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Budget and you: then and now

Budget and you: then and now
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First Published: Fri, Feb 26 2010. 09 27 PM IST

Updated: Fri, Feb 26 2010. 09 27 PM IST
Usha Seth, Housewife (gen 1)
Shortly after she got married, Usha Seth recalls her husband consulting her on their first ever financial decision. One of his senior officers had advised Kulbhushan Seth to begin investing, even offering to procure the necessary forms and help fill them out. “But we just laughed, because we hadn’t begun thinking about such matters at all,” she says. “Even later, when I urged my husband to apply for a house in Defence Colony, we didn’t. And yet everything turned out fine in the end.”
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Like her husband, Usha Seth watches the budget on television every year and her outrage over inflation is sharply divergent from that of her grandson, Sameer Maira. While she worries about the prices of essential groceries, such as flour and lentils, Sameer’s worry is that the prices of movie tickets have more than doubled in the last few years. “I think movie tickets in my time cost Rs5,” says Usha. Her daughter Poonam, while in college, paid Rs15 per ticket.
The 1960s and the 1970s were, Usha Seth remarks, relatively simpler times. “When my husband left the Army and joined a private sector company, they asked him what he wanted to be paid. Initially, he told them: ‘Just pay me what I was getting paid in the Army’,” she says. “Working life outside of the government was unfamiliar to so many people.”
“Oh, I remember one more budget clearly,” Kulbhushan Seth suddenly interjects. “It was one that V.P. Singh presented. I remember, after the budget, his own wife criticised him for hiking the price of paan masala.” He laughs and Usha Seth chuckles along heartily.
Poonam Maira, Teacher (gen 2)
Poonam Maira was 17 when she first encountered the budget, “or rather, when I first realized that there was something the government does called the budget, which sorted out prices for us”. But she admits that she didn’t track its details then and doesn’t track its details now. As she convincingly argues: “Do we have a say in it? No. So why follow it?”
Maira is a teacher at a branch of the Delhi Public School and she points out that her salary is decided by pay commissions. “So I pay attention to that,” she says. “Unlike in the private sector, we don’t get raises every year. But otherwise, I may skim the main parts of the budget, but I don’t get into details.”
“What about its effect on the masses?” her father asks her.
“Are we talking about its effect on the masses, or its effect on me?” she replies. “Most of the time, we need to just accept the budget as it is and move on.”
The budget, Maira believes, doesn’t affect her family’s financial planning in any tectonic manner. “With major investments, you buy into them when you have the money anyway,” she says. “For instance, a house. You just follow your larger plan.”
Maira agrees broadly with her father’s assessment of her son’s generation—that it is smart about its money—but she does have one gripe. “We never spent money like they do, I think. Although, I grant that there weren’t as many things to spend money on then,” she says. “But with a lot of kids I see, all I hear is: ‘This brand, that brand.’ It’s all about the brand for them.”
Sameer Maira, Software Professional (gen 3)
In this little family gathering, Sameer Maira has the distinction of first hearing of the budget at the youngest age. When he was 12 or 13 years old, as per his fuzzy memory, he heard his father complaining about a rise in the price of fuel. “But I realized that it was done in a later budget. I didn’t know it at the time.”
Sameer, a 26-year-old software professional, was also the youngest when he made his first personal investment at the age of 23. “I look at my friends, and I think people start investing much sooner in my generation,” he says. “But in a way, I think I’m sheltered from the impact of the budget. I don’t think it affects me much.”
He willingly offers examples. When he fills his car with petrol for Rs600 instead of Rs500, the extra Rs100 has “less value for us than it would have had for my grandparents”. When he goes out to dinner, he’s prepared to spend a reasonably large amount and doesn’t mind a percentage point hike in service tax or other charges that get added to the bill. “And I work for a private company, so it isn’t as if the government directly decides our salaries.”
The day after a budget is presented, Sameer will rapidly scan its main points. “But I don’t think, for instance, that on Monday, we will be talking about the Budget in the office,” he says. “In fact, I don’t think financial stuff comes up with my colleagues at all, unless it’s that time of the year when we declare our tax savings and investments.”
By and large, Sameer says, “I see the budget as seriously affecting only the very rich and the very poor.” And then, with a smile: “And you know, I have a feeling the government knows quite well that its budget doesn’t reach out to people of my generation.”
Kulbhushan Seth, Retired Army Colonel (gen 1)
The earliest budget Kulbhushan Seth, 85, remembers was one presented by John Mathai, which would date back to either 1949 or 1950. “Or maybe he’s the first finance minister I can remember—I am not sure,” Seth muses. “There was the same sort of news coverage of a budget then as there is now, but somehow, I don’t think the common man followed it as much as he does today.”
Roughly around the time Mathai presented his budget, Seth joined the Army’s Corps of Engineers; he would serve in the Army for the next quarter century. As a soldier, many aspects of Seth’s life were shaped by the government’s budgetary decisions—his salary, also the housing he was allotted, or the equipment he worked with.
“But I think I started my own financial planning late, around the age of 35,” Seth says. Some of his colleagues in the Army had begun a bit earlier than him. “And I think I gave the budget my maximum attention just before my retirement from the Army. That was when the level of economic activity in India was also increasing. There were more choices, more decisions to take.”
Seth religiously watches the budget every year now. It makes more sense to him, he says, in this era of rising prices. “Until very recently, we even used to do our own financial planning,” he says. But the variety of investment and savings choices is overwhelming now, and particularly in that light, Seth is impressed with the financially savvy Indian youth. “A lot of them spend recklessly,” he notes, but takes care to exclude his own grandchildren from that observation. But he has some good things to say about the youth too. “They’re much better than we were at that age about planning,” he says. “They start thinking in advance about life insurance and about buying a home.”
samanth.s@livemint.com
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First Published: Fri, Feb 26 2010. 09 27 PM IST
More Topics: Budget 2010 | Tax | Fuel Prices | Economy | Inflation |