You wanna hear a sorry tale of how a not so poor boy made not so good? Well listen up, here are my financial origins. This is based on the idea from Indeedably on Sovereign Quest there are other bloggers stories (my faves 1, 2, 3, 4). This is mine:
Just for clarity, this is just the back story of Me, the Gentleman in the Gentleman’s Family and not the Lady who has her own back story.
I grew up in one of the red areas on the map below of Northern Ireland. Red means bad or in modern parlance it’s an “area of multiple deprivation” and by any measure where I lived was not great. When we go back to visit it, I’m surprised at how much poorer it is to where we are now and I have a deep sense of pity for those that are still there – struggling to get by. We don’t even live in that nice a place to be honest, anyway that’s not to say that we were poor growing up or that everyone there is poor now – in some ways there’s perhaps greater disparity between wealth in poorer areas where having a stable job of a teacher, pharmacists or nurse means you can afford a comfortable life whereas in London those same jobs can mean you are less well of compared to the 1 in 10 millionaires.
My parents were teachers who I believed came from a long line of respectable people. I was raised to be and felt middle class and since a teachers salary was generous back in those days and there was (I suspect) some family wealth passed down, we lived in a house that was spacious and warm, had gardens and a garage. I grew up however with a large number of brothers (you can guess that I was raised catholic) and that meant that money was tight. What that meant in practice was not getting things that I wanted and growing up in the 1980s where TV & toy manufacturers were conspiring to make us obedient consumers, there was a constant internal disquiet between what I had and what I wanted and I always felt let down by what I’d get. In some ways, I learnt early on that money could buy you what you wanted.
I’m told that every child has a happy childhood and I was no different. And with all that said life was good despite some of the scenes from Derry Girls seeming like it’s partially autobiographic; we didn’t really want for anything, there was always bread on the table (+ cheese) and it was a happy childhood. I also didn’t know about the relative deprivation of where I grew up. I also suppose that I had few troubles growing up as the salaries were paid monthly. My mother did stop work for a number of years to look after the kids (which I wrongly attributed to me and felt a lot of guilt over later on) and it did result in a few lean years. However, by the time my mother was back in work, the economic scar tissue was already there in my mind.
Money and the young mind
There comes a time when the world of your perception becomes clouded by money and then it suddenly comes into focus. Maybe for good reasons; talking about money was considered taboo, and looked down upon as something less civilised and cultured people a us – but I became possibly obsessed at around the age of 9 or 10 I think. I even went so far as to ask for a cash box or petty cash tin. like this one for Christmas or my birthday one year – and I got it, that was my main present. That morning overjoyed at the gift, I ran into my parents bedroom and my Dad said I could take a coin from his trousers hanging up in the wardrobe. I remember picking (blind) a new 5p coin (introduced in 1990 when I was 8) and I proudly put it in the cash box. The fact that I didn’t blindly search again for something of higher value showed that I may have been obsessed with money but at least I wasn’t greedy or I just wasn’t very smart.
The Cost of a Pound
At a 12/13 yer old I had a paper round. Delivering the local rag for 4p each. 28 papers a day, 6 days a week made up £7.12 a week plus tips of £1 or so. It was hard work, a mile cycle there, 2 miles round and a mile back in all weather and I often had to deal with street bullies, mad dogs and mad bullies. It kept me fit cycling away from danger. There were tips too and managing money and your time and dealing with late payers and all that. It taught me a lot but looking back it was slave labour! The biggest lesson that I learnt was the value of a pound, or more prescisely what it costs to earn it.
Sadly the money was wasted on clothes, sweets and whatnot. My brother who had a similar round saved his and bought a second hand SEGA Megadrive (when PS1 was just released) which was a better way to spend it.
Dead -End Job
At 17 I applied for, interviewed and was offered a job at a new supermarket that was opening in our town. There were something like 10,000 applicants to 700 jobs, so getting one made me feel like I was doing something right. The pay was about £3.12 an hour but higher at weekends, after 6pm and time and three quarters on a Sunday.
Whilst I didn’t learn much from the job as such, it was fun with the other people there and easy enough to do. What did surprise me however was how the title of “assistant fresh produce supervisor” could turn people into complete assholes – all for a few pence an hour more in terms of pay.
I enjoyed working there but I was always thinking of it as a temporary job. It interfered with my studies at school but the money came in handy. I lept it up for about a year or two and quit when I was 18 as I’d asked to go from 8-12 hours a week over the summer to full time (40 hours) and was told no, and a week or two later I was offered a 2 week language exchange in France. I asked my boss in the supermarket for the time off and he said no and I left. I had said that I could (on 8 hours a week) work the day before going and the day after coming back and not much would be lost but he said no.
I don’t regret that decision for a second. That language exchange was a barrel of laughs (even though I never studied French) and I didn’t regret working at the supermarket, I was off to University in the Autumn anyway and a new part of my life was to begin.
When I went to university I was given £100 by my Dad and I had a student loan in 3 parts of £1,000 each, the first paid in September. I had some money left over from my supermarket job which I hadn’t totally wasted (but soon would).
On the first Monday in November I counted how much money I had and was shocked at how little was left. At first I suspected a friend to have stolen a couple of hundred but some quick sums showed me that I’d been blowing through £20 a day easy and that was why after around 6 weeks in University I had spend all but about £200. So, Id spent virtually it all in a few weeks. On what? A load of crap that’s what, along with bad food, booze and a guitar I never learnt. I was stupid with money. I also realised that I’d need to succeed at University if I wanted the life I wanted to lead.
What I did next was the real life changer, first I’ll tell you what I did and then I’ll tell you what I didn’t:
What I did: Weekly Expenses
From that day onwards, I took a weekly snapshot of my finances and recording any income, spending and what money I had. I’d then go over what I’d spent money on and decide if it was a good use of money or not. In this way, I virtually stopped useless spending and made the £200 stretch out until Christmas time.
This became a weekly ritual, later moved to monthly when I started getting paid that way and it kept me on the stright and narrow. Without having that moment of clarity, I wouldn’t have benefited so much. It also allowed me to budget and plan spending which came in useful later on.
What I didn’t do: Go Beg
I didn’t go and ask for more money from my parents. I only just realised that but I didn’t want to suffer the indignity of becoming a charity case, of spending the time to perfect the grovel and manipulate my parents onto giving me more money – so I could blow it all over again. I think that at this point onwards, I became a sort of financial independent creature – not wanting anyone controlling me with money (and my mother is a variety of religious zealot who doesn’t believe in people having the freedom of (or from) religion. I wasn’t going to go cap in hand to my parents to end up paying by praying!
Also, in retrospect I don’t think I had enough money in the first place, so it’s no wonder I blew through it so fast. Privilege has no bounds you could say, but at least I went to university when having a brand new MacBook Pro wasn’t seen as “essential” and I had a trusty Casio was all I had.
(On a separate note and now as a parent, I do wonder how going to university was a no-brainer for me but a total brainer for a lot of people. The benefits of university beyond the good times and not having to work need to be tempered with the prospect of a lack of experience in the real world of work and all that goes along with that.)
What I didn’t do: Go Work
I never considered going out and getting a job. I probably could have if I’d wanted to but I worked out that on a meager budget I could survive. My attendance at classes was so poor that I’d probably not have turned up at any job that I’d have gotten and I’d probably been fired for being hungover if I did make it there.
Managing Debt and Making Tough Choices
I survived the next 3 years of university on tight budgets but found that the student loan of around £4,000 a year in my 2-4 years was more than enough to get by on. I had a bursary as well for £1,000 a year (which I won by being one of the very few applicants) and I even got a subsidised trip to study in Sweden on Erasmus (remember that?) for 5 months.
I found that if I didn’t blow all my money in term time, I could travel in the summer. Saving up for something enjoyable was good. I also worked out the value of paying £160 a month to live in a shithole vs. £180 a month for living in basic luxury in a nice location. (The shithole wasn’t far removed from the conditions detailed in the opening chapters of the Road to Wigan Pier, and funnily enough at the end of my year in squalor I told my flat mates that I was moving out. They asked me why and I said that the place was a shithole. They seem to have grown accustomed to their shithole and couldn’t see that it was a bad place to live, in a rough neighbourhood and far from the University. Not for the first time, I came to believe that if I joined in with others and didn’t forge my own path, I’d be letting myself down and if that meant being a loner then so be it – better a loner than a troglodyte).
Sure, the debt was piling up but the good old Student Loans Company was still giving me money and it would not be paid back until I graduated. I did a summer internship in my 3rd year which paid a couple of grand and even though I turned down ski trips and long haul holidays with my family (I thought we were poor remember?) I managed the debt, cash flow and had a bit of excitement along the way.
Trying to Enter the World of Work
University was fine and my time on Erasmus was the highlight but I knew that it would all come to an end and it was just preparation for the world of work. Getting a job was another story – this was where competition was fiercest. Before in life I’d been shielded somewhat from the cruel realities of real life; enter the milkround.
I’ve cut out a bit here but basically, I focused on getting a job and applied to many many places in Ireland, the UK and Europe. I had a number of interviews and in my final semester I went to a number, often flying there. I had a few offers but ended up only accepting the last on that was offered to me to start working in Europe as an engineer
The Bait, the Wait and the Switch
I had turned down other jobs in expectation that I would start soon in Europe at this new company. However, they dragged their heels over when and where I would start. There was nothing I could do but stay at home and waste the days away. To my credit, I did read widely, particularly on economics and spotted the surge in house prices in the UK. I also first came across the notion of financial independence at a time when I could appreciate what it meant. Ultimatley, it would mean me saving money from my earners to avoid being either a captive employee or my career ending before I could retire. It seemed quite simple really and I reckoned it would take until I was about 40 before I could retire. Still at home, I waited from August until December before I started work and even then, I started in Aberdeen, Scotland not Europe – total bait and switch.
When I finally came over to Aberdeen for my medical before starting, I stayed the first few nights in a Youth Hostel. Aberdeen was an expensive place and I didn’t have the £50 a night for a hotel. Even worse, little did I know but there was a cohort of graduates joining who had been recruited through the UK and they were well taken care of – free flights to Aberdeen, free hotels, dinner, drinks, free money for settling in and first month’s salary up-front. I felt really peeved at this and bitter too.
The funny thing was that I’d become intensely aware that buying a property in Aberdeen would be a very good decision and I spent my first lonesome days and weeks walking all over Aberdeen to get an idea of where I wanted to live. I managed to find a property that I thought was adequate (shabby maybe but good area, nice location and on for a fixed price) and put an offer in on the 23rd of December for £92,000 (valuation £100,000) – 15 days after arriving in Aberdeen. I moved in in February.
I have to thank my parents at this stage, without their help and £10,000, I would never have been able to afford the deposit and although it was just a few months wages, saving up would have been very difficult, especially when just starting off. By the time the other graduates bought their own places 6-12 months after me prices had risen by about 15%. Additionally, I managed to break even financially within 9 months of starting work – so I’ve never really known oppressive debt.
At this point the origin story ends. I more or less scraped through university with a first, avoided work as much as possible, avoiding debt too, bought a flat on the cheap after getting a decent job and it was the combination of property, profession and (final salary) pension which were the foundations that I built our family wealth on.
All origin stories are myths – remembered histories; we sold the flat in 2014 for a 100% gain, I left that company in 2015 and my career has taken its own path and the pension is dormant (until I hit 60).
That foundation was built on the stability of a good childhood and the love and attention of my parents. Receiving £10,000 was very generous from them but the effort that they put in in my early years is worth so much more. I’ve a lot to be grateful for.