This is a question that my teenaged son asked me some time ago when I refused to buy him an expensive music CD. My contention was that since there are a number of online sites available where music can be legally downloaded for free, why pay for it? But off course, this argument did not hold water with my son as this was a new album which would not be available on music websites for some time. A torrid 20 minutes and the usual refrain of ‘everybody in school is buying it’ and the not-so-usual remark of ‘Are we a BPL family?’ later, I was forced to concede and allow him to buy an alternative less expensive CD. Balancing the household budget invariably falls on the shoulders of women and we inevitably become the villains when we reject a request for some expensive frivolity.
It occurred to me that perhaps my son was unaware of our income vis-à-vis our financial commitments. After discussing the incident with my husband, I felt that as parents, we needed to do something concrete to make our son realize the realities of balancing expenditure on absolute necessities—food, clothing, rent, education, healthcare, transport, insurance premiums and EMIs—with less necessary expenses such as entertainment, holidays and eating out…and off course music CDs! Believing that communication and information would go a long way in convincing him, I suggested that it would be better to be absolutely open with him and hand him a household income and expenditure statement. Preparing this would take some time as we would need to put in the exact amounts that we were spending on various items. Maintaining an itemized record of expenditure for a couple of months was an eye-opener—it enabled me to identify a couple of areas where expenditure could be cut!
Armed with this statement and statistics about the annual income and standard of life of BPL families, my husband and I had a ‘budget session’ with him. The timing of the ‘budget session’ was ideal—economics had been made a mandatory part of grade 9 social science syllabus by CBSE (hence, the remark about BPL families!), and we decided to take advantage of it. We made it clear to our son that we were not proposing a blanket ban on entertainment or eating out…or music CDs! However, we needed to budget for such expenses, chart out a plan and carefully follow it which meant that some purchases would perhaps have to be postponed depending on other priorities. We also explained to him about inflation, RBI’s efforts to curb it and the consequent increase in EMIs, further compounded by static incomes. At the end of the session, our son had a much clearer picture of why some of his demands were flatly refused, why there was delayed gratification in some cases and why some were immediately granted. He learnt about prioritizing and planning, and the tightrope walking involved in maintaining a balance between expenses on absolute essentials and the not-so-necessary items. We also offered to give him a fixed amount of money every month with which to manage his needs. This would allow him to save up to buy something he needed and teach him the rudiments of financial discipline. The exercise was a success—our son was shocked when he learnt of the staggering amounts we were shelling out in the form of EMIs.