Keeping up with the Joneses

Mansion

(“Excuse me – Is this where the Joneses live?”)

Who the hell are these Joneses and why are we trying to keep up with them? I think that maybe someone needs to find these people and have a word. Are they even aware of the damage that they are doing? I think they might be the most dangerous family in the world, and it’s possible that they don’t even have a clue.

“Keeping up with the Joneses” is the idea that you need/want to spend your money on lifestyle items and luxuries in order to try and match the lifestyle that you think your neighbour/friend/colleague has. Regardless of whether or not you can afford it.

It’s such a damaging idea. And yet so easy to fall prey to.

Once upon a time, in a past life, I worked at an investment bank. Don’t get excited – I was an admin assistant, not the recipient of any million dollar bonuses.

The woman I worked next to (also an admin assistant) was dating one of the bankers and had access to far more money (his) than I did (don’t get me started on the feminist issues this raises). For example – for Valentine’s Day he took her to Jimmy Choo to choose some shoes. But she couldn’t decide which pair she liked so he bought her three! The next year it was a brand new customised car…

  • Working at that bank was really my first experience of high end lifestyles. I was straight out of university and a designer handbag had never even crossed my mind, let alone been something I thought I’d ever own. But this woman, along with many others, was coming into the office every day in her Jimmy Choos and chucking her Chloe handbag under the desk like it was No. Big. Deal.
  • Being in that environment, where everyone spent so much money, got inside my head way quicker than I ever thought possible. Suddenly, standard ‘anything’ wasn’t enough. There was apparently a gold-plated ‘better’ standard that I was previously unaware of and I wasn’t meeting it.

    This applied to everything. For example, hand cream. Yeah, I know. Where can you go wrong with hand cream? Well, let me tell you. That ordinary hand cream you buy from Boots that costs £3.99 is nothing, I tell you NOTHING, compared to a Shea-butter handcream in an embellished metal tube that costs £25 from L’Occitane. That shit is goooooood.

    Before I knew it, I was scrutinising every element of my life to see if it needed to be upgraded, in order for me to feel like I was ‘keeping up’ and fitting in.

  • The crystallising moment for me came when I was wandering through a department store on my lunch break and I picked up a pair of plain black Louboutin heels. When I clocked the price tag of £400, instead of falling over in shock like a normal person would, my instant reaction was, “Hey, that’s pretty reasonable.”
  • I mean, wtf?! To be fair, even I recognised that this was not a normal reaction and that something had gone a bit wrong in my brain on this one.
  • Fortunately for my personal sanity, the bank I was working at then went spectacularly bust in the financial crash and we all got made redundant (moral lesson: hire people who have lost sight of the value of money and this is what happens). I was back to having no money and far more perspective on everything. Much safer.
  • I don’t want to turn this into a lecture, but actually if people didn’t have this constant need to upgrade their lifestyles to match everyone around them, then the financial crash wouldn’t have happened in the first place. It happened because people borrowed more than they could pay back, to buy houses they couldn’t afford. Don’t get me wrong – the bankers and brokers were the scum who should never have lent them that money and profited off that desire, but nevertheless it just couldn’t have happened if the desire for more more more had not existed. If so many people weren’t trying to keep up with the Joneses.
  • So sod the Joneses, I say. The Joneses are probably trying to keep up with the Smiths anyway. It’s all just a dangerous circle which only leads to unhappiness.
  • Yes, a bigger, shinier car maybe feels good and makes you happy to drive. But the monthly payment for the car finance makes you feel bad, coz that’s money you could have spent on shoes. So then you buy the shoes on a credit card. But then you can’t afford the exotic holiday your friends are taking this year because of the repayments – so you get out a loan. Just a small one… etc., etc.
  • So how about you don’t buy the shiny car? Your old one will still get you there. And forget the designer shoes. They’re no comfier to wear than normal shoes and you’ll cry less when the dog chews them. And then maybe you could afford an amazing holiday, if that’s what you want, but now you can take it guilt free because it’s affordable.
  • Surely that’s worth more anyway?
  • As I said – sod the Joneses.
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    Fallen off the wagon

    (Some days you’re the passenger – some days you’re the donkey.)

    The title of this post is true in so many ways.

    Recently I’ve fallen off the wagon about limiting my spending; I’ve fallen off the wagon by way of keeping track of my spending and I’ve fallen way off the wagon in terms of writing this blog.

    This happens to me sometimes. I get so overwhelmed with trying to keep everything pushing forward towards our goals that I seem to burn out and have a mini rebellion against myself. It’s like I’m a two year old and my inner voice just says, “I don’t wanna” to everything. (Feeling a bit raw about 2 years olds this morning. Had to try and get a toddler dressed and ready on time when she didn’t want to, and I feel I’ve aged 100yrs in the process. It’s not even 8am yet…)

    So, yeah. I just sorta…stopped. Everything. We went on holiday for a few days which was lovely but seems to have derailed me because by the time we came back I couldn’t get back into the swing of things.

    Maybe I’m just trying to push forward on too many fronts. I read somewhere that it’s a tested fact that people have a limit for willpower. Like you have a tank and once it’s empty, there’s nothing. So it doesn’t matter how good your intentions are to meet a goal, if you’re also spending the willpower elsewhere – you’re gonna fail if you rely on willpower alone. There’s not enough to go round.

    This rings true for me. Often I’ll decide that I need to have a ‘life overhaul’ and rather than focus on one thing to change, I try and change EVERYTHING. Which obviously doesn’t work and when one thing fails, I just give up on it all and things go back to the way they were.

    So trying to focus on tracking my spending, limiting non-essential spending, paying down our debt, finishing our house renovation, focusing on a career goal at work, blogging in my free time and addressing various personal issues outside of my financial goals… Plus juggling a demanding full time job, with trying to see my kiddo and partner enough…. Yeah, I’m starting to see where it went wrong. All of that’s doable as long as I’m in a high energy mood but the moment I’m feeling a bit tired or low – it all feels too much and I drop everything but the essentials.

    So I’m trying to slowly pull myself out of my funk and identify those areas where I think I can focus some energy, while leaving some to spare. I’ve started tracking my spending again and gone back and updated my tracker spreadsheet. I’m still probably spending too much, but keeping track of where it’s going is the first step for addressing that. Plus I was starting to feel like I was constantly depriving myself and that always leads to a spending splurge for me, so I need to ‘treat’ myself a little from time to time. (I’m talking, buying some new makeup or a chocolate bar here and there just coz I want to – not splashing on a Cartier watch or anything!)

    And I’m going to start writing stuff here again if I can.

    Mostly I think I need to focus on getting our house renovation done to a point where we can actually move in. Because we haven’t had our own home since Dec 2016 and it’s starting to get to me. Enough is enough!

    Attitude is half the battle

    Saving money

    (“Maybe if I stare into the distance for long enough, my savings will magically grow…”)

    Saving money can feel like a thankless task sometimes. Especially if you have a goal in mind that is so large as to feel nearly unachievable.

    I remember when my partner and I started saving towards a house deposit. We were living with my mum at the time to save cash and it didn’t look as if we were going to be moving out anytime soon.

    I remember at one point we were sat in our local pub having a rare (cheap) meal out, desperately trying to work out when or how we might be in a position to move out into our own place. At our current saving rate it looked pretty bleak. It felt like we were never going to get there.

    But we kept at it – saving, little by little. Everything got cut to the bone in order to squirrel away just a little bit more. And before we knew it we had over £10,000 in the bank. I couldn’t believe it.

    We did everything we could to get there. We sold everything we could think of (including downgrading a car) and we barely ever went out. We had setbacks along the way, with unexpected costs that really hit the savings. That was always tough. We took no holidays abroad. Ever. Instead we would take long weekends occasionally somewhere in the UK that we’d save up for. We’d set a budget of £150 or so, and I’d make it a challenge to plan a fun weekend somewhere within that budget. We had some of the best times this way (Cheddar Gorge in October being a total winner, by the way. No really – we got lucky with the weather).

    But, as you probably know £10,000 is not a house deposit these days. Nowhere near. At least, not in the South East of England!

    So at some point we got creative and ended up using our money to go in with my mum and her partner on a house renovation project. But that’s a story for another time. The point is that, even if we hadn’t done that, we’d have kept plugging away until we got to where we needed to be. And that’s the point really.

    I was speaking to someone the other day who is basically in the same place that my partner and I were when we started saving. He has a small amount in the bank (a few thousand pounds from inheritance) but nowhere near enough. But instead of sacrificing and saving, he lives a very spendy lifestyle – expensive food; going out drinking in pubs; pricey fitness activities; lots of travel. Even a weekend shopping trip to Paris! WTF?!

    When I asked whether he was saving at all, given that he wants to buy a house in the near future, he said that the amount he would need to save was so big that there was, “no point”. Saving the small amounts I was talking about would make, “no difference”!

    Well duh! Not with that attitude it won’t. I mean, really – I don’t think he could be more wrong. Yes, the amount he needs to save seems huge – beyond reach. But, to steal an advertising slogan here, ‘Every little helps.’ It really really does. It starts to add up in ways you couldn’t imagine.

    At some point the money magic seems to kick in and as the savings pot grows, it seems to attract more and more money and grow faster and faster as you get nearer your target. Don’t ask me how, but suddenly you seem to find money almost anywhere – e.g you get an unexpected tax rebate, or more than you were expecting from an aunt for your birthday. And these little extra amounts really boost that savings stash.

    I don’t know. I probably sound a bit gaga on that one, but it’s always been my experience so I can’t disregard it!

    Anyway, the point is, if your attitude is that there is no point and you make no effort, then of course your savings aren’t going to grow and it will continue to feel impossible. But if you really try and are prepared to make some sacrifices to meet that goal, it is AMAZING what you can achieve.

    Im having to remind myself of this again at the moment as I now stare at my seemingly impossible debt, which feels like it will never be paid off, and tell myself that, little by little, we’ll get there. And probably sooner than I think.

    Can’t wait for the money magic to kick in on this one. The sooner the bMetter I say!

    What kills your money saving?

    Snooze button

    (Ah snooze button. My nemesis! We meet again…)

    What is your number one enemy in the ‘you vs. money’ fight?

    For me – it’s organisation. Now I don’t just mean keeping track of my finances and control of my cash. That’s super important too but I’m actually not too bad at that. I keep a spreadsheet and I quite enjoy plugging in all the amounts I’ve spent – makes me feel in control and I can see where I’m at.

    No, I’m talking day to day organisation and life planning. For me, this is the number one thing that leads me to spend unnecessary money.

    If I’m honest I think it’s probably going to be something I always struggle with. I’m that irritating person who is always 10 minutes late to every personal appointment or engagement. I just can’t seem to leave myself enough time to actually get to where I’m going. I’m always squeezing in one more thing to do before setting off.

    Interestingly I don’t do this at work. Different priorities maybe? I don’t know. Either way, it’s not good.

    I also procrastinate. A lot. Something that could be done now, almost always gets put off until later, and then probably squeezed in at a point when I’m actually supposed to be going to do something else! Vicious circle right there.

    Vicious circle(Grrrr – a vicious circle. Sorry, sorry. Couldn’t help myself)

    And boy do I pay the price!! I’ll give you an example:

    On a good day I’ll get up at the planned time, get dressed etc. and grab my pre-made lunch from the fridge before going to catch the early train. I’ll park in the free spaces and walk to the station. Then, once in London, I’ll walk to work. No spend. If I walk back from work as well, I can easily have a no spend day without even thinking about it.

    On a bad (read, normal) day I’ll hit the snooze button too many times. I won’t grab my lunch, either because I’m in a rush and I forget it or because I couldn’t be bothered to make one the night before and thought I’d have time in the morning (see: procrastination). I’ll have to park at the station because I don’t have time to walk from the free spaces (£), and once in London I’ll have to get the bus because I caught the slightly later train and don’t have time to walk (£). Later I’ll have to buy lunch (£) because I didn’t bring my own.

    And there. In a few easy, barely even registered steps, I’ve actually spent quite a lot of money. Parking is about £8, bus £1.50, lunch about £5. Total cost for not getting up 15 mins earlier: £14.50. Ouch.

    If this was every day I’m down nearly £300 over the month. £300 just for hitting the snooze button! Jeez. That’s an expensive habit.

    And sadly this is often too normal for me. It’s improved a lot though since I started tracking my spending and realised just where my money was trickling away to. I genuinely couldn’t work out why I was always sinking into my overdraft – I wasn’t buying anything! There were no lines of lovely Jimmy Choos in my closet as evidence of where my money was going.

    It was both enlightening and depressing to see just actually it was just being whittered away on mundane, normal life. Nothing special. Nothing to show for it. Just hundreds being burned each month on stuff that could easily be addressed.

    So yeah. I now do make an effort to make lunches. And to try and catch the earlier train. It’s a rare day when I don’t walk to work, either there or back – if not both. But I’ll be honest, life is pretty crazy right now what with house renovations and a less than ideal living situation, and the moment things get stressful I do find myself falling back into bad habits. And that costs.

    So here’s to a new month, a new pay cheque and trying to hit the snooze button just one time less… See you bright and early in the morning!

    Confessions of an avocado addict

    Avocado millennials

    (Curse you avocado. The downfall of millennials everywhere.)

    So a while ago I read an article about a millionaire who had said that the reason that millennials were struggling to buy houses was because they insisted on going to brunch every weekend to eat their ‘smashed avocado on toast.’

    ‘Rubbish’, I thought, as I had another bite of my mashed (which is totally different to ‘smashed’) avocado on Waitrose olive bread.

    No seriously – that’s actually what I was eating.

    There were a number of things about this statement which irritated me. Firstly the assumption that the reason this generation is struggling to buy houses is not because the housing market has rocketed to such insane levels that wages simply can’t keep up with. Nor perhaps that previous generations had significantly less tuition costs than this generation, whilst at the same time facing an increasing expectation from employers that you will have a degree. No, clearly it’s because the millennial generation are feckless spenders who like to waste their money enjoying life instead of socking away all their pennies under the mattress. THAT’S the problem.

    ‘Grrr,’ I thought. As did many others.

    Now apparently I am a millennial. I don’t really know what that means, but I’m reliably informed that I am one. And this millennial decided many moons ago that she would like a house. So my partner and I made that our goal. We had no idea if or when we would reach it. But we worked really really f-ing hard, and saved everything, and sacrificed a ton of things with that goal in mind.

    We definitely had some luck and help along the way (although I do believe you make your own luck to an extent) and we did eventually manage to buy our first house, in the South-East of England, when we were both still on tiny wages (him an apprentice and me in training for my current role). We were in our mid-twenties. This was way sooner than we’d ever dreamed of.

    So now skip forward to a point several months after that article was published. I’d now decided to tackle our ever growing pile of house renovation debt, in an attempt to meet our new goal of debt-freeness. And you can imagine my irritation when I finally added up the cost of all those avocado breakfasts and realised that maybe – maybe – that bloody millionaire had actually had a point after all! Goddammit!

    Turns out that the little things really do add up. While the amounts in question may seem so small as to be insignificant, actually it is those little costs, those treats, the ‘one-offs-which-are-actually-pretty-regular’ costs, that eat up all your spare cash. And that is extra cash that you could be adding to your savings or paying towards your debt.

    So if you are truly committed to your financial goal, then yes – I’m afraid for now those lovely things may have to go. Sacrifice. It’s a necessary part of success.

    So here we are. I still think that the ‘avocado issue’ trivialises the real uphill struggle faced by this generation in affording what the previous generation have managed fairly easily. But now at least I am saying that while eating my daily bowl of shreddies instead of avocado on toast. That is sacrifice, my friends.

    Having said that – oh avocado, how I miss you! Shreddies are just not the same… Fear not, we will meet again. Just as soon as this millennial has cleared her debt.

    Credit cards: Friend or Foe?

    I love my credit card

    (“Whoop! I just looove my credit card, like, soooo much!!”)

    Ok, before we start, I’m just going to say upfront that I do currently hold significant credit card debt. However, it was planned debt. We’re doing a house renovation and we always knew we would have to incur a certain level of debt to finish it. (We haven’t finished it – not even close, but that’s another story! Gah!)

    So it wasn’t day to day spending that racked up the credit card debt. And we would have been scuppered without the ability to put a significant level of spending on them (yes, more than one). They’re all long, zero interest cards which we’re committed to clearing by the time any interest kicks in. It’s not ideal but we’re in control of it.

    However, in the past I have definitely struggled with using a credit card responsibly. In fact, I’d always hated the idea of them.

    I was brought up on the understanding that, if you can’t afford something, you don’t buy it. You wait and save, and then you buy it with cash that is yours – not borrowed. Only exception maybe being a house.

    So I never even had a credit card for most of my life. I was offered one as part of my student account (which I think is despicable and wrong, by the way) but refused. I also resisted the interest free overdraft that came with the account. If I didn’t have the money, I just wouldn’t spend it. (The bank employee really struggled with this: “But, but – you’re a student! It’s interest FREE!” “Er, yeah. But it’s still debt, right?!”)

    Credit card

    (“Gurrrl, no! Credit cards are, like, sent, from heaven!” – This is what the banks want you to think.)

    And all was well in my credit card free life. Until one fateful day when I booked a trip to Ireland and decided to hire a car for the first time.

    Now I’m sure you’re all laughing at me for my naivety but it never occurred to me for a single second that a credit card might be necessary. Up until then, anything I’d needed, I’d whipped out the old debit card and paid right there and then.

    Not so for a hire car company. Nope. Credit cards are queen and nothing else will do. I’m still not sure why. Presumably there’s an added level of protection that they have by taking your credit card details. Regardless – that’s what they want. And I didn’t have one.

    Cue me going absolutely crazy, ringing pretty much every hire car company in Ireland trying to find one that would accept my poor little debit card. I did find one eventually but it cost me an absolute fortune. Like, hundreds more than it would have done otherwise. I was fuming but I didn’t have a choice.

    So when I came home, I applied for a credit card. ‘Just for emergencies’, I said. I didn’t look for any great deals – I just got one with the bank I was already with. Wasn’t planning on using it, see?

    Yeah. Great. Soooo… that didn’t go as planned. A couple of big expenses got put on there. Just one offs. Then petrol, and other bits and pieces when I was short of cash at the end of the month and didn’t want to go into my overdraft (yeah, I also had one of them too). I’d pay it off on payday, I told myself.

    Except, payday would come and, well, if I cleared the whole card I’d just be in the same situation at the end of that month! So, it was minimum payments only (plus a little bit) and, voila. I was stuck in endless, ever so slightly increasing, credit card debt that I wasn’t making any real headway with. With a rubbish interest rate on top coz I wasn’t on a great deal.

    It was all quite stressful and depressing. I mean, it wasn’t keeping me up at night but it did kinda hang over me constantly as something to worry about and I didn’t seem to quite have it in me to address it head on.

    Embarrassingly, eventually my partner bailed me out. I wasn’t really being open with him either about it. I’d casually mention – ‘oh and of course I need to deal with the credit card etc.’ – but I wasn’t saying, ‘By the way babe, I’m a couple of thousand in debt and I’m not really making any headway with sorting it.’

    Once I finally cracked and told him, he insisted on paying it off. This fundamentally goes against everything I believe in. I mean, we were living together and had bought a house together, so my money situation did impact him too. But I felt strongly that this was MY debt and not his responsibility. None the less, he paid it. I was incredibly grateful and also, weirdly, kinda resentful. Like HE was the one that was making me feel all guilty and crappy about the situation. Which of course is crap. It was all on me. He was just helping me out.

    Anyway, it all sucked and I’ve worked hard to make sure I never got back into that situation. No careless spending on credit cards.

    It was eye opening to me to find myself in that situation so easily. Especially as I thought I was fairly careful with money. Lesson learned.

    Of course, credit cards do have their uses. As I said, we currently have a large (planned) credit card debt which is enabling us to sort out our house. We would struggle without that option being available. The difference is that I looked up the best rates and planned it all out, and now we’re paying them off, with the promise that no more debt is going on them. Because it is just too easy to lose control of it.

    So if you’ve been there or are currently in this situation I feel you! I can only recommend facing up to it and making the commitment to sort it out, otherwise it’s not going to get any better. I know how lucky I was to have my partner help me.

    Credit card

    (Well she clearly still loves her credit card! 👍 How do you feel about yours?)

    Working your money muscle

    Money muscle

    (Oooh – check out those money muscles!)

    Ugh. Money muscle. Sounds really gross – sorry ’bout that. It’s the best analogy I can think of.

    At the beginning of this year life was proving majorly stressful. We had to move out of where we were staying really suddenly with no notice, and relocate to somewhere that was absolutely tiny (we’re talking two rooms and a bathroom basically) with all of our stuff and no parking. With a toddler. And a dog.

    It was chaos.

    I don’t think I’ve ever felt so completely stressed out in my life. I generally resist change and love a settled routine. It felt like there was nothing I could cling to that grounded me – like I was in a free fall spiral. Weirdest feeling. Not pleasant. Like if one more thing went wrong, I would crack. So I joined a gym.

    I am generally a gym’s dream member. I regularly sign up, pay my monthly fee on time every month, and then never ever go. And sadly it has proved thus this time as well. But for a few weeks/months I did use it and I really really needed it. Mostly I’d just go and do 30 minutes of yoga on a mat in the corner. It was the only place I felt I could escape and regain some control.

    So yeah. Now I’m focused on my money goal (eliminate my debt), that monthly fee really hurts me. It’s like a kick in the teeth each time. But it’s hard to regret my decision to sign up – it was a complete lifeline at the time and allowed me to cope.

    Anyway – that was a whole rambling intro to what I actually wanted to say and that is, that dealing with your personal finances takes commitment. A bit like the gym. The more you work at it, the easier it gets. It becomes a habit and then you can think about it less.

    The other side to this is that it can also be really easy to fall off the wagon. To become complacent.

    I’m thinking about this today because it’s nearly payday 💰💰💰 (tomorrow – yay!) and I find that my steely resolve to control my money really weakens towards the end of the month.

    I start off at the beginning of the month with a brand new monthly spreadsheet, and I begin by tracking my spending meticulously. But by this point of the month I’m slipping a bit. It’s like I think that this bit doesn’t count – like I’ve done so well up until now and, hey, if I’m only a little into my overdraft then that’s pretty good and it’ll all be wiped away shortly anyway when my pay cheque comes in. Cha-ching!

    Bad, bad money brain. It’s the same bit of me that flakes in the face of committing to exercise. If you allow yourself to start saying it doesn’t matter – that you’ll have today off but get back on it tomorrow – then before you know it, it’s all fallen apart.

    So I guess I’m saying – don’t be like me. Commit to keeping track of your progress and know that if you do start making excuses, you’re only hurting yourself. But it’s easy to get back on the wagon.

    Oh – and don’t sign up for a gym membership unless you will use it. Or you really really need it.