Monday, October 24, 2011

Material girl?

The opportunities that the 'economic crisis' has afforded for making people in the UK miserable, worried and mean about their material possessions are many and great. But the reality of a person's financial situation is rarely linked to how s/he feels about it. Or so it seems to me.

Between us, Jon and I earn about £29,000 net a year. This feels bountiful. We live our lives, save, pay into pension schemes, give about 10% to charity, run a car, eat really well, subscribe to gyms, stay stocked up on wine, go out on a 'date' at least once a week and go on holiday every year.

Admittedly, we don't own a house. There are downsides to that. But I have no time for the 'you're throwing your money away on rent' argument. We pay £550 per month for a stress-free roof over our heads and it's well worth it. Has society just conned most of us into debt-addiction in mortgage form?

We don't have children, which I had always assumed was a great saving. But a friend and father-of-two told me last weekend that the benefits he gets for his family cover more than what it costs.

We would have to rethink our spending habits if our car died; we don't buy much in the way of clothing or household items (another benefit of renting!) But we don't actually want a better car, more clothes, or to worry about how well our house is decorated.

Quite often, friends and acquaintances who earn much more than me are really worried about their financial status, angry about rising fuel prices, guilty that they don't afford to give much money away, bitter at the authorities for getting them into an economic mess.

Some people are in difficult situations. But often the difficulty stems from a lifestyle choice (maxing out on the highest mortgage affordable; having an extra car; paying for schooling) not necessity. It saddens me when people's decisions to live expensively leads them to resent others who have next to nothing: asylum seekers, travellers, those overseas getting a bit of aid from our government.

Who is it that lies to us about what we need and what we have? The media? Or does someone feed them that message?

I am not naturally generous. In fact, the opposite is true. But I have watched how regularly giving money away, resisting the temptation to buy things that I don't need / that don't make me happier, avoiding certain media and refusing to join the lament of woe about what I can't afford have trained me to be much less anxious and burdened by "stuff". I have tried to choose the path of being content, as far as I have been able to see where that lies.

Of course, it's all a process. I would struggle if my income level suddenly dropped, even though I know I don't need that wine or that gym membership. But if I keep practicing an attitude of gratitude and allow myself to listen to life's invitations to be generous, I suspect I shall never really feel badly off.

I guess all this sounds rather self-satisfied. It isn't meant to. In fact, I feel really sad that so many of the people I know (and there are more of them the older I get) choose to believe they are hard done by. It is that choice, and not the reality of their bank balance, which leads to genuine difficulty.