Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Faltering first steps towards economy

It has been a week of faltering first steps in my household, as one-year-old Charlie discovered that he could let go of the furniture and boldly go across the middle of the room towards the smiling adult with the outstretched arms.

Naturally there have been mishaps along the way, and I have belatedly come to appreciate the origin of that useful phrase “trying to run before you can walk”. Words that spring to mind every time Education Secretary Michael Gove pops up in the media, stuck in the bottom of his hole yet still ferociously digging.

Not that I am without sympathy for those in the Government charged with finding savings in their departmental budgets. It finally dawned on me a couple of weeks ago that I have been living vastly beyond my means for years, and that the only solutions were to increase my income by about 60pc or cut expenditure by a third.

That will be the spending cuts, then, won’t it?

I duly drew up a list of things I could do without, but none has yet got past the family vetting committee. Cancelling my eye-wateringly expensive private health insurance looked like a no-brainer to me, particularly as the small print carefully excludes pretty much any problem I seem likely to develop, but Mrs Hann remains to be convinced. I might go down with blackwater fever right after cancelling my direct debit, and it would be like forgetting to buy a lottery ticket on the day when your usual numbers finally hit the jackpot.

The only foreign holiday I have taken in the last decade was my honeymoon, and I would gladly never take another, but my wife feels the urge to go somewhere reliably sunny in September and even I cannot claim that she is necessarily going to get through a bottle of Soltan in Scarborough towards the end of the summer season.

But tough choices, as they say, are going to have to be made. Memberships of clubs I rarely visit; donations to good causes (and political ones); expensive indulgences like nights at the opera are all in line for the axe. But just looking at my list of potential economies reminds me what a hugely privileged, middle class life I lead.

I may no longer be able to progress, like a mediaeval monarch, between two comfortable homes, but we are some way off worrying about not having a roof over our heads. More of the food shopping may have to come from Iceland and less from Marks & Spencer, but we will not starve (and frankly it would do me no harm if I did, at least for a while).

Dieting is a dreadful prospect, but becomes curiously enjoyable once you have started, as you become obsessively focused on shedding the pounds and feel the benefit of not carrying all that surplus weight around with you. With luck, economising will prove equally addictive. I am just hopelessly out of practice, having been lucky enough to remain reasonably prosperous since the early 1980s.

Never rich, though; never saving for the future; in fact, never really giving a thought about tomorrow. Could there have been a worse preparation for late-life parenthood?

I did notice, in my years as a trustee trying to raise funds for musical charities, that the genuinely wealthy were often pathologically mean. This, I have finally realised, is their secret.

So this week I finally embark on my first unsteady steps to slash spending, just like a proper toff. I hope that anyone trying to touch me for a few quid in the coming months will note that my sudden close-fistedness is not the result of suddenly acquiring a fortune: quite the opposite. With lottery tickets also on my list of cuts, contracting blackwater fever seems a much more likely prospect.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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