Money and Your 5-Year Project

Money is one of those things that we don’t talk about in British society.  It’s not part of polite conversation.  ‘Never ask a lady her age or a gentleman how much he earns.’ Perhaps precisely because we don’t talk about it in polite conversation, money is cited as one of the leading causes of conflict among couples.

This week I want to think about the financial element of 5-Year Project (5YP). I used to work in (hushed whisper) a bank. So at some point it was almost inevitable that I would get round to talking about money. It strikes me that most financial goals can be achieved if they are approached as 5YPs. I’d love to add a financial thread to the blog at some point to explore this area.

Money, of course, is merely a mechanism for enabling easy movement of goods and services. However, many of the things on which we spend our money feel far more important than mere goods and services.

For example, housing and education are among the most significant areas of personal expenditure. Indeed, the number one reason for moving house in the UK has been for many years in order to access better schools. This kind of spending feels to be more about our wellbeing and future than goods and services.  And yet what are housing and education if not a ‘good?’

Jesus famously declared the love of money to be the root of all kinds of evil. That ‘bank’ has almost become a four-letter epithet in the wake of our current economic woes suggests that there is truth in that saying.

Perhaps more importantly, Jesus’ saying also suggests that our attitudes to money can be just as significant as money itself. Our approach to money is, like most other human activity, a learned response.

For some, money is a source of anxiety and guilt; because there never seems to be enough to go around you feel guilty about spending it.

For others, previous experience of financial hardship means you feel a need to hoard and to accumulate money to protect yourself from an uncertain future.

Yet others see money as a tool and have little interest in it, per se. You are interested in what money can do or unlock but are less interested in accumulating it for its own sake.

And of course there are those who are unapologetic about their wish to accumulate money.  It makes the world go round, after all, and there is no intrinsic virtue in being penniless.

There is no inherent right or wrong to any of these attitudes towards money. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, and many of us may feel our attitude to money could fit into more than one, or indeed none, of the above categories.

Money is an intrinsic part of a 5-year project, however.  One can dress it up in various ways but ultimately this is a project inviting you to spend money on your wardrobe.  It is not a project that is likely to save you money.  In fact the opposite is more likely.

I am pretty certain that I have spent more money on clothing in the last 5 years than in the previous 5. I can’t be absolutely certain of this because whilst I have records on what I have spent on my 5YP since 2008 I didn’t keep records prior to that.

However, I feel pretty certain I am right simply because there is a good reason my 5-year project began in 2008. Prior to that I simply could not afford it. I was too busy paying off our debts.

As a consequence of the stage we were at as a family, what we were up to with higher education, etc, and what we were earning as a household, from 2000 to 2007 we were near permanently skint. It was around the beginning of 2008, more than 8 long years later, that it began to feel felt like we might be beginning to turn a corner.

We are not exactly rolling about in cash right now; money is still in short supply in our household/, and I remain a man of modest means. Nonetheless, we are not in the sort of dire straits we were a decade ago. I try to remind myself of this whenever I am feeling ‘a bit poor.’

It is partly because of that experience that I feel it important to talk about money in the context of 5YP. It may be that starting a 5-year project is not the right thing for you just now because you have other more pressing financial priorities.

If you’ve just finished a few years as a student, have just got married, had children, bought a house or any number of other everyday scenarios, the likelihood is that you are too busy trying to recover from that big financial hit to think about a 5-year project, or at least you should be.

Instead you should be putting your financial house in order, in particular paying off any debts you have accumulated, especially those on which you are being charged interest. Just think, the bank interest and fees that you will pay this year could in future years go towards your 5YP after your debts are paid off.

In the mean time, I suggest that you rediscover that nearly forgotten but most noble British tradition of ‘mend and make do.’ Make the most of what you already have in your wardrobe and plan for a 5-year project once there is a little more money available to play with.

Needless to say you should definitely keep reading the blog for ideas and tips though.

So what do you think?

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