The afternoon was cold but the meal was hot. I was making my daily rounds on Halloween, bringing meals to people with no wheels. I guess everyone should get one scare on this day. Little did I know that I was headed straight for mine.
I walked into Mrs. Turley’s home with some hot grub when I heard a young couple next door yelling at each other and a kid crying to himself. I looked out the window as I handed the meal off to Mrs. T. I asked her what was going on.
“I don’t know, pumpkin,” she said in that sweet, fragile grandmother-voice of hers. “But that’s not the first time I’ve heard them young ones bickering over there. I feel especially bad for their little boy. He is so sweet and well-behaved.”
I stared out the window, listening to them. I decided that the money man needs to pay them a visit. I wished Mrs. Turley a happy Halloween and headed next door.
I walked out into the street and toward their house, stepping on brown leaves as I went. As I got closer, some jack walked out the front door of the house with a garbage bag. His wife followed him out the door; they were trading shouts back and forth. He slammed the bag into the garbage can, turned around and they kept going at it. Since they were shouting at the same time, I couldn’t make out much of what they were saying. But when I heard the words “no money left“, my DR radar went off.
I was 20 yards away when they both shut up and stared at each other for some reason. All we could hear was the crying kid. It was a crying shame. Here we go, I thought.
“Good fight to have on Halloween,” I said to them. “You two are making enough noise to wake the dead!”
The guy gave me the evil eye. “Speaking of dead,” he said, “you got five seconds to get out of here before I make you that way. Catch my drift?”
“The only thing I want to help you catch is your money, since it’s getting away from you. Allow me to introduce myself … I’m the DEBTective.”
“I’m not impressed,” he said.
“That’s OK … you’re not wealthy, either. That’s where I come in,” I shot back.
He looked like he had a teapot for a brain, with all the steam that started coming out of his ears.
“What can you do?” his lady asked me.
“I went broke years ago, but started listening to Dave Ramsey on the radio. He knows his stuff about money. I listened, I learned, I loaded up on cash. If you want the same thing, I’ll help you get it. Now what’s the scoop on you two?”
“All right, wiseguy, you can just lay off,” he said. “I’ve heard Dave Ramsey before, and it’s easy to talk about having money when you have millions of dollars.”
“Jack, he built those millions twice before he was 40, and he started from nothing both times.”
That only shut him up for a New York second.
“You want to help us?” he said. “You can start by taking the envelope system and putting it six feet under the ground. It doesn’t work worth a darn!” the guy said.
“Cool your jets, joe. The system works as well as you do,” I said. “What do you mean it doesn’t work?”
The dame was easier on me, but just as ticked. “He’s right, Mr. Tective. We don’t like the envelope system. Every month we make a budget, just like we’re supposed to. Then we write checks and cash them, and put the cash in the envelopes. But we always wind up running out of money well before the month ends. I thought that was bad enough, but now we’re really in trouble and I feel just awful!”
I’ve been around; there’s “making a budget” and there’s “sticking to a budget“. From the sound of it, this sounded like too much of one and not enough of the other, baby. “How is now worse than some other time to run out of the green?” I asked.
The dad looked back at the house and took a breath. “Our 6-year-old son is in his room crying his eyes out,” the dad said to me. “He wanted to dress up as the Cyber-Man superhero for Halloween, but that character is so popular this year that they were all sold out at every store in town. One place said they were getting another shipment of costumes in today and they would hold one for us. We were going to get the cash out of our “blow money” envelope, but there is none left! It’s all been spent! We don’t have any money in our other envelopes or the bank, and my paycheck won’t hit for another three days!”
This one was taking a nose-dive like there was no tomorrow. Not only were these people not understanding how the envelopes work, but they were still living paycheck-to-paycheck. I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt; maybe they were new to it. “How long have the two of you been doing the envelope deal?”
She looked at him. He looked at her. They looked at me. “Since March,” she said.
The breeze was about to knock me over after that one. “March?!!!”
“Well, it’s just … we don’t understand it. It’s a lot to keep track of,” she said.
“And we get confused,” he said. “We don’t know if going out to eat should come from the food envelope or the entertainment envelope, for one thing.”
“If you two are mixed up,” I said “then get together and make a list of what comes out of where. Make your decision together.”
“That’s only part of it,” she said. “Sometimes we don’t have enough money for one envelope and we have to take it out of another. There’s never enough money when we need it.”
Now my brain was like a teapot. “Budget” might as well have been a Greek word for these yahoos.
“Don’t you two knuckleheads get it?” I said. “The problem isn’t the envelope system. The problem is you. Once you run out of dough in one envelope, that envelope is done for the month! No borrowing!”
“Even if you just take a little out, the little stuff adds up. If you don’t believe me, listen to the little tyke in there,” I said, pointing to the window where the crying was coming from. “He doesn’t get his costume this year because you two didn’t plan the budget and execute on it. The kid’s got a reason to cry. I don’t know who’s the bigger baby; you or him.”
“Is the kid only upset because he didn’t get his costume?” I asked.
After a long minute, the dad mumbled something. I didn’t hear him. “What’s that, jack?” I said.
“Not really,” he said, quietly. “He doesn’t even know that we can’t afford it yet.”
“So what’s he pitching a fit about?”
What they said next … made all the puzzle pieces fall togethe