The Budget Book

 D. E. Larsen, DVM

Some life lessons are quickly learned, others not so much. And then, some lessons come by surprise and are entirely unexpected.

When I started veterinary school, I still had a couple of years left on the GI Bill and several thousand dollars still in the bank from my Army savings. I figured that we could manage the first two years of vet school if we budgeted ourselves carefully and if I could work when I had the time.

When we moved to Fort Collins, Aggie Village, the school’s married student housing complex, was full. We had to rent another apartment for the fall quarter. Not just an apartment, but some basic furniture also. We had sold all our furniture before moving to Colorado and moved with just a U-Haul trailer.

Married student housing provides furnished apartments for a very reasonable rent. Our fall apartment cost a little more, plus we had the added rent expense for the furniture. We were dipping into the savings sooner than we expected.

A budget book caught my eye on one of our first trips to K-Mart to pick up a few household items.

“This is just what we need,” I said as I thumbed through the book.

Sandy glanced at it around my shoulder but did not respond. I tossed the thin book into the shopping cart.

As soon as we got back to the apartment, I grabbed the budget book and the checkbook and started filling in the accounts and distributing our meager resources into the various accounts.

“You can’t fill that out accurately this fall,” Sandy said with a slight frown on her face. “Our living expenses will be a lot higher than when we move into Aggie Village.”

“I will fill in the rental expenses as if we were in Aggie Village,” I said. “The extra money for this fall will just have to come out of the savings account.”

Sandy just left me at the table with the budget book and got Brenda ready for bed. She didn’t seem too enthused about my new budget book.

“We really don’t know what groceries will cost us around here,” Sandy said as she came back to the table. “It will take me a couple of months to find the best stores and the best deals.”

“This is just a starting point,” I said. “It will give us an idea when expenses are coming and make sure we don’t make any extravagant purchases. I have my tuition and books expenses listed, and this fall, I think my final check from the cable company will cover that expense. If I can work over Christmas and spring break, I should be able to come close to covering the tuition expenses.”

Sandy made an audible sigh and headed to the kitchen.

I worked late, making sure I had everything entered. I have registration tomorrow, and then classes start the next day. I might not have time for this later.

Sandy finally came back to the table.

“You better get ready for bed,” she said. “You might have a busy day tomorrow.”

“My guess is there will not be much to the registration process,” I said. “There is no selection of classes this fall. We will all be in one big group.”

But we went to bed with a little nudge on Sandy’s part.

***

I was up and out the door early in the morning. Registration was in the old gymnasium, and it looked like a zoo when I entered. When I finally found the veterinary school table, they handed me a packet, I gave them a check, and that was that. Everything was preordained.

“That was easy,” I said to Tom, a fellow freshman I would soon learn was also from Oregon. “I will probably be home before Sandy is dressed.”

Sandy was a little surprised when I came home so soon.

“That must not have taken very long,” she said.

“I just showed my school ID. They handed me a packet, and I handed them their check,” I said. “Pretty simple. After lunch, we can go to the bookstore in the vet school and pick up my books. Then we have the rest of the afternoon off. Maybe we should eat dinner in the park.”

“That sounds fun,” Sandy said. “I talked to the neighbor lady in the apartment above us, and she said we should enjoy this fall weather, and she said you never know when winter will come.”

“Where did you put that budget book?” I asked. “I have a little time, and I can finish it before lunch.”

“I put it over in my stuff,” Sandy said.

That was a simple statement. Said with little emotion but with a hint of finality. That marked the end of my writing in her book.

In the weeks, months, and years that followed, Sandy kept meticulous records of where every dollar went. But there was never any planning on how much we would spend on anything. 

We did avoid any purchases that were out of our financial reach. When we moved into Aggie Village, there was a hookup for a washing machine in the apartment, and that was our first purchase. That way, we only had to use the community dryers. 

Next, we purchased small colored TV made by Motorola. I think the screen was like 17 inches. It was fine except for the high voltage power supply tube. My Army electronic maintenance skills bailed us out there. It was a straightforward diagnosis and fix. I was horrified when I first opened the back panel. Having worked on some of the most sophisticated equipment in the world, I was not prepared for the consumer electronics of a cheap TV.

We had room in the apartment for an upright freezer, and once that was installed, my folks shipped us some beef to help fill it. 

Then we started planning to purchase a small calculator. This was new technology. These small handheld little four-function calculators were expensive at the time. Their cost was out of our reach, and we could not justify spending nearly a quarter’s tuition bill for a little calculator.

Then, on Sunday morning, Sandy handed me the newspaper as I finished breakfast.

“Look at this deal,” she said.

There was a special price on a calculator. It was made by a subsidiary of Texas Instruments and was on sale for sixty-seven dollars. This was the first time these new small calculators were offered for less than a hundred dollars.

“Can we afford that?” I asked the gal with the budget book.

“I have been setting a little aside every month,” Sandy said. “I have most of the money. This is the cheapest we have seen, and I think we should get it.”

“That is still a lot of money,” I said.

“I just can’t keep up with all this bookkeeping doing all the addition and subtraction on paper,” Sandy said.

So we went to the store and made the purchase. It was great, handheld. Just hit a few buttons, and it would add a string of numbers with no problem. Sandy was pleased.

We had this calculator for nearly two weeks when Sandy opened the newspaper to the K-Mart ad.

“Oh! Now that makes me mad,” She said as she almost threw the paper at me.

There, right in the middle of the full-page ad, was a handheld, four-function calculator on sale for nine dollars and ninety-seven cents. We had just been fleeced for some fifty-seven dollars.

We, or I, learned several lessons. One, Sandy was the one that was going to keep track of our money, period. And two, stores tend to dump products with a sale when they know a competitor is about to undercut their pricing. So don’t be so quick to jump at a deal.

Published by d.e.larsen.dvm

Country vet for over 40 years in Sweet Home Oregon. I graduated from Colorado State University in 1975. I practiced in Enumclaw Washington for a year and a half before moving to Sweet Home to start a practice.

2 thoughts on “The Budget Book

  1. Good lesson learned. I have been bitten by that one myself. I remember those old TI calculators with the LED displays. I had a TI-55, pretty good for its day. The variety and price of calculators came down pretty quickly not long afterwards.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Grandma did not use a budget book, she took a school notebook, listed every purchase in her tiny writing and added it up without problems. Calculators were never used by her. She learned how to do maths when she went to school from 1929 to 1937. Different generation.

    Liked by 1 person

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