cabbages and kings

This is how it must feel for Gibraltar’s young new athletics hope, having saved up his own money for the trip to Beijing, only to finish last in the only qualifying heat in which he was to take part. It would take self flagellation on a Catholic scale not to feel some sense of achievement.

So, anyhoo, knowing that self-praise is no praise at all, I am happy to report nonetheless that people at work are giving me that kind of congratulations-mixed-with-bemusement on news that, somehow, I have stretched £13.48 across the four weeks of November. By a muddling together of colleagues’ generous donations, late night perusal of reduced-to-clear shelves, and walking the 5 miles to work (and back), in addition to a 40-day “dry spell” without any booze, the money has made it all the way to pay day week with 45p to my name.

As I made clear in the other posts on my temporary financial flux (see below), throughout this period I have not wanted to appear as some “poverty tourist”. At times this period from mid-October to this week has been very humbling, difficult, tiring, but not once did I feel as though mine was the worst lot of all. That I could walk three streets from my front door to people whose financial situations are far deeper and far more permanent than mine impressed upon me just how lucky I am that, in time, my situation would be resolved.

In my experience, the talk-show cliché “you think it would never happen to you: and then it does”, has had its truth shown in the weeks where so many previous months of easy spending and impulse buying seemed to have no consequence at all. I cannot claim to be immune from future foul-ups, although I dare say I will never again fall into such deep problems. However I wonder how many people are out there, possibly on no more significant take home pay than me, who assume the national economic mess is of no consequence or significance to them?

This weekend, my temporary struggle against budgetary constraints will come to a close. Just in time for Christmas, too, well done Fate, good timing. I have the proof that my bank took three days before taking out the one final big spend from October, the catalyst for all this mess. I will take a lot of lessons from this. I don’t know quite what will happen after not having any booze for 40 days: maybe my next series of posts will focus on the scientific proof that one pint can knock a grown man sideways…

Previous posts on this subject –
*no money, no excuses
*Pennywise
*Climbing out of recession

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Climbing out of recession

Previous posts – No Money, No Excuses Pennywise

Like Earl Hickey, I have made a list. Topping the list is my usual November pay-day wage, a four-figure sum. From there is subtracted the final installment of the Inland Revenue’s required payment, various bank charges, rent, and utility bills. As currently calculated my budget for the remainder of this month is around £50.

As described in the earlier posts on this subject, I am acutely aware of how this financial situation, tough as it may be, is a temporary measure. That it involves such an extreme drop from one figure to the other is unusual but not unique.

It is one resulting from earlier errors now rectified and learned from.

There are people possibly no further from my house than two streets away whose financial state is far deeper and harder than mine. However if something has really come to the centre of my mind these past few weeks it has been just how easy it can be for a person to remain at the foot of a steep financial mountain despite their best efforts. I am more aware than I was last month, on a three-week budget of seven pounds, of how best to make the money last; and I cannot ignore the words from my boss who reminded me how her generation often had to make very little go a very long way.

What has angered me more than usual during this period is the continued availability of ‘easy money’, even with the recession so deep and long-lasting, and the nation’s banks under such scrutiny. Plans to tighten up credit card terms are to be broadly welcomed although any forced increase in minimum payments must, surely, take into consideration the ‘death spiral’ into which people fall when forced to pay more than they can afford. Again, I have to make clear that the depth into which people fall is largely their own fault – “guns don’t kill people, people do” – however it does not take long to see how the banks and credit card companies encouraged quick loans and easy credit when times were good with little regard to the long term consequences.

One particular consequence from banks having to almost stop the availability of loans and easy credit is the continuation of loan companies advertising and door-knocking to entice the already vulnerable into contracts they cannot possibly afford. This really gets to me now that I can appreciate just how easy it can be to fall from a complacent attitude to spending into a very tight and tough financial hardship.

One company I caught advertising during a daytime cookery show yesterday – I won’t name them – used a plain looking model pretending to be a housewife talking in glowing terms about getting same day “top ups” to her wages, in easy to afford amounts for paying back at her convenience. The terms and conditions printed in very small text along the bottom of the screen confirmed nothing more strenuous than a valid e-mail address would suffice for identity. Its APR – the rate of repayment, a good indication of the relationship between the end amount you pay with the amount originally loaned – was quoted as 2,356%. Two thousand, three hundred, and fifty-six percent.

I am confident that my attitude to money and spending will be all the better from my experiences last month and this. I remain, however, concerned and indeed marked by this period as a time when I could see far clearer than before how much must be done by government, banks, and financial institutions, to stop the culture of cheap money and spending without consequence. The financial meltdown will not end at the behest of bored journalists looking for a new scandal to type up: people who remain at the bottom of the pile because of our deep, dark recession may be suffering for decades to come, leaving that as the real legacy of our elected representatives’ drive to “end the era of boom and bust”.

window

With trepidation I reach for the cash point, dig hands into train seats, curse the lack of ready-made sandwiches in my fridge. With some regret and reluctance I accept money must be spent to make money, but the pain…And inconvenience. The Halifax bank chase me from one side, angry letters from other institutions await me on the carpet: Hell, even the Liberal Democrat membership department are on my back.

Irresponsibility on my behalf? To a degree, hence the calls from the cheery-yet-menacing Halifax woman earlier. Storm clouds bundled together in the sky for greater effect. It’s why “window” has been chosen for the title of this blog, it may be a high-school level metaphor but it’s nevertheless effective; windows imply escape as much as entrapment. Only recently, with the Lakanal Flats tragedy, do we see how open windows can be held partly responsible for bad as much as they would normally suggest all that is good. With so many financial pressures, not all of which are of my own doing, my wish is for an open window which leads to greater and higher places. Not the strain of a hill, more the implied escape of a plateau at the very least. Family pride, mostly paternal, is as much to blame as the increased cost of living at a time when the economy continues to crumble around me.

It would be so easy to pretend, with pride in one piece, that I do not have nay worries at all. To talk about Michael Jackson or swine flu or Peter Andre, but to do so would be dishonest to myself and the readers who remain so loyal to this little place in the cyberworld. My worry is genuine and desire to resolve all ills strong, but the reality is far beyond the world of assured self-belief. I enjoy sitting here, nursing a pint, with the warming late-evening sun against one side of my face; it would be far more enjoyable if a curtain could be drawn, here and everywhere else.