A budget is the detailed plan of the use of resources, and the word generally used to mean money resources only. No intelligent person thinks of beginning a piece of work, whether it is the building of a house, the planting of a garden, the making of a dress or a dessert, without a plan. One must know what is needed and whether one has at hand the resources necessary - the ingredients, so to speak. Where money is to be spent, a budget is part of the plan. The builder has a budget for the project of the house, the dressmaker one for the project of the dress. In such cases they call it an "estimate," and that is no bad name for the budget as applied to the expenditure of the family or the individual.
The spending of an income is of course not a definite project like the building of a house or the making of a gown. But although the result cannot be. pictured in the same concrete way, yet there is a result to be attained.
What is it? The answer to this question is of great importance. Money - the income - is only a symbol to represent whatever the owner may wish to turn it into. The business man, the manufacturer, uses it to make more money, as far as his business is concerned. The family or the individual, on the other hand, uses it to make the greatest possible amount of health and happiness. The business man or the manufacturer can tell at the end of the year how much he has "made" in dollars and cents; the family and the individual cannot express either in dollars and cents or in figures of any kind what they have "made" by their expenditure on daily living. Only money saved can be stated in those terms, and that, important as it is, as representing future health and happiness, is after all a minor part of the year's results.
But why, asks the average individual, is it necessary to have the same kind of a detailed plan as the builder or the business man, when the result is one that cannot be expressed in terms of money? The answer is that it is equally important in such a case because the things any family or individual would like to get out of their money resources are always so many more than their resources allow that only the deliberate decision in advance will ensure their getting what they want most. No one has either time enough, energy enough, or money enough to do and to get and to give all he or she would like. That we want more than we have is the very foundation of progress, whether what we want is material or spiritual. Often the man or the family generally called rich feels even more hampered financially than the man or family called poor. From personal experience or observation we all know that as the income gets larger, there arise within us more and more desires and demands and what we call needs. We "get our money's worth" only when we consider well how out of what we have we can get the largest amount of what we want most.
Those who have never made a budget and lived by it - and even, unfortunately, many of those who have - are apt to look on the budget as limiting the person who makes it. "I will not be tied by a budget and accounts. I am not extravagant. I don't get into debt, and I don't spend more than my income. I shouldn't enjoy spending anything if a budget limited me at every turn." That is the attitude of hundreds. But the truth of the matter is just the opposite of what they think. It is not the budget that sets the limits, but the income. The person who has all the money he or she wants to do everything - that person is subnormal or abnormal. What the budget does is to free from limitations as far as that can be done within the limits of the income. The budget is not a thing for which the individual or the family lives and to which they may be sacrificed. It is made for them; they are not made for it. It is their deliberate decision in advance as to what are the most important - to them - of the many things they want. Having made such deliberate decision they can use their money freely and with satisfaction.
Take an example, for the sake of simplification that of an individual living on salary or wages. To make the matter concrete, let us choose a stenographer getting $30 a week. At the beginning of the year the stenographer decides just how much of the $1,560 annual income may rightly go for clothes. The amount will depend partly on the individual's other expenses, partly on taste. Suppose it to be $300. That amount the individual deliberately determines is justified in his or her case. Then begins the question of expenditure. If the stenographer is a man, and he longs for a suit made by a good tailor, but hesitates because that may be an extravagance in his situation, then he need no longer even think of extravagance. It is only a matter of calculation and decision. If he can get the suit and have enough left to meet his other clothing necessities, then it becomes a question of choice. If he is willing to go without some of the other things he usually buys, he is quite free to spend his money as he will, within the $300. If the stenographer is a girl or woman, and she longs for a set of furs, she is free to get it in the same way. Of course both must consider first the demands of health and the need of suitable working dress, but beyond that each has a right to exercise choice. They may show poor judgment, from the point of view of onlookers, but they cannot rightly be called "extravagant" either by themselves or others. If, on the other hand, the stenographer has made no plan for expenditure, the temptation to custom-made clothes or a set of furs may, if yielded to, lead to over-expenditure in the clothing for the year, to a constant uneasiness as to the question of "extravagance" and perhaps, worst of all, to a recklessness that says: "I don't care. I've got to live, and have some fun, and I'll live as I go."
Extravagance is "a wandering beyond proper bounds," to take the primary definition of the Century Dictionary. In money matters the bounds that come naturally first to mind are those of the income. He who spends more than his money income is extravagant. That sounds axiomatic, yet is it always true? Are there no occasions where borrowing is justified? Or the use of accumulated savings? Such questions lead us back to the obligations implied in the word "proper." If the right use of the income is to procure the greatest possible amount of health and happiness, then these considerations are the "proper bounds" beyond which we cannot wander without extravagance.