History Indicates I Should Know Better
When I was a very small child, my family did not have a lot of money. My maternal grandmother was a single parent when her husband died very young, leaving her with three children in England. Only in the last decade have I come to realise how astoundingly strong and enterprising my grandmother was. She took her children and started again in Belfast, near to her sister who had married well, but away from the rest of the family. I’m not entirely sure why she landed in Belfast and not Derry, where she grew up, but she worked hard through the Troubles to keep a roof over their heads and make sure the children went to good schools and universities. She started a nursery which became successful and, at some point, she moved back to the Republic and had a little house by the sea. She did well. She couldn’t have done it without help, but she managed admirably.
As a result of this, my mum knew the value of money. She worked hard at school and at university and became a lawyer in challenging times. By the time she was my age, she had a house, a car and two children. Yes, funding for university was better back then and yes, she did have someone to help her out now and again financially, but she did well.
She and my dad didn’t have a lot of spare cash to throw around willy-nilly. The floor of my nursery was offcuts of carpet, rather than wall to wall – I wasn’t crawling, so what on earth did it matter? My dad’s job was uncertain, because he was a Catholic working in a Protestant industry and, in those days, you never knew what might happen. Growing up, I learnt not to ask for things, because I knew we didn’t have the spare cash for whatever new toy I had my eye on (To be fair though, my mum also had ideas about what was “common” and very often what I wanted would have fallen into that category (denim jackets, Barbies, roller blades), so that would have been another reason not to ask.), but I never ever felt deprived or poor. We weren’t, we just didn’t have a lot to spare.
KFC will forever hold a special place in my heart because the Bargain Bucket (complete with Viennetta) was the treat my parents would sometimes allow themselves on a Friday evening.
My Sister Will Buy £200 Boots And I Will Have A Fit
By the time my younger sister rocked up and could engage in the world of commerce, my parents were doing better in their jobs and there was a bit more cash around. When she heard “no” it wasn’t because we couldn’t afford it. As a result, we have entirely different attitudes to money. She will spend big money on holidays, boots, electronics and flights and enjoy them all to the max. I probably spend the same amount of money on stupid wee things. I fritter money away on clothes that aren’t quite right, four cheap pairs of shoes rather than the one pair of shoes that would be right and actually last, I don’t really enjoy my spending as much as I could.
When I first moved to London I saved virtually every penny I had. Not consciously. I just knew everything was expensive, that I didn’t have any money and that I shouldn’t be spending it. And so I didn’t. I also didn’t open my pay cheques. I just put everything in the bank. And then never looked at my balance.
They say that most arguments in a couple are about money or sex. Arguments with my ex-boyfriend were about money. But obliquely. One of the most astounding arguments we ever had was over my lack of pension. At 25, I felt that putting money away for later wasn’t practical when I needed it NOW. His argument was that he didn’t want to have to be paying for me when we were old (if you didn’t take a deep breath at that, go back and read it again). Given that he had incredibly high stress levels, I didn’t actually think he would LIVE that long, not to mention the utter presumptuousness that I would even WANT to be with him when I was old after this conversation.
Obviously, I got a pension. But it was under duress and purely to stop the argument than to provide for my own future.
He and I are no longer together and I often wonder how he feels (not that he can. As a humanoid with ice rather than a heart, he is incapable of feelings #notbitterjustaccurate) about that argument looking back. Whether he feels that it was a job well done on his part or a waste of everyone’s emotional energy.
At some point I actually did look at my bank balance and lived to tell the tale. I was actually doing okay. Not about to buy a Ferrari, but I had a nice cushion in case I ever had to buy emergency flights or emergency glasses.
It All Goes Wrong
I got an ISA. I’d love to use a better verb there – I always tell my trainees that there are a hundred thousand million synonyms for the word “got” and they aren’t to ever write it anywhere I might see it – but I can’t. I went to the bank (Halifax. I highly recommend them, but am full aware that I may have just been very lucky with them so far) and talked to a lady in a glass cubicle about an ISA after a few chats with my boss. She asked me what I was saving for. I had no idea. Just in general. Every month I throw a bit of money into an ISA. I never look at it. I have no real concept of what I’m investing in. I told her NO RISK. She explained how investments worked again. AS LOW A RISK AS POSSIBLE, I said. I signed some forms. I shook a little bit.
Somewhere over the years I acquired a cash ISA. I don’t know how that happened. Again, I ignored it because it was money related. It may well have been an accident. At some point in my financial history, my ISA was no longer visible on my online banking. There may also have been a letter to explain it. I diligently filed it away without looking at it too closely.
One day I had to do something bank related. I forget what it was, but I realised that the money going out of my account into my ISA was nowhere to be seen. I phoned the bank, shaking like a leaf. The lady didn’t know. I nearly cried. I was definitely tearful.
When I make a bank transfer, set up as standing order or even buy anything online that costs more than £40, I assume I will make a mistake and lose everything, so this was my actual worst fear. My money had gone. I’d done something and it had disappeared. Yes, I still had my current account with my buffer, but my savings (in a designated account!) had vanished. I was penniless! I was going to have to go on the dole (which was bound to create a paperwork problem because I actually had a job)! I would have to live under a bridge (instead of a sad, damp basement flat miles away from my job)! I might have to move back home to Belfast and spend the rest of my life living with my mum, being permanently cold and wrapped in a fleece blanket!
The lady called me back. My “investments” (hahahahahahahaha) were fine, they were handled by a different department, she would transfer me through to them immediately.
I felt so incredibly stupid. All my life I’d been afraid of not having enough money and my response, rather than watching it like a HAWK and being smart about it, was to completely ignore it and hope it would all be fine. This is NOT what you do with things which are important. Being able to keep a roof over my head was important.
I Still Do Nothing
And yet. Rather than galvanised me to take action, I was still fairly ostrich-like about my finances. I certainly couldn’t tell you how much was in my paycheque, or how much my expenditure was. The one sensible thing I did (and this was really on the recommendation from the ex-boyfriend) was to put ALL my spending on a credit card and pay off the total every month religiously. The reasoning behind this was I could see how much I was spending (even if I wasn’t keeping track) plus I’d be making my spending “work” for me by earning rewards of some kind (airmiles, amazon vouchers, etc. He kept up to speed with what the best deals were, but ultimately I chose the rewards that worked for me).
When my flatmate moved out and I had to take over the bills, I realised that I actually had to pull myself together and take control. Organising the bills made me look at what was going out of my account, even if I still didn’t open my pay cheque. Our Finance woman has been doing this a long time, so I trusted her, plus our payroll was now online, so I would actively have to log-in to download my paycheque and really, that was just never going to happen.
Things Change, But Probably Not For The Best
Before I went to Canada to see my sister at the start of the month, I transferred her some money and I realised that, somehow, my current account cushion has been dramatically reduced. I’m going to have to transfer some money out of my savings account (not my ISA- I’ve since opened another few linked accounts to separate money out). I was a bit taken aback.
Okay, my last few (many) credit card statements had been higher than average, but I’ve travelled a lot and had scheduled dentist appointments and other planned (by which I mean “I knew they were coming”) expenses, but this didn’t add up. It seems that I have gradually become a bit of a spendthrift, just because I knew I had a bit of money in the bank. I developed a certain casualness to my spending. I was buying things I wanted – inexpensive useful things, lunches or drinks out – but hadn’t actually thought about at all.
This really hit home while I was away. I’d spent $200 in Shoppers Drugmart on moisturisers and lipsticks and was half-heartedly freaking out about it. I wanted everything I’d bought. I knew I was going to buy it, I just had sticker shock. My sister pointed out that I was on holiday and could treat myself. Yes, indeed, you’re right. Then she asked what my budget for the trip was.
I’m sorry, my what?
It’s Pronounced Boojay
I didn’t have a budget. I’ve never had a budget. I had pocket money when I was tiny and knew how to save up, but I’ve never actually BUDGETED. I didn’t spend money when I didn’t think I had any, but I still didn’t budget, I just tried to spend as little as possible. My attitude with my credit card bill was “all of this I could justify at the time. I can afford it, so I won’t think about it too much.”
Canada was remarkably different to when I was in New York a few years back. I still didn’t have a budget, as such, but I did have all my cash split up into days and I tried to spend as LITTLE AS POSSIBLE every day, which I’m sure was a barrel of laughs for my travelling companion. We went shopping and I bought three dresses, on a whim (sweater dresses, a bit bodycon. American had overwhelmed me – I forgot I had the knees I have) and then spent a full 48 hours complaining about how I’d spent that money. It wasn’t big money. I exhausted my friend’s patience with my attitude (not that she ever said anything! She’s a delight and has impeccable manners).
“What Now?” By Rhianna
I’m back in London and I have no money. I haven’t had my credit card statements, but I know I spent too much. Even writing that is bizarre as I don’t know how to qualify that as an amount. I imposed a spending ban last week, but have consistently bought something every day. My lizard-brain argument now is that there are birthdays and housewarming gifts to buy, so if it’s for someone else, surely it doesn’t count?!
Somehow, I have to grasp hold of my finances. I can’t carry on like this, even if I do have some money in the bank. A grown up woman with a job should know where her money is and how to manage it. If I don’t do it, there is NO ONE ELSE to do it for me. In olden times, your dad looked after you until your husband did. I have neither of those and I don’t ever want to be in the situation where I have to ask my mum for money. She has done without and worked hard for long enough. Her money belongs to her, not anyone else. Having to help me out because I have been too wilfully ignorant to be self-sufficient would be unacceptable. No one is going to sweep in on a wealthy white horse and rescue me from any financial issues I develop.
I shall probably need to make a list.