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Uniting on the Money Issues that Divide Our Families

We're proud that the fire service is like a family. We eat together, sleep together and celebrate holidays together. We party, vacation and celebrate good times together. We support each other through deaths, illnesses and divorces.

Families also make mistakes. We argue. We can go through careers not talking to someone. We take sides. Sometimes we get into physical altercations.

As the head of the family (the fire chief) apportions the family income (the budget), inevitably questions will be raised on how the money is spent. The family may rather get a bigger allowance (pay raise) than a new car or new house.

Money may not be the root of all evil, but it may be one that divides. Author Robert Benchley once said, "There are several ways in which to apportion the family income, all of them unsatisfactory."

Today's economy has challenged both of our families. At work, we see no more allowance, not enough people to do the chores and some family members disowned (layoffs). At home, food's more expensive, we can't afford a vacation and the house isn't worth what it once was. Both families are struggling to make ends meet with higher energy and health care costs.

How Mom and Dad give out extra allowance (overtime) can create distension. Some family members have come to depend on that extra allowance to pay their bills. In the new economy, people who routinely didn't take overtime in the past now feel that they must.

There's always someone in the family who knows who is getting more of an allowance; was it given out fairly? Is extra allowance given out arbitrarily or is a formal system in place? Will the parents be accused of favoring either the sons or the daughters? Is there someone who can do no wrong—the favorite—who seems to always get more?

How do we conquer this divide? As in any family, with a family meeting. Arguably, the larger the family, the more difficult it is to get together and the harder it is for all to agree.

In a cohesive family, everyone needs to share the same understanding. Everyone in the household needs to appreciate how the budgeting process, relative costs, money spent and where budget cuts have changed our way of life.

If the process doesn't embrace mutual good intentions, with input from all the relatives, we'll meet with resistance. Like exit drills in the home, there should be a family plan.

There are money matters that are outside the control of the family. All the relatives, though frustrated, know this. But as the family unites, Mom, Dad or the grandparents (mayor, city manager or finance committee) may be surprised at the ingenuity of the family—their sacrifices and their solutions.

Siblings may propose schedule changes, shift changes, changing compensatory time off or comp time in lieu of overtime. They might recognize that they have to consolidate their efforts with other families or take on chores they've never done before. The kids are pretty good at looking after each other. They want to show off, prove themselves and come to an agreeable, workable solution.

Every way to budget will be unsatisfactory, but for a family to weather a financial crisis, they must do it together. No one can be left out of the circle of life.

Or as President Lincoln said, "A house divided against itself cannot stand."

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