Middle-Class inflation – it’s big, it’s bad, and it’s eating your lifestyle

Brought to you by the Ermine department of first-world problems  this Torygraph article ruminating on how terrible middle class inflation is gives me much to sink some needle-sharp teeth into on so many fronts. It misdiagnoses the problem, the sense of entitlement is risible, and hell, there’s opportunity for much fun. Let’s take the headline and standfirst

How ‘middle class’ inflation is threatening your standard of living

An extensive Telegraph Money study into our readers’ spending habits reveals the alarming rate at which “middle class inflation” is taking hold


Dudes, your lunch was eaten, digested and shat out t’other side years ago. How come you only just noticed? People have had the time to write books about the problem. Ermines have written posts on how the middle class needs to wake the ***k up and get ready to take the sucker punch, middle class families on the brink, savoured the come-uppance of Shona Sibary stupidly selling her house in bits to fund her excessive lifestyle then discovering she doesn’t own her house anymore. The middle class threw the poor and the working class under the bus by voting for neoliberalism in the 1980s[ref]That’s a slightly harsh charge as technological progress would have done that job a little bit later, but they didn’t  help people change, since the postwar consensus was nuked around then[/ref] that destroyed blue collar jobs, without asking the questions about where this was all going to lead. The Guardian was drawn out with a riposte along the lines of what part of we’re all in this together did you not understand…

So what is this lifestyle-eating inflation you speak of, Mr Telegraph? Well, the cost of some desiderata has been going up faster than average wage increases – to wit

increasing cost of luvverly stuff going up
increasing cost of luvverly stuff going up

Let’s take a butcher’s hook at what these essentials are. School Fees – despite every child being entitled to free education in the UK and indeed this is wot drug up your ‘umble scrivener that’s not enough for some people, and all those hard-working furreners are bidding up the price. Health insurance. Eh? We have the NHS, and if you are rich enough to be middle class then if you want to jump the queue for your hip replacements then take the Ermine line. It’s about 15k to pay privately. Things like that are what the middle class used to save for before they discovered home equity lines of credit to buy consumable shit. They knew a thing or two, your grandparents when they saved for rainy days, ‘cos they’d seen hard times… Dental care, well, yes, it probably is increasing, but it’s what, £200 a year. You’re not middle class if a 100% increase in that is going to make you sweat, and stop giving your kids sugary shit advertised on TV, at least after they have changed out their milk teeth. Holidays – the middle class used to have one foreign and maybe a UK holiday a year. Now you’re deprived if you don’t have four. The enemy is consumerism, and the enemy is within – lifestyle inflation.

What are we comparing this with? Average wages covers a multitude of sins, but most jobs created in Britain since the mid 1990s have been  at the lower end of the scale. These are not middle class jobs where people aim to send Tabitha to public school. Some of these are jobs where people aim to make last week’s rent. These are some of the people that you, Middle Class Boss Person Sitting in your Corner Office, downsized or outsourced or just plain fired. You would have to compare middle class wages for this to have meaning. In fairness, the poll of their subscribers’ income indicates times are getting hard for them. Again, there could be sample bias – Telegraph readers are not spring chickens  – indeed a fair number may have retired between 2007 and now time because they’re not picking up da yoof.

The Daily Mail and The Telegraph have the largest percentages of over 65s, making up almost half of their audiences – at 45 and 46 percent respectively.


One item shows just how damned ungrateful the middle class is. The price of the average new car driven by Telegraph readers is £13,456. When I first read this I went WTF? you can get a new car for that little? The last car I bought second-hand in the early 2000s was ~£5000. These Torygraph readers presumably buy a new car every three years because that’s what one does if you haven’t been educated otherwise. Given that they therefore spend on average a shade under 10% of their gross wages, roughly £4000 p.a. on new cars and this big-ticket item gets 6% cheaper than the last time they bought it you’d think the blighters would show a bit more gratitude.

A word in your shell-like, Mr and Mrs Middle Class. The good times ain’t ever gonna roll again, because you are in competition with the whole freakin’ world now, rather than a third of it. And most of the rest of the world is generally poorer than you, they’re ready to work harder, because the extra wedge will make a bigger difference to their lives. They want to eat your lunch and your nice sinecures where Mr Wealthy but Dim used to cling to the pipes of capitalism like slime-moulds slowing down the system a bit. Your kids may actually end up richer in absolute terms but feel far poorer and less secure, because being middle class is all about relative status.

How did we get to such a sorry pass, eh? Let’s take a look at history, shall we.

A history aside

We have to go a long way back, to when the definitions of a middle class lifestyle were defined – roughly meaning owning your own house in the ‘burbs outright by retirement, a decent middle-management job, sending up to two kids to private school[ref]this seems to be a peculiarly UK aberration, I haven’t detected in from US writers for instance[/ref], owning a car and having a foreign holiday a year, though the latter were children of the 60’s and 70’s. This was the deal struck by Whyte’s Organisation Man[ref]that old  ideal cast a long shadow on the ermine, because I did not grow up in a middle class background, I learned some of this from books and inferred from the values of those around me, particularly those at university, who were mainly from a richer background than me. The deal started to fall through in the early 1990s, paradoxically just as Thatcher was defenestrated. This distorted model jammed my vision to seeing what was going wrong. I learned from my mistake – the OODA loop is a description of how to stay on guard against being trapped by a mental model becoming obsolete. There are many assumptions about the modern world that may unravel – and the principle of being able to preserve value in financial instruments and the SWR aren’t immune from that[/ref]

Way back in time, there was a hell of a bust-up called the Second World War. Shitloads of capital got destroyed and a lot of people got killed and hurt. The British Empire that had coloured in most of the map of the world pink imploded, because so much of the energy that was used to rule other places had to be recalled to defend the homeland in an existential struggle that is still now worthy of admiration and I am grateful that a flame was kept alive in Britain while the lamps went out all across Europe, twice in 50 years.

The British Empire in 1915, when the sun didn't set on it. Sic transit gloria mundi and all that...
The British Empire in 1915, when the sun didn’t set on it. Sic transit gloria mundi and all that…

In the aftermath of this the world divided into power blocs with different ideologies, glowering at each other across iron curtains and Berlin walls and suchlike – they drew clear borders and so it came to pass that Russia and China were outside the global trading system as perceived by Western middle class consumers and the firms they worked for. And the green bit didn’t endanger Western jobs either.

First, second and Third worlds. Decoding the colour scheme should be clear enough :)
First, second and Third worlds. Decoding the colour scheme should be clear enough. You’re with the blue team 🙂

Communications were expensive and computers were dear, hard to use and few and far between. [ref]When I started as a professional electronics engineer in the eighties there was a single VAX computer for circuit simulation accessed by green-screen terminals via 9600 baud serial cables and all the output was in Courier text – shared across the entire facility of a couple hundred people. Most of the time you did your circuit simulation by building it in the lab and measuring and messing with components – I can do all this at the same time on the same machine as writing this now.[/ref] There were no useful databases  – there were shocking levels of basic admin work and most middle management couldn’t type – they dictated their memos for others to type out for them. In 1979 at university in one of the premier science institutions of Britain I looked up books in the library using the high-tech solution of…6×4″ index cards in polished wooden cabinets.

What a database looked like 30 years ago
What a database looked like 30 years ago

Cold war capitalism’s world was smaller, productivity stank by modern standards, far more people were employed and there was far more work for people at lower end of the ability spectrum.  People had children earlier, and jobs were more stable – the residual defined benefit pensions were a carry-over from this era, when employers sought to hold on to staff (and in the case of scientific and technical jobs, invested in training people).

There is an argument to be made that the number of scientific and technical jobs were artificially inflated during the Cold War compared to what the economy needs which is why there was a push to educate some of the lumpenproletariat in grammar schools and free university education provided you could pass the tougher exams of the time. Again, I am personally grateful for this – I gained from the grammar schools and free university places, but when I entered Imperial College 7% of school leavers went to university. We could afford free university education then, and I would be all for making it free again – provided the entrance criteria were made tightened up again so that these free places went to, say 10% of school leavers.[ref]I’m not against those that don’t make the bar paying their way as now – if you want a vanity degree or have an insight that you will get a return on investment knock yourself out[/ref]

Then in the 1990s along came the Internet improving communications enormously, the Iron Curtain came down because it turned out that the problems of communism showed up in economic breakdown earlier than the problems of capitalism show up in economic breakdown [ref]harbingers of trouble with capitalism seem to be the destruction of the middle classes that I’m writing about, rapacious consumption of natural resources to produce worthless tat and increasing inequality leading to revolution as the rough trajectory capitalism is on, so it won’t necessarily end better. A capitalist consumer economy needs consumers and rising inequality is running consumers out of town, a process slowed by rising debt.[/ref]. The Chinese decided they would like to join the party on their own terms.

This means that a UK worker at the start of their working life now is competing with three times as many people as I did in 1982; the odds are in fact worse because the world population is higher[ref]when I started work in 1982 there were 4.5 billion of us compared to 7 billion now[/ref] and better communications means that the pool of workers that can be drawn upon is far larger by at least an order of magnitude than it used to be. On the plus side you live in a far richer country, healthcare is better, opportunities for the talented are far-far better, which is the flipside of the better communication, so the average post-Gen X reader of this (if there are any 🙂 ) has probably progressed a lot further in their career than I had at the same age. Many such have travelled and worked abroad and had a wider experience that I have. I’ve worked in international teams but never based abroad – it was by no means impossible but it seems much more prevalent now. [ref]As a simple example, I admire and am gobsmacked by Early Retirement Guy who had the bad luck to graduate into the credit crunch recession and took the enterprising solution to take off and travel and see if the dust would settle. I left school after the Winter of Discontent, worked as a kitchen porter over the summer and started university in September. Gap years were for rich kids in those days ;)[/ref]

Living standards are normalising worldwide. So far this is a win for humanity but a lose for Mr Daily Telegraph and his kids

So, roughly boiled down, the problem with the middle class is that they are in competition with a lot of their worldwide peers, but they normalised how rich they expected to be relative to other people in Britain in an era when they were only in competition with the rest of the First World. Globalisation is reducing inequality worldwide, but increasing it in the First World[ref]A view from the City of London’s Gresham College – the words of Christine Keeler ‘well they would say that wouldn’t they’ spring to mind, but the case is made well. Similarly the Social Affairs Unit and this paper seem to support this view[/ref]. When it comes to specifically their children and their dreams for them, then not only are their children going to face far worse competition than their parents in the employment market did as communications get better. The birthrate in the UK isn’t as high as it is in places that can supply the competing workers which amplifies the competition. It is patently clear to me that middle class parents who want their offspring to have a middle class lifestyle need to start getting on the side of capital for their kids unless those kids are both brilliant and driven. Leave them shitloads of money, because Dim Rich isn’t going to find sinecures like they used to in a more competitive world. Even Halfway Average rich ain’t gonna get ahead through hard work faced with those odds.

Alternatively they could adjust their expectations of how rich relative to other people they want their children to be. Mr Money Mustache’s takes the battle to the enemy as usual – if you don’t want your kids to join the rat race then maybe teach them not to race rats, which is broadly what the current charade that passes for ‘education’ goes for. We need to teach children to learn and adapt in a changing world, we aren’t making factory units any more. Then there’s the whole automation and Humans Need Not Apply thing. Just like Dustin Hoffman was urged to get into plastics, Capital is your best hope now – don’t buy shit you can’t afford and identify yourself with what you spend money on.

Seeking validation in what you are as opposed to what you have is also a potential win here- Erich Fromm posited the question in the 1970s. If you’re rich enough to be reading the Telegraph article and thinking ‘that’s me’ then you have the choice – clearly if you are a single mother working five zero-hours jobs to pay last week’s rent you don’t really have this choice, but that’s a different problem from grizzling that the price of wine and holidays is so expensive these days, dahlink.

Living standards will go down for the middle class – they need to keep an eye on quality of life

One of the problems the middle class seems to have had is they lost their historic values of thrift and deferred gratification. Once upon a time they knew to put money into healthcare and schools before blowing it all on holidays, wine, eating out and going to the movies. The middle class had annuities to look after them when they got old (before those DB pension) because they saved for it, no doubt encouraged to do so by seeing what happened to the poor in the poorhouse.  Then they got soft.

Living standards are going to go down because of the shift of power from labour to capital. Mine is, yours is probably. The smart response is to roll with it – because although there’s some correlation of quality of life with living standard, if you deliberately change attitudes to the changes ahead of time you can do more with less, your quality of life need not go down with your lowered living standard. This is because many aspects of quality of life (autonomy and being able to express free will) are not a function of stuff or resources. It won’t be easy but fortune favours the adaptable.

The middle class are locked into the school-university-job loop. It’s broken for the middle classes – an ever increasing money pit that is less and less likely to pay off for the next generation anyway. Mr Money Mustache nails the problem succinctly

It may be that most parents of the very-upper-middle class are still operating from a scarcity mindset. If they are addicted to a high consumption lifestyle, earning $600,000 per year but still making car and house payments, they will assume that their children will need to earn and consume just as much in order to be happy. This of course dictates a job in the top fraction of the top percent of the economy, and education with enough prestige to secure such a job.

There’s a lot of conspicuous consumption in the Telegraph’s list. The school fees etc are all passing on the image of replicating what worked in the past. Fingers crossed that past performance is a guide to future returns despite the rapidly changing world, because if not this is a dramatic misallocation of capital. Above a certain level, quality of life and standard of living are different things. That rings hollow if you’re poor, because it isn’t true for you. But if you’re griping about the price of wine and foreign holidays over the canapes like our DT readers, then you still have choices. Use them well, before you don’t have any choices because you can’t tell the difference between what you want and what you like.

that Interest Only Mortgage timebomb again – FCA edition

How did you go bankrupt? Slowly at first, then all of a sudden.

I once heard a father tell his son “There are a lot of stupid people in this world”. And if the FCA really is right that many people don’t realise that an interest only mortgage doesn’t buy the house, then they fall into this class. It’s in the name – interest-only. As opposed to repayment mortgage. Y’know, the one where you repay the amount you borrowed. Duh…

Here we have Robert, a fellow 18 years away from the end of his interest only mortgage. He is surprisingly savvy about his plight, having been aware that in the past you would only be allowed to get out of the door with an interest-only mortgage if you had a parallel savings product for the capital. Often an endowment, but a S&S ISA is a good match too. If you save £10k a year in cash, after 25 years you would have enough to buy the average non-London UK family home. 25 years is long enough for the stock market to give you a decent stab at getting ahead

Framing, dear boy, framing.

Listening to Robert, one of the things that struck me was that for some people, an interest-only mortgage could actually be a very good idea, even if they know they will never pay back the capital. In Britain, a lot of renting is on assured shorthold tenancies, where you can be kicked out of the place every six months, even if you comply with all the conditions of the tenancy. A lot of people want to have children, and for that they need to have a house bigger than the one they will need as empty nesters. A 25 year interest only mortgage is a good match for that situation – it’s long enough to raise a couple of children to maturity, and when the time comes at the end, hell, sell up before the time is due, pocket the nominal profit that 25 years of inflation will give you plus anything house price inflation gives you, then rent or buy your empty nest.

The pros are

  1. as long as you pay your mortgage, nobody gets to kick you out of your house.
  2. You can paint the walls, do DIY,
  3. there won’t be a succession of landlords trying to run off with your deposit, move you on etc.

You will never own the home and never plan to – because it’s too much house for the one you will eventually own or rent. As a way to use other people’s money to pay for the extra space you need to raise children, it’s a good deal, as long as you can dodge the cons. You are renting from the bank, but as long as you know that, it’s fine.

The cons are the three big ifs.

  1. You need to make sure you always have enough coming in to pay the mortgage, up until the time you sell.
  2. You need to make sure you have a job for life so you won’t have to move to chase work, or live somewhere like London or pehaps Cambridge where there is lots of work around so you can find alternative work without moving
  3. You need to stay together with the person who brought the children into the world with, and quite frankly from observation I would not say having children always improves the stability of people’s relationships, but hell, what do I know 😉

The modern world has become a lot more inimical to the chances of success at dodging the cons, and you have to dodge all of them for 18-20 years to make a go of this. I wouldn’t bet on it, if I were starting out now.

One of the toxic legacies Thatcher left us was the notion that owner-occupation was the only proper way to inhabit a house in Britain. It runs deeply through the British psyche, and leads us to overpay for housing. Other countries rent happily, even as families. Generation rent may want step back a little, and reframe its thinking

  • You can now work and study in other parts of the EU. You may be able to save yourself a shedload of cash at the further education and the home ownership stage for the cost of learning a foreign language.
  • The EU is not your only choice, though you may have to jump through more hoops.

Back to Robert. He is being a complainypants and has surrendered agency. He has 18 years to go. Inflation kills your money, roughly halving its real value every decade. 188k sounds like a lot of money now, but it will have a value of only about 47k in today’s money by the time his mortgage falls due. Now I appreciate that’s still a lot for a gent with £6.86 of savings, but in practice it means he needs to save in real terms about £2600 a year in today’s money, about £200 a month.

That is tractable with frugality. He needs to buy less consumer shit, stop going on foreign holidays, and tighten his belt. In particular, if he starts to pay that off, it will reduce the amount of interest he needs to pay, resulting in a virtuous cycle. The tragedy with a mortgage is that it always looks darkest just before the dawn. I never believed I would be able to pay mine off when I started getting the letters saying my endowment was going to fall short. But unlike Robert, I sucked my gut in and started to hit the bugger by overpaying it. And it got easier. It got a damn sight easier when I won a mis-selling complaint and lobbed the entire amount into the mortgage.

In Hemingway’s The Sun also Rises, one of the key characters, Mike Campbell, is asked,

How did you go bankrupt?

His response is

Gradually … then suddenly.

Now normally I am of the opinion that Tom Peters is full of shit, the sort of thing that he has advocated for business is one of the reasons I couldn’s stand working any longer for stupid pricks bean counters that knew the price of everything and the value of nothing. However, he is a genius, simply one misusing his talents in the service of the forces of darkness IMO. One of his acolytes posted thusly

This is so very applicable to a recession scenario. Actually, it is applicable to all our lives—you don’t fail suddenly; you fail gradually through a series of small failures everyday. The day you fail is just a culmination of all the small failures you have had.

There is a little known corollary of this observation. It can be reversed too. Let me postulate Ermine’s Law

How did you succeed?

Gradually and imperceptibly at first, then all of a sudden.

Take it from an old git, because unfortunately you don’t tend to have this experience with finance before late in your forties unless you are exceptionally skilful. It’s why the halfway point of any long term goal is such a dreary and dismal hopeless place. The foundations are of success laid gradually, but the success happens all at once. Look at this graph of how a repayment mortgage repays the capital. You’ve put all the work in steadily, but you’ve only bought a third of your house at the halfway point.

how a traditional mortgage builds equity
how a traditional mortgage builds equity

which I cited in this post. Look how the capital rushes up towards the end.In practice remember that inflation is halving the real value of the cost of your mortgage every 10 years. so not only is the experience really horrible at the start where money is short, but towards the end you can pump up your contributions. That means the all of a sudden effect is even more marked if you have an interest only mortgage like I did and start making capital repayments as you get later into your working life, when the mortgage becomes a smaller proportion of your disposable income – see my case below. That’s the tragedy with saving steadily – you see bugger all for years and it’s hardest in the beginning, then suddenly it all happens – when you don’t need it because you have more money coming in. That’s why the greybeards have all the money in the world – because they’ve been saving a little bit for all their working lives. Death was invented by economists to save the human race from living in servitude to our Stone Age ancestors, some of whom would have been saving for thousands of years and would own everything 😉 That’s why every young generation feels it unfair that all the old gits have the money. I felt that way too in ’84… You’ll get there – if you don’t spend it all and if you don’t inflate your lifestyle with your income like all the admen on the telly say you should.

As another example, take a look at my mortgage and income history, in relative units. Look at that shocking income multiple of 5:1 at the outset – and I was a bachelor at the time, so it was just my income paying this, and I got to see interest rates of 14% p.a.! Buying a house at that time was such a stupid thing to do – it’s even worse than the price to earnings multiples now prevailing, and interest rates are lower now. Again, look at the trajectory – slowly at first, then all of a sudden.

an ermine's inflation-adjusted income and mortgage stupidity
an ermine’s inflation-adjusted income and mortgage stupidity

Robert needs to get a grip. First ask himself it it makes sense to own his house in a couple of decades. If it does, then make the adjustments to his lifestyle to fix that. I see he has a very nice flatscreen TV and nice new leather sofas. I don’t have these. But I own my house. You pays your money and you takes yer choice. Robert needs to do less consumerism and more saving if he wants to own his house. He’s got 18 years to go. He has the choice – adjust his financial flight path and land safely. Or have a fast ride, lots of holidays, cars, TVs and leather sofas, then crash and burn. Interest only is not a timebomb in his case unless he makes it one. The FCA is quite right to be educating interest only mortgage holders that they are on , duh, an interest only product. However, the “I want it all now” mentality and general complainypants attitude means they’ll be wasting their breath. If you take out an interest only mortgage and are surprised that you won’t own the house at the end of the term then you shouldn’t be licensed to drive a £10 note down to the pub, never mind sign on the dotted line of any financial contract.





where did we lose the basic skills of self-reliance to cope with financial austerity?

The Grauniad’s had a series called Breadline Britain about how dreadful life is for our increasingly financially challenged nation. Now I just about experienced Britain in the 1960s, as it was pulling itself out of the post-war austerity, and one of the things that strikes me about the difference between the Britain I saw as a child and that of now is that adults have become far less self-reliant. We have lost many basic skills that soften the issues of having less money, and it appears that many adults just don’t seem interested in learning. The second thing that strikes me is the appalling incompetence at household financial management. Perhaps it was easier for my parents’ generation because borrowing money was much harder in the past, so people had to live within their means or just lump it. And the last thing that is obviously wrong is people don’t seem to be asking themselves whether they can afford to have children before doing so. This lady has four children – on a family income of £44k. It isn’t hard to see why she is struggling.

People design in fixed costs into their lives without giving them enough thought. It first struck me when I reflected on a colleague who lived 25 miles away from work, where I was 6.5 miles from work. We were both higher rate taxpayers, and I calculated that he needed to earn ~£5k more than me, just to have the same disposable income. How’s that? Well, design in a 50 mile round trip instead of a 13 mile round trip. That’s an extra 37 miles he needs to drive, each and every day. That’s about £1300 a year in fuel alone. He’s putting 8100 extra miles a year on his car, with all the wear and tear that entails. I could keep my cars for 10 years and buy them well secondhand; he bought his cars new – in the service life of one of mine, he’d have put 80,000 miles on the clock, so that just wasn’t an option for him. I could bike to work when the weather was congenial. Taken in the round he was taking a hit that was probably equivalent to a salary cut of £5000 a year. And of course he was losing about an hour of his time each day.

Every time you pay someone to do something you can do yourself, you have to earn enough to be able to pay tax on the money you are paying out. If that person is employed, you have to cover the overheads, sick pay, employer’s contributions, the lot, whereas if you are doing it yourself, you do not have to earn the money and pay the tax and NI on it.

It is always much more expensive in cash terms to pay someone else to do something that you can do yourself.

Now that isn’t a reason to insource everything, because there’s the opportunity cost to the money you could be earning at the same time 😉 If you are hiring someone on minimum wage and you’re on minimum wage yourself, that is barmy – do your own cleaning. If you’re earning £50k then knock yourself out and hire the cleaner if it means you can earn £20 an hour net and paying them £6.19.

The cleaner on minimum wage is the obvious example, but there are more subtle costs. For instance, it’s more expensive to get Tesco to prepare your meals for you rather than do it yourself, which is why ready meals are more expensive than the ingredients, and if the cost is the same then the ready meal will contain ropey ingredients 😉

I was staggered at this bunch of Guardianistas who are struggling to feed two children and two adults on the meagre income of… £35,000 if you please, and they’re living with his parents! Let’s take a closer look. They were on a combined household income of £75,000. Now I have never lived in a household that had this much income – ever! I haven’t been in a household with two incomes for most of my life. The Ermine is not one of the 1%. So I ask myself how the hell these good people managed to get made bankrupt. She lost her job when they had twins. Now I appreciate that it’s not meant to happen that way but in general many mums leave the workforce for a few years after having kids, so the loss of that income was to be expected. Have they never heard of savings? Now they are complaining of not being able to afford decent food, and having to use ready meals. Mrs Ermine has examined that fallacy in this post and found it wanting – the problem there is food preparation skills, or the lack thereof, as well as a shocking lack of imagination and general get-off-your-backside-and-do-something smarts.

Now eating is one of those fundamental things that everybody needs to do. If you’re rich enough to afford ready meals, then have at it, but if you’re not, or you have the temerity to want your food to taste of something other than sugar. vegetable fats and monosodium glutamate, or maybe you are rude enough to want vitamins, then you have to re-acquaint yourself with the food prep skills that humanity has preserved across generations – until now. Sometimes I wonder if people realise that food doesn’t only come from supermarkets – it’s actually possible to grow some things yourself 😉 I particularly like the line

I’m not stupid: I know this is going to have a detrimental effect on my children’s health.

For God’s sake, woman, you’re running on £35,000 a year, and have more time, being unemployed. And yet you see fit to switch from cooking yourself to using ready meals? Where’s the rest of that £35k going, on the horses?

It is the loss of skills that will hurt people in future. In the past people grew food on allotments and in gardens, which saves a lot of money – Mrs Ermine qualifies that at about £2000 a year saved; for a basic rate taxpayer that’s equivalent to needing to earn about £3000 less every year! As an added bonus, although your veg will look gnarlier that Tesco’s, it will actually taste of something and be good for you, as well as filling you up.

Food does this – it just sprouts from the ground, despite what Tesco would have you believe, and here some citizens of Ipswich are taking advantage of that fact

There are other skills that could save people money. When I bought my first house, I had a problem with a stuck main intake stopcock under the kitchen sink. Now I could have called in a plumber, but because I had seen my Dad do plumbing, I figured I’d change this myself. I had ambitions of using a blowtorch and Yorkshire fittings but couldn’t reduce the seepage from the Water board stopcock enough to get enough heat into this, so once I got within 5cm of the inlet with some abortive attempts I sucked it up and used a compression stopcock. Job done. I replaced the guttering myself on that house – for the cost of an aluminium ladder and the materials, which was a lot cheaper than when I had that job done on this house; I was time-poor and wanted the soffit and bargeboads changed to uPVC which wasn’t within my capability. I fixed my heating system when the timer/programmer died and again when one of the motorised diverter valves died. I changed my own cold water tank, taking the opportunity to relocate the bugger to the apex of the roof to give a decent head of water to the shower, rather than run a power shower. I changed the water pump on my car, and replaced brake pads in the past. I did this because I grew up with the expectation that any halfway competent person who wasn’t rich would be able to do those – people just couldn’t afford not to.

More work, yes. More money, no – I can’t save any more money on heating 😉

Mrs Ermine asked me recently if I was going to run the wood stove in the day. I don’t generally, because the heat is preserved in the house from the evening before. I said no, because I didn’t want to spend the money. She looked at me as if I was crazy. “How’s that going to cost us more then?”. She was right – we don’t pay for heating, because we are prepared to chop up wood and pallets. I did some of that today. Heating less doesn’t save us money. But we need to chop up more wood.

In Britain we need to become more self-reliant. We need to learn how to cook decent food from ingredients that our grandmothers would recognise. We need to learn to fix some of the basics ourselves. We need to learn to go without if we haven’t got the money, rather than borrow money and have our future selves pay even more back. In the last decade or so we have outsourced a lot of these basics to outside agencies and to the welfare and benefits system, to try and buy our way out of needing to tackle the gritty basics of life. It’s time to roll up our sleeves, spit on our hands, and get to work relearning some of the basic skills our grandparents used to take for granted.

Where’d they print the instructions on this darn thing?

Knowing how to feed yourself and your children from food not sourced from supermarkets and food that doesn’t come with instructions printed on the back is a skill we seem to have lost somewhere. My mother’s opinion of supermarket veg was unprintable – she got that from Lewisham market stallholders who would get it from Covent Garden market in the early morning. Even as a student supermarket veg was tired and low-grade. Fortunately students don’t need veg 😉 The supermarkets have found how to make veg last longer by chicanery like de-oxygenated atmospheres in plastic packaging and the like, but they can’t get round the problem that the flavour of food fades with time, and most of it seems to fade in the first day or two. It’s why those stallholders got their produce from Covent Garden barrow-boys in the early morning – because they’d have got an earful from their customers if their produce tasted as poor as Tesco’s finest. But it was more faff, and somewhere between the 1970s and now we collectively decided that all the adults in a household should go to work, so we don’t have time to buy decent fruit and veg, or grow it, or cook our own food, or fix our own plumbing or any of those things that our grandparents took for granted.

We could afford the luxury of losing those skills in the last couple of decades. From the Guardian’s Breadline Britain series it looks to me that these skills are now being very sorely missed. We need to stop borrowing so much money and start living within our means. We need to think about whether we can afford to have as many children because it looks like some of the freebies there are drying up. And all in all we need to man up and start to take responsibility for the choices we make in our lives and skill up to be able to do more with less. The Guardian’s we never had it so bad is absolute bullshit. I grew up in a London of coal fires where only a single room in a house was heated in general, where most people didn’t have cars, and where people grew their own food and cooked it themselves.

Fridges had no freezer compartment – I recall the excitement when we got the first one with a two-star icebox – you could store frozen food in that but couldn’t freeze it I think. Respiratory ailments were widespread, because the damp and condensation were endless problems; I got bronchitis nearly every year until we moved to a house with central heating. That was not poverty in a Guardianista sense of the word – nearly everybody was like that. But what we did have was a broad base of basic skills, and good and reasonably stable communities. The move to paying for everything and having both adults working has atomised those communities and we have surrendered some basic skills for the blandishments of advertising. It would make the Guardianistas wring their hands in horror.

And yet there was some satisfaction and camaraderie there. People had hobbies other than watching television, and often these were creative, in quite eccentric ways. There may not be so much money about in future, but we have enormous advantages over those times, communications are far cheaper, the relative level of wealth in much higher.

The essential difference is that Britain in the 1960s, though it was far poorer than the Britain of 2012, was improving. It was better than Britain in the 1950s, and immeasurably better than the Britain that had endured its darkest hour standing alone against the Axis. The Britain of 2012 stands wanting compared to the Britain of 2006/7, and the Britain of 2015 will probably be wanting in material terms compared to today never mind 2007, for many people.

We probably can’t dodge that, but we can soften the blow by taking our lives back from the endless messages of spend spend spend. There is a certain reward in taking control of some of the variables, and pulling back from the money economy to improve our quality of life, rather than our standard of living. In a previous life, I used my meagre skills to grow tomatoes in the back garden. The crop was variable because I didn’t really know what I was doing, but for a lot of the time they were far better than Tesco’s Finest vine-ripened tomatoes-  because they had experienced th sun until the day they were eaten. Some simple pleasures can’t easily be bought, and perhaps we will find pursuing these more rewarding than chasing the admen’s plastic dreams. There’s something peculiarly short-lived about the enjoyment derived from satisfying a want that is created by marketing, because it is always a hostage to the next updated version. The stillness when the treadmill stops is a silence that is valuable in itself…



Middle Class Finances – Death by A Thousand Cuts

Another one in the complainypants section, but this one’s a more subtle object lesson in how not to lead a middle-class life. Perhaps the Ermine’s heart is softening as he gets older, or there’s a little bit of the there but for the grace of God since I screwed up with the toxic UK housing market too, though I don’t have 4 children 😉

Let’s hear it for the Daily Mail’s Shona Sibary, who sold her house and considers herself now in the rent trap.

Shona and family, before they got into the rent trap

Now I was able to see her fundamental problem, just from looking at the picture. In Britain today, a middle class family with both parents working will find it hard to raise four children. We normally associate big families with the undeserving poor because of the headlines, but thankfully they are not the only section of society that has large families, otherwise we would long ago have succumbed to the premise of the movie Idiocracy. The unsung other sector of society that often has larger than normal families seem to be those with a bob or two. Like David and Samantha Cameron, who ain’t short of a bean, or even IDS and Nick Clegg. Other wealthy families include Victoria & David Beckham (4) and Boris Johnson (4)

I first noticed this with older colleagues at work. The Firm was a prestigious operation in the 1970s and 1980s, and pay was probably upper middle class (in the eighth or ninth decile of the IFS income scales). There is a surprising prevalence of three-child families there, which I had found particularly surprising when I joined nearly a quarter of a century ago.

It’s not surprising that nowadays it is the poor and the wealthy that can go beyond the one and two-child norm. The former get us all to pay for it, and the latter are presumably rich enough to pay for it themselves. Anyway, ’nuff about families. How did Shona screw up?

Shona’s financial red cards

By failing to watch her back. Shona had a couple of big red cards,  I suspect that family was living way beyond its means for a long time.

Red flag #1 – they were remortgaging, not building equity in their home.

Look at how an old-skool repayment mortgage builds up equity in the house, by repaying some of the capital.

how a traditional mortgage builds equity
how a traditional mortgage builds equity

I pinched this from the excellent Mortgages Exposed website, which unfortunately uses infernal frames so I can’t link to the source itself, it’s under Capital Repayment in part 1. Now there are other ways of doing it. My original endowment mortgage was interest only, so in parallel with the mortgage there was an investment that should have been slowly rising to match the original loan. Either way, you should be building up equity, even if it takes the form of a separate asset.

Now the modern way to look at a mortgage is to take out an interest only loan, sit on your butt and whistle a dancing tune while the value of your house goes up. Voila, free money, you get equity without having to lift a finger. The catch is, of course, that the value of the house has to go up 🙂

Shona asserts that

After two decades of slogging to buy a house, maintain it and give our children security for the future

No, you did nothing of the sort. You’ve had that mortgage for seven years. If you look at the graph above, you should have a quarter of the equity in the house, assuming house prices hadn’t gone up at all from the start.
If you look at the equivalent graph for my mortgage career
an ermine’s inflation-adjusted income and mortgage stupidity

You see that by 1996 I had at least reduced the total, by about a fifth in real terms (this graph is inflation adjusted to a nominal salary of 10k in 1984). That underestimates my repayment as it doesn’t show the value of my endowment.

So what did you do Shona? You remortgaged. Taking that equity out, and spending it. Doing that once is a bad sign – nothing wrong with remortgaging per se, but spending the proceeds is bad. Doing it another two times is more than careless, it’s positively greedy.It’s a big red sign in your finances that says “Wrong Way, Do Not Enter, Turn Back NOW”.

Your house is a place to live, it is not an ATM. Over the 25 year span of a mortgage, you will probably see at least two housing booms and busts. I bought in a boom, ate a 10-year bust, and discharged my mortgage in the next boom, that has now turned to a bust (my mortgage would have finished in February 2014 had I not discharged it early)

It is the foreknowledge of that next bust that should make you say “I will not take the money I gain from remortgaging and use it for anything other than buying an investment which will go towards buying this house”. For most people that investment is reducing the total amount of the next mortgage, which is tantamount to saying “never withdraw equity from your house, unless you are trading down”. There are some people who can do better than that. They are few and far between. Otherwise that bust is just round the corner, waiting to bite you.

Red Flag # 2 – your house is not your biggest cost!

This is awesome. If you really are middle class, and buying your house, then that house is nearly always your biggest cost. If it isn’t, you are either not middle class, you are rich/wealthy. Or you are in deep, deep, trouble. Nowadays it’s pretty marginal for the ‘middle class’ to be able to afford the typical ‘middle class’ three or four bed detached family home in the ‘burbs. If your house isn’t your biggest cost and you’re not rich, you’re skint.

Let’s take a look at what Shona spent the money on.

In our defence, we weren’t spending the money on expensive designer clothes, luxurious holidays or flash cars.

So glad to hear it. So what exactly was it that you overspent on then?

Much of it was going on school fees and upkeep of the house.

If you’re withdrawing equity from your house to keep the damn thing standing then you have got too much house for your income. However, that’s not really your problem. It’s the school fees. According to the ISC the average termly fee at a day school is £3655, about 11 grand p.a. A cursory look at your family photo puts three of those kids in school, ie £33k p.a. Assuming for sibling rivalry you aim to do that for all of them, you are looking at paying 4 * 11000 * (18-11) = £308,000 if you just pay school fees for secondary school 11 to 18 and £572,000 if you pay from 5 to 18.

That’s more than your house was worth at the peak. The house is not your biggest problem. It’s a combination of having too many children and looking down on the sort of education that dragged up scumbags like me. So for all the mawkish whingeing about losing your home, Shona, you have failed to clock the real problem with your finances. ‘Tis the fruit of your loins and the style in which you’d like to keep them. With their own rooms, if you please, nothing else will do for Shona’s little ones 😉 Since humans come in two genders and it is apparently not acceptable for brothers and sisters to share a room these days you actually only need three bedrooms if the family is boracic lint, fixed that for ya.

Get real, Shona. You were on a middle class income but living a life not commensurate with your means. It’s hard enough for the middle class these days to buy one house in 25 years. To aim to do that and spend even more than that on the nice things in life on that middle class income is taking the piss. It cannae be done, and you’ve just found that out the hard way. To my eyes you’ve cut the wrong thing, but I respect it’s your call.

Shona shows me I need a financial Distant Early Warning Line

I learned something from Shona. Her family fell foul of slow changes that gradually overwhelmed them. Many things get imperceptibly worse day by day, as global imbalances right themselves but they’re resisted by the structures we have already built. The creeping rise of Digital Taylorism making the professional and technical job a stressful and unrewarding experience is an insidious change, little by little. I didn’t realise that until it became too much and my defences were overwelmed, hence the crash course over the last three years in becoming finacially independent as a counterattack.

In the 1950s the US instigated a distant early warning line to scan the northern skies at the 69th parallel north of the Arctic Circle. It was standing sentinel for the signs of incoming Russian nuclear bombers, and was located in the harsh North to give enough early warning to mount a counter-attack.

I need something analogous to stand watch for slow insidious creeping costs and sound the early warning. I plan to instigate an annual review of financial commitments as a percentage of resources. If I see a non-negotiable cost starting to rise proportionally I will consider that the alarm is sounding and it is time to attend to it. It is always easier to launch a counter-attack before it is upon you overwhelming your defences, and this annual review of commitments will be my distant early warning line against stealthy creeping costs.

Shona’s family could have used something like that. Okay, the alarm would probably have sounded as soon as it was set up, but certainly on the second child’s school fees. It would have been an easier call to make at that stage – do we want a big house, or do we believe in the value of public school education* makes it worth getting the girls to share a room?

While I am working I’ve generally lived sufficiently below my means that I didn’t need that sort of thing. Though I aim to have over 50% income in hand once I stop working, I’ve still got several decades, decades in which I believe living standards in the West will decline in a big way. Though I may be resistant to wages being eroded, I won’t be immune from inflation and its evil twin, rising prices and taxation. A financial DEWline will help me marshal resources ahead of time, and shift them to minimise taxation. Particularly with significant holdings in shares, it’s good to have as much advance warning if changes are needed, to average out the horrendous temporal volatility.

*NB for non UK readers, bizarrely schools that you pay fees for, those that Americans rationally call private schools are called ‘public schools’ in the UK, because we’re strange like that.

I was too poor to live in London, so I moved out. What’s so hard to understand?

The good old Grauniad had a bleeding heart article about the housing benefit cap squeezing the poor out of London.

I was there, once. I was born in London, grew up there, went to school there, and then went to university at Imperial College, in South Kensington (seriously upscale part of London for those who don’t know the city). I rented in sleazy dives in Earl’s Court, and for a while I rented a basement bedsit from a doctor which was behind Harrods, where I’d get my milk. Curiously enough, Harrods’ milk was a halfpennny cheaper than elsewhere in the neighbourhood, but it only lasted a couple of days without a fridge.

Then I looked for work. I worked in Beckenham, and then at the BBC in Television Centre. I shared a house with four other guys, then shared with two others, then settled on a bedsit in Ealing. London is probably even more damned expensive because it is holding the entire capital wealth of Greece embodied in its housing stock at the moment, but it was still dear way back in the 1980s.

It really, honestly, never occurred to me that what should happen is for the taxpayer to subsidise my rent. I looked around me, came to the conclusion that I couldn’t afford to buy a house, even on a reasonably okay wage. It was obvious to me, getting on for nearly a quarter of a century ago, that I would never be able to afford to buy a house or rent somewhere big enough to bring up a family. So guess what I did?

I moved out of London

It’s not hard, is it? 25 years ago it was obvious to me that Central/West London, where I’d have liked to live, somewhere near Bloomsbury, if you please, though Ealing would have done me too, was out of my reach. To be honest the place where my parents lived, 15 miles out and in sarf London, was out of my reach. I needed both a better paying job and cheaper houses. So why the hell are there any ordinary families at all in Westminster, which is a damned expensive part of the city? Not only are they competing with Greek shipowners, Russian plutocrats and general old money, the area is also prime commercial and office space. You don’t find ordinary Americans living in Beverley Hills or Manhattan, or ordinary Germans living in central Berlin.

And above all, why should the rest of us pay for people to live where it’s too dear for them? I wanted to live in London but it was too bloody expensive, so I moved out. Yes, in the end ordinary workers won’t be able to live in travelling distance of London, in which case the people that do live there will just have to stump up through their council tax to raise wages enough or pay for essential services privately. They are presumably rich enough to do that.

Look at some of the rents in the article. £812pw, £525 pw. Crikey, I couldn’t afford to pay that on rent right now, at the peak of my earning career, well, not if I wanted to do much else. Think about it. £812pw is £42,224 p.a. You have to earn £53,000+ to be able to pay that after tax. Why are we subsidising familes to the tune of twice the national average household pretax income to live in Westminster?

The whole benefits thing seems to have got out of hand, with presumptive rights accruing to people to mask organic change from them. It is the job of the parents to look around them and put their families in a place where they can afford the rent. Had they done this before they had lots of children, they wouldn’t have to disrupt their precious children’s education by moving when the taxpayer says enough is enough. If they were rich enough to be able to afford the rent, they wouldn’t have to move.

It’s hard to find any sympathy for people who didn’t look around them and move, but took the easy option. This change happened slowly, over time, and should have been adapted to. As a young man I could just about afford to rent a bedsit, it’s been obvious for years that London is out of the reach of someone on the average UK wage. Benefits are there to help people that suddenly fall on hard times due to a short-term (couple of years) change in circumstances. They are not there to enable people to improve their standard of living at the taxpayer’s expense. If you can’t afford to live in London, then move the hell out like I did!

At least the Graun showed us the logical conclusion of what they want to happen.

Ben Denton, Westminster’s strategic director of housing, regeneration and worklessness, said: “Is it fair for the state to provide subsidy for people to live in places that are the most expensive? Is it correct for the state to support anyone to live wherever they want to live? That’s the philosophical question. If the answer is, anyone can live anywhere, then the state and the taxpayer has to subsidise that.”

and the last word to Westminster Council

The philosophy behind the new cap seems to be “if you can’t afford to live here, don’t expect to live here”. “To live in Westminster is a privilege, not a right, because so many people want to live here,” a Westminster council press officer explains.

Too bloody right. There are lots of things I’d like to do, but can’t afford. What happened to making do, changing your expectations or doing without?

A Feckless Family Fruitlessly Frittering Financial Future Away

It was news to me that there were people getting more that the £26,000 average household income from benefits, but it appears this is a problem, to be addressed by the Welfare Reform Bill. Which seems to have taken a kicking from some bleeding hearts in the House of Lords. The kicking is taking a kicking in the Commons as I write.

Let’s take a butcher’s hook at one of these offending families, kindly drawn to my attention by Lemondy, who was in the market for a good rant, pleased to oblige 😉

What’s been going on here? It doesn’t start well, we have a blended family of two of Ray’s daughters from a previous relationship and three of his wife Katherine’s kids from her previous relationship. Fair enough, these things happen, looks like there is no contribution from the other people who helped bring these children into the world.

Raymond, a former educational software writer, has been jobless since 2001. His wife Katherine suffers from bipolar disorder with an anxiety disorder and is also unable to work.

Says Ray: “The market for my skills dried up 10 years ago – there’s a total lack of work in my area of expertise.”

There are two problems here. One is that Ray, despite being unemployed for the last ten years, decided to sire a son five years ago. At least it was with his wife. Ray, me old mucker, precisely why did you decide to produce this child when you knew you were unable to support it? Perhaps you ought to take a look at what the NHS has to say about stopping this happening in future…

Don’t get me wrong, I am open to taxpayers supporting families up to three children in some cases. After that I believe family support should be supplied in kind – food stamps, clothing vouchers for named individuals with a photo, and free school meals. Why is that? Because having children when you can’t afford them should seriously screw up your standard of living!

I am happy with supporting normal sized families (that’s up to 3) through the tax and benefits system, though they’ll have to move to cheaper areas. However, larger familes should be actively discouraged if you’re going to do it on the public purse. In the past, when I asked myself whether I could have children, the answer was no, I couldn’t afford it. So I didn’t do it, FFS! What makes Ray and Katherine so damn special that not only do I not get to have the experience. I have to pay for them to do it?

When I was growing up, when parents couldn’t support their children longterm the children were taken into care. There was a lot wrong with that, but there’s a lot wrong with people like me paying for the likes of  Ray and Katherine to have that special experience of having a child of their own blood too. Supporting these children and only the children via food and clothing vouchers would at least screw up the parents’ living standard a bit while protecting the child’s essential needs.

The second thing wrong here is Ray’s assertion

“The market for my skills dried up 10 years ago – there’s a total lack of work in my area of expertise.”

Don’tcha think it might be time to learn something new, then, rather than sitting on your big hairy butt firing out children on the taxpayers’ dime then, Ray? You have sat on your lazy ass for longer than I aim to retire early. For a quarter of your potential working life you have done diddly squat, while Gordon Brown, in addition to saving the world solved child poverty by dropping money from helicopters to people like you. Solving child poverty was a laudable aim, but not if you start creating more of it by making it easier for people like Ray to sit on their Lay-Z-Boy recliners watching Sky TV….

Talking of which, let’s move on to the spending of this feckless bunch of time-wasters

‘There are four children to supply school uniforms – including gym kits – each year. The school trips aren’t days out to Alton Towers – they’re educational trips for several of the courses, like history, geography and media studies, that the school tells us will form an important part of their course. Then there are seven birthdays a year, and seven children to make Christmas happen for each year.’

Whenever anything that looks like frippery is given the adjective ‘educational’ we know we are being rooked. In the 1960s and 70s families sometimes just had to say ‘we can’t afford it’ to school trips. If enough families didn’t sign up, the trip was cancelled. It wasn’t the end of the world. And I’m sorry, but media studies isn’t even worth the time it takes in the school day, and it definitely isn’t worth some of my money to send Ray’s children on school trips for.

As for the seven birthdays and Christmases, well, used to be if you couldn’t afford Christmas you’d make the presents yourself. Ray and Katherine need a spine transplant, so they can say to their kids “we can’t be bothered to go to work to give you that iPod you wanted, so you’ll have to do with this tube of Smarties instead”. Instead they tell their children the lie that the fairness fairy will given them their heart’s desires, propagating the entitlement gene across the generations. Oh and you, dear reader, and I get to pay for it, too…

‘We get the Sky Movies package because we’re stuck in the house all week – otherwise we wouldn’t have any entertainment.’

Bit of a battle for the old remote control, eh? And why are we paying the Digger £780 a year, Ray? Tell you what, since you’re so keen on things ‘educational’ howsabout you haul your lazy ass down to the library and borrow some of those flat things called books, and get your lot to read?

Anybody who has Sky TV should have benefits docked to the same amount. It’s a want, not a need. My TV delivers enough entertainment without Sky, I reused the dish for FreeSat. Want Sky to watch the footy? Get a flippin’ job, Ray!

‘Most of this goes on our eldest son’s bus fares to college and back. For me, if it’s less than five miles, I’ll walk.’

For the first time, I tip my hat to you, sir. That’s the right attitude. Heck, I’d be okay with putting some of the saving from the Sky TV package I’d cancel to get you a reasonable pushbike.

‘My wife and I have mobile phones, and so do all of the teenage children. You try telling teenagers they’re going to have to do without their mobiles and there’ll be hell to pay.’

How about telling them where to get a paper round if they want a mobile? It’s back to spine transplant time for you, Ray, my boy. And why the bloomin’ heck is this costing you over £1500 a year? What part of PAYG and ‘shut yer gob’ do you and yours not understand? I have never paid £1500 a year for mobile phone service. Nor even £200, which is the per head rate, and I don’t plan to start. Ever heard of Skype, since your lot seems to spend most of the time at home?

‘Gas and electricity bills have gone up massively over the last couple of years – two years ago we were paying £20 a week. If they do cut our benefit we are going to have to choose between eating and heating the house properly.’

Even when I was running a video conversion firm with loads of electrical gear I never paid that much for heat and power. Presumably the jumper is not an item of clothing your family is familiar with? Or the clothesline, though I accept that may have limited use in Wales.

‘ Rent £76: This is social housing in Wales, so the rent is hardly massive. If we rented privately in this area, then the cost would be four or five times as much.’

Nicely played, sir. At least it is a different bunch of taxpayers keeping a roof over your head… There’s a lot to be said for diverisfying your income.

Weekly shopping £240, Includes food and household goods, 24 cans of lager, 200 cigarettes and a large
pouch of tobacco:

‘Our biggest expense. We do all our shopping at Tesco or Morrisons in one big go. Mostly we buy the “value” range – tinned meatballs, baked beans etc. On the cigarettes, my wife tried to give up, but she missed one appointment on the course and they threw her off it.’

Looks like tobacco is £65 then. So I can sort your £82.40 weekly saving at one fell swoop. Cut the ciggies right out, drop the Sky TV and the remaining couple of quid can either come off the children’s Christmas and Birthday presents or you can drop a tinnie or two of the lager. They do have Aldi or Lidl in Wales?

There you go, Ray. Fixed that for you, and you’ll have your no doubt lovely wife with you for that much longer because she doesn’t smoke now 🙂

For far too long the goal of reducing child poverty has led us astray.We did not raise our eyes to the monster that we were creating as a byproduct, of increasing the ranks of the undeserving poor.

It’s all very Victorian, but we need to start discriminating again between the deserving and the undeserving poor, because at the current rate of progress we are all going to be poor.

We could start by making access to a higher level of welfare payments contingent on having paid into the system in the last few years, like many European countries. I wouldn’t mind paying toward’s Ray’s brood if he’d been working for the last 10 years and then lost his job in the current downturn. What incenses me is that he had another child while on benefits! We could make child benefit payable in kind, particulary if the child appears more than 9 months after you’ve been claiming!

Something that always puzzles me is how many poor people smoke, or is it that smoking makes you poor. In the end if you can afford it I don’t give a toss if you smoke or not, as long as you don’t do it near me. If you’re on benefits then I do mind. If I were on benefits I would expect to have to drink less!!!

A first step of capping benefits at £26,000 (the average wage) seems like a pretty good start. Bring on the Welfare Reform Bill. £26,000 is a high proportion of my annual wage. Hearing slackers like Ray and his bunch get it for free make me feel like a right mug for working for a living and going without to try and buy myself a few years out of work.

Hearing him whingeing about having to choose between heating and eating when outing the tobacco and the Sky TV would more than bridge the gap makes me want to slap him round the face with a wet fish and insert a bit of steel into his spine, and tell him to man up and sort out his responsibilities rather than moaning about his rights.

Oh and I’ve borrowed the concept of a complainypants from Mr Money Mustache. And tagged the posts about moaning benefit recipients as such. In the end if you get benefits, then that’s nice. Just don’t build a lifestyle on it, OK?

Why do I say that? Look at the words of Bill Gross from PIMCO where he asks where credit goes to die.

Where does credit go when it dies? It goes back to where it came from. It delevers, it slows and inhibits economic growth, and it turns economic theory upside down, ultimately challenging the wisdom of policymakers. We’ll all be making this up as we go along for what may seem like an eternity. A 30-50 year virtuous cycle of credit expansion which has produced outsize paranormal returns for financial assets – bonds, stocks, real estate and commodities alike – is now delevering because of excessive “risk” and the “price” of money at the zero-bound.

We are witnessing the death of abundance and the borning of austerity, for what may be a long, long time.

Your frickin’ benefits are being paid from that abundance. Austerity won’t be paying them in future. Child poverty will reappear. All benefits will fade away. I’d be surprised if I get to draw a State Pension in 16 years’ time, it will probably be means tested and hopefully I will have too much capital, though Bill’s prognosis isn’t so good for that either. That is the trouble with relying on benefits – governments can take them away, just like they did for people that paid into SERPS who took the shaft recently.

So don’t have kids on benefits so that you get more CTC. You’re likely to see that kid go short over the next 18 years unless you get a job. The writing is on the wall, pal, and it’s going to stay up there for a long time.

We are witnessing the death of abundance and the borning of austerity, for what may be a long, long time.

One of the great things about high petrol prices is that it prices other people off the road, apparently it’s Squeezing the Middle

There seems to be a constituency of consumers out there who are calling themselves the Squeezed Middle. And they’re mightily p*ssed off, so much so they want to vent. I got some choice words for them later on. However, I had a surprisingly pleasant experience yesterday.

I hauled my carcass into the car to drive to London to visit my parents, guess it’s a 75-mile trip each way. I’m mortgage free and I have no intention of taking out the small mortgage I’d need to buy a rail ticket. I’m going to London tomorrow by train for work and it costs my company £78 of their Great British Pounds to do it. I hope I can add that much value to the meeting compared to a phone conference, but heck, it’s their call as it’s on their coin.

So I fill up the car flexing the credit card for £62-odd. It’s been a couple of months since I bought petrol, as the trusty bicycle doesn’t touch the stuff. I note that it’s probably the highest about I’ve ever spent on a tank of petrol, and then I set myself on my journey down to The Smoke.

I launch myself onto the A12 from Ipswich, and I think to myself blimey, where have all the people gone? Is there a football match or a Royal Wedding on? Okay, so it’s a Sunday late morning, but I know what the traffic should be, I’ve done this journey often enough. So I settle in and try and maintain an even speed of about 60 to optimise my fuel consumption of my 12 year old car that has already seen more than 100,000 miles of road, and it’s dead easy. I’m not streetfighting the trucks and I can let all the folks who have more money than me hare along in the outside lane, but even they aren’t streaking past me at about 40-50mph above my speed as they used to.

This reminds me of how Britain’s roads were when I learned to drive, in 1984, you didn’t have the frenetic and tiresome jockeying for position then that has become the norm on our crowded highways.

So I say hooray for high petrol prices – it prices all those other buggers off the road that were getting in my way. I arrived at my parents’ place more relaxed than usual, heck, I’d pay more to get the balance shifted even further. Which is kinda just as well, as I’m sure it will go that way, for all sorts of reasons, like peak oil, the increasing debasement of Britain’s currency, the general decline of the Western world relative to the East in competing for natural resources etc.

According to the New Statesman we are into ‘peak car’ where people really are being priced off the road (hat tip to Alex for the heads up). About time too, the ever increasing volume of traffic on Britain’s roads, particularly the huge number of trucks doing the old truck race blocking both lanes of a two-lane road, was beginning to make inter-city driving in the UK really draining. On-cue the Grauniad delivers us this heart-wrenching tale of the Blanchards, a couple comprising of a chap and a SAHM who are part of the Squeezed Middle.  Let’s take a look at the ways they seek to design oil dependency into their lifestyle.

So they had to get rid of one car, so the remaining vehicle naturally gets driven by the wage earner to get to work. What, then, is the nature of the complaint? It appears the lady (a SAHM I observe) has to take the 16-month old out of nursery ‘cos she no longer has a car to take him there, and now considers herself imprisoned in her home, to wit:

It means I can’t get anywhere now, including nursery.

Well, err, colour me a cynical son of a gun, but lady, you are a SAHM, so what’s with this nursery lark then? One of the upsides of living in a purty li’l village is you get to enjoy the birdsong and the smell of the countryside in its rich variety, one of the downsides is you are miles from anywhere – well, 10 miles from Cambridge. Apparently the bus fare for those 10 miles is now £5.40 return. Count yourself lucky, lady, the bus fare for me to get to work and back is that much and it’s only 6.5 miles each way, which is why I get on my bike.

These Squeezed Middlers have built themselves an unsustainable lifestyle, though at the moment the solution is easy – SAHM actually has to be a SAHM and SAH to be a M, the clue’s in the acronym. Tesco or Ocado are going to have to deliver… Then we have the coup de grace

Our children are missing out and the government needs to lower the price of petrol much closer to £1 to help families out.

It’s the classic please won’t you think of the children? line. Why does the government need to use my taxes to subsidise your lifestyle? I’m not being a child-hating fascist here, when I was a kid my family didn’t even have a car till I was in secondary school! Schools, yes, health, yes, excess driving for SAHMs to live out in the country yet have access to the facilities of the town like the nursery, let’s just hold on a moment. It is possible to survive without a car, y’know. The choice has been one that people took for years before oil – you store or save your needs for about a month if you live in the country, and make a monthly trip into town, or you live in a more modest abode in town with easy access to the facilities around you and shop every day.

In the coming decades transport will become ever more expensive. We will move ourselves are our supplies about less. We will manage stores better, as the fragile just-in-time supply chins that gorged on cheap oil fracture and fail in service. We will reimplement some of the systems that were used in the past, or more evenly distributed and graduated local, city, regional, county and country stores.  We will probably still have modern communications and data processing, so we will manage our stock far more efficiently than we used to. And country dwellers will make infrequent trips into town. £5.40 return is a killer if you do it every day, but it is not outrageous if you do it once a week. My Mum shopped one a week to the shopping centre for durables and ISTR twice a week if not more often for fresh veg from greengrocers and market stalls.

We are going to have to think differently about how we live and how we supply ourselves. At least in Europe we still have a physical geography that reflects a time when supplies were distributed before cheap oil. I don’t know how Americans are going to be able to keep the suburbs and exurbs supplied in future, but they are a resourceful bunch so I am sure there’s a way.

Oh, and before I take some stick for being some hyper-rich Toad of Toad Hall, I spent a total of £319 on petrol last year, so I am not Mr Toad, and it is why I can afford it if petrol doubles in price, indeed I could cope if it went up 10x, though I would probably cut my mileage even more and bike in the rain. I’m not rich as Croesus either, my household income puts the household into the nominal Squeezed Middle, though having no mortgage probably puts me at the upper end of it in terms of disposable income. I haven’t designed a long commute into my lifestyle, that was a choice I made decades ago. My London commute was 15 miles and 1.5 hours each way, and I resolved that one of the things I was going to fix was making sure I didn’t have that experience again. I was lucky in having that bad experience, but in general we are increasingly going to have to design our lives to involve less driving. Moaning that the government should subsidise fuel to allow SAHMs to drive their kids to nursery isn’t the right answer…

In the meantime, I look forward to increasingly empty roads. I hadn’t noticed this drop in traffic going to work because my bike ride doesn’t go via too many main roads, and indeed it seemed to be the inter-city part of the journey that had less traffic, I can’t say I noticed any big reduction in town or in London.

Why don’t the Middle Class do Forward Planning?

I know it’s pumped up for journalistic effect, but this lady writing in the Daily Mail bemoaning her impecunious Christmas tickled me as yet another example of the so called middle class’s lack of clue.

Charlotte Metcalf can't afford Christmas this year
Charlotte Metcalf can't afford Christmas this year

Charlotte’s reasonably attractive, working as a television producer, previously on a decent screw of at least £62,000. If her £1200 weekly salary was net then it’s a darn sight more than that.

Now unlike some of the precious SAHMs writing for the Guardian, our Charlotte is in her early fifties, and therefore has some experience of life 🙂 And her story seems to be a breathtaking litany of failure to look around her and take stock.

She works in TV. Now when I worked as a grunt studio engineer in Television Centre a couple of decades ago, even I noticed something. Production was a young person’s game. You only had to look around the production gallery to see that most of the faces were in their twenties and thirties, and even those in the gallery were among the youthful and prettier specimens of the human race – both the guys and the girls. People in the gallery don’t appear on screen, it’s where production hung out directing the talent and switching the cameras and barking out the instructions to the talent and camera crew on the studio floor. Engineering was, by contrast, the domain of the, ahem, experienced, and the, let’s face it, more ugly members of staff, who were also predominantly male.

I was obviously not the only person to observe this, and there’s been a hoo-hah about it. Yes, you can rail about it all you want, though I wonder what part of television people don’t understand. The human race isn’t noted for getting more beautiful as it gets older, and sheer self-preservation would seem to make it a good idea to bear this in mind. Freelancers’ incomes are also notoriously variable. So what does Charlotte do? Let’s take a look.

She lives day-to day. Loads of wonga coming in? Splash with the £45 jars of face cream as gifts. Says much for her warm and perhaps over-materialistic heart, less for her active use of some of those five decades of life in learning that a freelance income has an ebb and flow… This is against the backdrop of a career in a field that appears to favour youth over experience, and in a creative field to boot, where it is notable that having kids sometimes takes away from the single-minded zeal that is sometimes confused with brilliance. All that adds up to past performance may not be a guide to future results, and that it might be wise to take that into account in one’s planning.

She and her significant other buy four houses, two pads in London and two in the country, one as an ‘investment’. Okay, so if you get together with a partner after 40 you may well end up with two houses.

Colour me naive, but before you go as a couple to buy another two abodes, maybe you should, y’know, get round to selling one of the existing ones? If you can’t sell a London pad for the price you’d like, maybe that is telling you something about the property market that you should listen to before you go long on property again? Particularly in a part of the country that doesn’t have rich Russian oligarchs, financial whizz-kids and tax-evading Greek shipping tycoons pumping London prices up ?

So what is the nature of the financial drought she is experiencing? We’re not talking slumming it on JSA with the unemployed. She’s down to £500 a week,  which my trusty calculator is telling me is about £26000 a year, so still appreciably above the average national income. So what is she and her circle of ‘middle class’ friends doing about their straitened circumstances? Obviously not getting a clue, by these choice quotes:

Many of my friends are in quiet despair. One girlfriend told me that she’d planned to spend only £50 on her 15-year-old daughter and yet the same daughter is now asking for an iPad, which can cost more than eight times that.

FFS, this daughter is 15. In three years she will be considered a fully grown adult. Isn’t it time to introduce her to the little known fact that you can’t always have what you want in this world? I’d quite like my own private island, yacht and helicopter, thanks. But I know I won’t be getting that in this life, never mind this Christmas. Boo Hoo. It’s still possible to live a happy and meaningful life without an iPad, or an island, yacht and helicopter 😉

The lady who’s dragging this materialistic 15-year old up should perhaps ask herself what kind of values she is passing on to her daughter. Unlike the 1987-2006 period, her daughter is likely to be dealing with a world where decline, rather than growth, is likely to be the dominant theme of Western economies as perceived by most of the population. And she seems eminently ill-prepared for dealing with the world in which she will be scraping a living.

Just as I used to do as a ­little girl, my daughter has written a wish list to Santa and is confidently expecting him to wiggle down the chimney with a sack bulging with goodies ranging from a violin to Silly Bandz, the ubiquitous rubber bracelets all the rage among young girls.

She has been aglow with anticipation and her face lights up every time she hears the word ‘present’.

And the idea of having to disappoint her makes me feel sick to my stomach.

Charlotte, my dear woman, you should have started this process earlier, but now isn’t too late. Stop teaching your child that value is only measured in Stuff. She will chase an endless chimera of empty dreams and unfulfilled promises. But before you can do that, perhaps it is time that you searched in your own fifty-something year-old heart and asked yourself what your values and beliefs are. You made a pretty good start here. Time to take it to the next level – it wasn’t Stuff, but relationships that mattered to you. How about saving your child twenty of those empty years chasing the “having it all” dream then? You’re old enough to have realised that if you try and have it all you end up with having nothing. Pass it on 😉

I feel for you, Charlotte, because I have been some of where you’ve gone. It was only in 2009 that I was rudely awakened from the assumption that I would work until 60 in my current job and then retire on a reasonable pension. I was awakened. And looked around, and saw my company which had originally been an elite research facility was now a jobbing shop, more and more of the work was being outsourced to Indian subcontractors, and that basically the bell is tolling for me. I do know what a creeping lack of situational awareness does to you.

But I woke up, and smelled the bitter coffee. Then started doing something about it. That means starting saving and chopping costs. Stuff is just stuff. At your age, Charlotte, you will realise that it is the relationships and the people in your life that illuminate it, not the Stuff you have in the attic, or the expensive leather boots on your feet, or the fancy sofa. That’s the icing on the cake. The feature most important to you in your photograph is centre three-quarters right, and didn’t come from a store.

It is who is in your life, not what is in it, that matters, leastways it’s what matters for someone on your money. I can have sympathy for the people on Britain’s average household income. They may genuinely not be able to take any action to secure their future. But about 70% of households have less income than Charlotte’s, assuming her partner is bringing in about the same.

It’s time to do less of this

My mother always had a glossy, fat-berried holly wreath on our front door, but today something similar can cost well over £40, even if you try to track one down cheaply in a local market.

and time to take your child down to the local park or for a trip into the countryside and pick some holly from the hedgerows and make that darned wreath.


Don’t pick all of the berries because some strapped mistle thrush, fieldfare or redwing may miss them, but take some and you can have your very own fine wreath. If you hear the football rattle sound above, it’s a mistle thrush letting you know that he would rather appreciate if you left his winter food store alone, thanks very much 🙂

It's perfectly possible to make Christmas wreaths :)
It's perfectly possible to make Christmas wreaths or even buy them for less than £40

She might even see some birds, and it’ll keep her away from the shops and the TV and the incessant buy, buy, buy, you need this thneedmessage. Don’t be such a daft materialist, woman. You seem to know the price of everything and the value of nothing, and it’s time to get a clue and look at where you’ve come from and where you’re going in life. If not for your own sake, then for the sake of your daughter!

Charlotte’s a microcosm of the middle classes, frightened like rabbits in headlights. Circumstances have changed. There’s less money about, and an awful lot of what we thought was money, such as housing equity, has been shown to be false. You need to do some forward planning, change what you’re doing and spending, and change it fast. It got through to my thick head a year and a half ago. There’s an economic shitstorm blowing into town, and you can bend with it or stand fast and be destroyed. Choose, but don’t be an ostrich!

send not to know for whom the bell tolls

…it tolls for thee. Hat-tip to Monevator, from whom I’ve  unwholesomely pinched the phrase. There again, he swiped it from Hemingway, who got it from John Donne. We will find out on Wednesday what else is in store from the Comprehensive Spending Review, few will escape unscathed, even if only hit by dint of buying stuff, for VAT will rise to 20% from January. So far that is the only hit I know of, barring the NI hike but I believe it was the last lot who set that up.

In researching some of the previous posts I turned up some breathtaking examples of smart people who seem to take complacency to new levels – let’s hear it from

Sarah (hat tip to Lemondy for turning up that one)
Joseph and his brood of 5
Nicholas with his £500 a month nursery habit
on the DT – it’s not just a Guardian thang…

Though it’s true that all these individuals have kids, this isn’t their problem. They’re all better off than most UK households, and their primary problem is  an overdeveloped sense of entitlement, a lack of foresight and suboptimal personal finances. Jacob from ERE has a wry analogy of how they got to be that way.

They live according to their means – all the way up to their income limit and in some cases beyond. It means there’s no slack in the system, and in some cases no savings either. Now it’s understandable if you live on a tough council estate and have no savings, but if you’re a higher-rate taxpayer writing for the Guardian you really can do better.

As Monevator intimates, send not to know for who the deficit reduction bell tolls. it tolls for thee. The obvious response to the distant drumbeat of cuts is above all else reduce outgoings. Sun Tzu had words of wisdom:

Invincibility lies in the defence; the possibility of victory in the attack.

Now is about defending your personal finances. The time will come later to try and improve them by increasing your income, for instance going for a better job.

Building up savings is nice, but reducing cash haemorrhages can really improve your financial position short and long-term. On the principle that it’s good to get one’s attack in first, the time to start doing this is now, so you won’t have to mount a response to  something like the loss of child benefit under fire.

That means tackling subscriptions, Sky, mobile phone packages, eating out, drinking, jazz lessons, visits to the cinema. Knowing how much you spend on these items per month is a really good start, particularly the ones which come frequently but at random like eating out.

I’m not going to bore you with the mechanics. Knowledge is power – tracking where your money is going is the key to this. I have used Quicken since 1998, and it gives a rear-view mirror perspective to my spending. Most personal finance guidance advocates setting a budget, ie trying to get a forward view on spending, but it all depends on the quality of your estimation. Mine was pretty ropey, I could only control my spending watching the rear-view. For most of those years I used Quicken to avoid going into debt and paying bank charges, living a reasonably middle-class and hedonistic lifestyle, up to, but never beyond my income. I did save indirectly, as I took the now unusual step of repaying some of the capital on my house at various times.

It was only with seeing the writing on the wall at work with some changes that drew it to my attention that I did not want to carry on doing things this way that I changed. At the time I thought I was going to be finished in a year. That concentrated the mind – I switched to intense pre-tax savings in pension AVCs and post-tax savings in ISAs – first a couple of cash ISAs to achieve an emergency fund that wouldn’t get destroyed on the stock market (it’ll just get destroyed over the next couple of years by the twin horsemen of inflation and QE), then NS&I index-linked certs for the three-year timeframe and shares ISAs for the five-year plus.

At the same time I also allocated about the same amount of resources to non-financial investments because I believe there is a significant likelihood that Britain and the West will never recover from this financial crisis, and that the financial bloodbath that started in 2007 is the harbinger of fundamental changes to geopolitical power and global resource shortages particularly in energy.

I had the advantage(?) of hearing the bell toll for me, and having a year to prepare. For pretty much anybody in the UK, but particularly anybody working in the public sector, well, chum, that bell is tolling for thee. For heaven’s sake, start preparing. Three months ago would have been a good time to start, but now is still good, and better than three months hence.

SAHM Sarah is at least on the right track, though some of her outgoings still beggar belief. F’rinstance, she’s chuffed to be saving £36pm on her car insurance. I couldn’t do that, because mine is about £20 pm fully comp, so either she is driving some fancy wheels or she is a rotten negotiator. She’s younger and a damn sight more attractive than me, but as a lady probably gets a discount for not having testosterone coursing through her veins. I hate to think how much her insurance was before!. If her husband works in Ipswich, then why on earth do they pay Cambridge house prices? For sure, Cambridge is prettier, better connected, more cosmopolitan, but is it really worth the extra costs? Plus faced with

We have no savings – all money spent on moving house six times in 10 years for my husband’s career – but we’ve stopped the £20 a month put in each of the children’s child trust funds.

Ever heard of that archaic practice called renting, dear woman? Yes, you don’t build up (negative) equity in the home, but you lose a shocking amount of money moving house if you are a homebuyer, not to mention the emotional frazzle of the process. The money lost in the home purchase turn isn’t so bad amortised over 7 years which is the average dwell time of UK homeowners, but churning your residence every two years is as nutty as churning your shareholdings every couple of months. Just don’t do it – or at least tot up the total of all those estate agents, surveyors, solicitors, mortgage arrangement and moving fees…

If you’re a banker you’re probably okay, but for anyone else in the UK live as if you’re going to take a 25% pay cut over the next year. Regardless of your risk of job loss, there are some serious economic headwinds coming our way over the next few years –

  • More expensive fuel, heating and electricity as a result of increased world demand and potential supply bottlenecks
  • a loss in the purchasing power of the pound due to quantitative easing, inflation or both
  • potential falls of house prices in real terms due to wage pressures, less money for mortgages and inflation. That is particularly bad for people with a high loan-to-value because interest rates will go up if inflation takes hold
  • Increasing food and clothing costs are a result of fuel and resource pressures

Now is not the time to be spending up to the limit of your income, like I was a few years ago. And it is definitely not the time to be spending beyond your income, no matter what the reason.

It’s time to get a personal finance tin hat – you need to electively choose to start living on less that your income even if it means doing without things, so you have space to deal with this loss of purchasing power. There’s no point in burying your head in the sand – deal with reality, otherwise reality will deal with you in its own way.

As the cited individuals show, filling in a sudden personal finance hole causes worry and grief. A sense of entitlement simply makes you blame the rest of the world for problems. It may well be the fault of the rest ofthe world, but it is easier to change yourself and your actions than it is to get the rest of the world behind your point of view.

Obviously I could be wrong, but anybody with half an ear to the news will observe that the likelihood of being richer in a few years time is less that the expectation of being poorer. Plus, what’s the worst that could happen? You scrimp and save a bit now, Britain starts booming again and you end up sitting on some saved cash? Time for that trip to Australia, pop the bubbly and have a good laugh at your ill-founded pessimism and that fruitcake at SLS.

Whereas take the ostrich mentality to the incoming crapstorm, what’s the worst that could happen? You lose your job, then your home? You start whining on the Guardian and then have lots of people say nasty things about you which brings Patrick Collinson out in hives?

Oh yes, and that bell is tolling for me too, just to show we’re all in it together. I’m not rich enough for the pension changes announced so far to affect me, but known issues I will be hit by –

  • VAT rise
  • fuel costs
  • heat/light/power
  • property/council tax rises
  • increasing costs of food
  • demise of the State pension/introduction of means testing, goodbye to 30 years NI payments for me.
  • inflation due to QE destroying a good part, ~50% if I am lucky, almost total wipeout if I’m not, of my accumulated wealth despite attempts to turn it into real stuff  and shareholdings (tin hat/optimistic portfolio)

and I’m sure George has got something thought up especially for me.

He can’t take any of my benefits away, because I don’t get any that I know of, but he can raise taxes. It is true that since I am close to the end of my working life the cumulative effect of this is less, but those readers who are at an earlier stage in your working lives and therefore more exposed can take some comfort in knowing that the devaluation of the currency will trash a significant amount of my accumulated wealth.

Plus the forthcoming house price crash will trash the nominal value of my house, though that doesn’t upset me that much as I have no mortgage. It might even give me an opportunity to upgrade. Whatever happens, the house will still keep the rain off my head.

What on earth is that keening noise?

All around Britain, there’s this horrific low wailing noise at the moment. It is the keening of households that earn at least twice as much as the average household income in the UK (which is about £22k ISTR). And happen to have children.

The noise is because they’ve just found out that Georgie babe has done them out of £1700 child benefit, so their second family holiday might have to be axed. Boo Hoo. It always puzzled me as to why the hell I was paying for my colleagues to have kids. Or conversely, why I couldn’t levy a tax on them to support things I might want to do.

As soon as you venture into the arena of people and their kids then you live dangerously, but heck, I’m up for the fight 🙂 I can see the rationale for child benefit for up to two children, targeted at those below the average income. But I’m sorry. If you are a higher rate taxpayer you don’t need State support for your lifestyle choices even if your partner is a SAHM (or SAHD).

You may like it, and it may enable you to live above your means in a house that is too big for you. But it’s not necessary. How do I know that? Well, look around you. There are lots of average Brits on the average household income of £22k with average number of kids. They manage on £24k odd (extra 2k to factor in their child benefit, natch). You’ve already got more than them coming in. I don’t begrudge these average earners their assistance, though child benefit should be capped at 2 kids IMO – we shouldn’t pay people to over-reproduce because there’s a danger of Idiocracy coming to pass if we do that. But I do begrudge you your child benefit if you are my colleagues, or people that earn more than the HRT threshold. Why should I pay for Tarquin’s tuba lessons and your second holiday? Oh but it’s so expensive to have 5 kids? Well, it’s something you wanted to do. What staggers me is this sort of thing from fulltimemum on the Daily Torygraph

Devastated by news of CB cuts! Husband is just over the threshold, when car allow., and comm. are included. We made the decision as a family 8 years ago, that I should stay at home and actually raise our own children (we have 4). We would lose £240 a month with the intended cuts, this is simply not feasible for us. We could not pay our bills.  […] We had very little savings to get by and relied on our parents to support us during this time. It was such a traumatic period that I considered whether I should get a job just incase it were to happen again, but still we decided that all things considered it would be best to stay home for the children. News that CB will be completely axed for us, means I have literally no choice but to find work before 2013. I am a Physics graduate, (and PhD), but graduated many years ago, […] The news of the Chancellor’s CB cuts, have left me feeling helpless and that I am being ‘shoe-horned’ out of my own home to allow us to maintain our standard of living, and remain in our home, and the older children in their school.

She sounds like a lovely person, and is no doubt a good SAHM. But 4 kids? Depending upon a State handout to make her personal finances work? This lady has got a PhD FFS – she should have seen how unwise that is. And the throwaway reference to keeping the older children in their school, well, if it’s a question of paying Tarquin and Jemima’s school fees with my taxes,  steady on there fulltimemum. I’m happy enough for my taxes to put brussel sprouts and mash on Jack and Shanice’s plate, but school fees? What’s up with that? What’s with the absence of savings too. This little princess has got to get used to making some decisions about her priorities and values in life.

If anybody has the temerity to dredge up the old saw about their kids pushing my bathchair in old age, well, you can stick it. It’ll be the kids of the poor, or more likely immigrant workers who will do that. And I’m happy to pay CB for the poor (up to 2 kids). I’m not happy to pay this lady’s children’s school fees, nor your family holiday in the sun.

Under normal circumstances I consider it highly rude to get involved with other people’s reproductive choices, I’m not one of the head cases that talks about flesh loaves etc. If you don’t ask me to pay for your choice to have children, then I’ve got no comment. But if you feel entitled to take a slice out of my earnings for little Tarquin’s school fees, well, you get to hear my opinion. I paid for that right, I’m going to have my rant, dammit!

Update – Looks like the Torygraph’s James Kirkup has done the work to establish how well off these SAHM/D households with two kids and a £44k working parent are using the IFS calculator. This household is better off than 78% of the population. These guys don’t need my help with their kids.

Update2 – Lemondy below points out that the falling standards of education have had an effect on Torygraph journalists who failed to drive the IFS calculator right – much appreciated. Actually all you said was that Kirkup cocked up, I added the spin about falling standards 😉 So the people losing out aren’t quite as well off as he indicated. They’re still a damn sight better off than most of their compatriots, however.