Budgeting for the Budget

THE most important event in our family after Valentine’s Day is Budget Day. Valentine’s Day because that’s when the husband saves a lot of money, and Budget Day because that’s when he spends a lot of it.

As a child, the Budget never made much of a dent in my mind. Appa would generally grumble about how his income-tax had shot up, but then, he was always grumbling about income-tax.

But life smooths all the odds into evens, and vice versa. One day, I, who’d never thought of 28 February as anything other than the day before 1 March, found myself signing on the contract form in a financial daily. That was the year I discovered the Union Budget. And as with most of my passions, the entire family has caught it, too.

I realized it when Amma came demanding more money on 5 February. While the husband beat a strategic retreat to the loo, I stared at her perplexed. ‘Well, the Budget is coming, prices are going to go up. I need to stock up on a whole lot of things,’ she declared belligerently. I paid up meekly.

The son was more street-wise. ‘It’s Valentine’s Day tomorrow. I need some money,’ he declared on 13 February.

‘What about your pocket money?’ I demanded, my empty pockets giving my courage a much needed boost. ‘It’s meant to take care of such needs.’

‘I’m saving that for a stereo system for my room, for when we move into our new house. And now with the Budget coming, I’ll have to allow for inflation rates, too. I can’t afford Valentine’s Day treats just now.’

A wiser mother would have transformed that into a lesson on budgeting, but I’ve never managed to balance my own pluses and minuses and, frankly, it never occurred to me, I must admit. But the sight of a twelve-year-old talking about inflation adjustments on stereo prices was so fascinating, it made me reach for my much depleted wallet. ‘Okay, how many girlfriends?’

‘Ten,’ he said.

‘Ten?’ I asked. I think my son’s the most handsome boy in the world, but even I was unable to swallow ten girlfriends.

‘I can’t take them all by themselves, everyone would tease me about it. So I’ll take Shantanu, Rizvaan, Sourav, Kshitij, Apoorv, Rishabh, Mohul, Sanchit and Atul with me,’ he said, grabbing the money from my hand.

It took me till the next day to work out that there was not one girl among the ten he wanted to treat on Valentine’s Day. The husband says he’ll grow out of it, but I’m seriously worried.

On 27 February, we were sitting around in the living room, when the son asked idly, ‘Why do we have a grey durrie?’ That was when I decided the said durrie needed a quick trip to the dry-cleaner. As far as I remembered, it had had jewel-like colours when we bought it, I needed to check that out. I was just rolling up the durrie, when the husband burst in on the scene.

‘What are you doing?’ he asked genially.

I bit back the retort, Getting ready to whack you one, and said instead, ‘Can you take me to the dry-cleaner?’

‘You’re going to get that dry-cleaned?’ he asked with more interest than he usually displays in such household inanities. ‘D’you know what it will cost you? At least a hundred bucks. And with the Budget tomorrow, I need to stock up on cigarettes and Pan Parag. Can’t we wash it at home?’

‘I can’t, not with my back,’ I said.

‘I’ll wash it,’ he said. ‘I’ll be able to get another forty cigarettes for that kind of money.’

Budget Day came and went. Groceries remained largely untouched, Amma is distracted silly trying to find place for all the extra stuff she bought. Stereo prices are also untouched. The son’s chest is puffed up with pride at the good investment risk he took. As for the husband, the extra cigarettes are now grey spots on his lungs and he’s spent a whole morning wringing the soap and dirt out of the durrie. It now lies on the lawn, sparkling in the middle, and distinctly mottled at the sides.

‘At least the centre’s clean,’ the husband said defensively. I refrained from pointing out that the centre was clean because that’s where the centre table is usually. After all the budgeting the family has done, a trip to the dry-cleaner was no longer within my budget.

First published in The Financial Express. 

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