Archive | September 2013

Adolescence: A modern plague, but there is a cure

Spot on!

The Matt Walsh Blog

Child psychologists have “discovered” that adolescence actually ends not at 18, but at 25. Once again psychologists have waved their wands and magically created a larger customer base. But maybe I’m being cynical, maybe adolescence really does end at 25. Or is it 18? Or is it 40? 35? 50? 12? 2? 93? I think the answer is yes. And no.

Let me explain.

Back in the old days, there were two types of people in the world: children and adults. You were a child and then you became an adult, and you really had no choice in the matter. The timeline of events went something like this:

Phase 1: Birth, childhood.

Phase 2: Adulthood.

Phase 3: Death.

Of course, this is just a general outline; Phase 3 could rudely interrupt Phase 1 or 2 at any time. Still, the transition from “child” to “adult” happened early and inevitably…

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# 103 (2013) Living The Dream Or Falling For the Fakery

There’s a lot of a fakery around. I’m not just talking about people. That’s what Snog Marry Avoid is for. I mean in life in general. In the things around us. We are always trying to live up to ideals and standards but the problem is that a lot of what we are trying to aspire to doesn’t actually exist.

From the models in the clothing catalogue to the McDonalds burger meal we see on advertising hoardings, it’s all fake, a scaled up, colourised and perfected version of what things really are.

(source)

Inevitably this means we will be disappointed by the results. Take Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy. It makes sense that we have been given an expectation based on what previous generations have brought us up to believe. But that has been based on their experiences and things have changed. We are still programmed to strive for a better future through further education, that a degree will get us the job. But it’s just not the case any more. The result of that realisation can be devastating.

Instead of encouraging students to have a Plan B, C and possibly even a D, when plan A doesn’t materialise, they can just give up and head for the first paying job they can get. We are not encouraged to continue after failure to bend to suit other options that might ultimately still get us to our final destination. But I digress. This blog was really about visuals, not life expectations. Although the two are clearly linked.

If you want to stop believing the hype, employ a little cynicism. You don’t have to go overboard (although it’s easy to once you start realising how often we are lied to) and it’ll help to filter out the misleading information.

If a good deal sounds too good to be true it probably is. You don’t get something for nothing. Read the small print. Remember that companies are trying to sell you something. They are not there to make your life better, they are there to make money, to profit and they will do what it takes to win you over so that you will become that special customer who always comes back for more or makes that all important purchase.

Take Primark. You may think they’re doing you a favour. That in austere times cheap clothing is just helping us stay fashionable at a fraction of the cost. They may be selling their clothes cheap but you can bet they are making huge profits on every piece they sell. They pay almost nothing out to have their products made, which is why they fall apart so fast and often don’t fit. What you’ve actually just bought is a sub-standard product but because you have a ‘bargain’ you think they’ve done you a favour. So you go back for more. Come the end of the tax year, all that matters to Primark is what the profit margins look like, not how many of their clothes are still hanging in customers wardrobes.

Primark’s campaigns look as chic as any high end label (source)

It’s the same with fast food. We know it’s bad for us, but because it’s at our convenience and cheap we think companies are helping us out.  The fact that you may enter an early grave because of it is no matter for big corporations although they can often be ‘seen to be doing’ with healthy eating campaigns. But these are designed to appease customers whilst keeping them loyal to a what is essentially the same product.

All this knowledge can really take the fun out of a shopping spree but it’s as well to be wise for long term satisfaction and longevity of your purchases and the balance of your bank account.

# 102 (2013) The Technology Take Over

This year I have reset my bank card pin numbers four times. I hardly ever use my cards in shops anymore. I shop online most of the time. Technology has become every shoppers best friend.

The other week I bought a Google Nexus 7 as a cheaper and more user friendly replacement for my rapidly aging laptop and to be honest it’s hardly been off since I got it. It’s far more convenient and user friendly now that I’ve mastered some of Androids finer quirks.

I love technology and I have no issue embracing it at the expense of other less efficient ways of doing things. At the end of the day it makes my life easier and generally saves me money. But I realise it comes with big sacrifices such as the Royal Mail and the British high street. I am also very much aware that our reliance on these incredibly powerful products is probably a very dangerous thing. And certainly it takes some of the fun out of real shopping.

That’s not to say technology is always a good thing. But it seems to me just as fragile as other less automated systems like the Inland Revenue. That both let me down last week, on the same day and in the same afternoon meant they were both keenly felt. No prizes for guessing which one resolved my concerns fastest.

My Nexus had to be returned to the shop for a replacement because it didn’t work but that same afternoon I was up and running. As for the IR – it’s going to take them at least five weeks to sort out what’s wrong there and it strikes me that for the simple issue I have with my tax code, a little technology would go a long way to giving far better customer service and saving them admin hours and paperwork.

# 101 (2013) Is The Modern World Sick, Or Am I Just Sick Of The Modern World?

Last week some time I was stuck in grid locked traffic on my way to Asda to pick up overpriced groceries whilst listening to ‘Any Questions‘. It included, amongst others, Martin Lewis from Martins Money Tips. The panel were discussing the spare bedroom tax. More people in debt because our Government needs quick fix ways to pay off our loans. I was thankful that wasn’t me. But also wondering how people now caught up in this system will ever get out of it. There are people losing their homes.

I looked at all the tired, angry, unfit people around me, cigarettes hanging out of their mouths, squabbling with their partners as they waiting in line for the lights to turn green, clearly with nothing more inspirational to do on a Saturday lunchtime and I wondered what on earth we were all doing with our lives. Where had all those childhood hopes and dreams gone? Had they even had any? And if they did, what was it that made them give up. Or, like me, were they still planning on reaching those goals.

Day to day life has to be one of the singularly most uninteresting things. Crammed into over populated cities, the rat race, hand to mouth. Just getting by. Waiting for that chink of escapism at the weekend for drunken brawls and shopping sprees around Primark. Do you ever question why you are here, what your purpose is?

I was brought up to believe in goals, ambitions, drive. And even though I still hold on to some of those dreams, and am still on track for others, my enthusiasm has definitely waned. I still work towards those aims. I refuse to give up. But there is less urgency than before. Now they have to fall into line with financial responsibilities. But do you succumb and acknowledge that getting by in this day and age is a ‘win’ on its own or do you fight and remember that you are an individual worth more than this.

I question this more because I am now working again. Only part time, but I have accepted that to a certain extent I have to tow the line. But I am hesitant to accept that this is now the way it is going to be forever. I could never embrace this lifestyle full time again, not unless it was a dream and I loved it.

Many of us are doing jobs ‘for the money’, almost certainly because we couldn’t get work in our dream job. It’s a temporary hitch right? Plenty of time to take on the career we planned for. Working because you have to, rather than because you want to, does kill your energy and your drive for doing your own thing and reaching your goals.  And I know that the only reason I haven’t had to give in to the system is because I had the sense to plan ahead financially. I realise that money is the deciding factor. I do sometimes find myself sitting, staring into space from my reception desk wondering what I am doing. How I ended up here. And when it’s all going to end. Is it all my own responsibility or do outside factors mean I can’t always be in charge of my own future.

I don’t usually make New Year’s Resolutions. They always seem so obtainable when you make the list. But really, life makes things very difficult to achieve sometimes. Next year has to be a deciding factor. I have to put my foot down. Because if I don’t, I could end up losing my way or forgetting what it was I was aiming for, and that I am sure would be a fail in my book. As the late great Patrick McGoohan once said ‘I am not a number’.

# 100 (2013) How Poor Is Poor?

Michael Gove has recently upset pretty much everyone by saying food bank users don’t manage their finances well enough. I don’t doubt there are a small number of people who don’t (look at those people spending on booze and fags and pleading poverty) but the majority of them are just unable to make ends meet no matter what they do.

If nothing else austere times should be encouraging people to respect money more and help those that aren’t prioritising their essentials first and luxuries later. Perhaps it’s time we start to really change the way we live? And this is a prime time to start educating the next generation on how to make their money go further. After all, what’s wrong with going without and managing without luxuries once in a while? As The Telegraph commented ‘humans need a more robust approach to life’.

Things that we consider staple dailies – eating out, entertainment, technology, boozy nights out, public transport were once luxuries. Occasional treats. Now we expect them along side the weekly shop. And people fill the money gap with loans spurned on by low interest. The Telegraph continues: ‘Not only has the welfare system discouraged thrift, the government is deliberately subsidising people to borrow more than they may be able to repay through the “Help to Buy” scheme. Meanwhile savings are discouraged by low interest rates and inflation is bailing out people who borrowed recklessly.’

I was watching ‘The Wright Stuff’ and a caller commented that ‘noone can be that poor when benefits pay that well’. It’s true that some benefits pay better than part time jobs. Caps of £500 a week pay more than I get in a month at the moment. I’ve never been an extravagant spender. But I have learnt to get by on a lot less in the last few years. Maybe life isn’t as interesting. I don’t go out partying and holidays and clothes shopping are almost unheard of. But that’s the way it is. And at least I am not in debt to anyone.

The majority of the population are now feeling the pinch enough that they are cutting back on eating out, cinema visits, holidays, alcohol, clothes and household goods.

But by comparison to our forebears we are still living a life of luxury no matter how much we plead poverty. No matter how tight things get many of us still have mobile phones, go to hairdressers and find just enough for that Friday night splurge. Until you’ve stopped going out, ditched expensive phone contracts and given up on takeaways you’re not really struggling.

We have been conditioned to expect so much more at the lower end of the financial ladder. I guess that’s progress but it doesn’t mean that it’s okay or that things aren’t going to come to a head sooner or later. Because it’s only going to take one interest rate rise and it’s all going to come crashing down.