Breaking the budget

I didn’t have a household purse, but I did continue to budget as best I could in the thrifty ways I had learnt at my elders’ knees. Picture: HTTPS://WWW.INTHEBLACK. COM

Maths are not my strong suit, but oddly enough, I know some basics about budgeting.

Not in your proper accountants’ sense, but how to operate on a budget.

This is something to do with the presence in my childhood of the purse.

Not any old purse, but a shabby green thing with a metal clip that lived in the second drawer of the kitchen dresser.

Those of us who earned or received any income contributed to it to support the household.

At the beginning of the pay cycle, which would be Fridays, it was plump and encouraging.

By next Thursday it would be slack and rattle with small coins.

I suspect there was more to the purse than what I knew as a child.

The number one rule was ‘watch out if you misused the funds’.

I suspected that ‘nicking pennies from the purse’ was the 11th commandment and if the wrath of God was anything like the wrath of my mother, heaven forbid.

I got my two bob (shillings in old currency) from the purse each week, half of which was spent on chocolate honeycomb for myself and my grandmother to nibble.

Grandma handled the fruit and vegetable side of things that would come around in Mr Gooey’s cart.

The baker would deliver from his horse and cart, ditto the milkman, and were paid weekly.

Weekdays after school, an appropriate amount was put in my hand to buy the meat, afternoon newspaper and any emergency rations.

My worst memories were of being sent to the local butcher.

Unlike most butchers I have come to know over the years, this chap was decidedly uncheerful.

In fact, I’m downright grumpy.

It would take me three times as long to reluctantly walk a couple of blocks to the butcher as to get home again.

This was mostly because my mother fought with him and the more annoyed she got over his poor quality meat cuts, the grumpier he got.

I still smart over the day I had to return with the parcel of stewing meat with the message from my mother that it was fit only for the cat.

I think the butcher muttered something about it being okay for her to eat then.

It all ultimately changed, of course.

I remember my mother getting wildly excited about the first supermarket in the neighbourhood.

But the purse remained, long after I had loosened myself from grandma’s apron strings.

It was still there in a kitchen drawer under the tea towels, even when the old dear shifted house.

I didn’t have a household purse, but I did continue to budget as best I could in the thrifty ways I had learnt at my elders’ knees.

I have not been as good at it, although my daughters titter and snigger at my Scrooge-like ways to keep poverty at bay.

I’ve improved — I no longer take home the little packets of sugar supplied with the coffee.

My mother always kept a jar full of such little packs that she would pick them up in cafes and such places, so we never ran out of sugar (mainly because none of us actually took sugar in our tea — doctor’s orders — so the jar was always VERY full.

Grandma was 93, widowed since her early ’60s when her heart let her down and she passed away; my old mother the dreaded Violet, widowed in the 1940s, was 97 when she went.

Our long-widowed Aaji was well into her 80s when she left us.

The point is that they had all been through tough times and had to depend on their own skills to survive impending poverty.

They certainly knew a lot about making the money last and not getting into debt.

“We’ll have to check the purse,” was a euphemism for ‘not today, baby’ if we were wanting ice cream, or I was desperate for new bathers.

These women, as many still today, lived through economic depression, a couple of world wars and even a pandemic.

There was indeed a bubonic plague pandemic that began in China in 1855 and was carried to many other areas, including Oceania over the following decades.

Grandma recalls being extremely angry with her sister Ettie because she was always considered the delicate one.

After they got their vaccination shots, Ettie was swinging her arm over her head without a twinge while poor grandma was as sick as a cat.

Then there was the Spanish flu of 1918 that infected 500 million people over a couple of years.

I don’t know whether vaccinations then were compulsory or just sensible.

Whatever, these tough babes, many widowed in various conflicts, learnt how to budget to keep their
families not only alive but able to afford little comfort and, most importantly, not get into debt that could
cripple them.

The dreaded Violet was amongst those who became members of the Australian War Widows organisation, that saw their role to help one another and serve the common good.

One of the things they were very good at was raising and saving money.

I was visiting my mother once when she had to go with a couple of the War Widows representatives to a meeting with the men’s returned and services league, the RSL, to discuss planning future activities and budgets.

When asked how much they wanted to apply for as a government grant, the war widows explained that they did not want anything.

“Hang on, aren’t you people planning to build a retirement village for elderly members?” an RSL representative
asked.

The widows explained that yes, they would begin building soon because they had already raised the money themselves.

This caused consternation.

“Surely you want something, a bus perhaps to drive you to the shops. If you don’t ask for anything you will
make our organisation look bad,” the chaps complained.

The Dreaded Violet and her colleagues didn’t fall about laughing until they got back to their own paid-for headquarters.

The thing is that these elderly women went through the sort of difficulties and ‘downturns’, bringing up children on their own in reduced financial circumstances, that made them into cunning practical economists.

Perhaps what we should have is a specialist cadre of canny elderly women, a team of experiential budget experts, deployed as needed, to help find ways to stick to a budget and prevent crippling debt, even in today’s extraordinary circumstances.

Or at least have more women actively engaged in national budget planning.

Goodness knows there are enough bright women in rising careers in finance. No, you can’t call on me for this
budget dream team. I’m afraid, I don’t quite live up to those exacting grandma fiscal standards. In fact, I’m
just heading off for a spot of frivolous ice cream… now has anyone seen the purse?

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