Frugality and the myth of the endless more

Most of us are rich compared to previous generations, but we are surrounded by talented storytellers who tell us otherwise. These storytellers are paid handsomely to change our perception of the world, because they want us to buy more stuff. Humans love stories, it is how we try and make sense of the world around us, but because of this the stories and myths are powerful, precisely because they frame our thinking.

Somebody asked me recently if I could give them something actionable they could do to be more frugal. I gave a bit of a double-take, because I don’t particularly regard myself as frugal, but I’m game for it. But first I gave it some thought – what does frugal mean to them? I have a sneaking suspicion that being frugal means something different now than what it used to mean. Nowadays, I would venture for most people the definition1 is

Frugality is not spending more than you earn

How the hell did we get here? In previous generations not spending more than you earn was the default assumption, frugality was either spending less than you earn, or having to spend as little as possible because your household income was seriously constrained. We’ve shifted a long way to where the norm is spending up to your ability to raise credit.

The fallacy that credit increases spending power

Look at MoneysavingExpert’s forums. There are three forums devoted to credit cards. The first – Credit Cards – is about the normal usage and abusage of credit cards, with the emphasis on the latter. The one about Stoozing (free cash from credit cards) is a misnomer these days – you can’t get free cash from credit cards, though it used to be possible. 2


credit card mandala

The next one is Credit File and Ratings, which is all about people bitching about not being able to borrow yet more money because they are perceived a bad risk –  either they defaulted previously or they’re just not rich enough. MoneySaving Expert should simply put up a big pop-up dialogue box when anyone posts on this board saying

HAHA – Consumer Sucka – you have already borrowed more money than you can afford, Stop. Wrong Way, Turn Round now. Pay some back or Just. Stop. Overspending.

But they don’t. Presumably there’s money in it for MSE 😉 The questions on that board about how to become a better risk (borrow less, pay some back)are far and few between compared to the ones about ‘what is the best way to game this faceless system so I can borrow more money because I Must. Have. Now?’

Spending Power ≠ Cashflow

The trouble is that credit is not there to increase spending power. It is there to manage cashflow.This was much more apparent in the early ads from the 1970s

I’m Access. he’s Money
Here’s a new way of looking at us

I won’t run out on you. He will. Money does a wonderful disappearing act. Usually in the wrong place at the wrong time. But I’m always in your pocket, ready to buy what you need, when you need it. And when Money isn’t big enough to pick up the bill, which he often isn’t these days – you can call on me to get things settled.

I’m flexible. He’s not. My flexibility means that when he’s stretched, I’m not. Using me, you can buy essentials immediately and spread the repayments over whatever period of time suits you best. At this time of year, you could call on me to buy all the presents, drinks, decorations, everything. In fact you could give Money a complete Christmas break. He looks like he needs it.

Access – your flexible friend (Telegraph Sunday magazine, Christmas 1978)

You can see some of the rot setting in, the first paragraph talks of needs and the second starts off with essentials. it then all goes titsup when there’s the mention of Christmas. Christmas is a want, even if you have children. It is not a need. If the choice is paying the rent or paying for Christmas, let Christmas go hang – your kids need a roof over their heads more than they need consumer tat.

Charlotte can’t afford Christmas this year

Around Christmas 42 years later from the ad this TV producer can’t qualify wants for needs, never mind introduce her daughter to the sad fact that you can’t always have what you want in life. Thatcher, bless her simplistic heart, believed that

her vision of Britain was of a property-owning democracy of savers with moral restraint. She got indebted spendthrifts. She wanted the British people to be like her father, but they turned out more like her son.

The cashflow function of credit cards still holds. One of the best ways for a retiree with a steady income to use a credit card is in fact as an emergency fund. This was cited by Jacob ERE and indeed he also cited the exception which is why an Ermine doesn’t use that – I have no income3. A retiree with a pension has a steady income, so he doesn’t need to carry a cash float against modest emergencies, and for major ones like house burning down there is insurance. If the roof leaks they can use the credit card, and pay it back over a couple of years. Emergencies shouldn’t be a regular occurrence, else they are normal costs of operation and maintenance.

It’s questionable whether an employed person can use the same method, depends on how likely they are able to find another job if they get fired, because that’s a very likely sort of emergency in one’s working life. All other uses of credit cards that carry a balance are basically a way to pay more for for less. Say you are one of MSE’s Consumer suckas carrying a balance of £20,000 on a 5% APR card. To put a dent in that loan you have to spend less than you earn, which you don’t want to do, and say you buy £10,000 worth of stuff each year and pay off £11000 on the card. So you carry the loan. Effectively you are buying £10,000 worth of goods for £11,000. Well done you. It’s like looking out for anti-sales – everything must go – 10% dearer today. Of course you’ll chase the cashback and the Clubcard points and sing about the 1% off. It is, after all, a much nicer story than the 10% you’re paying over the odds year on year.

More credit means we get into arms races with each other

One fellow, presumably a dyed-in-the-wool laissez-faire free-marketeer, opined that the increase in credit kicked off by Margaret Thatcher relaxing credit controls in the  early 1980s that I ranted about here was a good thing. We all, pure intellectual rational agents that we all are, decided that we would use this money to sink shitloads of money in increasing the price (not the value, the price) of houses, because free markets and free agents brought us this result so it was obviously what we all wanted. In the same way as our tax pounds going to Help To Buy has had the thrilling effect of raising house prices by £8000 because as any fule kno what first time buyers really really want, is for some kind fairy godmother to give all the other blighters they are in competition with some extra money so they have to pay more for the house.

I’m of the opinion that sometimes you shouldn’t be allowed to do what you want to do, but presumably I’m a Trotskyist dirigiste rather than a follower of Ayn Rand. More consumer  credit is fundamentally bad, because it encourages people to live beyond their means. It still beats me why it is allowed so much – it’s not like it actually lets people Buy More Crap. To be honest if they were buying their consumer goods without credit they’d be buying more goods and services  – our MSE Consumer Sucka could be buying £11,000 worth of Consumer Crap rather than £10,000 worth and sponsoring a bank with the remaining £1000 p.a. – what’s so special about banks that they deserve a 10% tithe of his contribution to GDP?

This is part of the evil heart of darkness behind the way we have set up our economy – it demands that we chase the endless more, and indeed credit does let us get more faster – and then we get a little bit less for our money as we service the deadweight interest of the loans. That way madness lies, and it’s called a Money Shop. WTF is the price of money in a money shop? Any time you are paying more than £1 for £1 you should be asking yourself why.

The myth of progress being the endless more

Let’s say we have some technical advance that means it costs half as much to produce product X. We can use that in two ways. We can rejoice that we only need to work half as long to buy the same amount of X as we had before, and then use the rest of our time to spend more time with loved ones, do something else more interesting than working with half our time. Interestingly enough, you 21st century wage slave are probably getting the short end of the stick here compared with mediaeval peasants, because what we do with greater productivity isn’t take more time off4, which is what people initially did with improvements in efficiency. Presumably the advantage the peasants had over us is that since a day’s travel on horseback is about 20 miles there was a limited supply of replacement labour ready to ride in from out of town and undercut them; whereas if you want to take a sabbatical in a highly paid industry you may find yourself out of a job unless you are unique or can nobble the competition. As a result you start to see success as the endless more, because it’s hard to vary your time at work5, unlike the peasants.

Mo’ betta

We buy more, or we simply pay more for stuff we need, like housing. Funny old world, isn’t it? Say you were a Martian and got out of your shiny green spaceship and looked at how western consumer culture worked. You’d scratch your head and go WTF? These guys are surrounded by historically stupendous abundance, and they charge round like blue-arsed flies after more of this abundance, then grouch to each other how they never have time to see their kids?

The trouble is those stories we tell ourselves – success is always faster, better, cheaper, more. That assumption underlies so many of the stories that surround us that we start to believe it’s true. More is not always better – for instance it appears that we are becoming fat bastards because average portion sizes are slowly being ramped up. The connection with more=better means we waste a fifth of the food we buy.

Mo’ betta’s evil twin, hedonic adaptation

We notice differences more than absolute levels, above certain limiting thresholds. Which means our appetite for more is limitless, if we just follow our instincts. That’s taken humanity to some bad places in terms of excess consumption. In the 1970s your British middle class family might have gone on a foreign holiday every other year. From looking at Facebook it seems four times a year is the minimum these days. Now granted it’s got cheaper, but are they having four times as much fun? The experience of flying anywhere truly sucks nowadays compared to 20 years ago, you can say two good things about it – it is much cheaper and you get there a little faster. Just about everything else is worse. And yet more is more…

Curiously enough, it’s easy though rarely done to nut hedonic adaptation – increase the gap between your hedonic experiences, and if possible make the gaps variable. If you want to pay a few hundred on a restaurant, do it every six months or yearly. It will be more special to you than spending the same amount of money per year on something more quotidian, or shudder, a weekly stop at Mickey D’s6. You probably need to squeeze the gaps out to quarterly or more to avoid normalising on the experience.

We are programmed to buy

Let’s take a little bit of sage advice from this dear waif who delivered herself of the deathless wisdom that if you have savings in your twenties, you’re doing something wrong. Unlike many in the PF scene, I actually have some sympathy for the message in the title, largely from a cycle-of-life point of view – it is very hard to get started as an independent adult and always has been. Sometimes you have to pay out all your income, to be honest if you are in your twenties and just avoid spending more than your income I’d say you’re doing a damn sight better than most of your peers, who come on MSE’s credit card forums all dazed and confused why they are getting dunning letters. Let’s examine the random noise that passes for cognitive thought in our waif’s cranium, and see if we can detect any coherent signal.

I don’t have any savings, but I also don’t have any wants.

Crikey, this young lady has discovered Zen Nirvana a long time before this greybeard. I am in awe of her precocious wisdom, she’s obviously up on the literature of Thoreau, who delivered himself of the same message more poetically

A woman is rich in proportion to the number of things which she can afford to let alone.

Hats off to you, Lauren. Unfortunately it all goes pear-shaped right after that

don’t know about you, but I like to enjoy my life. I like to go out to eat, buy clothes I don’t “need” and spend money with friends on memorable nights out.

Hmm, so what exactly are these wants you don’t have? For starters you have associated enjoying your life with spending money, enough to enumerate a  bunch of manufactured experiences, clocking ERE’s trifecta in two lines

In general, if you ask the average consumer what enjoying life is all about, it distills to the following trifecta: buying tickets, going to restaurants, and shopping.

Well done Lauren. Hero to zero in the first paragraph. She does go on to make some fair points that young people may delay reaching some life stages compared to their parents; this is not unreasonable if they are going to live longer. I have much sympathy with the longer adolescence theory – I wasn’t an adult at 18 and probably only just at 21, which was where the threshold of adulthood used to be considered before the 1960s. So that’s the long explanation of how we got to living within your means being considered frugal these days. Too much Lauren YOLO. Anyway, back to our frugalista:

Ermine to wannabe frugalista – live intentionally

What is something that a typical consumer could do? Live more intentionally. We make most of our decisions about spending in a framework of do we have enough money. And yet we are selling precious minutes of our life here. Here was my idea for the prospective frugalista, the techniques are not original to me, but it’ll do:

  • For the next week, note everything you spend. At the end of the week, look back over it, and ask yourself – did this enhance my quality of life proportionately? Classify into wants – that’ll be all of Lauren’s purchases, and needs – tickets to work, groceries etc.
  • Work out how much time you have to spend going to work (including commuting time) to pay for it – if you earn £80k for a 200-day 8-hour day + 4 hours commute  and take home £54k p.a.  net and pay £2k on commuting then your hourly rate is 52,000 ÷ 200 ÷ 12 = £22/hr
  • Armed with this insight, for the next week, simply delay buying any Wants for 24 hours. The next day, ask yourself if you want to buy this Want, and if the answer is yes, knock yourself out

These helped me; I still use the technique of waiting for 24 hours for some things. For some people it works well enough to take five and attune to whether this purchase is really worth it to them. The 24 hour delay is usually enough to get yourself into a different emotional frame of mind, and this often enough to split off something that looks like a good idea at the time from something that looks like a good idea all the time. It easily halves wants.

The reason this works is because it is often how you spend your time that matters, rather than how you spend your money. Armed with that knowledge you can often get better value for your money – the stories the ad-men tell us are that it’s all about the money. That’s bollocks – it’s often more about the who, the how, the when and the why. But these are elements not in the admen’s control, so they push the story that it’s about how you spend your money.

This is one of the reasons early retirement can work well, even though it is never a wise thing to do financially – you always have more money if you work longer. But if time matters more than money for many experiences, the trade can be a win, and many things are much cheaper if you can take longer or be flexible on timing. You can never have enough money to feed every Want, so the secret is in knowing yourself well enough to discriminate between your wants. Some of them are your wants, but all too many of them are illusory, the background radiation of an economy that needs the endless more to survive. As time goes by it’s about the who and the how and the when and the for how long, and less about the what. There’s a delicate balance in all these parameters, and only a very faint sound of Thoreau’s distant drummer to guide you to your inner voice. The rest is the boorish shouting of admen and sales types who want you to sponsor their dreams.

  1. for the sake of completeness I’d make the integration time a calendar year, to catch all recurring costs 
  2. Some people labour under the misapprehension that cashback, topcashback, points et al are free money. They aren’t. You are being slightly overcharged for your goods and then sell a bit of your headspace to the card companies to normalise increased spending in return for a little bit of cashback. You save far more than the cashback by just buying 5% less consumer shit. But each to their own – believe the story you want to hear if you like 
  3. this is increasingly untrue because my ISA throws off a fair bit more income that I would get claiming JSA, but since I reinvest that I don’t count it as income 
  4. there is an argument to be made that early retirement is one way of taking more time off 
  5. this is more an aspect of working for an employer – if you are a contractor or you are The Boss you have some flexibility here 
  6. £560 for two incl wine at Raymond Blanc’s joint is about the same cost as a year’s worth of weekly Big Mac meals for two in Oxford 

42 thoughts on “Frugality and the myth of the endless more”

    1. A most excellent post this, and rather prescient for a blog post made five years ago, especially given the times in which we now find ourselves. I rather wonder how the “dear waif’s” attitude to life may have changed now that the fecal matter and fan have collided so suddenly and spectacularly. The trouble if you like be like there’s no tomorrow is that there probably will be no tomorrow – for you at least.

      “….the boorish shouting of admen and sales types who want you to sponsor their dreams.“……
      Long ago I read a book called “The Hidden Persuaders”. It totally changed the way I viewed the materialistic world around me and also made me realise just how good the ad men and big corporations were at systematically pushing our buy buttons. Thankfully the notion of “Retail Therapy” I have long viewed more as “retail trauma” myself, so I’m not as afflicted with the hair-trigger buy button I notice so frequently among friends and colleagues.

      I’ve been a reader of your excellent blog for a few years but re-reading this older post is the first time I’ve thought to reply. No doubt a lot of confirmation bias at play but I really do enjoy the blog so a hat tip to you ermine.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks! This problem has been a long time in the making – that book was written before I was born 😉

        Our dear waif is still writing so presumably she got away with saving nowt. She very wisely avoids the topic of personal finance, now!

        I could also do with listing to my younger self 😉

        > One of the best ways for a retiree with a steady income to use a credit card is in fact as an emergency fund.

        I am that guy now, and I need to get more of my EF invested, it was designed for the troubled journey across the gap between leaving work and drawing my pension…


  1. Great post, as ever. Burning the midnight oil to get it finished i assume from the time of posting it! But hey, it’s not a job if you ENJOY what you are doing, & ain’t that the truth!

    Much like the myth of cashback “savings”, the retail “sales” myth that surrounds most products still continues to confound me: “Look i got this great X at a £50 saving…. it was originally £100 but it was reduced to £50!!!”.

    Er…. no, mostly the company have reduced the price because they couldn’t find enough suckers to pay £100 for each unit of stock they bought themselves. You are still better off looking for an an equivalent X for £40 of course.

    I also tend to leave it at least 24hrs before i buy something…. it’s a technique that works so well & i probably don’t buy about 95% of the things i look at ;-).


  2. I’m going to be the idiot who stands up for cashback. I just renewed my contents insurance (a need not a want in my opinion), I will probably get £32 cashback via quidco (it’s never a certainty), and if I don’t the new policy was as cheap as anything else on the comparison sites anyway. I also paid on a cashback credit card for an extra 0.5% back.

    I agree this isn’t ‘free’ money – it’s factored into the price of the insurance, especially if you’re stupid enough to exhibit loyalty at renewal time, and the credit card fee charged to the insurer. But if I’d paid on a debit card and avoided the cashback site, it wouldn’t have cost me any less. It would be nice if I didn’t have to jump through these hoops and the price was just lower up front, but I don’t think that’s one of the options I can choose from.

    I’m not going to get rich off this, but the 0.5% cashback takes no effort at all and the £32 cashback took well under two hours to ‘earn’, so I don’t feel this was a bad use of my time.


  3. Hi Ermine, great post on a complex subject, In my Early Retirement I find myself thinking a lot about my relationship to work, money and time. It’s a bugger to work and save for ER only to get there and find you kind of miss work! There is a dignity in labour, and all that. Nice to have the time to think about it though.


  4. Another sweet post. I think that at the end of the day, it’s quite simple, life is not easy for most of us who weren’t born with silver spoons in our mouths.

    But people want everything now & don’t want to sweat for it, so the vultures who sell, tell them that there is a magic way it can be done – ”you can have an awesome life now, by paying a little more for it overall, but don’t worry, that’s over a longer time” ……. which does seem so reasonable in words.

    People want their cake & to eat it too, that’s a fact of life & it’ll never change. At a biological level, there are 2 fundamental, primitive urges, the avoidance of pain & the pursuit of pleasure. Exploiting these cognitive biases is like taking candy from a baby for the advertising & other predatory industries, the sheeple already want to believe in things that are too good to be true.

    So until people take responsibility for their actions & refuse to be infantilised, they will be devoured by an assorted army of corporate parasites & predators. C’est la vie, sadly …….& it was ever thus.

    As you say, in living memory, today’s definition of ‘frugality’ was just a part of plain old common sense. Some things never change though, irrespective of technology or psychology – like ”a fool & his money are soon parted”…….


  5. @Underscored – nice- he’s not an attractive fellow but he knows a thing or two. Wearemitu thrashed the bejesus out of my 7-year old laptop though – scripts upon scripts in there!

    @Livingcheap – 95% hit rate eh, wow. I find the 24hr rule loses about 50% of wants for me. Still strange sometimes to look back and ask myself “Self, how ever this that look like a good idea yesterday?”. Oddly enough way back in 2009 I needed more time – I started off with 7 days unless it was over £100 where I’d pitch for a month delay.

    @Steve I did try topcashback some time ago, but either I am doing something wrong or I simply don’t buy enough stuff for it to work for me, and I resented the headspace I was giving it. So it may be your buying pattern is different from mine. As I get crabby and older and also a little bit richer I’m increasingly prepared to leave money on the table to avoid giving marketers information, but that’s just me!

    @Jim McG – interesting, since being FI it’s not the money you miss, and somewhere I think you said volunteering didn’t work for you, so it’s an interesting conundrum to try and nail what it is you miss about work, perhaps some combination of rewards effect?

    @Survivor I kind of miss some aspects of the postwar consensus, when the Establishment did seem to have some feeling of the duty of care to the serfs. The old mortgage limitations were a stitch-up cartel, but average house prices were running at 3.5 times earnings where now we have six.

    Our primitive urges were just as greedy then – but the army of corporate parasites & predators were held back just a teeny bit! Even credit was less malign – you could could fill your house with stuff on HP but eventually you did have to make that final payment or lose your TV, where now revolving CC debt is the silent thief that keeps on taking 😦


  6. I believe you are either smart enough to see through the “conspicuous consumption” hype – or you are not. While it helps to grow up modestly as the son of Depression era parents and marry the daughter of Italian immigrants, that isn’t enough if you don’t keep your wits about you when times are good in later life.
    My daughter had the advantage of “enough” in her life to get a good education without being in debt. She also traveled with us a bit, so she learned about the world beyond her borders. She is a good saver and practical thinker without ever experiencing the “school of hard knocks” environments her parents grew up in. So I think genetics has quite a lot to do with it.


    1. I think character is a huge part of it too though, I am one of 3 offspring born to a couple where one was a hard-working, totally frugal, simple, sensible, humble, Italian immigrant, yet out of the 3 of us kids, the last one one turned out to be somehow very, very profligate, despite the exact same upbringing.

      Even if this is due in a part to birth order – in that the last child often benefits from the ice-breaking, previous life struggles of the older siblings & so subconsciously just feels that they will always be OK, [because they have always been bailed out before – like the unjust, bankers bailout guarantee] on their part it’s now a real conscious effort of avoiding painstakingly-gained family wisdom, because that’s convenient.

      The real ugly truth though, is that some people are just stupid, others want a free ride & some just never had a chance, in that they weren’t educated enough to understand all the options so they could make a genuine choice.


    2. I remember the bit in Bill Bryson’s The Lost Continent where he was talking about how his father was a child of the Depression, so very reluctant to spend money on, er, well, “pretty much anything” (especially something you were mostly going to spend eight hours asleep in, which made me smile).

      I guess it’s sadly possible, though far less common, to find people who are biased “the other way”, i.e. heavily influenced by appalling early life experiences and consequently very resistant to spending at all.

      I recall a newspaper story over here many years ago about an old man who had just died, somewhere in the Midlands I think. He lived in a large somewhat rundown house with a number of old cars littering the surrounding grounds. The electricity company apparently sent someone out to investigate the ludicrously low bills they were sending out to that address, and found there was only one light bulb in the entire place and almost nothing else plugged in – no bypassing the meter, etc they might have expected to find.

      It turned out, when the executors to the will got to work, that he had property all over the country and was worth a fortune, but evidently lived the life of a pauper. I read about that and simply couldn’t decide if I felt incredibly sad for the possibly missed life opportunities, impressed by his restraint in a world that bombards us with “buy this and it’ll change your life” crap, or a weird mix of the two.


  7. Loved this quote: “Any time you are paying more than £1 for £1 you should be asking yourself why.”

    Also, great analysis of unnecessary handouts leading to higher prices all around. There was a similar-sounding gift to first time home buyers a few years back and, from my perspective, all it did was commensurately increase house prices. Shouldn’t first time buyers want the opposite (i.e. lower prices)?


    1. The best way for the government to get involved with house prices here seems to be in building council houses like they used to up to 1980. Financial incentives to buyers always seem end up ramping prices 😦


  8. I would take issue with the first sentence “most of us are rich compared to previous generations”

    Your generation is rich compared to previous generations

    A significant body of research shows that the most recent generations are distinctly poor compared to their predecessors at the same time of life

    Younger generations have gone from being in the top end of earners to close to the bottom in a few generations

    Being able buy an iphone or fly to Bangkok for £500 doesn’t make up for having to pay three times as much for a home in real terms, no access to a final salary pension scheme and having to go into debt to get a university degree which is now a pre-requisite for a large number of jobs with decent prospects

    Any lecturing from baby boomers needs the acknowledge the significant following wind history and government policy gave them

    Probably the biggest differences that Generation Y-Z have to face now that you did not are:

    – the necessity to borrow to get a degree to have access to a career with decent earnings prospects

    – high house prices

    – employer contributions to defined contribution pensions being 4-8% on average versus the equivalent 10-25% that defined benefit schemes represented

    – an early retiree with a defined benefit pension simply has to fund the 10-15 year period until the defined benefit pension becomes available; an early retiree on a defined contribution pension is staring down the barrel of a 40-50 bore shotgun


  9. @Neverland I don’t think I claimed morally better. More protected from the results of what happens with too much credit flying about. Reminds me of Michael Lewis on the credit crunch

    The credit wasn’t just money, it was temptation. It offered entire societies the chance to reveal aspects of their characters they could not normally afford to indulge. Entire countries were told, “The lights are out, you can do whatever you want to do and no one will ever know.” What they wanted to do with money in the dark varied.

    She didn’t mean to, but it seemed Mrs T screwed up bigtime on that savers versus spendthrift call.I guess what Britons wanted to do with the credit was ramp house prices and do BTL

    OTOH we are much richer now in terms of healthcare – people in their late 40s onwards were often seriously infirm with arthritis, rheumatism and a host of respiratory ailments when I was a child compared to this age group now, Britain’s homes were cold and draughty places in the 1960s compared to now and communications of all sorts are indescribably better and cheaper now.

    What puzzles me about your narrative is that Gen Y-Z seems to experience a much more rapid career progression

    Click to access dcp171776_368928.pdf

    rising much earlier in life – indeed enough probably to compensate for the lower employer contributions though not the risk transfer. And indeed this faster career progression shows up anecdotally in that extreme early retirement is a thing at all – retiring in one’s 40s used to be just for footballers and other sporting types.


    1. So if you live in one of the pockets of the UK where housing still costs a sensible amount, and you have a job like teaching that’s required everywhere but paid moderately well if you don’t live in the southeast, then life is better today than its been for the baby boomers for most of their lives?


  10. @Neverland

    I agree that the young of today are so shafted, that they effectively don’t even have the chance to lose all by their own life choices – they are dealt a ***t hand from birth. This is not a contradiction to what the author is saying though, that it is due mainly to the insanely disfunctional housing market, which in/directly ends up distorting all aspects of life in this country.

    I believe the anti-baby boomer rhetoric is a red herring to divide & rule us so that people don’t fight the system, because there are plenty of that generation who aren’t coping either, X-ers too – see this article just today :-

    If I understood correctly, the Ermine is also saying that back in the day you didn’t have anything near as brazen the sophisticated financial quackery you have today, with the [not-so] subtle collusion of the powers that be.

    But I hear you, it’s infuriating to hear the idiotic endless refrain that if only the young of today just worked hard & were financially competent, they’d be alright. I know that that can only work when there are non-burger-flipping jobs still around at the end of any effort – paying enough to save a deposit.


  11. “Seventy thousand years ago [evolutionary twinkle of an eye], our human ancestors were insignificant animals, just minding their own business in a corner of Africa with all the other animals. But now, few would disagree that humans dominate planet Earth; we’ve spread to every continent, and our actions determine the fate of other animals (and possibly Earth itself). How did we get from there to here?” – [shared narratives and belief. enabling greater organisation]

    As a sort of biologist I see this as evolution, we are evolving through our culture. The stories we tell ourselves are important, as they form our culture and how we try and build our societies. I have read the dailymail, so am not surprised at the petty stupidity of our culture – HPI and BTL… When I was a child I read Asimov and Arthur C Clarke, how I wish we were in debt to colonize Mars, or mine the asteroid belt…. Still



  12. Ermine, this was a serendipitous post for me. By invoking YMOYL, it reminded me to prioritize my time over money. I have been struggling with a decision whether to retire this coming February, or to struggle on until February of 2017. The latter date would increase my pension by about $200 per month, in addition to providing another year’s salary. The work is dull and uninspiring (has been for at least a couple of years); so remaining is only about the money. I simply cannot convince myself that between pension, savings and eventual Social Security, I have enough for a modest life of leisure. Yet this is objectively the case even with a very conservative 3% withdrawal rate.
    It is time to refocus on the value of my time and leave aside the consideration of the money. Thank you for galvanizing that realization.


    1. Glad it’s batting for the other parameter of time 🙂 I really can’t say that I regret going three years ago, and I’ve taken an income suckout until I can use pension savings. There is great joy in using more of one’s time, for sure I could always spend more money, but not if I have to surrender my time to get it!


  13. > As I get crabby and older and also a little bit richer I’m
    > increasingly prepared to leave money on the table to avoid
    > giving marketers information, but that’s just me!

    No, it’s me, too!


  14. Great post, ermine, I would disagree with your Note 2 that there is a “misapprehension that TopCashback is free money” – in some cases, it is.

    For example like Steve, buying car or house insurance is a need, not a want. I do my research, find the cheapest insurance deal then buy via TopCashback and they give me £30.

    A friend of mine gets a few hundred quid every year from Topcashback buying cat food and litter!

    Cashback works when you are buying stuff that you need from the companies that you were going to shop at anyway.

    Of course, if you go onto these cashback websites to just generally shop for ‘consumer wants’, then you’re not saving or making money.

    The 24 hour thing is good but even better is to avoid shops/shopping websites so you don’t get tempted!


      1. As the (perhaps cynical) saying goes “never invest in anything that needs painting or feeding” …

        I can’t say I necessarily doubt the wisdom of that from a purely financial standpoint, but I have friends around here with cats, dogs and horses, and I’m quite sure they’d disagree with me 🙂

        I’m sure the argument would be fundamentally around “there’s more to life than money”, which I’d cautiously agree with. To use Ermine’s “Christmas or a roof over your head” choice, it’s a no-brainer if your finances are that far stretched though.

        I do feel for the charities dealing with the rise in abandoned pets. The daily tales of woe must be dreadful to have to cope with.


      2. @BeatTheSeasons A car might not be a need for you but is for me because I need it for work. Once you have a car, then car insurance is a need.

        Cats – I don’t own any pets so can’t really comment but if you have pets, they need to be fed; they’re in the same camp as children, are they not ? 🙂


  15. @Ermine

    “Say you were a Martian and got out of your shiny green spaceship and looked at how western consumer culture worked”

    Hmm, I guess I have much the same incredulous view of things – maybe I’m part martian 🙂 Then again, I’m occasionally told I have green fingers, but I suspect that’s a reference to the garden, something that costs almost nothing yet gives endless pleasure during the changing seasons.

    Doesn’t it impress the hell out of you to see something as small as a tomato seed grow into the strong 2-3ft high fruiting plant it becomes in a matter of a few short months ? It certainly does me !

    Sorry getting off topic.

    The reference to increasing portion sizes (true enough) seems bizarre to me since stuff sold in supermarkets is generally getting (sneakily) smaller for the same price. How does that work then ?

    “We are programmed to buy”

    Some (maybe the vast majority) are – I’m strangely not, but then I tend not to “see” adverts and also tend to put things off, so by the time I’ve um’d and ah’d about the whole thing a) it probably IS a solid useful purchase, and b) it’s usually just got cheaper anyway.

    To me, it’s no surprise there’s been a couple of programmes in recent times on the problem of compulsive hoarding and the grip that gets on people’s lives too. I’ve seen the effects that’s had on other people – maybe that’s added to my “are you absolutely CERTAIN this is a good thing to be buying ?” attitude to consumerism.

    Hmm, I read the third paragraph and thought (with Mr Money Mustache in mind) “into a taxi ? sod it, I’ll get some exercise and walk”. I suspect a lot of taxi journeys aren’t more than a couple of miles or so, particularly in towns. I haven’t been in a taxi for years but suspect I’d be shocked at the cost of such a short trip. I’d think nothing of walking 10-12 miles around here in a morning, and be back in time for lunch and get something useful done in the afternoon, but then I live in a fairly rural part of the country which I find clears the mind of the world’s (to me needless) complications.


  16. @weenie I’m open to the possible charge of incompetence on using TopCashback – I just couldn’t see my way to spending enough to make it work. But it would worry me if I were getting hundreds of pounds in cashback, along the lines of maybe I’m not spending enough effort getting this at a better price, since clearly there’s that much slack in the system.

    I’m not a pet person anyway, but getting cashback on cat food is surreal – I’d hazard a guess it can be found cheaper elsewhere.


    1. That’s another good example: pet food. I know this is going to smack of wartime austerity but I remember my parents talking about how when they were kids, cats in their neighbourhood were largely fed on leftover scraps and probably also did some serious scavenging for food (the cats that is :-)). Don’t tell me all these semi-domestic natural born killers are now “consumer lifestylers with an over-developed sense of entitlement” too !

      These days there’s adverts for expensive heavily branded pet food that puts me in mind of that oft-repeated closing line from another selling nice whiffs from miniature bottles. For goodness sake, given the amount of food waste we seem to be finding “acceptable” these days, do we really have to blow another heap of money on branded pet food “because they now won’t touch anything else” ?

      Regarding cashback, I’m with Ermine – I don’t spend anywhere near enough to make that work. In any case, I’d still be thinking to myself “I know there’s a catch in here somewhere but I’m damned if I can figure it out. Why would they mess about with such a thing if it wasn’t in THEIR interests to do so ?” Rather like investing in things you don’t understand, I choose not to play.


      1. Couldn’t resist, just searched for cat food on Topcashback and found Waitrose doing 6.3% cashback on pet food, accessories and treats. So if weenie’s friend is making “a few hundred quid” a year they must be spending nearly £5,000. How many cats do they have?!


      2. 3 cats. And I wouldn’t be surprised if she did spend that much on them. Like I said, I don’t have any pets myself, but I’m sure other pet lovers spend just as much if not more on their furry friends.


      3. Fascinating reading, many thanks. I must admit I’d never heard of that before, but as someone else said in the other comments “if there is a demand for something in a city, an industry will grow up”.

        Living in more rural surroundings maybe cats had to make do with what they could catch out in the fields and vermin around farms, etc.

        With you mentioning the cat’s meat man, it has also just reminded me of when the fish van used to call at the neighbours (many years ago now). The bloke always thought nothing of leaving the back door to the van open whilst going to knock on people’s front doors: “if you get caught you’re on your own, okay” 😉 I don’t think anything DID actually go missing but he was definitely asking for it all the same.


  17. Conversely, I have found that the advent of internet shopping has helped me to stop buying crap.

    There is no pressure to think, ‘I have made an effort to come to this shop and cannot be bothered to come back to go shopping again next week. I am here now, I should buy it now.’

    The Amazon basket, which you know you can always come back to, sits there unchanged. I have clicked and put things in my Amazon basket and promptly forgotten about them… until months later I get a message telling me that they have gone up in price- when they get ‘removed’.

    This way I save myself thinking about the things over a few days, gradually convincing myself that I need them, and so I forget about them and never buy them


    1. I also found this – indeed what with the combination of the wishlist and parking zone you can defer purchases in several levels. Though it isn’t entirely cost-free Amazon do their level best to push this at you over the years, and you share a teeny piece of your innermost desires with them 😉

      BTW I tried to leave a comment on your first post and seemed to either have to register or got pitched to your contact form on Nice start – and I was going to make the observation it took me to 47 to even question the default route. Anyway, you might want to check that, though it’s perfectly possible it was finger trouble on my part!


  18. While we were wondering last week whether UK personal finance blogs were as interested in frugality issues as many blogs in the US, it looks like this week is seeing a plethora of interesting readings on that front. Both this and the Escape Artist are talking about ways we spend too much–on specific categories or over all.

    @Ermine–I like your suggestion of increasing the gap between hedonic experiences. We used to think a “nice” dinner was appropriate once a week–though, no, never spending a few hundred (pounds?!)–but we’re now on a plan for only one restaurant dinner per month. We will try making it quarterly and see how well we hold up.

    We definitely agree with your overall philosophy of living and spending intentionally!


    1. I think hedonic adaptation may offer a rich seam of exploration. It probably varies across people, but i definitely think a lot of things like subscriptions are marketed because when signing up you hold the shiny shiny aspect of the first experience in mind, without allowing for the fact you can get jaded on repeated exposure, which means the perceived value sold to you is higher than the value you will get – and you may use the subs less than anticipated.

      F’rinstance , say you can easily afford to go to a restaurant every week, you may get greater enhancement of quality of life for the same outlay doing the restaurant one week, something like a show the next and then a citybreak or a movie (ERE’s trifecta indeed 😉 ) to stretch out the repeat between similar types of hedonism, thus getting a higher level of experience for the spend.

      Children seem able to do the Groundhog Day same thing over and over without fading. They may get good hedonic value out of multibuy offers, but adults not so much IMO.


  19. I’ve seen that article about “if you’re twenty something and have savings, you’re doing some wrong” more than once. What terrible advice. I personally don’t think credit is necessarily a bad thing, as long as it is used wisely. It can be used to purchase appreciating assets or to refinance from a higher rate which could free up some cash for other investments. The problem arises when it is used to purchase depreciating material assets.



    1. > I personally don’t think credit is necessarily a bad thing, as long as it is used wisely

      I’d agree with you if it weren’t for the tragedy is that so few people do use it wisely at the end consumer level. The most stupendous financial misery caused by credit in the UK is in fact for purchasing appreciating material assets – houses. In earlier times when mortgage finance was limited house prices didn’t skyrocket.


  20. Just read this – a good post.

    One thing that I find quite odd when looking at frugal/thrifty blogs is that, in many cases, the bloggers seem really focussed on buying loads of stuff at chazza shops and car boots.

    Not as in “I needed bedroom curtains and look I found some for a great price at Oxfam” – more “Here’s a photo of my latest random car boot haul – got all this for £10!!!”. When you look, they seem to buy a ton of stuff on a regular basis. Ok, it is way cheaper than if they bought it all at regular shops, but too much stuff is still too much stuff, even if it was a ‘bargain’.

    What I find a bit disconcerting is that these folk interpret their buying habits as evidence that they are frugal or thrifty. They don’t seem to register that they are buying so much stuff. I don’t intend this to be judgey – we all have our spending weak spots. It’s just that it seems incongruent.



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