a business can be, the risks I take, the long hours, the ruthless competition, the problem employees, the government interference….” He paused to sweep Ben’s piece of pie onto his own plate. “This runaway family spending can’t go on.”

Mother finally spoke. “But honey, you are making more now than ever, and each year your income goes up, you say we have to spend less. All of what we earn goes into the family budget, but less than half your pay does. I have to put groceries on the credit card. You never want to make more than the minimum payment, so the balance keeps growing. This year, just the interest we pay is more than our gas, insurance and car payments. It’s insane to keep building up this kind of debt when we have the cash in your bank account.”

“Honey, you know you don’t understand finance,” Father said smoothly. “A little deficit is good for the family. Keeps us vigorous and on our toes. Besides, Ben will be out of high school in 2009, and he can start paying it off.”

Ben and Jenny spoke at once: “But I planned to go to college!” “We didn’t have a deficit when Mom managed the checkbook.”

“Be civil or this discussion is over!” Father thundered. “We discussed your college plans last year, Ben, and agreed that you will be an adult when you turn 18, and therefore, responsible for financing your own education.”

Father’s father paid for his college, of course, even getting him into an expensive school despite his bad grades, but Ben knew better than to throw that on the table. “But you said you’d loan me the money to supplement my college savings.”

“I did, and I will,” Father said. “Just not as much as I said before. Education is a thing that is important. Its importance is important to me. However, we have to face reality. Competition is intense, and I need to invest more in my business. Placing advertising and paying PR staff. Gathering competitive intelligence. Beefing up security in the stores. The money has to come from somewhere.”

“I wish you had given more thought to how you reacted when Sadomco bought one of your suppliers, honey. You really should’ve filed a complaint with the trade association instead of torching his offices.”

“And appear weak to all my competitors? To have them opening up stores across the street and taking the food off this table? Do you hate the life I’ve given you? Is that it?”

“Of course not, dear, but…”

“Then why dredge up the past? It’s easy to criticize, but I don’t see anyone offering any solutions. What’s done is done. It’s time to look to the future.”

“Father, speaking of the future, I don’t see all the costs for fortifying our house. Armoring the Hummers and the bars for the windows are in there, but not the full construction costs for the wall and the moat. Shouldn’t there be more than excavation in the budget?”

“Ben, Ben, Ben. It will take the entire year to remove the woods, excavate the moat and dig the foundation. That’s why we only have those costs in the budget.”

“But what about design and labor and materials and security guards? How will we pay for all that?”

“Those are out-year expenses. We can pay for them out of increased profits as my business improves. Or borrow. Or maybe we’ll crush the competition and won’t need to finish the project. Trust me.”

“Like Aunt Betty trusted you?” said Jenny.

“What does my sister have to do with this discussion?”

“She’s living in her car.”

“She made bad choices.”

“She got laid off when her company moved the plant overseas and then lost medical coverage for her lupus. You said you’d be there for her.”

“I am here. I’m praying for her, every night.”

“And Gramma.”

“Is it my fault she didn’t remarry after Dad left her?”

“No, but she’s your mother.”

“I don’t expect you kids to take care of me when I’m old. I’m taking responsibility for myself right now, by being fiscally responsible. I hope you learn the lesson from me instead of your grandmother.”

There being no more discussion, the family meeting closed with a prayer.


Blogger Charlie Quimby said...

The Washington Post breaks down the real budget proposal graphically.

2:32 PM  

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