Tuesday 12 March 2013

My very own bid for immortality as a model Selfless Spender

It amuses me to reflect that neighbours and casual acquaintances once used to sidle up to me and shyly request my financial advice.

I was always swift to put them right. “You need a financial adviser,” I’d say.

“I thought that’s what you were,” they’d reply.

“No, I’m a financial PR adviser.”

“What’s the difference?”

“A financial adviser tells you how to lose all your own money. A financial PR adviser helps public companies to explain how they have lost all the shareholders’ money.”

I’d then add something along the lines of: “I shouldn’t be doing this but, since it’s you, if you’re thinking of taking out an endowment mortgage or a payment protection policy, I wouldn’t bother.”

It doesn’t look like any of them listened. Presumably there is one person somewhere in the UK for whom PPI was an appropriate purchase, but the billions set aside for compensation suggest that he or she is proving exceedingly hard to find.

I will state for the record that I never had any PPI myself, in the hope that this column may be read by at least one of the claims management companies that pester me on the subject every day.

But that was one of the few personal financial matters on which I ever made the right call. A fact of which I have been brutally reminded by spending the entire morning in my attic, frantically searching through papers to find the documentation on a transaction of more than a decade ago, which suddenly looks like unravelling rather expensively.

At times like these, hoarders like me feel a modest glow of satisfaction at having religiously kept every bank statement since the first, from Barclays in Clayton Street West, in 1972.

The depressing thing was realising that at the turn of the millennium I was, if not stinking rich, more than comfortably off. I might not have had the bank balance of a lottery winner, but could have been mistaken for someone who had copped the prize for five balls plus the bonus in a draw that threw up some pretty unpopular numbers. 

And now it’s all gone. I am truly, absolutely skint. Which has led me to reflect on how on earth I allowed it to happen.

I have paid off a small mortgage, bought an old blacksmith’s forge and a modest patch of land, and paid for one wedding and a honeymoon, but no funerals. That might account for half of it, I suppose, but what about the rest?

I don’t take expensive foreign holidays, or British ones if I can avoid it. I dress like a reasonably fragrant tramp. My kids were born on the NHS. The only past extravagances I can readily identify are a penchant for buying books and opera tickets – the former now abandoned because I have run out of shelf space, and the latter severely curtailed by the difficulty and expense of arranging childcare.

Still, the numbers speak for themselves. Without really trying, I have clearly become one of those few heroic spenders who are helping to keep what is left of the British economy afloat. In marked contrast to those fish-faced enemies of the people who insist on sticking their mites into savings account, deaf to strong hints from on high like the absence of any interest payments.

If this were Soviet Russia, I expect I would qualify for some sort of “hero of the people” badge to wear proudly on my lapel. As it is, I shall settle for a MBE in the next Honours List, for services to national prosperity. George Osborne please note.

Though if the Chancellor really wants to stimulate the economy through some targeted investment in arts and culture, I would be willing to pose for a new statue of “The Selfless Spender” to be erected in some suitable central Newcastle location.

I envision myself laughing as the wind catches my open wallet and notes cascade out. Given an industrial fan and some real banknotes, this could create a bit of local economic stimulus all of its own. He could call it “Quantitative Easing Mark 2".

Remember that you read it here first when the Budget comes out.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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