Well… that was an interesting programme. Monday night and I sat ready to be informed and possibly a bit surprised by what was to be reveled in C4 programme looking at the polarisation between the UKs rich and poor. I remember seeing a documentary a couple of years ago – I think it was called ‘Poor Kids’ and I remember being quite struck by the mindset I saw in some of the children they interviewed. I felt so sad for a little girl who lived in a flat with no wallpaper on her walls and a damp bed. She had so very little but she talked about how ‘other people’ didn’t have to buy their clothes from Tesco and had diamonds on their clothes. I wanted to give her a clean and safe bedroom most of all… but I also wanted her to know that most of us do get clothes from Tesco and those shiny bits she might see around are just bits of plastic really. Its a shame, I thought, that she feels she is so very different and is missing out on more than she really is. Would she be more optimistic about life if she knew that?
Well, I expected similar insights from this show. They encouraged people to visit their website and take part in the questionnaire which then would tell you how rich you really are in relation to the rest of the UK. As they went on to show the disadvantages we have if we are born into poor families in education, life expectancy, opportunities I sat and listened about this poor contingent to our country and felt pity and angry for them with the injustice. I also went on filling out my details…net income, basic bills, council tax, number of children etc… and then it asked me how rich I expected we were on the scale. What percantage of people in the UK do you think are richer than you and poorer than you? I know I live in a wealthy area. I have a small but nice enough house. We’ve had an extension. My children dress in Boden…or Zara, I do own a Mulberry bag. We drive 2 cars. We eat mainly organic food. My children go to out of school activities. We are members of a gym. We shop at Sainsburys and occasionally Waitrose. I like nice things. Lots of my best friends live in huge houses and though I am aware I am not as rich as most of them I do understand that they are an exception… but we still live our social lives at a similar pace. We wear the same perfume, shop in the same places and take it in turns to buy the coffees…although I am treated far more as they understand we’ve had our share of money worries… actually my friends are incredibly generous to me. I act totally middle class. I really thought I was.
My estimate was that I was privilidged enough to be maybe around the 70% mark… 30% richer than us and 70% poorer…? That sounded about right. Turns out it put us at 17%. We are apparently in the poorest 20% of the UK… and all the things they were saying about those poor people…well that was us. Head screw.
I think that I wish I didn’t know that. I started to panic about my childrens life expectancy, their education, their health. When my husband got in all my confusion came out in a blurred rant. He simply said ‘You are just very good at making it work and making sure we live above our means’. I had no idea that was what I was doing. I thought everyone was in the same boat so I’ve just been doing what I thought I had to do. It scares me to think what my mindset would be like if I had been more aware of our finances.
Would my children be growing up feeling the unfairness and thinking that other children have diamonds on their clothes? I had just told them that very bed time that we live in one of the richest places and how so many children get nothing for Christmas and we must not be greedy. I’ve taught them they are incredibly privilidged. I believe that they are.
I think I would rather carry on in my ignorant bliss. I don’t know how lowering my sights will help us in any way. In the brief 5 minutes of shock at reading our social status I felt angry, apathetic and a lack of control. Its not a nice feeling and as much as possible I believe in postive thinking and that people should set their sights as high as can be. I’ve seen too many people stop trying because they expect failure. It’s not been easy by any means… I do have a few sleepless nights each month about our bank balance.
I do spend hours and hours shopping around to knock as many pennies off the shopping bill and never shop outside of sales and offers. I do buy the kids clothes as big as possible to last that bit longer and lots of lovely finds from second hand sales and ebay. I do buy organic but I meal plan to use every last bit and portion it out to last longer and we hardly ever eat out. Because we make healthy our value I would never end up throwing away a couple of quid a day on fizzy drinks and sweets at the coop on the way home from school… most days we spend nothing at all. We have less stuff so that we can have nice stuff… I didn’t realise we shouldn’t be able to afford it! And we do have debts… I acknowledge that we do sometimes live beyond our means.
It has totally thrown my mind set. I’m not really sure what I have learnt… other than that I was probaby quite happy plodding along pre-‘how rich are you revelation’…. and maybe that this placebo effect is actually quite helpful. I know that I’m not prepared for my children to suffer. They will eat well, learn well and do as much as they can. Getting outdoors, eating fresh, practicing spellings and times tables is all free and should not ever be down to how much money we have coming in each month.
One of my friends put on facebook today that he had done the quiz and that they were at 1%! I know they have no money… but they have 4 strong, healthy independent, loved and free spirited children who are richer than most in so many ways. If there was ever more of a living example that money does not buy happiness!
Maybe this is a chance to revisit the original purpose of my blog… It started in 2009 with £14 in the bank… I travelled through some credit cards and did better some days and worse on others. Today as I’ve been advent planning and facing the cost of Christmas I have £19.21 in the bank. Its a little bit more than my first post. I’d been ignoring my money journey because I thought we were 53% richer than we really were.
I’ll save admitting the debts for another time. There may be a few.
Much bigger convo to be had, but My 2pence is that I think social status/class is much less to do with the amount of cash you have and a lot more to do with opportunity and aspiration… (Plus you’re both university educated and live in a house that you own (well, with the bank) so I think that is seen as a ‘class indicator’ of middle class more than day to day cash?).
H, E and N are priveliged by definition not by the labels on their clothes (I know my kids won’t have mamas and papas anything unless it’s off ebay, but we know other babies with tonnes of labels who are still stuck in a cycle of poverty), but they’re priveliged by the fact that education, arts and the opportunity to be anything they want to, is accessible. I wonder if real affluence and ‘class’ comes when status ‘symbols’ become irrelevant to you because you don’t ‘have’ to look for good value, you choose to. Is it all about the ability to make choices and be in control of them?! Ooh interesting! X
I agree Beth, I don’t think day to day cash is a fair indicator. It doesn’t show the bigger picture. We wouldn’t own a house, do extra curricular activities, own a car even if we didn’t have the support of our generous families…not everyone with the same income has the same level of opportunity at all. I just wonder if being aware of a ‘poor’ label changes our aspirations… and therefore have I benefitted partly by not being all that aware? Who would ever know…?!
I don’t think labels on clothes really matter at all – but I do like to buy nice things…whether that be from the supermarket, ebay or the ‘nicer shops’ There is very little difference in price a lot of the time. (A day or two after writing this post I bought some jumpers in Gap, with a discount, but then later felt guilty when I passed primark and wondered about taking them back and going to primark instead… and had a look to find I’d spent about £3 less in Gap anyway… all those cheap option places are really not…but like you say there seems to be an associating with wasting/overspending if you go to certain shops which I don’t really agree is the case)
I guess my ‘musing’ is whether being aware of our income levels not being great is going to have effect on what we are able to do. If something has ever seemed to expensive, school trips, fixing the car etc we have always pushed ourselves and made it happen; working extra hours, borrowing etc – Is this because we’ve been expected to meet this level of spending? Would we change the goal posts if we saw ourselves as too poor? And should we? Is it better to live beyond your means and bring up children with higher aspirations, or live more realistically but risk lower ones? I think I probably flit between these views on a day to day basis!