I’m 38, I earn a decent wage, I work full time and I don’t have debts and or use credit cards. In fact I am lucky to earn slightly more than the national average for my age which the Office for National Statistics cited in 2013 as typically £13.93 per hour, equivalent to an annual salary of nearly £26,000, for a 35-hour week. Yet I can’t afford to buy a new coat.
My salary pays for my rent, my utility bills, my mobile, my internet, my car and contents insurance, my petrol, and a basic food budget. But then there is very little left. If I am earning slightly above the national average and I can’t afford to buy a new coat – then who can?
Focus on the gap between inflation and wages comes and goes in the headlines with talk of things getting easier. I haven’t noticed. In fact I’ve been broke since I was made redundant 9 years ago and been climbing back up that slippery pole ever since. Having well and truly been immersed in a culture of high living costs I don’t think the majority of people mind at all at having to ‘go without’ a few things or having to decide to spend money on one thing or another, but not both. You learn to be thrifty out of necessity. If you want to spend your small amount of spare money then you make sacrifices elsewhere right? It gets to the point when there is very little left to pare back on, but I know I have to keep trying to. Just as well that I’ve decided to go on a diet, and no I don’t mean a diet that will cost me money to follow, oh no, I mean cutting back on calories/intake, pure and simple.
Where does it end though, this frugality? Because no matter how much responsibility I take the shame of being without funds is at times toe-curling, as it must be for many people. The kind offers for bail-outs (again) by loving family excruciatingly mark your inability to get out the ‘broke cycle’. The pursued and attained pay rises just pitch miserably alongside living costs and never quite above. I am chasing my proverbial tail in hand-me-down clothes around secondhand furniture. I’m not a diva who gets bored in an instance. I’m not of the throwaway culture – I still wear that sweatshirt from sixth form 22 years on. I’ve never owned a new car and never intend too. I do want to pay my way though. And I would like a winter coat which keeps me warm and dry without having to take out a loan to buy one. I want to be able to feel the security that my dogged determination, and difficult decision-making to enable me to get back on the career ladder should be buying me.
I’ve shared houses with loonies to save money, I stacked shelves after being made redundant from a qualified job, I’ve cleaned toilets, I’ve worked two jobs racking up 50-60 hours a week, I’ve started again, from the bottom – twice.
So how do we do it? Those of us whose hearts crescendo with worry when your car won’t start, a bill goes up, or a zip breaks? When faced with voices suggesting that you get your car serviced, or just buy something new and you know not only that you can’t right now, but also that you won’t be able to for a long time. How can the cost of independence be so impossibly high?