Archive | November 2012

# 125 How Poor is Poor?

We’re all complaining about rising prices and keeping a tight grip on the purse strings as things sink just that little bit further.

Christmas is just around the corner and just another pressure many of us really don’t need right now.

Somewhere along the line most of us have felt the pinch and scrimped on the usual luxuries. But how poor is poor?

I was prompted to write this blog by a ridiculous article I read on xojane the other day about a new arts grad budgeting on unemployment. She couldn’t afford Dior foundation. Jesus, really??? My heart BLEEDS. You know the last time I bought anything even remotely that expensive makeup wise. Lancome. June 2003.

I chuckled in disbelief when she said that creative grads have to complete weeks, sometimes months, of unpaid internships. Last I heard it was 1 to 2 years for some. Welcome to the real world. Uni doesn’t tell you there is no yellow brick road. And why would it? Noone would ever go if they knew the truth.

I don’t count having to ditch your favourite overpriced makeup brand as poor. Not by far. I get really sad when I hear in the news how parents are skipping meals so their children don’t go hungry in what is being called the biggest squeeze on household budgets in 60 years – that’s about the time rationing ended after WWII for those of you who don’t know your British history. It’s starting to sound like Victorian working class life.

And it’s no wonder when food prices have soared 32% in just 6 years. These are working and middle class families in suburbian Britain today. This is real poverty in homes in your town right now. Families are relying on food banks and charity handouts.

Supermarkets are improving their own brands to take advantage of savvy shoppers (source)

These are terrifying statistics. The price of everything is going up except the value of wages and nothing is reining it in. And so people are forced to cut back on everything, even essentials – heating – food – travel. The basics.

The prohibitive costs of the house market mean many couples will never get themselves on the property ladder. Ironically many who want to split can’t because they can’t afford to live apart.

Last year statistics suggested 18 million Brits would have to put holiday plans on hold. Even holidays at home were too expensive for many. This year even days out with the kids are out of reach for many.

We are caught between a rock and a hard place. Businesses need to make money, meaning they have to keep shelf prices high, but less and less customers can afford these costs. So instead of putting prices down and making money they sit tight. Some change their selling methods enabling them to lower costs and keep up with the competition. Those that can’t go under. And this is happening from small independent shops to huge brands like Comet. But even then efforts to sell stock fast were met with slow sales because their prices still weren’t competitive.

Comet’s 30% off didn’t cut it

We’ve been in recession for 5 years now. And there is no end in sight. Some predictions suggest we could still be feeling the effects in 10 or even 20 years. Even if it lasts another 5 years, how will it effect you? Can you survive as you are now or will something have to give?

  • One in ten families are skipping meals or relying on charity and hand-outs
  • Mothers are putting their health at risk by eating only every other day
  • Food banks now forced to ration the donations they give to hungry families
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    # 124 Myth-busting Christmas

    I may get ticked off for being non-Christmassy but articles like this are well timed retribution. I feel justified for being less than excited about reindeer jumpers and tinsel draped on every available surface from here to everywhere.

    The adverts promise snow even though we’ve only had a white Christmas four times in 51 years. The myth of happy families is most definitely a myth since 500,000 elderly people will spend Christmas Day alone and Childline receives a staggering 50,000 calls from children and young people over the 12 days of the festivities. And the supermarket adverts have reminded us in no uncertain terms that someone has to do all the work (it’s mum apparently, if you believe it).

    I just can’t get excited by it. I haven’t decorated a house at Christmas since at least 2006 (mostly because I always go away) and the expectation of money spent on gifts just frightens the hell out of me more each year – hence my detestation at the tidal flood of advertising which hits in October. 

    It’s all about money, how much you spend and how expensive the gifts are and I’m sure I’m not the only person who at this time of year feels under pressure to meet expectation when funds are low and the only way to cover everything is to get into credit card debt.

    I also dread having to decide who will be let down at Christmas because I have to be somewhere else. I guess that’s my fault for living so far from family but I always need to be in more than one place at the same time. It’s the same every year and it’s been like that for years.

    For some reason this year more than most I am not looking forward to the festive season. It’s been an up and down year and I don’t really feel like celebrating since there have been more downs than ups and Christmas and New Year herald nothing more than the change of a digit on the calendar.

    So you’ll just have to put up with my festive moanings. Hopefully when December arrives and it actually is Christmas I’ll start to feel differently. I saw Christmas puds in the shops in August and I was not happy! 

    # 123 The Price Of Energy

    We all complain about the price of utilities getting out of hand. And just today I’ve had a letter from Virgin telling me my monthly bill is going up next year by £2.34 a month. That they didn’t give me any indication as to why when I’m pretty sure my service quality hasn’t improved makes me wonder just a little bit what it’s for.

    So I did a study and looked at my bills for this time last year. I’m always complaining about household expenses going up but what was I actually paying this time last year and do I have the right to moan about it?

    Well yes and no. Surprisingly, the one bill which has gone down is my gas and electricity which I get from British Gas. Over all this has gone down by £15 a month over 12 months. Ironically it’s the one bill I seem to have control over. If the gas is too expensive the heating thermostat goes down or sometimes gets turned off altogether. And I always have the opportunity to change my tariff which has helped a lot.

    Virgin has gone up almost £4 and water the same but the Council Tax hasn’t changed. These are all bills I don’t have any control over since Virgin is our only supplier as is our water company – Anglian Water.

    Over all, my utility bills have gone down £8 over the year which is a welcome surprise. It’s not a huge amount, but I wasn’t expecting it.

    Food bills may be a different issue. I was trying to stick to my pre summer student budget but I’ve checked my bills and I’m definitely spending a lot more. A non regular income really cramps your social life and I’ve opted for entertaining at home and working lunches to keep me from going stir crazy. Some things have definitely gone up but it pays to shop around and avoid branded products. Anything that goes up in value that I can’t justify simply doesn’t get bought. That and a fairly limited diet keeps costs reined in although at what long term sacrifice I’m not sure.

    # 122 Are new business start-ups just holding off the inevitable?

    There has recently been another push to get graduates to take on entrepreneurial roles and start their own businesses. But is this just another Government tactic to keep young jobless graduates with little or no work experience off the dole queues just that little bit longer?

    Yes, it sounds like an exciting opportunity, starting a business you can call your own. Something you are fully in charge of. You’ll be your own boss. But it requires more thought than simply registering with the tax man and setting up an office in your own home with a fancy logo. I should know, I am one of this year’s new glut of business owners.

    But despite having plenty of work experience, money management skills and having done my research whilst I was at Uni,  if it wasn’t for the start up scheme I managed to get enrolled on and the genius idea I had of locking away a chunk of money in a high interest savings account before I became a student, I’d of failed before I’d even started.

    ‘If your company isn’t focusing on a real problem for 
    consumers, then it’s time to move on and build 
    something else.’

    New shops on the high street are not an unusual sight these days – something which does surprise me. An endless stream of coffee shops, sandwich bars and run of the mill clothing outlets are born and die with alarming speed. Are these the kinds of businesses we really need? For a new business to be a success in an over-saturated economy it needs to be providing a real service to consumers.

    Finding that niche is key to business success. But even good ideas are struggling financially right now. We are after all, still very much in recession. 1% growth might seem like a triumph for our Government but to the consumer at ground level it means nothing whatsoever. The cost of living continues to rise, salaries remain stagnant and unemployment remains far too high. For businesses this is made harder by extortionate business rates and a lack of financial and motivational assistance to keep things moving along.

    Government cuts last year meant start up schemes there to support new entrepreneurs are now unable to offer their full range of services. Business Link, which once provided free workshops to schemes such as Enterprise Inc, had their funding withdrawn making the range of workshops free to new businesses were greatly reduced.

    No longer an unusual image – the plight of business survival (source)

    Many schemes can only accommodate very limited numbers and funding available through them is hard to get your hands on, if you can find it to start with. Without funding or your own financial back up the chances of being able to support yourself unless you work full or even part time is unlikely.

    The Government has introduced its own schemes such as the ‘New Enterprise Allowance‘ for those signing on. But it comes with some tough rules such as the business has to be able to replace your benefits within 3 – 6 months. And in such austere times this is a big ask. Even in favourable conditions it can take far longer for a business to become successful enough to support itself and a year isn’t an unusual timescale to wait for really positive results.

    And with the number of ‘zombie companies‘ (those barely able to pay their outgoings) on the rise, do we really need more business start ups? It’s a worrying possibility that there may be hundreds of new start up businesses falling at the first hurdle purely because the time is wrong. And encouraging anyone to invest so much at such a difficult time is surely bad advice.

    Will I still be trading in a year? I hope so otherwise it’s a lifetimes ambition shattered into a million pieces. Thankfully it can evolve and I have designed it that way to ensure it has the best chance of survival. I can work from a studio, converted garage or spare bedroom. And if it comes to it I will find other work to support myself. Remaining flexible is essential because who knows what’s in store for us financially over the next 12 months.

    # 121 How Can An Athiest Find Meaning In Life

    Death has been a subject of unexpectedly regular talk lately.  Not by choice, it’s just happened. Wills, relatives getting older, the realisation that I may have things worth leaving to someone when I’m gone.

    About a month ago I started watching Richard Dawkins ‘Sex, Death and the Meaning of Life‘. One of his big questions was, ‘How can an athiest find meaning in life?’ To me this seems like a pretty daft question. Do I need some invisible force giving meaning to my existence? I don’t believe we’re here to score brownie points for some as yet unproven after life. I’m here for now and that’s all I’m here for.

    Religion has never been my bag. To me religion has been the root of some of history’s worst episodes – because of course it is in the hands of man.

    Some of the subjects interviewed as part of Dawkins series suggested that you need religion to have direction in life, to have purpose and drive. This I do not understand at all. I have ALWAYS had direction, drive, ambition and aim. I didn’t need some invisible force to give me a kick up the backside. I was always self sufficient enough to rely on myself no matter how hard things seemed to be. I guess that’s just the way I am. I don’t need a crutch or something else to back me up. 

    I’ve also never needed it to form my moral code. I know the difference between right and wrong and I don’t need any illusion of hell or punishment to remind me what is good and bad. What I choose to do is my own business whether it is right or wrong.  I know the difference.

    As Dawkins says, the rules and guidelines of religion were laid down in a different time. Mankind has moved on. And the laws many religions follow just aren’t practical in our modern times. Some of them in fact are just down right medieval and, if followed to the letter, can be barbaric. Of course, everything is open to interpretation. In recent years we have seen adaptations of religious law to cater for a broader modern and more open minded population.

    Dawkins discussed a whole set of idealisms, problems and questions that I’m not going to go into here. I just don’t have the space and you probably wouldn’t want to read it anyway. If you’re interested, and you should be, watch the series here, it’s very interesting and well worth the time.