Category Archives: Money

Heroes and other strangers

Last night I went to bed way too late. Not because I was out partying. It’s true I did go out for a drink. But the way-too-late bit is thanks to the fact that when I came home I made myself a cup of tea, got into bed with my laptop and stayed up till 3 am watching a documentary about Steve Jobs.

I’m not even interested in Jobs (sorry). But I couldn’t find any episodes of Pan Am on the BBC iplayer (what? has it ended already?!) and I’m all caught up with Death in Paradise. So while I wasn’t all that interested in Jobs, I was already committed to the idea that I was going to unwind by watching TV in bed on my laptop … that I was going to stay up late just because I could!

The only bit of Jobs’ story that I was curious about was the reference to him as The Hippy Billionaire in the strapline of the show. Ever since I went to see my friend Zac’s play at The Fringe Festival in New York this summer (Heroes and Other Strangers*), I’ve been wondering about something:

How come a whole generation of people went counter-culture in the 60’s and they still turned out wealthy and bourgeois? Or if not wealthy, then certainly not poor. How is it possible to drop-out in your early twenties and then come back in your 30’s with a house and a car and not even a job but an actual career?

Zac Jaffee, writer and performer, in Heroes...

Jobs may be an exceptional case, but from the anecdotal stockpile in  my head, he’s not the only hippy drop-out made good.
 

After Zac’s show (which has been described as a hippy-fueled coming-of-age detective story), I asked his partner about this. His partner also happens to be my high school buddy. I thought she might know because along with most of my other high school friends, her parents were around for the 60’s (while mine were in Ireland — a country that skipped that decade).

The difference between my parents and the parents of my high school friends seemed stark to me at the time. Other parents had done drugs. Other parents had had some pretty intense “experiences”.

Other parents had different attitudes towards parenting than my own.

It was also clear that by the time I met these Other Parents they wore suits (with padded shoulders) and did things like commute to an office. At the time I didn’t think this was weird — but now I do.

 
My high school friend’s reply to my question had been that I was over-estimating the number of people that participated in the counter-culture movement and while many of these parents might have been at college at the time and up for the odd protest here and there, my friend explained to me that they were not necessarily fully-fledged members of the moving images I had in my mind. (Think Forrest Gump). They never really dropped out, she said. It was just fashionable at the time to be a bit of a hippy … but not necessarily to embrace the full Yoko Ono.

While I do trust my friend on this matter, I remain curious and let’s face it – clearly envious, that lots of people did opt for a life of love-in’s and parties and questioning the Vietnam War and fighting for civil rights …. So how did these people re-enter the commercial world and begin to command the sort of paychecks and lifestyles that their more conservative peers had been sweating over and working more steadily towards …

How did they have their cake and eat it too? The answer in Jobs case seems to be that he was amazingly visionary and utterly ruthless. But what about the average hippy? Or were none of them all that average — were all of them special sorts of people to begin with.

I still wonder about this.

The Jobs documentary shed no light on these matters for me. So if anyone out there can either shut down or verify any of the sweeping generalizations I make in this post — or even better, recommend a good book about what happened to all those hippies … please share!

* * *

*I loved Heroes and Other Strangers – and for anyone who knows me well, live performances are not really my thing — normally I get too stressed out for the people on stage to lose myself in the show and can never quite forget I am watching make-believe. But Heroes really grabbed me. Here’s a bit more about it straight from the show’s writer/performer, my friend Zac.

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Expensive coffee

Lately I’ve been self-gifting far more than is normal for me. Yesterday I went out for my morning coffee and noticed that Sweaty Betty had a pair of flip flops in the window that seemed perfect for me. I have flip flop issues. A damaged knee makes flip flop trippery a not so small matter and because my feet are big, shoes in my size tend to leave plenty of space for me to fall over – because my feet are big-long, not big-fat – in fact they are quite narrow. Fine, so there were a few special features to the Reebok flip flops that made them justifiable. But did I need the Yoga top?

Today I went out for coffee and it was even worse. I forgot my umbrella and the heavens opened so I stepped into a shop. And then another and another and another, working my way towards one very expensive cup of coffee. OK. I didn’t entirely self-gift. I bought funny t-shirts for my nieces and nephew who I am visiting soon, I bought a birthday present for a friend and at the last shop I invested in a very handsome umbrella. Again, justifiable. But I also bought myself a necklace and then a bracelet and then a bag. Oh ya, and a top. None of the items cost much, but still …. this outburst of random, unplanned spend has been pronounced lately.

In particular, I keep buying jewellery.

Now, jewellery purchase has long been a symbolic act for me. When a relationship ends I buy a ring (I’ll also buy a ring when no relationship has ended but I want my life to shove along into some sort of next phase.) And actually, I’ll buy non-symbolic-moment rings too. I have a ring buying problem. So most of the time I won’t stop and look at them. It’s too tempting. What troubles me is that I’ve branched out into bracelets and necklaces and the occasional set of earrings lately. In the past 6 weeks I have bought all of the below.

Twirling the new pebble necklace I just bought this morning it suddenly occurred to me that maybe I’m self-gifting and in particular focusing in on self-adornment in an effort to boost my self-esteem. I’ve been fat lately. Fat round the belly. In a way that I have not been before. And this nice big hefty stone and a half has proved defiant in the face of the gym – it’s become my new set point. I refuse to let this remain the case indefinitely, I will beat my fat back to where it used to be — but in the interim this might explain the whole jewellery compulsion. I just went to wikipedia and it told me the following

Under Impact on Society

Jewellery has been used to denote status. In ancient Rome, for instance, only certain ranks could wear rings; Later, sumptuary laws dictated who could wear what type of jewellery, again based on rank. Cultural dictates have also played a significant role. For example, hip hop culture has popularised the slang term bling-bling, which refers to ostentatious display of jewellery by men or women.

Under Form and Function

Jewellery has been used for a number of reasons:

  • Currency, wealth display and storage,
  • Functional use (such as clasps, pins and buckles)
  • Symbolism (to show membership or status)
  • Protection (in the form of amulets and magical wards)
  • Artistic display

Storage?  I don’t get that one. Wait — unless bags count, then I do.

And under History these points leapt out

  • Jewellery in Greece was hardly worn and was mostly used for public appearances or on special occasions. It was frequently given as a gift and was predominantly worn by women to show their wealth, social status, and beauty
  • In general, the more jewellery an Aztec noble wore, the higher his status or prestige.

Really all I can say for myself is that it’s a very good thing that I’ve never much cared for diamonds and I hope I get thin soon.

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Survey says … findings from Me & Money (2)

Last month I asked you (my public) to complete a survey about money — personal questions like how you much you earn, how much you spend, on what, whether you’re in debt, do you save or invest, does your financial situation trouble you and if so, how much?

My June 11 posting was the 1st instalment of the survey’s findings and revealed that on average most of owe more than 70% of what we earn. Not towards loans we might regard as investments – like mortgages, but against pure unsecured debt.

One of the things that struck me after attending a few sessions of Debtors Anonymous was that the people inside these programs didn’t seem any more compulsive about their spending than the average person, they were just more committed to living a saner, more balanced life and found that this depended on the support of like-minded souls rather than listening to financial advisors who can only skim the surface of the issues we have with money.

Question 38 of my survey asked to what degree respondents worried about debt along an 8 point scale that ran from “never” to “very anxious.”

Despite the huge amount of indebtedness amongst us, the stress levels of respondents is split 60/40.

The majority (i.e. the 60) are not concerned about debt:

  • 14% have no debt
  • 19% never worry about the debt they have
  • 23% are on top of it
  • 5% feel that the debt they have is “easy to sort out”

Of the 40% of us that are concerned only 7% of us are very anxious, another 16% are plain old “anxious” and a further 16% are vaguely worried.

It seems the high-stakes, debt-ridden financial collapse of 2008 hasn’t modified our tolerance for risk on any profound level.

In comparing our stressed vs non-stressed friends, some of the findings aren’t that surprising:

  • Women are more likely to be anxious about debt than men
  • People in their 30’s are more stressed than those in their 20’s or those over 4o
  • Those of us that pool our resources with a partner are more relaxed about debt than singletons or people in a money-separatist relationship

Two findings are surprising:

1. Our more anxious friends tend to be in full-time salaried employment with benefits and pensions (as opposed to part-timers or freelancers or those not in paid employment.)

2. Our most anxious friends earn substantially more than other worriers.

  • The average salary (quoted here in British £) of our anxious friends is below the national average at £23,000
  • Friends that are vaguely anxious earn an additional £5,000.
  • And our very anxious friends? Their salary average is £68,000 and when we remove low wage outliers, the average jumps up to £90,000.

Perhaps this isn’t so very surprising, perhaps the less money we have the less trouble we get ourselves into.

And on that note, are these numbers representative of the average incomes for everyone who completed the survey or just the worried minority? For the answer to that question stay tuned to the next instalment where I reveal more about what we earn.

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Survey says … findings from Me & My money (1)

Ok, so I found out some interesting, some reassuring and a few distressing points of comparison.  The headache I had analyzing the results reflects some sloppiness in test design … yes, I whacked it together on the fly … so BIG thank you, thank you, thank you to the 56 people who participated (And the 55 of you who didn’t use the comment box to snark!)

To keep things bite-sized I’m sharing the findings out across several blogs (stay tuned). The headline for today: those of us in debt, don’t do it by halves.

This chart compares your individual earnings with the amounts you told me you owe (excluding mortgages) to reveal what % of your income belongs to a creditor.

These numbers likely underestimate what you owe (and in some cases, probably substantially) seeing as I applied two assumptions to simplify the data

1) blanket assumption of 20% tax bracket (yes, a few of you pay less – but a big majority pay a lot more)

2) the debt question asked you to tick which amount you owed more than; in the analysis I very generously assumed “>12,000” was in fact 12,000 (when the next choice up was >20,000) and so forth.

Category A  represents 44% of us …if we stress amount money, we don’t stress about the debt side of it since we don’t have any. The rest of us do.

Category C people owe over 100% of their after-tax income. This bracket covers a varied collection of situations. There’s the poor “highly anxious about debt” person whose partner owes more than £100,000 even though they themselves owe nothing – the personal loans hang over them both. There are people whose debt has kept their small businesses afloat or carried a partner through a period of redundancy. There are people paying off  hefty student loans which for many is more an investment than the sort of debt explained by Imelda Marcos style tendencies, taking lots of expensive holidays or routinely living beyond our means. 

Which brings me to the whole stack of people in category B … the “normal” gang; owing 65-70% of after-tax earnings on non-mortgaged debt seems a scary average. But maybe it isn’t. Most of us seem accustomed to being in debt. The majority of respondents weren’t worried about debt (if they had some). Only 15% replied they felt anxious and just 5% very anxious. Remarkable. And nothing to do with size of earnings … as we shall see in the next installment of Survey Says.

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What do you earn?

And other shockingly personal questions. PLEASE, please, please complete my online survey. It’s 100% anonymous — I will not see your name, your data is protected. I will share back this results on this blog next week.

The survey CLOSES Sunday at high noon (UK time).

Me & My Money Survey

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Crossing the Blogging finishing line

Day 31! Have made it to the final day of the blogathon — today is the last post of the event. Of course you will still hear from me – but I go weekly from here on out, plus the odd ad hoc musing for sure.

THANKS ALL OF YOU for your comments — most of which were offline or via Facebook or text. Oh, we’re all so shy about money — and even if some of us are less so when we’re with friends, it’s very hard to do cash chat in an online room of strangers. What if your accountant is reading this? Or your mother?!

So since it’s too taboo to come right out and ask you about your income, debt, savings and shopping habits, I shall do this privately.  Please be a part of my research and take part in a totally anonymous quick survey. Link goes out later this week. In return for completing the answers you will receive the report on how you stack up compared with other blog readers.

A few words about the blogathon and blogging …

I was on my last day of a holiday in Mallorca when I came across an invite to join a month of daily blogging where the idea was to swap notes with other blogathoners along the way. Here’s what I learnt:

  • Blogging – especially enforced regular blogging, is a great way to explore a topic you’re writing about in more depth, to tease out the different issues, what you really want to say about them and what sort of thing readers want more/less of
  • If you’re new to blogging, a blogathon is the FASTEST way to force yourself to grasp the technology side of publishing it –
  • Daily blogging is a BIG committment (I don’t have all the technology mastered — apparently, there are ways you can write posts in advance and have them go live later)
  • And yet it’s not half as time consuming per blog post as I thought it would be. Yes, the odd post wrecked my head and took too long to write and I hated it anyway, most were snappy and pain-free (as I’m sure you might be able to tell sometimes)

On that note – before the Psychology of Money series, I was a relatively inexperienced blogger. I’d posted a few blogs here and there. About 6 or 7. A couple in 2008, a few more in 2009 and then I went underground and just wrote with paper and pen for 2010. Blogging invites you to publish immediately without an editor’s eye or friend’s feedback or indeed without the reflective tendencies to clear up your own sentences once you’ve slept on them.

That’s good. And bad.

My early blogs felt juvenile & embarrassing. And as I found my feet, I hated the idea that they’re out there . My poor little baby practice bloggies! But I decided it was good medicine to leave them posted and learn to live with it. At least for a while. So my prize to self for completing the blogging marathon is that today I delete those old posts. So if you didn’t read them, too bad!

Back shortly with more … on the Psychology of Money and other Panic Station considerations.

Thanks!

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Psychology of Money: 30

A few years ago I set aside a day to work through a few piles of personal finance avoidance. Instead I spent most of the day surfing the net to get to the bottom of how come I procrastinate in this area of my life and what the heck should I do about it?

Hmmmm… Yes.

 As most of us can appreciate at some level or another, procrastination is a very tricky business. Loads of self-help tries to talk you out of it with tips and tricks, but Procrastination Why You Do It and What to Do About NOW is the only serious book I’ve come across on the topic – based on over thirty years research (talk about procrastination!)

Rather than it being a reflection of a moral failing or a basic time management problem, it turns out procrastination is another one of those complex psychological issues — the roots of which gnarl through murky emotional, biological, interpersonal and cultural human tendencies. Thank goodness, yet another fault that isn’t my fault.

Because I am a little bit better than I used to be regarding the depth of my avoidance techniques when it comes to money management, I am not going to read this entire book before I sort out what I need to do next. I’m half-way through it anyway. And actually I worked out what I needed to do next about my finances some 29 blogs back… 

And yet over the course of this 31-day blogathon, depsite the fact that I publically announced in Psychology of Money: 1, 2 and 3 what I needed to do about my taxes, here we are at blog 30 and I haven’t (though somehow I can squeeze in a daily committment to blog?!)

 I’m not going to lie to you, sorting my taxes ain’t going to happen before the blogathon comes to a wrap tomorrow.

During that ½ day of my life that I lost several years ago surfing the net to get to the bottom of my procrastination, I still remember one piece of advice that I came across which struck a deep cord (clearly to no effect at the time.)

It went something like this …

Procrastinators have lied to themselves so many times – about what they’re going to do and when they’ll do it by, that they no longer have a shred of credibility with themselves.

Ok it wasn’t as harsh or as sweeping as that – but this was the gist. And the solution? Stop making any promises to yourself immediately. And when you’re ready, make a promise to yourself that you actually keep. And keep doing that – slowly making only the sorts of promises — one at a time — that you know for sure you will deliver on. The reasonable and realistic sort, based on your knowledge of yourself and your schedule and the sorts of interruptions you can bank on – what can you really get done/by when? In this way you slowly earn back your own self-trust.

As a serial over-goaler (in most areas of my life) and an avoider (in matters related to money and health), this struck me as a very sane way out.

And so I really need to sort out my taxes. My next action from 29 blogs ago was to look through a pile of papers to see if I could find an online code from 2001 and if not call the tax office and wait another 3 weeks for them to re-issue it. I know what I have on this week and there isn’t any obvious pocket of time for me to calmly flip through papers that are likely to lead to all sorts of new next actions and anxieties, but I can commit to doing this within a week. I have deadline for a project I care a lot more about which is next Sunday, therefore if I use that deadline as an excuse to avoid the paper pile for the next 6 days in a row, I’ll have no excuse this day next week.

So one way or another I’ll make the time and JUST DO IT.

Right?

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