29 January, 2012
Confessions of a Reckless Girl in a Material World
I.Am.Abysmal.With.Money. I am the friend who is overly generous on night’s out, then announces 2 days later they’re too skint to eat. I am the daughter who borrows money from her parents, always thinking it will be the last time but always having to go back. I am the employee counting down until payday, wondering if by some miracle the tax fairies might have forgotten about me this time. I am every banker manager’s nightmare and every credit card suppliers dream.
I have always had money – I have worked consistently since I was 14, I come from a financially stable background and I’ve often been lucky enough to receive windfalls just when I ‘need’ them (for example, I came home from uni one summer to find a substantial tax rebate, so I did 2 months work instead of 3 and nipped off to Sri Lanka for 4 weeks), but having money and keeping hold of it are two very different things.
I’ve never saved, I empty my piggy bank as soon as it’s filled, I always run out of cash before payday and I’d rather be over-over-drawn than have to say “No”. As a result, my coin jar is empty, I’m currently clinging on for January 31st like my life depends on it and my bank sends me letters almost daily. This would be quite nice if they were hand-written and had some pocket money hidden in the envelope, but sadly not. So it’s just an anxiety-ridden pain in the A, which I stuff in my pocket of fear and save for another day. Unfortunately for me, my Carpe Diem personality combined with a sheer lack of regard for finances leaves me in a bit of a pickle, time and time again.
Whilst these things are hard to admit, I know that in the current economic climate (for want of a less over-used phrase), I am far from being the only nearly-grown-up who is struggling in this way. People don’t seem to really discuss their finances, I think out of pride or shame or fear that it would place them somewhere in the social pecking order that they’d rather not be, but I find it a little odd seeming as we all have finances – to me it’s as obvious as discussing the weather.
Money and Me
My poor relationship with money firstly comes down to my total disregard for it. I don’t value money much past simply needing it to do what I want. Not extravagant things, but things like seeing my friends and going to hear good music. I rule with my heart, not my head, and there’s very little place for money in there. I would give away my last penny if it meant I was living for a moment, or allowing someone else to do so. I actually have something close to distaste for money, for the way it binds our lives, that it determines how much of the world we see, or the people we meet. I hate that something so material can map out our lives for us.
As well as my inability to value money, or prioritise it, I also just do not understand it. I am the girl who asks ‘if the country has run out money, why don’t we just print more?’ Someone explained it to me once and I just about got it, but it fell out of my head again and now I couldn’t tell you. To me money is a concept that society created but cannot contain, and few have the key to.
As a result of all these things, I have a sort of f*** you attitude to money, fiercely stubborn and determined; “I don’t need money to do the things I want in my life”. This attitude that I simply will not be bound by money has left me in that very state. And now I have reached a point where I have to admit money is bigger than me, and learn to respect it in a way I haven’t until recently.
For Love nor Money
I have never wanted to be rich, for me wealth is in love not in money, but ironically it is for love that I have spent recklessly. Because I want to look nice for someone, because I want to see someone happy when I give them x, because if I buy them what they want then they’ll want me, because I want to love my life every single day. And so on.
As a result of my monetarily challenged persona, most months are an obstacle course of debt and repayments, which I manage my way through month by month and whatever I don’t overcome; I roll it over to the next month. Up until recently I was just about okay with this. Living for the moment and thinking about the future later. But there’s only so far you can go through life on credit, as the monthly obstacle course becomes harder and starts to hold you back.
Countless times I wish I had known 5 years ago that the reality of “buy now, pay later” is actually a euphemism for “give in to reckless temptation now, suffer relentlessly later.” Eve and The Apple anyone?
While I can take full responsibility for my financial mistakes and I do, I also can’t help but feel like society has been in some way irresponsible. Should Barclay’s really be sending credit cards to an 18 year old girl about to embark on her gap year, with a credit limit that would tempt Gandhi? I never asked for my first credit card and I remember being 18 and scared at my mum’s house when I received it. Scared because I didn’t understand finances well enough to use one, and scared because I knew myself. I knew I was reckless, I knew I was spontaneous; I knew I would always let my heart rule my head. And I was scared where that would leave me. The first time I ever used my credit card was 8 months later, when returned from traveling I wanted to spoil my then boyfriend on his 21st birthday. That day, I made a decision and a mistake that I would continue to make for 5 years. For that I can’t help but feel the bank owes me an apology. Yes I was young and irresponsible, but that’s my very point.
Surely the education system should take some responsibility too, for people like me? I was top set maths, I could do my 8 times table backwards with my eyes closed standing on one hand and I passed my exams with flying colours, but did I understand the real cost of my lifestyle as I went to university with my platinum visa naively wedged in my purse? No. Partly because I was imprudent, but also because no-one explained to me the economics of real life, the implications of reckless spending or that just because we’re clever and can get a job, doesn’t mean we’re going to earn enough to pay off debt straight after we graduate.
Some of us need that. Some of us need to sit and write that down and recite it and learn how to do money properly. In the same way that some people need to be taught that 2 + 2 is not 5. I know many schools have compulsory economics, but this seems to be more about growing a business, not about a basic understanding of being responsible with money in your day to day life. While many are born with an innate sensibility and ability to behave correctly with coin, many are not.
Obviously mistakes you make aged 25 are your own, but mistakes you made when you were still learning about the world, made very few of your own decisions and were told what to do when? I don’t know if those are really our mistakes.
If Money Be Not Thy Servant, It Will Be Thy Master – Francis Bacon
I don’t actually believe money makes the world go round as it would turn regardless. Thus I’ll also always follow my heart and dreams over the path to fortune and while this is literally a poor choice, it is one I stand by. I think it’s sad when people with £££ in their eyes lose sight of their passion, what they love doing and day to day enjoyment, for want of having more cash.
However, I have really learned in recent times to respect the limitations laid out by money, in the same way I respect the Green man when I cross the road instead of running out in to the street regardless yelling “Ha! I don’t need you Green man!” only to get run over. In the same way I have respected most other guidelines of our universe and understood that following them sensibly everyday leads to a happy and ironically freer existence.