December 13, 2017

Dollars and Sense

Illustration by George Danby

Illustration by George Danby

• By John F. Chisholm •

I am good at spending money.

There’s a problem with that.  I am nowhere near as expert at making it.  Incredibly, I’m expensive even when I don’t do anything.  It’s an issue.  The necessities of farming ensure that I have a never-ending list of needs.

Regrettably, we have a finite budget that doesn’t cover it all.  Nowhere near.
Exacerbating the entire situation, I’m no good at putting off until next year what has to be done this ― what logically should have been done five years ago.  The only reason I’m even vaguely solvent is my wife.  She manages our checkbook.  Thank goodness.

That’s not saying I agree with the choices that inevitably have to made as a result.

The entire situation reminds me of the farmer who won the lottery, millions of dollars in fact.  The State Lottery Commission paraded him up onto a stage in front of exploding camera flashes and television lenses to hand him an out-sized, cardboard check.  Smiles, handshakes and grins were traded all around.   “Just what are you going to do with all this money?” the Lottery Commissioner asked.  His pressed suit, white shirt and tie contrasted starkly with the faded, frayed and hayseed-coated coveralls of the farmer.

The latter smiled and shifted the grass stem he was chewing to the opposite side of his mouth.  “Oh,” he replied.  “Nothing much.  I’ll just keep farming.  It’ll all be gone in no time.”

No truer words were ever spoken.  In fact, I could be that farmer ― except that I haven’t won the lottery.  Alas!

Where does the money go?  An example just took a big chunk of it this morning.
Three years ago we put up new fencing.  The old cedar posts that I’d installed immediately after moving in were rotted and falling over.  The job was way overdue.  In fact, in many places the fence wire was holding up the posts instead of the other way around.

The new fencing utilizes galvanized steel pipe for posts.  I insisted on frost collars around every vertical, too. The new wiring is heavy duty.  The corners aren’t just cross-braced, they’re tied back with galvanized anchors.  In short, I went to extremes in a vain attempt to guarantee that fence maintenance, an expensive and never-ending chore was cut way back, if not ended completely.
Right.  I should have known better.

Apparently the cows have been stepping on the lowest insulators, breaking them off the posts and grounding the fence in the process.  I hadn’t noticed.  Sure, the bottom strand was down but the damage was hidden by tall grass.  In any case, once there wasn’t any punch left in the electric fence, off the cows went.  I repaired whole sections this morning.  That was after chasing the cows back into the pasture.

None of it was a lot of fun.

But it was a lot of expense.  I had to rush out and buy new insulators, new wire, new screws and a pair of new tensioners, too.

Worse, the events punched great big holes in my theory that doing it right the first time saves time and money later.  We’d only just finished paying off that fence.

Wendy was at lunch when I finally came back into the kitchen.  She twisted around in her chair as I sat down, exhausted.  “What was the damage?” she asked.

“Oh, the cows took down several hundred feet of fencing next to the orchard.  They could smell the apples and simply had to get at them.

“No, I mean what did it cost?” my wife asked.

I swallowed hard before handing her two receipts.

She glanced at them.  “I think we’ll have to put off repairing the garage roof for another season.”

“Oh, no!”

“Oh, yes!” she assured me.  “Remember, we’re not making any money on these cows.  They’re only saving us expense at the grocery store.”

From the core of my being I objected.  “I need that roof!”

My wife reached over and patted my hand.  “You’re too good at spending money.”

“It was the cows who spent it!”

She shook her head.  “It was you.  You’re expensive even when you don’t do anything.”