OF PRINCIPALITIES AND POWERS - “Show Me the Numbers”

(02/21/2004)

By Tony Russell

Patty pulls together our annual budget, and then we try to fit into it. It’s like my putting on the swimming trunks I wore in high school—an ugly picture. I was really stewing about this year’s budget, with the cost of everything going up and neither one of us getting a raise.

“How’s it look, Patty?” I asked.

She stopped chewing on her eraser for a minute. “Not too bad,” she said. “I think I’ve got it finagled so we can still eat.”

“That’s a joke, right?” I said nervously.

“There’s nothing humorous about this budget,” she grunted. “We’ll have to borrow some to make it work, but it could have been a lot worse. If I hadn’t had the White House budget for a guide, I don’t know how we could have done it.”

“Show me what you’ve got there,” I said.

“Okay,” she said. “First, under medical care, I’ve put the cost of our insurance premiums, as well as what we usually spend on co-payments and deductibles. That usually runs us in the neighborhood of $8,000, so I estimated $6,000.”

“If it’s likely to cost $8,000, why did you put in $6,000?” I asked.

“Well, that’s what the administration did with the costs for the new Medicare bill,” she said. “It makes the budget more manageable.”

“Oh, okay,” I said.

“Then I just set aside housing expenses—the mortgage, maintenance, repairs, home owner’s insurance, that kind of thing—until 2005. That way it doesn’t throw this year’s budget out of whack.”

“Can you do that?” I asked.

“Sure,” she said. “That’s what the administration did with the cost of the war in Iraq. They didn’t include it in the budget at all.”

“But don’t we still have to pay for housing expenses as we go along?”

“Of course,” she said, looking at me as if I were an idiot. “You don’t think the bank is going to sit there while we skip our payments, do you? We just don’t show any of it until next year. Got it?”

“Boy, I’m glad it’s you doing this,” I confessed. “It’s all too complicated for me. If you had asked me, I would have said there was something screwy about this budget, and we ought to be really worried about all those expenses you aren’t showing.”

“Well, I did have to cut some things,” she admitted. “The food budget is down, no braces for the girls’ teeth, no more dance lessons, church and charity contributions, trash disposal, museum membership, vet services, septic system cleaning, things like that. But I really upped money for the burglary alarm system, your gun collection, and a trip abroad.”

“At least you’ve got your priorities straight,” I said with relief.

“And think of the jobs we’re helping to create,” she said.

“I hadn’t thought of that,” I admitted. “The economy can use the help. What kinds of jobs are we giving a boost?”

“Bill collectors, gun dealers, and loan sharks.”


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