Lessons from grocery budgeting

Published 7:00 am Thursday, August 11, 2016

As the county dives head first into budget season, trying to decide which department can afford to take a hit, I have found an interesting parallel in my own budgeting.

On any given week, my trip to the local supermarket is a constant calculation of how I am going to spend the money I have budgeted. If I go over my grocery budget, I have to take that money away from something else. It’s a simple system we have all learned as we have grown older and started balancing our own checkbooks. 

However, my trips to the supermarket often include a significant amount of compromise. I can’t always buy the nice cheese or the fresh fish filet. Sometimes we have to settle for the cheaper, slightly less tasty frozen shrimp and bags of vegetables rather than their more luxurious counterparts. 

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My budget never changes, but if I don’t spend the full amount one week I can roll that over onto the next and buy something special then. 

The county, city and school district budgets should operate the same way; if departments make cuts and keep a tight grip on their spending then there are always ways to come in under budget, allowing for these excesses to be used in the next year to make improvements. 

However, that often requires hard sacrifices we don’t like to make. 

If my mother taught me nothing else, it’s how to make something out of nothing. I’ve eaten far too many “leftover casseroles” as a child to not know how to make things last. 

Yet when I go over budget on groceries, I have to answer for that. If I overdraft my bank account, the bank won’t just dole out more money and hope I won’t do it again. 

The county budget, theoretically, works the same way. Departments are allocated so much every year and that is final. 

However, there are many instances in which various departments, for whatever reason, often go over budget and the county, and this year the state, have to pull from rainy-day funds in order to cover it. Yet, there is no penalty. 

So what is the point of setting a yearly budget if the agencies funded by tax dollars aren’t going to follow it? 

About Julia Arenstam

Staff Writer

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