Thursday, December 18, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

A lesson in household budgeting

By
From page A2 | April 17, 2014 |

A family meeting is called to rein in expenses using a family budget while also trying to keep the 23-year-old and 28-year-old financially afloat.

Called a family meeting the other day. Like conversation, a family meeting is another antiquated concept. These days, you’re more likely to go on a sleigh ride or visit the Vatican than attend a family meeting. I plow ahead anyway.

Our family is now one of those weird sports teams, split between players too young and too old. Our youngest is 11; our oldest, 30. In a sense, we’re having our own grandchildren.

So, when I call a family meeting, some of them show up in their PJs; some of them show up with hangovers.

In fact, the first time I called a family meeting, no one showed up except me.

“I see you missed the mandatory family meeting,” I texted them later.

“You were not alone. Your mother missed it too.

“In fact, the only other person who showed up was the dog, and then only to lick Reese’s Cups lovingly from the couch. I see him as a role model for the rest of you.”

This text message was met with various reactions. One family member responded:

“Could you please keep your text messages shorter? I have no time for this.”

That was from my wife.

From the kids, mostly what I got was “Really?” said sneeringly, with the rising metallic ping of a piccolo.

Reeeeee-LEEEE?

Eventually, we held a real family meeting. They sat around the couch, looking sideways at one another, like hostages in a seedy hotel.

“The main issue is a family budget,” I said.

(Until this meeting, my financial plan consisted mostly of hiding money from my wife, Posh, so that she can’t convert it to shoes and scarves. She thinks of this, not as shopping, but as a form of savings. By converting cash into clothes, Posh believes she adds diversity to the family portfolio.)

I could see the tears welling in their eyes as I described the concept of tracking every penny we spend. It was not unlike a Cabinet meeting at the White House, except everyone was wearing more expensive shoes.

But consider: Last month, our cable/Internet/land line bill came to $350, a little steep. In addition, there was the cellphone bill for $250, assorted insurances that I only partly understand, 900 bucks to fix the schnitzel on the Prussian sedan, $500 to repair a bum gas valve on the furnace, and the usual petty expenses: food, gasoline, Merlot.

Then, my younger daughter’s first college loans came due.

“I had college loans?” my daughter asked.

At moments like that, I am no longer capable of rational thought, just a series of rat-a-tat-tat post-visceral male impulses, like big cats have when they spot a limping deer. Rat-a-tat-tat . . .  pounce.

Three of our four are over 23, and at a time when our empty-nest friends are trading minivans for Maseratis, I’m still frantic about rampant In-N-Out charges.

If I cut them off, these limping deer would probably starve (believe me, I considered it). Instead, I took a deep breath and put my foot down. Instead of pestering us for various personal expenses, our twentysomethings will now receive a stipend at the beginning of each month. In a sense, I am bribing them to spend less.

“Don’t worry, Dad,” our younger daughter explained. “My friends’ parents fight about money too.”

I found hope in that.

A dad’s life is one long lesson in reality. As a fellow father noted, maturity is merely the ability to take care of yourself.

So soon, we will wean them – the middle children – from the family budget. Thankfully, the 30-year-old is totally independent, amazingly industrious. The 23- and 28-year-olds are working hard too but can’t quite cut L.A. life alone. The 11-year-old is a total disaster, dependent on us for everything from cupcakes to clothing to dental fillings. I consider that our biggest failure.

But bless his little heart. . . .

“I have money,” he said recently when he heard his mother and I arguing over finances.

“How much?” I asked.

Turns out, mostly Chuck E. Cheese tokens, Venezuelan pesos and one Ron Santo baseball card, good as cash in the right saloon.

Something to build on.

Contact the writer: chris.erskine@latimes.com; twitter.com/erskinetimes

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