Alan's Blog




With Grateful Thanks

I often tell Grace that we should be very grateful for what we have – not looking for something extra that we haven't got.

It was my birthday recently and, as at Christmas, Grace and JP found it extraordinarily difficult to choose something for me as a present. They do their best and I'm grateful for their attempts, but they usually fail to buy me anything that I really like or find useful. After their last (failed) attempt, Grace asked my what I'd like for a birthday present. I said there was nothing I wanted and if there was I'd just buy it. As my mum used to say “What do you buy for the man who has everything?” This may seem facetious but there is some truth in what she said. She might have been better saying “What do you buy for the man who has everything he wants?” Indeed, I have everything I want, let alone need, and I am very grateful for that. Why therefore should I want more?

I really do mean that, materially, there is nothing I want – let alone need. I don't crave for a bigger house or a newer car (mine is 13 years old) or a fancy watch. The watch I have was bought for me by Grace more than 20 years ago when the strap on my $10 fake (copy) of a TAG Heuer watch had failed. I don't even crave for a better camera (mine is an old model bought second-hand a few years ago) even though photography is my passion, and I certainly don't wish to own a luxury yacht or a Ferrari.

I'm not particularly materialistic and hate going shopping, let alone to that temple of materialism, the Trafford Centre, which seems to be a magnet for people who want to throw away their hard-earned cash. I'm not at all interested in buying designer label clothes and accessories or anything else that may be considered fashionable. I love reading but stopped buying magazines many years ago and the only books I buy come from the charity run second-hand bookshop I visit from time to time. Even my laptop computer was bought second-hand more than five years ago – although I have made some upgrades to its specification since then at minimal expense.

I'm just eternally grateful for what I have – and the one thing we don't have; debt.

One of the most important factors in our life is that we have NO debt. No mortgage (or rent to pay), no car loans, no credit card debt (we pay our cards in full every month). That is a real blessing. Our rule is that if we can't afford it, we don't buy it. This has helped us immensely since I was forced into retirement more than two years ago.

Of course, every person has the right to do what they want to do with their hard-earned cash, but I'm often amazed by how much money even relatively poor people throw away – wasting huge sums every year. A family not too far away live on minimum wage earnings, or close to it. Only the man has a job on very limited income. They have four children. They live in a rented house. They seem to spend their money on cigarettes (both adults smoke), alcohol and delivered 'take-away' type meals. How they can afford do throw their money away like this I don't know. I can't even comprehend living in that way. I suggest they could save at least £8000 / year if they eliminated that wasteful expenditure. The cost of one packet of cigarettes per day is about £3500 / per year. There are two people smoking. Add the cost of the alcoholic drink consumption and junk food and you can see where their money disappears. Of course, it's their choice how they spend their money and the way they choose to live but it just seems such a waste to me and, I've often noticed, that it seems to be the poorer people in society who engage in this way of life. This is probably WHY they are poor!

As I try to instill in our son, JP, you don't become wealthy by spending money! I wish I'd realised that at a much younger age. Of course, when I was much younger there was no such thing as disposable income – it was all I could do to scratch a living for me and my family. Whilst we are by no means considered wealthy, even now, we consider that we're 'comfortable'. There is nothing that we need, we eat well, have holidays (when permitted to travel) and live carefully within our limited means. We rarely eat in restaurants or spend money on entertainment but we don't feel that we miss out in any way – that's our choice of lifestyle which most people would consider rather frugal.

When Grace and I got married more than twenty years ago we had nothing. Grace was working to support her parents and siblings. I was unemployed. I borrowed $200 from a friend to help me get to Kuwait to start a new job. At that time, Grace was a lot more frugal than me (she had to be!) but I've come to see the sense of living well within our means. It's always good to have some savings in case things go wrong and an emergency fund is needed. Since then, we've bought our own home, own a car each and have a large touring caravan we can use for holidays or weekends away.

Whenever I talk to people about finance, I am often astonished by how few people have any savings at all. Even older people, say, in their sixties, often have nothing in the kitty to cover an emergency, and yet they never seem to be short of cash when it comes to wasting money on non-essentials.

I remember reading about a couple who had bought a motor-home and lived in it, travelling to wherever they wanted according to their fancy. What a lovely lifestyle that I'm sure many people would wish to enjoy. What was really impressive was that they were both in their early 40s and had retired to do their own thing – travel. How had they achieved this at such a young age? By NOT spending money on non-essentials and investing what money they saved in order that they could live their dream. That should be a lesson to us all – in particular the many who live to their income – or go over it!

My parents were never wealthy at all. They both worked hard to make a living. The one great asset they had was my mother's ability to budget their money to the extent you'd have thought it was elastic! All our meals were home cooked. As were cakes, pies, desserts, jams and pickles. Fruit in season was bottled to keep us supplied throughout the winter. Cooking apples from my grandparents' trees were stored in a cool location. There were no freezers in those days – and not many families owned a refrigerator. I didn't go to a restaurant for a meal until I was about 19 – and I had to save up for a long time to be able to afford to do so as a Christmas treat. And yet, we never went short of anything we needed.

My parents were even able to buy their own home, something that wasn't common amongst working class people in those days. For much of the time they even had a car, albeit nothing special, but it got us around, or dad would hire a car for holiday trips during periods when they didn't own a car themselves. We even used to have a holiday every year – again, nothing fancy as no package holidays were available in those days, so a rented caravan in a field was a great adventure for me – and it was a change of scene too, which is what holidays are all about. Apart from the mortage on their house, my mother wouldn't consider borrowing money (called hire-purchase in those days) to buy something. Like me, if she couldn't afford it, she wouldn't buy it.

Now, I realise that what I've written must seem very sanctimonious, but that isn't the message I want to impart at all. The message I want readers to think about, which is especially relevant in these extremely difficult times, is that one should be grateful for whatever blessings we have and not look towards obtaining more and more. The other factor to be given considerable thought is just how wisely you can spend your money - and how you can make sensible cuts in expenditure without suffering. You'd be surprised just how much you can save by NOT buying those “objects of desire” and just buying what you really need – and, count your blessings - not the items on your shopping (cravings) list!

Perhaps the second most important aspect of a good life is to be happy. The last twenty years, the time I've spent with Grace, have been the happiest of my life. Rather sad that I had to wait more than fifty years to get to this state of mind.

However, my greatest blessing is that I can still do what I do at the age of 72 and I'm so thankful to God for that. My health is better than that of many people of my age or younger. I don't expect to be as strong and have the stamina that I had as a young man and neither do I have the same energy or motivation, but I'm okay with what I have. As is often stated “Health is wealth”.

Just count your blessings and be happy – and don't look for more!


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