I suppose now is as good a time as any to confess that these figures seem to me a bit on the low side. I’m thinking either the women questioned lied or my own spending habits are somewhat worse than I thought. Like all surveys, this one needs to be taken with a pinch of salt but the question it raises as far as I’m concerned is, why? Why are so many of us spending money like it’s going out of fashion when it would be far more prudent, well – not to?
According to this survey, the more critical the state of the economy, the more likely people are to adopt a spend spend spend mentality. I’m no economist but I do have lots of relevant experience with this kind of thing having created my own personal boom or bust economy, on a pretty much constant basis, since first being entrusted with pocket money. I am sure it will come as no surprise to you that I have a theory or two on the subject and, yes, I’m happy to share.
I’m wondering if a large part of it doesn’t simply come down to personality types. I think I have always been all or nothing. I would get my pocket money on Saturday morning and by the afternoon it would be gone. The same thing happened when I got a job. I would get my Saturday job money at 5pm and most of it would be gone by 5.30. I can vividly remember adults shaking their heads in disapproval, insisting that I would regret my splurge. But you know what? I never did. I loved my purchases and can
still recall the thrill of sitting on my bed surrounded by a colourful array of stationary and make-up.
My spending habits then, to a large extent, seem to be an extension of my personality. I’m not a big planner and tend to operate within the spur of the moment. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t but I’m guessing that I’m too long in the tooth to change now even if I had the inclination. Another factor at play though could be the impact of our role-models but perhaps not in the way you might think.
My spendthriftery was a source of great irritation to my parents. My mother, in particular, was and still is a very careful woman. Such is her attention to financial detail; I swear she could have been an accountant in a former life. The problem is she is so careful that she has the unerring knack of sucking the joy out of any purchase. As a teenager, the sight of her pursed mouth as she fingered the garment I’d just bought before pronouncing it poorly made tat, would see my pleasure turn to dust within seconds.
Even worse was her habit of calculating how many hours my dad had had to work to pay for the said item. Frankly, she might as well have just ripped it to shreds. My dad, to be fair, didn’t seem to care a jot how much I spent, his big obsession was debt and he would allow nothing to be bought on credit. I think from an early age I reacted badly to my mother’s attempts to impose frugality and, as soon as I escaped from her financial control, I became her polar opposite.
I know there are some of you reading this who will judge me unfavourably for my spending habits but, in my defence, I only spend what I have at my disposal. I admit I have incurred massive amounts of debt in the past and it’s not a good place to be. I paid it off though and learned my lesson well. I don’t have store cards or buy anything on credit so in that way maybe I have become my father’s daughter.
I recognise that for some people spending is like a disease, an attempt to assert some control when their life is in financial freefall. Credit companies don’t help with their hard sell tactics especially when they target people who need more debt like they need a hole in the head. I have worked in schools where there are families in critical financial hardship and the ever increasing gap between the haves and the have-nots in our society is morally corrupt and ugly.
That being said, it doesn’t stop me from blowing what would be a week’s food bill for them on a new winter coat. So what does that make me? I know that I place no value on money because I don’t have to. Money passes through my fingers like water because I’m not losing sleep in fear of my house being repossessed or worrying how I’m going to feed my kids. And when you look at it like that it’s hard not to feel ashamed of squandering money.
At the heart of it all though lies the fact that most of us are selfish which makes it easy to close our eyes to the inequality around us. We live in a world that is profoundly unequal and unfair but the grubby truth is I’ve already got my eye on a new pair of shoes.