By MARK GRAY
At a farmer’s market last week, I overheard a couple who talked as they pondered the purchase of artisan cheese. The woman said they should buy the cheese because she enjoyed it; the man countered that they already had sufficient cheese in their refrigerator.
“So it’s not the cost you care about?” she said. “In our case, we don’t worry about the cost. The only question is whether we really need the item.”
I thought about that conversation after reading a news account of the low proportion of American couples who determine purchases based on a regular and exact monthly (or weekly) budget. Only 32 percent of couples, according to the news story, keep a household budget, despite advice from financial experts.
I didn’t find the 32 percent surprising. Most people can juggle their income and expenses by acting like the couple at the farmer’s market; making the judgment on need rather than cost.
I understand that a large number of couples Р especially young couples Р live paycheck to paycheck with little room for error. However, a “detailed written or computerized household budget that tracks every expenditure” seems like a cold and steely way to live. Life is not a statistical report. Neither are most humans naive about what they can afford. Every couple I know is aware of whether they can spend $140 on a fancy fine-dining dinner for two at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse. They don’t need a budget or a column of numbers to make that choice.
Rather than a budget, I would advise young couples to simply put away a set amount each month in a Roth IRA or a savings account. “Paying yourself first” can be more advantageous to a financial situation than spending time filling columns with numbers Р and if you don’t need the cheese, don’t buy it.
By DAWN BRANDVOLD-GRAY
My husband lives in a financial fantasyland; where people only buy what they truly need, responsibly save money with an eye on security, and innately can discern what the future holds. I work in the banking industry and, trust me Р those people are as rare as CDs earning 5 percent.
Young people have a difficult time understanding how credit card interest rates, unless paid off monthly, can quickly add up. Sometimes, in a struggle to buy gas, insurance, and food, there is simply no money left over to “pay yourself.” There are others who think the latest, most updated cell phone is a must-have even when the features on the old one are adequate.
In many cases, when kids get into financial difficulties it can usually be a reflection of the inattention parents paid when it came to teaching their children about fiscal responsibility. Show me a family who uses credit only for large purchases (cars, homes), has a couple of credit cards for emergencies, and shops wisely and I’ll show you kids who, not always but usually, grow up to understand the difference between wants, needs, and the value of a buck.
Budgets are not fun or sexy, but for most people they should be mandatory. Counting pennies needn’t be painful or rigid. In fact, just the opposite is true. When you know where the money is going, it is easier to relax. A cloud of debt and foolish spending is much more painful than a budget.
This is not to say that you can’t splurge or impulse buy. I’m also not one to try and rigidly demand someone separate “wants” from “needs.” Sometimes, one’s mental and emotional health “needs” an expensive silk scarf or the latest camping equipment and while it is true that “money can’t buy happiness,” sometimes a $150 pair of shoes on a great sale can come very close!