Money scares the crap out of me. It shouldn’t really, given that it didn’t seem to be a major issue when I was a child. Everyone around me seemed to manage it quite well. Or at least from my childhood perspective it appeared that way. I’ve always had a morbid fear of debt, of somehow ending up destitute. I suspect this is what drives me to put money away. I seem to have a very simplistic view of economics, ie, I obtain money and I put it away until it’s needed. Which is mostly when I need food or clothing or fuel. It’s quite hard for me to reach into that pot that I’ve put away for anything other than basics and necessities. I don’t seem to take onboard that there is replenishment each month. Which means that what is removed will ultimately be replaced over time. It’s almost as if what goes out is gone forever and will never be recovered. I’ve always found it hard to understand any of the complexities of economics. Things like interest, compound interest, percentages, hire purchase, credit, mortgages, stocks and shares, hedge funds all make me want to curl up foetal fashion in a corner and suck my thumb.
I think that the earliest I can remember coming into real contact with money was when I was about 5 or 6 years old. I was given a toy cash box, very like the one in the photo. I was also given a few coins to put in it, which I think were the beginnings of a weekly amount of pocket money that I was now deemed to be old enough to receive. The concept of saving my pennies for the things I wanted to buy, ie, sweeties, was explained in very simple terms to me.
I don’t think I was old enough then, or maybe just not sophisticated enough, to have grasped the concept of deferred gratification. So the saving habit didn’t last very long. Every Saturday morning I was given my pocket money and it was straight off to the newsagents to buy my sweeties and comics. This must have been a financially blissful period for me as there were no pressures on me to somehow earn my keep at that time. Mostly, things were just bought for me by my parents and the pocket money was simply a bonus, and a bonus that I had responsibility for and control over.
That word control, coupled with responsibility, is key I think to my fear/anxiety around money. It seemed to be a frequent topic of conversation amongst the adults around me, and I think I learned somehow that one had to be careful with it. Apart from some warnings about borrowing, gambling and debt, my dad didn’t really explain anything to me about money management. And as I grew older I think I picked up that there was a considerable amount of anxiety in the adults around me; particularly in relation to money and if they were anxious, it probably meant that I needed to be anxious too. So I think I ended up very cautious and risk averse around the subject.
As my pocket money increased, I began to spend it on more expensive items. A favourite item was a kit from the Airfix model range. These also fed into my practical and creative nature, as some of them could be quite challenging to build. However, as I hadn’t really got into the saving habit many of the larger, more complex kits remained out of reach. These bigger purchases were always made by the adults around me, usually my mum.
I think I did some occasional pocket money jobs in my teens. One of which was cleaning the local bus shelter. The Labour was shared between me and a friend of mine and usually involved sweeping it out and washing the windows. I never had a paper round or anything regular. School work was considered the main priority.
When I started my apprenticeship I was given a weekly pay packet and while initially I was required to hand over some of it to my mum, the habit very soon went by the wayside. There was no discussion or argument about this, it just seemed to be gradually forgotten about on both sides.
For the life of me I can’t remember what I did with the money. I didn’t have a bank account (although I do remember having a Post Office savings book) until a few years later, so I think I was just spending it week by week. Like many of my contemporaries I got quite fashion conscious so I figure that’s where most of it went.
I don’t know why but I’ve always been nervous about buying face to face. Stores and supermarkets were easy, as I just picked what I wanted and took it to the counter. Individual small shops were a different matter. Here I had to deal face to face and for some reason that could bring up a lot of anxiety for me. It always felt somehow confrontational. I remember walking into a small electrical store to buy a cassette tape recorder I’d seen in the window. I walked up to the counter to be confronted by a man who could have been one of my teachers from school days. He wasn’t very chatty or engaging and just laid the item on the counter for me to inspect. For my part, I didn’t really have a clue what to look for or what questions might be appropriate to ask about the machine. It was all I could do to stop myself running out of the shop at that point. I think my embarrassment kept me rooted to the spot, and I duly handed over my hard earned cash and walked out with the cassette recorder under my arm. Now was I pleased with myself at having made my first big purchase? Not a bit, instead I immediately felt an overwhelming sense of guilt, that I had spent all that money on myself.
Over a lifetime, I seem to have come full circle in my approach to money; from being relaxed, naive and unstressed about parting with it, to being anxious, risk averse and almost neurotically careful about it. To this day I am incredibly bad at spending money, and at the other end of the spectrum I am very good at putting it away; of saving it for a rainy day. Of course, it’s never quite rainy enough. I will procrastinate for months about treating myself to anything and even then, having decided it’s a “want” and not a “need”, I’ll walk away from it.
In my teens and later years I never got into chasing money. It was as if the weekly wage wasn’t the most important goal of the job I was in or even of life itself. I couldn’t see the point of doing something I didn’t enjoy just because it paid well; it just seemed a waste of time to me. Of course the ideal would have been doing something challenging and interesting that I got paid well for. But jobs like that seemed hard to find. In fact, through the 1970s to the 1990s, jobs of any description became harder to come by. Labour markets seemed to get more volatile, particularly for someone with my skill base. I went through more than my share of periods of unemployment. Which is something else that teaches you a lot about money. I discovered a level of adaptability I didn’t know I had. It was a case of make do, mend or simply live without. I guess it was these periods that really taught me the difference between a “need” and a “want”.