I have a grand unified theory on relative poverty. I posted about it in 2005, and I’m going to post it again, though I’ve edited it a little. Keep in mind that I penned this piece five years ago, though the core content remains relevent:
Jenny’s Grand unified theory of cash.
Everybody is poor. This is regardless of how much they earn. A sweeping statement and generalisation, yes. I can already hear the sounds of pencils being sharpened. And we’re not talking about them getting used for writing a hot reply. No. These pencils are going to be shoved where the sun doesn’t shine.
But let me stop you a moment, and assure you that I do think about what I write. Continue through what I have to say, dear reader, and post your comments at the bottom. Indulge me – it may be worth the time.
When I was a student, I just managed. I was the lucky last year that got a grant. Not that it amounted to much. But it was the year before tuition fees and that was what mattered. But there were so many other expenses. I did not leadd a decedent lifestyle, yet I was constantly hard up and dredging the limits of the overdraft. All my friends were too. That was the student way of life. As I got older and wiser and graduated with homours, I set out into the scary wider world, and began to earn money – and here is the important thing. The moment I started to have more money than I had had before, was the moment that certain things appeared to no longer be luxuries, but be necessities. Nothing had changed, except my perception of materialistic objects in light of money. So a take-away that had been a once a month treat became expected to be a once a week treat. Buying new clothes became a more regular occurance, and I expected to be able to buy more music albums on the trips to the record shops. I started to travel the country more, keeping up with friends. I felt obliged to drink nicer drinks in pubs and clubs over and above the pound-a-pint Fosters catpiss. I ate better food – Heinz beans instead of 3p per tin Aldi bullets in tomato sauce. And to this end my tastes became moulded to match my income means. As my income grew, so the transition of luxuries to necessities marches on.
It is a growth in spending that passes almost unnoticeable at the time. You do not perceive that the material artifacts that you now buy are somehow better, but merely a similar standard because you become accustomed to them. In the same way that whilst a 21st century individual might certianly baulk at the concept of using an outside crapper as demeaning and bad, a Victorian would not think so because they had never experienced anything better. If that Victorian were to be brought to the 21st century with our convenience shopping, and indoor bathrooms and central heating and quilted toilet paper, they would become accustomed to it over time and no longer treat it as the luxury they would have initially seen it is. Then transplant them back to the 19th Century, and they would view their original conditions as intolerable because their expectations have shifted.
This brings us back to the concept of Jenny’s unified theory of money. I will always spend to the limit of my means. Everybody does, bar the few exceptions of misers and silly rich. But even being silly rich does not completely remove a person from the vicious transgretion of luxuries to necessities. Take Michael Jackson as one such example. He earned a fortune from royalties every year alone. We are talking tens of millions, if not billions over his entire career. Yet he was still on the verge of bankruptcy. Why? Because his lifestyle had expanded to transgress a great many luxuries into necessities. In short – he perceived that he could not do without so much that he was buying that you or I would see as gross indulgement.
So when I find that something comes up that demands an unexpected chunk of cash, like a new exhaust on my car, or contents insurance, or I wear out a pair of shoes and must replace them I find myself feeling poor. This is because I have expanded my spending and am blinded to what I can economise on to save the money. So I am squeezed and yet some-one poorer would rightly say “hold on? Why are you buying Heinz baked beans when you are alledgedly poor? What is wrong with Aldi?” Well, because I view Heinz beans as a necessity now instead of a luxury. It is perception. I don’t need Heinz beans to live. I will not die of malnutrician if I change to Aldi beans. And the same holds true to so many things.
In recognising this phenominum, I can begin to do something about it. At various times in my life my income has changed dramatically as a result of changes in my work and house moves etc. I had to endevour to cut back, to not fritter, and to take the long hard road to converting necessities back into luxuries. It can be done, but the road is hard.
Try it yourself. Compare what you buy to that which some-one less well off than you buys. Why are you spending what you do on the stuff you get? Ask yourself that question, and you will find the answer is simply that you view too many luxuries as a necessity. Free your mind, and you will see that these are pure material objects; nothing more.
Economies extend to more than just food. I now walk everywhere I can where once I might have driven my car. I am in much better health as a result than ever before, and have lost weight. I also don’t have to spend money on petrol, and the other annoying overheads that cars incur. My computers are composed of a great many recycled bits. Raided from a skip in Hartlepool, and bins in Durham and other people’s cast-oofs I have three computers for the price of one. And they all work well.