Thursday, 28 February 2013

33% into Lent Challenge

OK, notwithstanding the obvious difficulties in really experiencing this challenge when you live in hotels and work as a CEO,  I still find myself hit by certain 'realities' that are completely outside my comfort zone or experience. A challenge this week....as ever about my 'attitude'.... was when I was packing for the week, which I knew involved two flights. I try only ever to fly with just hand luggage as I hate waiting at airport carousels, so packing for 4 days away with only a mid size rucksack is a challenge. This is especially so when it involves a laptop and tablet in your 6kg weight allowance.....My immediate though when packing was just pack the two shirts etc you will need for the period covering the flights then just buy stuff (shirts, ties etc) when you need them!! I know, hardly an attitude that aligns with the spirit of the challenge....Anyway, I am now an even better luggage packer and lighter traveller than I ever was, and I was pretty good. However, it's the coffee thing that gets me most often. I have a couple of hours to kill before a meeting so I would normally just find a nice coffee emporium (that sold nice cakes) take up residence and buy what I wanted. But,again, although justified by my job its not the spirit of the challenge. Then the thought struck me about those who have every waking hour 'spare' but without sufficient money to even consider a single trip to such a place let alone anything else....so I really am drinking less coffee and eating less cake (which isn't a bad thing). I did buy a glass of wine last evening which blew 40% of my weekly spending, and it was a cheap wine. So, Thursday and have got £3 left for week.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Over 1 week in . .

Well, in some ways not doing bad - only spent £1.20 last weekend (on a piece of cake - luxury)- although this week I have had to spend £4 on some cough medicine, I was gutted. Today I spent £1.50 (on a piece of cake), but someone else paid for coffee :)

I can't help thinking about how false my job makes this challenge and how lightly I am 'getting off', but it is a real eye and mind opener. Four and a half weeks to go.....

Saturday, 16 February 2013

4 days into the benefit lent challenge...fair to middling

In some ways not a lot to tell, although I am venturing out on 2 wheels (with no engine) today...  I also feel the need to say, and it won't be for the last time, that I am extremely aware that what I am doing doesn't even come near to the real thing which is reality day after day for, sadly, an increasing number of people.

I like coffee. I like nice coffee. I have, for four days at least, actually avoided  just poping into Costa or Nero, or, for tasteful Londoners, Fleet River Bakery on a whim. I have been counting though, and on Thursday, without thinking, I found myself on seven, yes seven, occasions about to stroll in and order goodies...OK, I didn't, but it was only day 2!!
Anyway, the coffee has a more serious point... Today, at breakfast, I went straight for the nice coffee, which was in the house so that's OK (but when it's gone it's gone.. . ) and then remembered we have sachets of instant, filched from hotels, - what to do?  Well, it wasn't the outcome that got me (I am drinking the nice coffee as I type this - but when it's gone.. . ) but the thought process.

The speed with which thoughts such as 'why shouldn't I?', 'I deserve some nice coffee' and so on leaped into my mind was quite startling. Now, if I really was going through the hardship of actually having to survive on benefits I absolutely know that, because the situation would not have been my own doing and I would be seriously looking for a job, I would very soon be thinking, not that I 'deserve' something, but definitely that 'I don't deserve this'!

And that would be the first step to accepting the undeclared cash in hand job, or the looking for ways in which one could 'leverage' (hate that word, but it fits the purpose) extra benefits. That is said without any judgement whatsoever simply an acknowledgement of the reality of a situation and what you would do for yourself and your family.

It may well be that people of stronger character would not follow that path whatever the circumstances, but the purpose of this challenge was to gain just a glimpse of what it is like to 'walk a mile in someone elses shoes' and, on reflection, what the experience teaches me about myself.

It looks like rain, should I go out on the bike?....or not?

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

The benefit challenge begins

Well, it's the start of Lent so it's time to get going, although i'm not sure where as I can't afford the petrol. (:-D )...so I will be asking a friend if I can 'lend' a bike when I get home (I realise the correct word is borrow, but I am from the NE so was using the vernacular)..anyway, HC can expect a call.

Good news, I have found an extra £3.50 per week spending money, downside is that it has cost me my last remaining life insurance policy... so i'm worth nothing dead anymore (I feel safer already!!!...)

So, in this new view of the world, its amazing what the prospect of an extra £3.50 means.... if I am really disciplined during the week, at the weekend I may ( possibly) be able to choose between a nice latte (small) or a bottle of Aldi wine... or maybe, as its cold, have the heating on an hour longer, or supplement the £35 p wk food budget. I didn't realise I would have so many choices as part of this challenge (please note the irony), although they are somewhat different to the choices I am used to regarding how to spend money.

Because my job is somewhat different to many of my friends there are some challenges about how things will work when I am at work, but I think I have ways to deal with that in terms of 'lifestyle'. I'll only be drinking very skinny drinks - and they will be from a tap! unless I find the odd benefactor.

It is somewhat strange that my first meeting on the first day of the challenge is a lunch in Whitehall....but I promise to have small portions and no pud....

Time to head into the day.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

The benefits journey continues before its even started

I am in London the weekend before I am going to lose my job, which of course I don't know is going to happen yet. But I do for the sake of this exercise because it needs some planning! Come on, keep up..... We are here (yep, me and my wife) as part of a Christmas present that involves indoor sky diving, theater, meals out and the usual London stuff,which of course we wouldn't do if we knew we were both losing our jobs on Wednesday. However, before we started this challenge (which hasn't really started yet) I would have said, in fact did say, that you don't actually need to experience something in order to understand it...but I was wrong, and Iwas right! You see, I am intellectually capable of appreciating (at arms length) how difficult it must be trying to survive on benefits. I can do the maths, I can grasp the difficulty, but I have never actually been required to have the mindset that actually has to face the choices and decisions that are actually at the heart of the difficulties and pressures of living on lor below the poverty line.... I have never actually had to face those scenarios that have the effect of stripping you of some sort of dignity, of robbing you of the most basic aspects of so called 'free choice' of making you feel somehow 'less' than other people..I am realising, as I mentally gear up for the challenge, that I am already thinking differently.

We went for a coffee today at a well known chain and spent, on a small cup of tea, a small cup of coffee and one piece of cake, more than a whole weeks spending money under the benefits regime. We decided not to 'eat out' in London for lunch, but took the 'cheap' option of one M&S salad and a couple of cakes between us....more than another weeks spending money gone. In two hours trying to take the cheaper options we blew 2 weeks money!

There is a considerable distance to go in 'cutural shift' and mindset before I get to grips with this on Wednesday!

It may be, probably is, true that I am capable of grasping how difficult something is for somebody whose circumstances are very different to mine BUT until I honestly try to look out on life as they are forced to look out on life and really consider the choices they have to make,I am realising there is no way I can really begin to understand their issues. And I haven't even started yet.....but even if I didn't start (I will) I already appreciate so much more than I did this time last week. Oh, and one more thing, the fact that you, or I, may have had to live on not much at sometime in our past does not neccesarily guarantee that we will understand the pressures faced by those having to do so now..... Roll on Wednesday, I just hope I can last further than Thursday.....

Friday, 8 February 2013

Living on the breadline?

We were recently issued with a challenge: Spend the six weeks of lent living on what we could get if we both found ourselves out of work and on benefits with no redundancy money or notice.....

At first it seemed as though it would be a quirky or interesting thing to have a look at......but as I looked at our finances and then realised that, in our situation, we would only get the most basic of benefit levels (£111.50 per week between us) a number of things began to dawn on me.

Firstly, this was going to be nigh on impossible and, secondly, for increasing numbers of people this is reality....

Before the meeting at which we were told the amount of benefit we would be in receipt of I did some preparation and listed all current, actual, monthly direct debit and SO outgoings - quite a shock. This was before I even began to look at 'discretionary' spend and disposable income. I didn't need to do the maths to realise the level of change was going to be measured in factors that didn't bear thinking about, which in itself was both shocking and sobering.

There was quite a rapid progression from considering the scale of changes we would need to make and the pace at which we would need to make them to putting oneself in the position of others and considering the type of decisions that need to be made: Water, electricity,gas, telephone, broadband, TV package, house insurance, car.....There's no way we can keep them all, and even then those left will have to be reduced. Any loans, credit card balances and so on would need to be renegotiated.....urgently and significantly. Expenditure on food and drink reduced by at least 60 or 70% overnight!

All other insurance policies... personal, life, terminal illness, health, loan protection, fancy add ons to house insurance, cancelled immediatley! Pension payments...... gone! The list seemed almost endless and, from this perspective, the implications catastrophic.

After (theoretically, but accuratley) calculating by how much and how quickly we could reduce our basic living expenses we faced the fact that, on the basic level of benefit to which we are entitled as a couple, we had £35 per week for food and £6 per week each to spend! (that's not a typo)

The 'as a couple' statement suddenly became very relevant when, at a certain point in the meeting, it dawned that if we were not married...but just two single people living in the same house, we would get £71 each, which would represent a monthly increase of some. £116 which at these levels is very (very) significant.

Suddenly the ease with which one can judge those who 'choose' to split in order to 'get more money' seems both harsh and unrealistic!

Although we don't actually start 'living on benefit' till next Wednesday I am already realising how blinkered my views can be.

Anyway, that's it.....I am going to blog about how I spend my £6 a week....and how long we last before 'splitting' becomes pretty much a neccessity.