Confessions of a Spend Thrift

Or muddling my way through money management

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Last week, on my way home from work, I stopped to buy a Kinder Bueno while waiting for my 6.15 train at Blackfriars. After spending far too long looking at the cover of magazines that I *swear* I never buy, I hastily made my way over to the till.

‘Just that?’

‘Yes please.’

I waft my contactless card near a payment device.

‘It hasn’t gone through’, the man tells me. He looks bored.

I fumble for cash in my bag apologetically, and plop some dull pound coins on the table.

‘Sorry, that’s strange.’ Although it isn’t. It just means that I have unwittingly spent my daily contactless payment limit on little ‘bits’ throughout the day. I try and make a mental list of my spending. There were several Waitrose trips for berries and diet cokes. I had a slightly pricier lunch than usual. And I bought a new nail-polish at Boots as a mid-afternoon ‘pick me up’.

I have very few savings. And by ‘very few’, I mean none.

I really am terrible with money. Unfortunately, I am of the school of thought that life should be a series of treats. Any and all birthday money I ever receive is immediately spent on something to wear, drink or eat. I really do not have a thrifty bone in my body. My husband is similar, although his fault is that generosity emanates from every pore. Mine is that I fritter it away on little things that strike my fancy.

Despite quite a healthy joint income, we have never been any good at saving for a rainy day. In fact, I have very few savings. And by ‘very few’, I mean none.

While I make more than my husband, I am probably responsible for 95% of our extravagance as a couple. In fact, our lack of savings is probably amongst my top three guilt-inducing things, alongside leaving clean laundry on radiators for over a week and allowing perfectly good leftovers to rot in the fridge.

Food and wine are my particular weaknesses, which I justify by describing myself as a “foodie”. I also have those cliché addictions; gym classes, mojitos and Space NK. I regularly buy lunches at Pod, Itsu and Pret, and have once or twice weekly ‘splurges’ at Vietnamese or Thai restaurants with colleagues. Disgusting, right? I have had genuinely cringe inducing conversations with friends earning far less than I do, who have managed to save entire house deposits without any help from family. I find this gob-smacking, impressive, and shaming.

As millennials, we get a lot of flack for spending all of our money on, in particular, Avocado toast. Naughty millennial, says the finger-wagging middle-aged press, you should be saving to get on the property ladder.

Suuuuuuure. The only thing that is preventing this generation from benefitting from the security and prosperity of the last generation is Avocado Toast. I think if we were to consciously stop ourselves buying Avocado Toast (or a coffee, or a diet coke) and put that 3.20 into a Premium Bond Account, we might, in about 50 years, have enough money to put a deposit down on a studio flat in South-East London. The only thing is, it seems unlikely that a bank would give a mortgage to a 76 year old retiree.

But when does treating ourselves become self-sabotage? I mean, while I don’t think my BoomCycle membership or my Veggie Pret sandwiches are to blame for the fact that I am not as financially secure as my grandparents were in their late twenties, I do think that there might be a tiny bit of a problem.

But what needs to give? Socialising in London, which is acknowledged as a fairly lonely city, has a minimum spend of about 20 pounds. Saying no to a Wednesday night curry or trip to All Bar One because you don’t want to buy a round seems wrong, greedy, and selfish. Everyone is broke in London. But its pretty well recognised that it costs money to see your friends.

No one can afford to live in the centre of town any more, so your friends are scattered north, south, east and west. It’s pretty unreasonable to expect everyone to make the trek over to your place on a weeknight. And if you’re single, those Thursday nights at an over-priced bar in Soho will be pretty much the only way you ever have any non-work related human interactions.

So when is that late-night Uber acceptable? When should you forego work drinks for leftovers in your kitchen? And lastly, what is an acceptable amount to spend on a week-day lunch?

I was under the impression that married life would evaporate my financial immaturity, that I would be fiscally responsible, and the association I had formed between spending money and happiness would disappear. The moment we signed the marriage licence, should we have merged our accounts as symbolic of the merging of souls?
But nothing has actually changed. Change necessitates some kind of positive or restrictive action, and neither my husband nor I have yet brought this about.

Since the ink dried on our mortgage papers, it is true that our finances have been linked in an unprecedented way. But my husband and I still nonsensically ‘treat’ each other to meals out. We never say the words ‘you owe me a tenner’ (while technically now depleting communal stores). But our accounts are separate. By keeping our money separate, am I simply avoiding being answerable for my extravagance to someone else?

Personally, I think there is something romantic and ‘proper’ about sharing everything, and to be honest, I’d like to absolve myself of as much financial responsibility as possible. A couple of hundred years ago, when married men got paid their wages, they would hand everything over to their wives. The women would make sure the bills and servants were paid and that there was enough money for the household expenses. Is it very un-feminist of me to want to do this the other way round? There is a kind of tempting simplicity to the idea of handing all your money over to one person and absolving yourself of financial responsibility. And it seems a lot easier than addressing my underlying crap-ness with money. Sadly, it’s unlikely the husband will go for that.

However, I do acknowledge something in our situation needs to change. Once my husband and I move into our new flat and start paying the mortgage, the idea is to live off a greatly reduced amount, and to start trying to fill up our premium bond accounts. I’ve got myself a Monzo, a nifty pre-paid debit card with an accompanying app, that allows you to set yourself budgets for spending on entertainment, food, meals out, and transport (so there will be no hiding from my diet coke and kinder bueno habits). We’re going to have weekly check-ins to see how we’re doing, which is a step in the right direction. And I will use every fibre of my being to limit the number of treats I allow myself in a day.

Hmm… The best laid plans.

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  • Great article, I actually use the app Cleo which tracks my spending and I have a Cleo wallet attached. So each week it will say work out if there is any money I could save and I confirm if I would like it to and it places it in the wallet. I now have nearly £100 in there after just 6 months and it took no effort at all. All managed easily through Facebook messenger, I can also set myself a budget and it warns me if my account drops below £100. My aim is to keep saving throughout the year and use it for Christmas presents! I have also found that it helps me think more about how, where and frequently I spend money.

    • This makes lots of sense. I’ll definitely check out cleo. I feel like automatic savings may be the answer. I realise j don’t have much to complain about as it’s all my own doing, but I think I’d feel so much more grown up with some proper rainy day money.

  • I loved this.. so well observed and written!

    My daughters- 29 and 25 – both live and work in London and swear that preparing lunch (a cold rice or pasta dish for example) the night before to have for lunch the next day saves them a significant amount… and it’s more filling so they are less tempted to buy snacks.. maybe home prepared carbs are your answer Gwen… but could you give up your Kinder and Coke? 😉

    • It’s gonna be hard, I’m not gonna lie. I’ve thought about prepping lunches but the thing is I’m a lawyer so I’m also quite time poor. And I’m not self disciplined enough to make double portions of dinner and not eat it…

  • My husband and I still have separate accounts (and he paid a proportion of my course fees I feel like I owe him). I’m not sure marriage is meant to change that no matter how romantic the notion and I also strongly feel he never needs to know how much London lunch (at itsu or pret) costs me daily… (he lives in the midlands, it’s besy this way)

    • I guess so. I just think it sounds more ‘proper’ to have a joint account. It’s certainly what my parents did. Still haven’t gotten round to try to make this happen. Ina way, it feels like you need the luxury of extra money lying around at the end of the month to start thinking about ‘the best way to manage it’. Ho hum.

  • From being crap with money in my previous marriage and also struggling with depression I managed to get divorced and be landed with multiple CCJs penniless (and I really mean penniless) living in a very grotty council flat.
    But still I didn’t learn. If I put my card in the wall and it said yes then I had money and could live. If it didn’t well you can see where I’m going. I ended up living off payday loans. They really are the last refuge of the desperate.
    I got engaged to my love and yet still couldn’t tell him my shame.
    Something snapped in me this Christmas. I decided to take care of business. I gave up my flat and moved into my loves house and treated seriously addressing and paying off my debts. I haven’t purchase anything apart from bus ticket and house food since then. No Costa no quick lunches Nada. One month I had to pay off 1500 in just payday loan payments, most of that interest.
    Before we get married we are signing a prenup. Having to print out and declare all my wordly goods in black and white has been sobering, especially as my fiance has also been through divorce and still has savings property and a 900+ credit rating. (mine is sub 200)
    What I’m saying is I guess is let the point at which you take care of business come before the cliff edge so you don’t have to climb back up it again.

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