When there is a figure opposite each item, the first test comes. The addition of all the figures will in eight cases out of ten make a larger sum than the income! That is a natural result of the natural desire to have a little more than the income will buy - and perhaps of the equally natural feeling that we deserve to have it. Now comes the test of the family ideals, of the rank of importance of each item. Now begins the changing from sums ending in 0 or 5 - the round numbers so easy to add - by shaving off one dollar here, two dollars there, three dollars somewhere else. Some-times much larger sums must be taken from the larger items. The two that are oftenest cut down after the first estimate are probably Clothing and Care of House. House furnishings fall under the latter head, and perhaps that new side-board would swell the account too much, or the new curtains for the sitting-room must wait - or be of plain marquisette, made at home. Clothing can be extended so easily that it offers also many possibilities of contraction. Very few families really wear out their clothes, and few are willing to wear them after they are shabby unless the reward for doing so is definite and understood; Chapter IV offers suggestions as to the clothing budget.
It is at the point where a general decision has been reached by the parents that the children are usually called in. The choices that have been discussed are gone over with them, and some may even be decided by their vote. If the children themselves decide for chicken and ice cream once a month instead of once a week, they will eat a good corn chowder cheerfully on Sunday - and enjoy the chicken when they get it more than ever they did before.
When at last the budget is cut and pruned until its sum total is that of the expected income, it is quite probable that the family will be more dissatisfied with its income than it ever has been in the past. Before the budget the dissatisfaction was scattered along through the weeks and days, general, but not acute. Now it is concentrated, and may become actually painful. But in compensation the whole question is faced, and the limitations are accepted, once for all. There are only two remedies - to increase the income, or to learn how better to adjust one's desires and habits to the present income. The second method can be used to some extent in every family. Under the stress of the European war many a family that had thought itself as careful as it is possible to be in expenditure, even families who had lived by a wise budget - many such families learned to be content with a lesser expenditure on what was practically a smaller income, reduced by the rapid advance of prices. It was the desire to help that made the reduction possible. Other like desires can be cultivated and encouraged until they become as imperative as that aroused by a great national and international crisis.
Having made the budget, the family must realize all over again that it is made for them, not they made for it. It can be readjusted at any time, but always with the condition that when money is added to one item, an equal amount must be subtracted somewhere else. There was never a better teacher than the budget for the lesson that "you cannot eat your cake and have it too." The same money will not buy two different things. This question of readjustment is dealt with in Chapter VIII.
And even without formal readjustment the budget will never, without absurd contortions of accounts and expenditures toward the end of the year, show an exact balance under each heading with the same heading of the accounts. Rent, Insurance - a few items of this kind may show on the yearly summary the exact amount allotted to them a year before, but very few items have such rigidity. The normal result shows a small excess in expenditure in some items, a small surplus in others. If the sum total does not exceed the income, and if the Savings item has had its due share, then the family may well feel triumphant as it closes one year and plans an even wiser use of resources for the next.
The budget as accepted should be written on the card or leaf, or in the book, chosen for the accounts, a
The card of a family of four - two young children. The man (J.B.) is in a bank, and must dress well. The slight fall in food prices helped pay the advance in rent. The back of the card (not shown) gives the income for the year (salary plus gifts, interest and extra earnings) as $3,060. The difference between this sum and the $3,064 total on the card is $14.16, the amount forgotten in keeping accounts. Savings should have been $575 + $60 = $635, but Health made an extra demand this year.
second column being left blank for the figures of expenditure, to be filled in at the end of the year. This Budget-Summary is useful for the second year of budget keeping, and grows increasingly valuable each year, as the series grows. After five years a careful comparison of these will offer some interesting facts. Probably it will be found that in the majority of items the variation is sometimes an excess, sometimes a surplus, while in others every year shows either one or the other. In the latter case the budget should of course be changed, in the interests of honesty. If the family plans year after year to spend a certain amount on the telephone, for example, and as regularly exceeds that amount, then the plan must be changed. To say: "I only allow myself $50 a year for amusement," when an investigation would at once disclose that year after year shows an expenditure of $57, $59, or $60 is lying to oneself, and a petty sort of lying at that. One does not juggle figures that express ideals.