Financial freedom is having options, not just having money to spend

I remember times when I didn’t have enough money to buy the stuff I wanted. Still plugged into the world of consumerism and advertising to some extent, the stuff I couldn’t afford bugged me.

What I discovered was not that it bothered me because I really needed the stuff and it would give me lasting improvement of quality of life. What bugged me was that I didn’t have the option of having it. I couldn’t afford it, and because I wasn’t brought up to buy consumer goods on credit I couldn’t have it.

It took a bad experience at work to show me that there was something a lot worse than not being able to afford consumer tat. It was not having options to walk away from bad situations.

Our American friends, with their delicious lack of irony, can get away with saying things that would just sound hokey and ridiculous from me. In this old newspaper clipping, which is a 1963 ad for a savings and loan company.

The Pleasure of Walking Tall (cringe)

It highlights the advantages of financial freedom –

A man with­out sav­ings is always run­ning. He  must.… He must take the first job offered, or nearly so. He sits ner­vously on chairs because any small emer­gency throws him into the hands of others.

Two-and-a-half years ago I sat in an annual appraisement, when The Firm had had a general annus horribilis due to incentivising the salesforce to sell products without evaluating whether they were profitable first. And I listened as a little twerp of a line manager told me he was going to slaughter my appraisement because the project I had been on had been cancelled and my skills didn’t fit in his area. He did it because he needed to score a decent number of negative hits. I was in a weak position, had had some upheaval in my personal life, and had no options. I didn’t have savings, so I had to sit nervously on the chair. Nowadays I would read him the riot act and launch a grievance (you aren’t actually meant to drop someone down three grades without giving them some warning in the preceding quarter, so I could have nailed him for not giving me a heads up first).

He can take a level stare from the eyes of any man.…..friend, stranger or enemy. It shapes his per­son­al­ity and his character.

The ermine is a noble and proud creature, and chose to take action so that this would never happen again. That means independence of working for a living. Getting another job is not the answer. There’ll be another jumped up twat who has just had a child, has no savings, and is desperate to achieve his objectives at my expense so he can continue to afford to pay interest on the debt buying his nice middle-class lifestyle.

Having savings, and therefore options, makes it easier to resist the blandishments of consumerism. Now, I can walk into a store and look at the stuff they have, all gaudily pushed for the weak of will. I can look at it, and think to myself “yes, that would be nice. I can easily afford it. But I’ll pass, because I don’t have a need for this stuff, and I know the want leads only to fleeting satisfaction for a few days”. After a certain point, it is the people in your life that matter, and what you do with them, not what is in your life.

Somehow, having to option of buying the stuff, without particularly breaking a sweat, makes it easier to say no. You can ignore all the 10% off, SALE, everything must GO signs. I’m old enough to have seen it all before, and rich enough and ornery enough to be perfectly happy to pass up on the offer if it means I can take the time to consider the purchase at my leisure. If the damn thing costs 50% more, so what? I don’t buy consumer goods often enough and they are such a small part of my budget that I can afford the luxury of consideration. And many of these offers are cyclical.

I don’t understand the fuss made on Martin Lewis’s moneysavingexpert site about topcashback and quidco etc. Obviously if you are going to spend a shedload of cash on some consumer goods then for sure, try and spend less using these sites. However, the truly radical money saving tip is don’t buy the stuff in the first place, guys.

Ivan Illich, seemed prophetic in the 1970s when he wrote in Tools for Conviviality

Elite professional groups . . . have come to exert a ‘radical monopoly’ on such basic human activities as health, agriculture, home-building, and learning, leading to a ‘war on subsistence’ that robs peasant societies of their vital skills and know-how. The result of much economic development is very often not human flourishing but ‘modernized poverty,’ dependency, and an out-of-control system in which the humans become worn-down mechanical parts.” Illich proposed that we should “invert the present deep structure of tools” in order to “give people tools that guarantee their right to work with independent efficiency.”

Look at so many of the products people will buy for Christmas, they are a lock-in to a complex system of more payments. For example, an Xbox, a mobile phone, Sky TV, a gym subscription, a motor car, a twin-blade razor, contact lenses. So many ways to engineer extra costs into your life, and you tend to do that once you have sunk some costs into it. It was such a relief when I sold my Sky Plus PVR to a friend at work – it had suckered me into an extra £10 a month!

There are also deliberate attempts to change time-honoured ways of doing things into things that require continuous locked-in purchases of overpriced consumables. Take a Nespresso machine, for example. What a daft way to overpay for coffee. Any product that has a club on the website should ring out ripoff alert in big letters. With a bog-standard filter coffee machine I can get my coffee from anywhere, in any quantity I want. From Tesco to some hideously overpriced London coffee emporium selling me Java Blue Mountain air-freighted fresh that morning, no doubt.

I have the choice of how strong and how much I want, by varying the grind and the ratio of water to coffee. If I am lazy, I can use a coffee machine – this is in fact how an Ermine rouses himself, by loading a coffee machine in the evening, and using a wireless remote control to start this in the kitchen from the bedroom 🙂

If I am not lazy I can use a filter cone, a French Press or a stove top espresso maker. With the exception of the filter cone, zero waste bar the bag of coffee beans, and even in the case of the cone, the waste is compostable paper.

With a Nespresso machine, my choice of coffees and choice of suppliers is narrowed massively, to the 16 of the Nespresso range and to one supplier. I’d waste an aluminium capsule each go, so wasteful that Nestle have to come up with a whole greenwash site to assuage the eco-consciences of their customers.

It’s absolutely and staggeringly bizarre. Nestle have designed a complex system to wastefully lock-in their customers by replacing a perfectly serviceable and simple range of historic methods of extracting coffee from ground coffee, purely so they could make more money. And people will willingly buy this. Illich would despair of us.

Savings. Yes, there’s a lot to be said for them. Most people save in order to buy something. That’s good, particularly is the alternative is to use credit. Though the most common reason for saving, it isn’t the only one.

I save to buy power and freedom – the freedom to walk tall in the 1963 ad. The ad looks really odd to 21st century eyes – modern ads for savings accounts emphasise saving up for something like a house, or the advantageous interest rate. I have never seen a modern ad advocating saving to buy yourself independence of thought and action. Wage slavery is too ingrained in our culture, and we have surrendered to Illich’s modernized poverty.