I've just been watching a magazine programe on the iplayer, and one of the stories was about getting help with managing your money when you are struggling to make ends meet. I agree there is a need for the government to fund places where people can go and talk to an advisor about their problems, but I can't help thinking that instead of getting right down to the nitty gritty, they just paper over the cracks.
The programe featured two similar stories of hardship, one a single mother bringing up three children on around £800 of benefits a month, and a pensioner also living on a similar amount. They both have debts of £5,000. They were advised to start writing down every penny they spend in a notebook, so they can see where their money is going, something I think everybody should be doing regardless of whether they need to or not. Even people who earn a lot of money can easily find their spending spiraling out of control if they don't monitor it.
The camera followed the mum of three as she did her shopping, and she talked about seeing things she liked but couldn't have them because she couldn't afford it. She picked up an aerosol can, looked at it and put it back on the shelf, to illustrate her point. I thought that was a good sign, at least she was trying to keep her spending in check. But later she said she spent £300 on each of her children at Christmas, and got them a large present as well. Now I can see how she got herself in debt.
One thing that baffles me is why some people don't understand the difference between luxuries and necessities, because if they did they would be halfway to solving their problems. If you see something and think, I wish I could buy that, wouldn't it be better not to look in the first place? If you can't afford something and it causes you a lot of sadness and you think you are being deprived of a fundemental right to own that object, you are close on to becoming a slave of consumerism.
When I say look at the nitty gritty of spending, I mean an indepth conversation about why you want to buy objects that you could well live without. To discuss each individual item, what makes you want to buy it, is it because everyone else has one, is it because you are in the habit of always putting it in your shopping trolley just because it's there, is it pressure from other family members to get one, or is it because the supermarket with their, 'in your face', displays make it scream out, 'buy me'.
Another thing to look at is the value an item has for you if you buy it. Will it make your life 100% better? Will it give you many years of fun and entertainment, or will you get bored with it in six months and give it to a charity shop? If it is a large purchase you could also work out how many hours you have to work to cover the cost of it, will it be worth all the toil? Or if you live on a pension as I do, how many weekly payments will I have to forfeit in order to pay for it. It's all about balancing the value of the item with how much pleasure it will give you, and how much pain it will inflict on your finances. Is it worth it?
It has become second nature to me to question all my purchases before I part with any money. There has to be a good enough reason for me to open my purse, and the biggest reason is that I need it. It's not good enough to think, 'that would be nice', or 'I fancy that'. I know some people would eat chocolate every day, but for me it is an ocassional treat. Yes I did fancy it, but I savour the sensation, it gives me an uplifting experience and makes me feel good about life. So you see you don't need to deprive yourself from all life's little pleasures, just work out exactly what you need and what you can afford.
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