Thursday, 16 April 2009

If life was just about budgetting TIME, I'd be ok...

This article irritated me a little. The guy implies that it's a really difficult thing to do, to live on £10 a week. I grant that it's not THAT easy and that when I do my mental weekly sort-of budget calculations there are things that I automatically drop into the 'necessary' and 'luxury' categories.

# I don't have much in the way of transport costs, because I live close to work and I can get anywhere in the city on a bike in less that half an hour. I fill the car once a month, if that, and use it mostly for going to the supermarket or transporting tat around town. I have used a bus once in my entire time living in this city, as far as I remember - not a major fan. I have a bike. I like it. Even if it creaks. It costs me around £40 a year in parts and servicing, I reckon, maybe a little bit more. Literally, peanuts.

# I cook for myself. I love food (shock) and I cooking is something I genuinely enjoy. Someone who didn't would find all of this harder. I reckon the only pre-prepared products I buy regularly that are more expensive to make than to buy are bread, pesto and bacon. I might solve the bread thing at some point, but that will be more because I want to be able to make good bread rather than for saving money reasons. I'm prepared to buy bread.
# I try and buy meat with bones in so that I can make stock from it, for soups and so on. I don't buy much meat, at that. A chorizo sausage will last me a few weeks, as will a packet of bacon. Chicken thighs or a whole chicken represent several meals. Vegetables and pulses are great. Veggie chilli. Veggie curry. Stew made with two portions of meat that will feed six at least because of the quantity of leeks in it. Refried beans with a tin of tomatoes stirred through for chilli for 3.
# I'm getting better at doing this properly - the feeding myself with food I like without spending a lot of money. Fewer meals involve pasta and pesto than they did at college or when I was 18. I LIKE pasta, pesto, peas and bacon/chorizo, though, so that tends to feature once a week on a day I'm in a hurry or have run out of whatever the main dish I made that week was. I'm sparing with the pesto and the bacon though...they make many portions.

# I don't think in weeks, and I use the freezer. Is working by month cheating? Surely just better planning. I did a shop the other day that I hope will last me for two or three weeks, with milk top ups.
# I also share. £20 for two is much easier than £10 for one. It means £80 for a month for two of you.

# The glaring one for most people is booze. Or maybe it's that for me because I don't find going without alcohol most of the time I hardship. Any booze is a luxury. I usually have a bottle of whiskey or tequila/triple sec (for margaritas) around. I'm pretty certain I don't drink one of them a month though.

# Designating something 'luxury', and therefore allowing it to come out of a different area of budget is the problem bit. I tend to count more or less ANY meat in this category, and I do usually have SOME of that around in some form - even if it's a chorizo I use very sparingly that's in the back of the fridge. Exciting chillis. Unusual spices. Fresh herbs (that I haven't grown). Any booze, for me anyway. Good chocolate - I aim at one bar a week as a sort of staple that lives in the fridge at work, to prevent me going down to the café for stupidly expensive Wispas (mmm Wispas) with the other girls I work with. I do like to have it to cook with though - for hot chocolate, or brownies, or other baking. That's something else - baking. I have controlled myself a bit recently, but I DO love doing it. Not a necessity, but sometimes actually cheaper than having fruit for pudding.

# And then there are things that aren't food. The toiletries and house stuff - they're just necessary. Having my car fixed is, too. [I'm waiting with nervousness to see how much it's going to cost me this time. Arg.] Presents for people. There are times when they are necessary, to show how you value a friendship. They don't have to be big things - thought is most of the point, but it's nigh on impossible to do without spending SOME money. As is going out once in a while with your mates. That's not actually a luxury, though it's only fair to everyone not to make it too much of an expensive obligation if inviting people out for dinner or whatever. We need each other, and we're only any good to one another if we see one another and know what's going on in each other's lives. So going to London to see that crowd or cooking dinner for Carl or others or going to the pub with the choir are important things to do. Carefully. As is buying my wonderful girlfriend chocolate or flowers or a beer or some badges or, this being Traci, some exciting chilli of some sort when she feels sad and it needs more than just a hug, or I'm looking for a NEW way to tell her I love her. Once in a while, things like that need to happen. Hard to budget for. I guess that's why we have savings, and instant access ones at that. Which is why savings have a massively important place in any budget. I must bump mine up...


  1. Mmm, interesting. It sounds like my namesake at the Grauniad may never have been a ("typical") uni student, though he must have been through journalism school at least.

    The frugal-living thing is something that plenty of uni students have to get to grips with, though of course plenty more don't, largely depending on age and background. Being good at combining simple ingredients in a tasty way is something you're very lucky to be able to do. I'm getting there, but I only really started to get the hang of it towards the end of my degree.

    But I see why the article irritates you - he's just approaching it the wrong way altogether. I've always (well, since going to uni and becoming more-or-less independent) tried to keep things simple - but it needs to be approached much more holistically than he did. And sincerely - he was, self-admittedly, doing it for an article. You've got to really want it to have much chance of succeeding.

  2. Well, I can see why it would irritate you, but I can also see his point. I've heard of people doing these kinds of things before and have also had to suddenly revert to a much stricter budget myself and find there's many different ways of looking at it.

    The first thing is that the difficulty is really a matter of relation. If you've been able to afford the things he obviously can, it seems more difficult to do without. It's easy to condemn people for that point of view, because lots of things "we cannot do without" are really superfluous to life. Do you really need toilet paper or could you do without as many people in the world have to? The more money you have, the more you lose your grip on how many things are really not necessary for life.

    My point being that your viewpoint, having school just behind you, is different than mine, since I finished uni and the accompanying budget, long ago. I've gotten used to being spoiled in the sense that I don't always have to turn every penny thrice before spending it. Randomly, when I am broke, i.e. have no cash for food and the like, I always console myself with the fact that I have a good place to live and am not out on the street, like so many people.

    The second thing that bothers me personally with such experiments is that living on £10 a week for a week is really not the same as living on £10 for years. Even when I've had to tighten my budget, I do so knowing that I have certain stores of things (toilet paper is one) that I won't need to purchase for a while. That takes a lot of pressure off of the £10. The troubles really don't start until you have used up your reserves. Suddenly it becomes a lot more difficult. So, I understand it when he says it's not fair to the millions out there who don't do this as a game. Once you realise that, it becomes quite difficult to keep the experiment real in your mind. You know you're "cheating" before you've even started.

    Also, there's the point you made yourself that buying for two is much better than buying for one. That's where most third world countries have one up on us. Many more people live together and can pool resources. Once you get to my age, and are living in a "wealthy society", having to pool resources is looked down upon by others. Say I got a room mate for financial reasons. I know I'd take flack for it at work - not that I'd care because I really don't. I'm just saying that expectations change according to your circumstances and refusing to fork over for certain things (like a pint on Friday after work) can earn you ridicule and loss of social acceptance. Such a loss is important to most people in Western society where you often don't have the same family/social network as you might in rural China where people band together to survive. I suppose I should interject that people in our types of society also tend to forget that not everyone has a partner or family. They expect me to be able to afford the same things as my co-workers who have working spouses and no children, even though I have no one to share rent and expenses with - and the dogs have yet to earn any money. So again, their viewpoint is relative, which brings us back to the beginning of my answer.

    It's an interesting dilemma and one I'd love to discuss in person rather than trying to gather my thoughts here. I'm afraid I haven't expressed myself very well. I just wanted to say that I do understand where the guy was coming from when he wrote that article.

  3. I think I'd have difficulty. While I'm not that bad with money, I think £10 would be hard. Mostly because I think I'd want to spend it on things like nicer food, which I am very bad at because I don't really know how to cook and so end up buying stuff which would probably be cheaper to make myself. And then there'd be the travel - round Manchester wouldn't be a problem but a round trip home to Bucks to see my mum and the rest of my family would be £35 - leaving me £5 for the rest of the month, which *would* be a challenge!!

  4. I guess I just found the article slightly insulting to all of the people who do live in a similar society to him but who have to watch every penny. Fine that he found it hard, and fine that he lives the way he does. It doesn't sound stupidly extravagant, and why not if you can afford it. But a little bit of respect to people who do well on next to nothing would have been polite, I guess.