Monday, 10 March 2014

Money Money Money

Recently I bought Alvin Hall's You and Your Money and started reading it. I thought about buying it several years ago, when I saw Alvin Hall on a breakfast show and he talked about some of his good ideas. Back then I didn't have a lot of money so I said I couldn't afford his book, LOL.

'Smatteroffact, by now I have pretty much outgrown it, of course. I don't know about you; I often find I only buy these books which would have been really helpful once I have done the hard work on my own. I wrestle with the issues they are talking about until I have them already on the floor and then I say: "Hey, I will just read up about you now I have you pinned down". It's a kind of arrogance, perhaps. Or maybe I am worried that while I am going: "help help, I need to sort this out," I will be vulnerable to having my mind bent in ways I don't want it to go.

Anyway, anyway, I still find Alvin Hall's book deeply fascinating. It isn't really about money of course, any more than money is about money.

From The Old Reader.
Money is the ultimate empty signifier.

Eh? wassat! Hey, you, Dr. Mum, it is too early in the morning for that sort of thing - put in a footnote. OK, OK - the signifier is a term thought up by Ferdy de Saussure. It means a word that means something! Like 'sheep' means wooly baa-baa thing. And an empty signifier is something Claude Lévi-Strauss came up with (he called it floating signifier). It means something which has no intrinsic meaning, different people can attach different meanings to it. 

From Wikipedia.

Money is worthless - but it buys stuff that we want. I want a copy of Homer's Odyssey (verse translation please), some new sock wool and a ticket to Cefalonia so I can swim in the Ioanian Sea and finally go to Ithaca. You want tickets to see Barcelona FC play and a nice paella with glass of Rioja afterwards. Those are (some of) what money means to us. (PS I don't mind coming along to see Barcelona play, especially if we can go shoe shopping along Las Ramblas after the paella.)

As Alvin Hall astutely realises, money is both a maker and breaker of relationships. His book is divided into chapters entitled things like: Your Money and Yourself, Money and Your Parents, Money and Your Career. You work through the ways in which you and the people close to you manage mutual money matters, come to realise what quality of relationship you have and you can spot looming possible problems. 

I haven't yet read all the book, cuz I want to get my own head straight on some things first in this blogpost, LOL, before reading Alvin's mind-bending ideas. I am particularly interested right now cuz I have friends who are just starting to earn again, after being a long time out of the job market working themselves into the ground bringing up the piglets. 

Although I did sometimes fear I'd be out of a job, I never quite was. Like me, most of my friends who are the primary parent hung on to a small income stream. It was a titanic struggle sometimes but compared to the ones who have no personal income, I think we did the right thing. I know some who seem to have figured a good understanding with their partners that the work they are doing, while unpaid, is still effing hard work. However for a lot of women, being able to say: "Look, sunshine, I am wrangling the kids, the laundry and paying down the food bills," means you have an edge when it comes to insisting on some input into the cooking and ironing. That is not fair, but it is how it is. 

I think it takes a lot of energy and determination to say: "I am working hard here and you must put £xx into my virtually non-existent pension scheme, so that it's equivalent to your very good pension scheme they give you in that job you wouldn't be able to hold down if I weren't back home taking care of your kids." 'Course if you are married, you are entitled to that pension, but many of us are not married and the work is not less just cuz you passed up on some gold and diamonds on your finger which you can sell if things go a bit off-piste on the snow-white slopes of marital happiness.

I am cross about this just now, sweet things, cuz my friend just handed over the whole of her first pay packet to her bloke. No no, he did not say: "Your first pay packet. Jesus, I admire you for getting back into work while also juggling the kids, the laundry, the dog, the cooking. You must use that first one for something special for yourself, or if you really want to share it, how about we all go out somewhere fun with it?" He just took it all while continuing to whine about how little money they have. 

For years I put all of my pay into the food bills and household stuff. I pretended I was treating myself by buying nice saucepans and plates. (That is not the Fella's fault, acksherly. He often said he wanted me to spend more on myself, but we were not mutually good at sorting that out - I ought to have made sure I kept some back but I threw it all on things for Piglet.) 

I used to think I was bad with money. It was part of who I am. Everyone said I was a ditz with the credit cards and I used to laugh about it when shops offered me a store card. "No no," I would say. "I am forbidden! Anyway, my Fella gives me a better rate (wink)." Acksherly I didn't want credit cards, I always knew they were instruments of the devil designed to tempt you into those red satin shoes ... (oh excuse me, I had to take a moment to do a little online search but then I remembered I don't have a credit card and don't want satin shoes, I want a pair of court shoes with high heels that make my hips sway and which will not go yucky if a small amount of rain falls on them). Saying my little spiel saved me from being hassled by the shop workers about cards. 

I also found this pretend reputation useful when people stopped me to ask f I'd like to change my energy provider or switch my mortgage. I would open my eyes very wide and lisp. "Gosh!" I would say. "I don't worry my pwetty little head about those things. Those are BIG money." And the (usually male) salesperson would start sniggering and I would be free to go off and spend money comparison shopping for baked beans, instead of getting into a long conversation about not wanting to switch my energy provider. 

When I was reading Alvin Hall's first chapter, I kept trying to spot which bad money persona was me. Finally I thought I'd hit on it, there was one who always says: "I deserve it!" when they buy themselves something. That is me! I cried in triumph. That's just what I said when I bought those winter boots six months ago. But then I said to myself: Hang on a minute! I did deserve those boots. I not only deserved them, I needed them. The previous year I didn't have money, and I did without winter boots - I just lived in my cheap wellies and pretended it was a larf and a lark to be wearing pink wellies (I mean, it was - but really I wanted a pair of good winter boots). I bought those boots because I had finally earned enough money and I needed them to wear to work in the wet Welsh weather.
From The Penny Scribbler blog

The truth is, I am like many of my students. Lots of them have for years been the ditzy one of the family - the bear of little brain (awww, so sweet), and when they come on my module and do well in their essays, they are so shocked that they often screw up the next essay they write. They can't believe they are someone with a brain after all, it takes a little while to get used to being smart. 

I am good with money. I have lived on the breadline, managing on a packet of flour and some raisins when I had to. I have lived with a decent income and kept within that too. Once I did take out three credit cards and max them out to the limit. It was when I was being seriously badly bullied at work - so badly bullied that finally a senior manager took me under his wing and my manager was barred from even speaking to me. I was suicidal with despair, because I had to finish off on the project I was employed on - or my career would be stuffed before it had barely started. In order literally to survive, I took out credit cards and bought myself little presents of shoes and make-up and CDs. It's true that I got into debt - but I lived to pay it back. Money signified life back then; I didn't have it but I managed to get credit and live. And I paid the money back. I did a temping job in a bank for a while, kept my debts just in control while I tried to get back into my career (after successfully finishing on the project) and eventually my family and the Fella helped me clear the cards; I never took out another one again.

BTW, I still have some of those shoes and CDs and I really enjoy them, LOL. Especially the brown suede high-heeled ones which had my name on them. I mean literally, they were called by my first name, LOL.

I think there are three ways to manage money. (I mean if you've got money, not if you are being so badly undermined by stupid government policies that you can only feed your family by going down the food banks.)

One is to have so little that you know exactly how little you have got to work with. You go round the charity shops and keep your eyes averted from the luxury shelf higher up in the supermarket. You are even good about two for one offers, cuz although they look like better value, you can't always afford to buy two of a thing in the same month. You know this is going to be where your income sits for the forseeable future and so you may even put a small amount by each month so you can go on a coach trip somewhere for a holiday once a year.

Another is to have a lot of money and to spend it pretty freely, but you have an innate sense of what you can afford. You go on a package holiday to Turkey, not hiring a yacht in the wine-dark Ionian Sea - however much you would like to cruise up to Ithaca with some bronzed sailors just visible over the edge of your copy of Homer's Odyssey. Sometimes you slip a bit into your overdraft, and then next month you rein back - except that the cat fell out of a tree and had to have an expensive operation owing to your deciding you live on a quiet road so won't need pet insurance. (Acksherly you can perfectly well afford these occasional cat operations and Piglet suddenly wanting to take up snowboarding, and you plan accordingly.) 

The third is to make it so you are not sure how much money you have got. Perhaps you have a variable income, and you don't let yourself even get a sense of how that pans out over a longer period of time. Or you don't have as much as you wish you had, and you aspire to the things which a greater income would pay for. You don't fix your income at a slightly lower level than it probably is, and when you find there is some left over, go: "Good Heavens! What fun, let's all go out for a nice meal as a treat." Possibly you express your deeper psychological problems through saying what a hard time the world is giving you because you are not earning as much money as you deserve. Anyway, you are constantly whining about how little money there is and how hard you have to work for it. Anyone around you is always to blame for wasting your money on food or clothes, for God's sake, without properly budgeting. If you give them a set budget and they spend under it, then use the extra for something for themself, they are cheating you. If they spend over it, they are hopeless and incapable at managing, just a burden on you. 

Well, I leave you to imagine which of the three is my friend's partner - who took all her first pay packet and I don't even know what he spent it on. It wasn't a small amount of money, my dears, and frankly I think she deserved a pair of new boots out of that. Boots wasn't what she wanted, there was something else floating about which that money signified for her, but she will have to lie and cheat to get it, hmmmm, and whose fault will that be then? OK, it is partly her fault. She ought to have said: "Shut up! that is my effing money and I will spend it how I want to. You have got enough, stop whinging, you idiot." But when you say things like that, you sometimes end up saying a lot of other things which lead to regrettable consequences. Anyway, she has started earning now. If you ask me, he better watch out cuz one day she will wake up and smell the coffee (she bought and made and poured for him) and drink it up herself.  

Alvin Hall often tells stories about how people are managing - or not managing - their money so I will tell a  more hopeful one here. One of my other friends is in a relationship where the two of them work. They are not wealthy at all. We had this chat because we were talking about how much we both hate Valentine's Day. She told me that her partner's colleagues' wives are all witches who insist on being taken out, wined and dined on Valentine's Day. That means that if you are willing to work Valentine's Day you can get a lot of extra money. Since she hates VD, her partner said to her he would do extra shifts and he would get extra money and put it into a family holiday. 

Well I think what Alvin would see as significant here is not that my friend hates Valentine's Day so she and her hubby can squirrel some extra money away that day. It's that, even though her partner knew my friend would agree with his proposal, he talked about it to her. They agreed it was a better way to spend their money than on him paying over the odds for a meal and some plastic roses. But if she had made a little sad sigh and said: "I guess so," I figure he would have gone: "No, I will take you out, if that is what will make you happy."

Money, relationships. Read that man pronto! He has it all taped: St. Alvin.We live in a capitalist world, dahlinks, so no surprise that money signifies so much floating stuff for us. It looks like very simple maths. I earn £xx and if I only take £yy out to spend on school shoes, we will be OK. But reely, we need to talk and think about it: "Money signifies this for me, can we save up and get it?" instead of just moaning about how little of it we have.

From Disneyandmore blog
(BTW, I saw Tangled in 3D. I didn't mean to see it in 3D which I usually regard as a waste of money. Also I had very little money that day; I held my breath when I put my card in to pay for the tickets. We had just queued for so long we missed the start of the 2D version. Luckily there was enough in my account and I managed to buy tickets for me, Piglet and her pigletty friend. Imagine how magical the floating lanterns look in 3D - that memory is sure worth that money although I would've liked to have thought it through, maybe talked it through and planned it better in consequence, so I wasn't so stressed about paying for it, LOL.)

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