My union left a glossy flier in the teapoint today called ‘The Alternative’. It included the usual selection of photo’s og public sector workers brandishing placards and flags in some outdoor location (do these people actually work for a living??), and a selection of carefullt chosen statistics showing how poor a government worker’s lot is these days.

Some made up pen-pictures exhorted us to empathise with Roxanne a poor student working for the DWP, Dorothy working at the DVLA (but living in Ammanford) and David working as a Police Support Worker (WTF is one of them, anyway?!!? DO you actually catch baddies?? In fact do any of you create anything of lasting value to the British economy??!? Whoops, sorry, got a bit het up there…). 

I scanned this publication from cover to cover yet despite its title – I found no mention of any actual alternative to the austerity cuts the government is making. Unless the alternative to cutting back on spending more money than you have is, er, carry on spending more money than you have. I couldn’t find any carefully researched fiscal alternatives in which the economy would be saved, jobs created and inflation brought back down, credit extended to small businesses and the Euro collapse averted. Then I realised why. The newsletter was written by sixth-form socialists, with their Trotsky t-shirts and copies of The Ragged-trousered Philanthropists, not real people like you and I. 

We reap what we sow.  

The fact is that these people – made-up or real – lived a non-self-reliant lifestyle. They probably allowed life-style inflation to increase as wage packets increased, not saving for a rainy day, certainly not investing or growing their own capital. They engineered their lives to rely upon a fixed and regular wage packet, assuming this would arrive monthly for the rest of their lives. They then blew the lot on funding a consumerist lifestyle, probably including such essentials as subscription TV, smart phones, and other suchlike ‘wants’, that sub-consciously become ‘needs’.

Why am I being a bit acerbic about all this? Because I was one of those people. In fact you could say I still am by association as I still pay subs to that particular union, though that’s because I believe an union’s raison-d’ete is purely for collective bargaining when it comes to wage negotiations. That’s where their energies should be concentrated, not protesting against the employer’s business plans.

I don’t get this marxist idea of work somehow ennobling man’s spirit – that’s dangerously close to ‘Arbeit macht frei’ (and we all know where that slogan is prominently displayed). That idea ultimately leads to any ‘work’ somehow, no matter how demeaning or pointless; a man is not complete unless he is engaged in labour. Those who choose not to work, as we see in other more famous blogs than this one, are seen as outsiders at best, or at worst, scroungers – a lower order of society than labourers. Far better that they give of their energies to someone else in exchange for a wage, and be thankful for it.

But eventually – you get lazy. Your lifestyle expands to consume the entire wage you earn, and you become dependent on that wage arriving every month. You cannot bear to imagine what would happen if that wage did not arrive, you have no plan B.  When that lifeline becomes threatened all you can do is protest. You become a victim.

Don’t.

Any discussion regarding personal finances sooner or later turns to the subject of frugality. Frugality is defined as ‘the quality of being economical with money or food; thriftiness’. There are a plethora of sites trumpeting this particular lifestyle choice, often, though not exclusively hosted by female writers. Subject matter seems to mostly cover a bit of self-sufficiency – usually growing vegetables and keeping chickens (whoops that’s me!), homemaking, baking and cooking. But they also seem to cover something else. Shopping. ‘Look at this lovely {bit of tat} I got for only a few pounds from {tat emporium}!!!’ they shriek. ‘I went into town to do {necessary errand} and on my way back I popped into {cheap/second-hand tat emporium} and couldn’t resist {another piece of tat}!!!’. But herein lies the problem. They are still buying stuff. Copious quantities of it, often on impulse because they like the colour, shape or whatever, and it might just go with another piece of tat they already give houseroom to.

I can’t help but notice that the writers’ back stories often also contain the shadow of unsecured debt, some of it quite enormous. Without bragging about it I have never been in that situation – I just seem to be hard-wired against borrowing and spending huge sums of money on ‘perishable’ or depreciable goods (my mortgage is another thing altogether, more on that another time!). You’ll find no stories or advice on debt management here, I’m afraid. My thoughts are if these people truly still labour under a great weight of debt that should be number one priority, not tat from tat-shops.

The frugal, recycling aspect of their philosophy is merely an attempt to justify to themselves and their readers an excuse to continue shopping. It’s like a form of anorexia – without wishing to trivialise this serious disorder – where the ‘bad’ act is done and then ‘fixed’ afterwards. This skewed philosophy is not healthy as it imparts or is derived from a sense of guilt attached to the original impulse. I don’t want to feel guilty of buying this months copy of ‘Mojo’ magazine at nearly 5 quid, just because I’m down to my last tenner. I feel enough guilt when I let my son or wife down in my duties as father and husband, thanks!

So I don’t think I can describe my philosophy as ‘frugal’ on those terms. I’ll have to keep seeking…

Plan A ain’t working.

Like most people I have woken up to the fact that commonly held beliefs are no longer true. The pattern of my adult life – Plan A – was simply as follows:

1) Work

2) Retire

3) Die

The idea was that step 3 happens a considerably long time after step 2.

The fear I have now working in an office in this the 21st Century is that I may skip step 2 entirely!! That, of course, is not good at all. I wonder if being hunched over a computer all day everyday for 30 years or more could be the new Industrial Disease. I often look up from my desk, across all the other rows of desks and am reminded of early photographs of workers in Lancashire cotton mills. Am I subjecting my body and spirit to a similar fate?

Modern living seems so full of hurry and noise these days – are we really better off than our ancestors. I grew up in the Space Age. Technology was supposed to usher in a golden age of leisure time. Robots were supposed to do the menial tasks and free us up for more esoteric pursuits.

Well that didn’t work. Mobile and instant comunication devices mean we are more tied to our jobs than ever. And those jobs are killing us.

Well, no more. I’ve daydreamed of a simpler life, now is the time to do something about it. Even if I can’t walk away from the job today, I could at least explore the option of spending less of my life here. Just one extra day at home could free up so many possibilities. This would mean a drop in income, but I’ve reached a stage now where I value my own time more than money. Selling my time to a company for money just doesn’t seem right anymore. This scenario would be helped by seriously reducing my outgoings – numero uno of which is the eye-wateringly large mortgage payments I’m making. I’ve got some ideas which remain floating in my head at the moment, but I hope that writing a blog would help me concentrate on them more.

Perhaps even the encouragement and comments of you and my other reader might induce me to put them into practice. My goal is not be stinking rich (though if you happen to have a spare Aston Martin DB9 you no longer need I’ll take it off your hands for free!), certainly in cash type way, my goal is to be free of worry and unnecessary commitment. A simpler life.

That’s my plan. A bit vague at the moment, I know but I have to aim for something.

Here we go…

Sterling Effort

Living in the moment, saving for the future

Money & I

It's about me, and my money.

Simple Living in Suffolk

breaking free of the rat race and living intentionally

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