Jackie Gingrich Cushman

As a corporate budgeter, I learned decades ago that only a few people can look at an organization's money, corporation's money or someone else's money and spend it as if it were their own money -- i.e., very deliberately, based on the priorities and values of the organization.

One of my favorite memories from my time as a corporate planner occurred when an organization, which was not meeting budget, rented horses to ride on stage for an internal employee meeting. King Arthur lived again!

Aligning priorities and budgets has never been hard for me. Possibly it was my childhood experiences: wearing my sister's hand-me-downs from grade school until I became taller than her and starting my work life at age 13 cleaning bathrooms.

Possibly it was my college experiences: working at the switchboard (yes, we still had one where I went to school), working one or two jobs during the summer and cleaning my car (or my friend Suzanne's) to find enough change in the cushions to go to Fast Fare (the local drive-through restaurant).

As a planner, I spent other people's money as though it were mine. I constantly asked myself: How could it best be spent? Did the strategy and budget align?

This week, I conducted an unscientific economic experiment using my two children. We went to Chick-fil-A after school for a snack, which we do about once a week, and instead of paying for their food, I explained that we would split the cost.

Most times, the two of them finish the chicken sandwich and nuggets portion of the meal, but often leave half-eaten fries, drinks and shakes. As a child of the "clean-your-plate" generation, who still too often does just that (hence my use of salad plates for dinner; I'm thinking of moving to saucers), I did not want to require that they eat everything that they ordered, but I wanted them to have some skin in the game.

My son Robert decided to get a small order of fries instead of the medium, no drink and a small ice cream cone, as it was less expensive than the shake. My daughter Maggie decided to just get the chicken sandwich. She ate the entire chicken portion of the sandwich (which was the norm), but also the pickle and the bun. In order to get the most out of her money, she threatened to eat the wrapper, too, but thankfully decided she was full.

Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Jackie Gingrich Cushman is a speaker, syndicated columnist, socialpreneur, and author of "The Essential American: 25 Documents and Speeches Every American Should Own," and co-author of “The 5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours”.