Something there is that doesn’t love a wall. Or a budget.
In Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall,” a mysterious force continually tumbles parts of the bouldered barrier between his property and a neighbor’s. Ditto, with Marsha’s and my prognosticated expenses. No matter how strenuously we budget, some unseen magnet pulls the scheme to pieces.
Full disclosure: Both my wife and I were raised in households delusional about spondulicks. My in-laws believe you can spend money and save it at the same time, a concept that, if it worked, would put them up there with Tony Robbins on the self-improvement circuit and into a Palm Beach condo rather than constantly verging on a relo to public housing. My parents thought of money as kryptonite, something that put you at the mercy of charlatans and gougers and should be avoided at all costs.
Predictably, this led to Marsha and me engaging in ledger-demain not normally espoused by Suze Orman, such as me cash advancing on my Visa to pay my Visa bill (once), and the QVC queen believing she could always out-earn her spending. (For the record, corporate job eliminations wreak havoc with the latter approach.) After a while, it became obvious that a sounder financial plan than consulting our cats was needed.
So we started budgeting. And now we’re getting a divorce. Well, not quite. We’re actually able to sit at the same table and crunch numbers without crunching each other’s cheekbone. But the process of creating and implementing a Personal Economic Plan, we’ve learned, makes astrophysics seem like preschool.
The problem isn’t merely reconciling our goals, needs, and wants. It’s that the rest of the universe never seems to get the word that we’d like to be solvent, to get through a pay period without needing to market body parts. As though delivered by some paralegal with dandruff and bad breath, an additional money-suck always shows up.
Financial gurus have a ready solution for these contingencies: Simply have a six-month emergency fund on hand to cover them. To which I respond as Dave Barry might: HAHAHAHAHAHA! Obviously, there’s some sort of cosmic algorithm here to which Marsha and I aren’t privy. What Orman, Jane Bryant Quinn, et al. seem to forget is that it’s precisely these sorts of unforeseen expenses, such as trips to the emergency room, that keep you from amassing an emergency fund.
Take our recent house experiences. The main reason you should own your own dwelling instead of renting it (other than not wanting to rile Old Man Reilly next door if you start an S & M club) is so you can amass equity at a rate enabling you to pay rent to a nursing home at the end of your life. This makes perfect sense if you live in a house like my English grandparents’, which was built shortly after the fall of Rome, received a new roof about 1820, and could withstand the impact of Halley’s Comet.
Unfortunately, we don’t. Our house is younger than we are by decades, but way more decrepit. Not only that, it got word that neither of us had surprise parties as kids, and loves to surprise us with repairs costing more than the GDP of Micronesia.
Not long ago, I was vacuuming the spare bedroom in our basement, and squished… and I do not have bladder control issues. A few urologist visits and some Chux would have been preferable, though, to the ensuing footer and foundation repairs. Having just paid off our Honda, we’d looked forward to banking that money; instead, it got rolled over for ‘dozer work (instead of IRA rollovers, we have bill rollovers). And proving once more that we are rodents to budgeting’s raptor, the hopefully-down-the-pike CR-V brake job arrived the very next month--- right before Christmas.
The key to budgeting, then, appears to be not outpacing expenses or evening them out but reducing them to the level of, say, Mennonites’, by living off the grid. The neighbors can help us chop wood for our Franklin stove. It’ll give us more time to play with our grandkids, Katy and Ezekiel.