Friday, 4 September 2009

Make a list and stick to it!

When was the last time you heard that top budgeting tip? I did, a couple of weeks ago, so I hope I've calmed down some, now that I'm settled to commenting on it.

I did a spot of blobbing in front of the telly last night, some repeat of a daft documentary called Time Warp Wives1. And there it was, as plain as the nose on your face, the reason why sticking to lists is a false economy. Mrs 1950s was merrily wheeling her trolley through Asda, whilst complaining that she'd prefer to shop in a nice little high street with grocer and butcher. 

You'd have thought that with all her research into wallpaper, kitchenware and clothing, she'd have managed to shop local and use markets by now - goodness knows she'd have saved a bob or two for her ration book - but no. Within the routine of expectation came the assumption that there is no alternative. And that my friends, is the crux.

Perhaps the most harrowing aspect of Barnardo's Breadline Report2 is the obsessive accuracy with which its subjects calculate and recalculate the pittance off which they live. For a few pence more an entire budget has to be reworked, so that oil can be paid for, or uniforms, or just enough petrol to get to work. Tethered to the list, there is no scope for creativity, no innovation, nothing new. 

How easy it becomes to bank with the doorstep lender who'll sell you a telly for a grand more than retail. The lender makes your list. And you... feed each pound into a set top box, blinkered from the certainty that freecycle, charity shops or mail order returns could have met your need for so much less. The irony of such escapism cannot be lost.

Of course there is the very pertinent argument that the piecemeal nature of benefit payments disables our most vulnerable. Packaging poverty out of existence we have multi buys, bulk buys and cash deals. But an overhaul of our welfare state is not the remit of this post. Much as it is overdue, we need to think differently.

Irrespective of wealth, the primary weakness in any budget is the assumption that perceived needs can only be met in one way. The more routine our essential pursuits, the more vulnerable we become. How else do we succumb to unswitched bank accounts, energy suppliers or insurers, for instance? And who loses out most? Why, it's those who are unaware of the alternatives - the elderly, people without Internet access; creatures of habit and victims of received wisdom.

So, thank you, but no thank you. I won't be making a list for what I need. Poor or otherwise, I should very much like to know what else may be achieved beyond mere existence. 

Posted @ 06:55:44 on 04 September 2009
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