I grew up poor. Not destitute, but poor. My dad worked as a cleaner up until I was 6, and then we lived on his invalid pension until I was 13. When he passed away, my mother and I lived on her widow’s pension until I started working at 19. The only thing that saved us from being destitute was the fact that my parents had managed to buy the house they were renting thanks to a post-war zero-interest loan that Dad qualified for as an ex-servicemen after WWII.
Even then, I grew up without many luxuries. Things that you may take for granted, like a car or holidays. Seriously, my parents never took me away on holiday once. I would spend summer holidays on the Central Coast north of Sydney at my sister’s house, but all that cost us was the price of a return rail ticket to Gosford. We didn’t have a phone until I was about 8, and we didn’t have an inside loo until I was 10. I only got clothes for my birthday which had to last me until my next birthday. I only got toys at Christmas which had to last until next Christmas. The only reason we had a TV was because Dad won 500 pounds in the lottery (before I was born). We never went out to restaurants…we simply couldn’t afford to.
As a consequence of my poor childhood, I’ve always been suspicious of people who seem, to my eyes, to be well off, and yet who cry poor. They complain about how expensive everything is and how the cost of living is rising, and yet they have so many things in their lives that I grew up considering to be luxuries. Not only do they have a car, they probably have two. They have electrical gadgets coming out of their wazoos, and their kids seem to have new toys and clothes every week. They regularly eat out at restaurants, and don’t mention all the overseas holidays they seem to be able to afford. And yet they cry poor. They complain about the price of housing and electricity and fuel. They complain how much money they have to spend on their kids. They complain about the cost of their broadband and smart-phone accounts. Well, I just don’t buy it. If you have so much and you still consider yourself poor, then you must be doing something wrong.
That’s why I was so interested when a new report was released last week. The study shows income and pension gains, and a decade of low inflation, have meant all family types are relatively better off, including working families with children, pensioners, high-income earners, and even families in the lowest income quartile. And yet so many people claim they are worse off than they used to be.
I know I don’t feel any worse off now compared to 10 years ago…20 years even. Of course, I don’t have kids, but my partner and I have always been very careful how we spent our money. We chose to buy a unit instead of a house, but we also chose to buy in a more expensive area, but one with good public transport so we didn’t have to own a car. That was our choice…to live in a good neighbourhood instead of owning a car. We also chose to put most of our earnings in to firstly paying off our mortgage, and then into our super. That meant we didn’t go on holidays or eat out much. Eventually we may feel comfortable enough go on a holiday, or eat out more often, or move into a house. But until then, we’re happy where we are, and we’re happy with our modest lifestyle.
And that’s the point isn’t it. When I was growing up, we didn’t have a choice. We just didn’t have any money. But many people who do now cry poor have a choice. They have a choice of selling a car, or doing without a holiday, or downsizing their home, or not sending their kids to a private school. Until you get to the point where you can’t do any of those things to make ends meet, then don’t cry-poor to me…I just won’t listen.
Do you feel worse off than you did 10 years ago? What about 20 years ago? Are you asset rich but cash poor? Do your children have more toys and clothes than you did when you grew up?
Image by Dorothea Lange [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
John James has written 203 posts.
JJ is a blogger who is bored with traditional opinion blogging. He is a co-founder and editor at KiKi & Tea. He also represents the grumpy middle-aged man demographic on KiKi & Tea. He is a writer by trade and a frustrated rock star / crime fighter by night, and blogs about music at newmusicrevue.com.
Follow on twitter: @JohnJamesOZ