The subject of readjustment of the items of the budget has already been dealt with incidentally several times, but its importance is sufficient to warrant further study of it. Especially by those who have made a budget for the first time and are conscientious in trying to hold to it, readjustment may be magnified into something of undue importance. In order to put it into its due place, one must consider why it is ever necessary, how often it must be considered, and on what principles it is to be made. Readjustment does not necessarily show poor original planning, but may show intelligent planning from day to day. The income available sets a limit to expenditure; the budget is the plan for the most desirable distribution of this (necessarily) limited amount. What are the circumstances that make necessary a change in the plan?
The first and most difficult to meet is a falling off in the income. This may occur without any fault on the part of an individual - a bank fails, a business concern goes into bankruptcy, a factory is closed, or sold to those who change the staff, a period of economic depression throws a large number out of employment, a prolonged illness means resigning a position, or at least going without salary or wage for a time, a payment of dividends is "passed," which is a polite way of saying that it is never made. It is obvious that the Savings fund for emergencies is important in such cases, and has kept many a family from serious deprivation. But even where the Savings fund is a generous one, it cannot wisely be used to replace income without some attempt to cut down the expenditure planned when the income seemed secure.
Here it is impossible to be definite as to what a given family should do. Naturally, health must be preserved. It has already been pointed out that the convalescent may wisely spend a considerable amount to regain health, and that this may rightly be considered an investment. Clothing cannot be sacrificed too much for the wage or salary earners, who must be suitably dressed for their work. But undoubtedly poor judgment is used in this matter many times. The current American theory seems to be that it is a help to prosperity to seem to be more prosperous than one is, but such a theory of deceit is apt to have more bad effect on the person living by it than it can have good effect on those whom he hopes to impress. Rent is an item that often cannot be cut down to any advantage, if the income is to return to normal soon. The cost of moving is usually great, not only in the actual money spent, but in the damage done to one's possessions. The saving necessary can generally be best effected by cutting down a little every item that can be cut. Savings cannot be made during such a period, and the larger the sum that was to be saved, the less must be cut from the other items.
The psychology of the situation is interesting. To be left unexpectedly without an expected income is to most people depressing. "Having a good time" is a natural reaction, and involves for most people the spending of money that certainly ought not to be used at such a time if there is any other way to conquer depression. There is another way; making a game of seeing how little one can spend. Especially to Americans this does not sound like a very amusing game, but the determined cheerfulness and courage of many a woman has led her family to play it with zest. It is the woman - the wife and mother or the sister at the head of the household - who usually has this part to play, and probably the animation and zeal she has imparted to it has led to the accusation that women enjoy petty economies, somewhat contradicting the other accusation that women, having no sense of the value of money, enjoy spending for its own sake. This particular game, by the way, may be a very enjoyable one in retrospect. When the family is once more normally prosperous, it is great fun to say: "Do you remember how - ?" That is, it can be great fun if the family considered it a game at the time. If they did not, they are more apt to wish to forget such disagreeable expedients, and even to be ashamed of them.
The next cause for readjustment is a rise in prices that really lessens the income, by lessening its purchasing power. Such a rise may be general and continuing, as always happens during a period of that destruction we call war, and during a considerable period after the war is over. In such a case there must be a general cutting down everywhere that cutting down is possible. That this can be done was proved in an almost spectacular way during the Great War of 1914-18. In every country families found that despite sharp rises in price they were (at least at first) able to give more to help those in desperate need than they had ever thought they could spare in times when their income was more than double in purchasing power that of the war days. And at least in these United States the sav-ings of the mass of the people increased out of all proportion to any rise in wages or salary or - except for the comparatively small group of the profiteers - in profits. Not only were the enormous amounts of the
Liberty and Victory bond issues raised largely through the subscriptions of those who had never bought a bond before, but the deposits in the savings banks increased heavily at the same time.
True, when the war closed and the people looked for a return of the old conditions, there was a demoralizing relaxation and many people indulged in undue spending. This was followed, naturally, by a reaction in what has been sometimes (inaccurately) called the "buyer's strike," when producers and retailers found themselves unable to get rid of their merchandise except at a money loss. And both the relaxation and the reaction have delayed the return of the normal conditions of peace. All this in miniature can easily happen to an individual family, unless it applies clear thinking to its problems. It is a common story. Father loses his job, and the family rebelliously accepts simpler food, fewer new clothes, cheaper amusements. Then Father gets a new job and the family, with an injured sense of having been long deprived of its rights, buys an automobile or gets a lot of expensive clothes all around. But not the family whose members are trained through budget making to choices that will make for their greatest happiness. The budget does not give high ideals to those who have none, but it does give a chance to every little ideal of any kind to poke its head up and claim its share of attention, and the attention given to them all is unquestionably greater than they would have received without this chance.