Saturday, November 22, 2008

Cheap C(o)unts

I've been meaning to write this blog for some time. It's something which has been bubbling away in my psyche for a while and was finally prompted by me hearing the phrase, "obviously I'm going to go for the cheapest."

It's a bit like a three course meal. But the menu will be written in the form of a meandering line. The thrust of it is a straight line - running from the top to the bottom (if you want to picture it in that way). But it's a faint straight line, and probably dotted. The meander is in bold. This is why it will only sometimes seem to make any sense. None of it is particularly new, or at least I don't think it is. None of what you'll read is especially radical or controversial. It's just ideas I've had. Things that I've thought. Stuff that has happened. Shit like that.

This blog is essentially about thrift. It's about being cheap. Penny pinching. Or at least it is eventually.

For my sins I work in the insurance industry. It's not a sexy industry, but then a lot of industries aren't sexy: the majority. When I left school, back in 1989, I worked temporarily for a market research company (yeah, I know, I can really pick 'em, eh?) and the market research was carried out over the phone. The main campaign involved calling consultant cardiologists and asking them a series of questions about the treatment of myocardial infarction (heart attacks). And despite the fact that it was very nearly twenty years ago, I still remember that APSAC stands for Anisoylated Plasminogen Streptokinase Activator Complex.

Whilst the point I imagined I might be trying to make just now escapes me, the subsequent point is that the job only lasted for six months - the term of the contract - and I found myself unemployed.

By 1996 I'd been working in the insurance industry for seven years. I wasn't entirely sure how this had happened. I mean I'm familiar with the passing of time, look, but I was more surprised that I'd managed to remain in employment during this time. This period in my life coincided with its supreme moments of irresponsibility, exactly as it should have done. I was young, I was mainly single, I was living away from home for the first time, I had very little concept of the value of money - other than the knowledge that I didn't have much of it and definitely needed more of it - yet it was my overriding senses of immortality and optimism which must have kept me going. It was a dangerous and expensive cocktail.

The insurance industry is one which you can only truly end up in by accident. An endearing memory from those first seven years was the schadenfreude I always took in explaining this fact to work-experiencing A-Level students who had "always wanted to work in insurance".


"You haven't."

"You're wrong."

"Sorry about that."

Just so you know, this is all leading to something.

I moved from an insurance company to an insurance broker to improve my career chances and was made redundant three months later. Whoops.

I temped for a year working for BT in a call centre. Ace.

I coupled my insurance and telephone experience and started working for Direct Line. For six years.

I got married and had two beautiful daughters.

In the space of one week in April 2004 I got divorced, moved house, and spoke at my Dad's funeral.

Moving house
Death of a relative
Public speaking

These four events feature fairly regularly in lists of life's Top Ten stressful events. Two years later I was fired from my job.

I was unemployed for ten months.

I worked for Sainsbury's as a delivery driver for five months.

For the last year I've been working in insurance again.

And all of this, this CV, and every event in every year of my adult life, has moulded me into the person I am today. Every month of every year has made me believe that I understand what I want. Every day of every month has helped me realise what I believe is right and wrong. Not without exception or consideration, or irrespective of anything, and not necessarily in black and white. Just right and wrong.

Anyway, that's the beef of the story, and here's mine.

Some people are becoming cheap.

The industry I work in is rife with these people.

I can almost understand why people want to save money. I'm familiar with the sentiment that if you look after the pennies the pounds will look after themselves. That it all adds up. Believe me. I know. But at the same time I'm consumed by the overwhelming notion that the only thing you can actually do with money is spend it. This and the fact, The Fact, that we'll all be in the same place one hundred years from now.

Why on earth at the moment does there seem to be this futile desire for people to want to sacrifice peace of mind or pleasure or need or their future, all in the pursuit of cheapness? It's because television advertisement breaks are saturated with evidence of this cheapness. And these adverts propagate the idea that the cheapest version of an homogenous product must automatically be the best.

I'm sure that part of the reason I think like this is because I sell something that people have to buy. They have a legal obligation to buy it, and it's something they never want to have to use. Like buying a coffin. Also the perception of the consumer is that despite there being literally hundreds of companies offering a similar type of product, the misconception is that the products are identical. There is, no doubt, an element of truth in this, but only in the same way that a television set lets you watch the same channels. In all other ways there could be a wealth of differences. I could understand it if the thing I was selling was wholely useless, but it isn't. And yet people continue to want to s(h)ave inconsequential sums of money at the expense of quality.

£365 is one pound a day. £50 is less than one pound a week. Some people spend that much on satellite or cable TV every month. Since when did securing your livelihood have to be forfeited at the expense of what's on television?

Please don't answer that.

People like to think that they have found a bargain. They're proud of the fact that they can save money, even better if they can save more money than you. But people lie as well. All the time. They lie about how much they earn, how much their children sleep at night, and how much they pay for their car insurance.

The internet is also blameworthy.

I use the internet. True. But I'd never use the internet to buy insurance. It's far too complicated and there's no-one to blame if you click the wrong link, or leave the right box unticked, it takes too long to sort out and that's time you'll never get back. Ever.

And that's me. That's me with years of insurance and internet experience. I'll use the internet to buy a CD. I know the name of the artist, I know the name of the album, I know it has ten tracks on it, it's a no-brainer. But that's only on the occasion that I'm prepared to wait. If I want to find out how long I need to roast a joint of beef so it's well done there's any number of places on the internet I can garner that information. But I have to know where to draw the line. And that line is common sense. It's knowing my limits. This is why, with the aid of the internet, I might be able to self-diagnose coeliac disease, but I'm not about to conduct my own biopsy, no matter how good the diagrams are.

Today a reduction in the rate of VAT was announced. On the radio this morning, before the announcement, I heard an interview with A Man. He was asked whether or not he thought this reduction would prompt him into buying, for example, a digital camera - the example being a saving of about £3 on a £120 camera. The Man said that it wouldn't. In fact beyond that he said only a five or possibly ten percent saving would encourage him to spend his hard-earned money on such a thing.

He is a fucking moron.

If you want to buy a digital camera, you buy one. If you need a digital camera, you definitely buy one.

Whatever you want or need, you pay what you're happy to pay and what you can afford to pay for the best you can afford. I mean whatever it is, that's all you need to consider, isn't it?

Because Christmas is one month away, and unless I missed a meeting it's still a time for giving not receiving.

So use your time to consider the people you love and spend as much or as little as you like on them. Because love isn't sensible. Love doesn't need to have a budget. And love doesn't ask you for the receipt.

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