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The Generation Game

Poster Child For The Latest Boom And Bust?

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Time to Wail

Merry Christmas? Along with millions of other middle class mothers, I can't afford one

Less than five years ago, Christmas for me meant leisurely afternoons in Harrods ­buying a pretty embroidered cushion, some bath oil and a toy or two here, some smoked salmon and a box of chocolates there.

And the best thing was that you could send your plethora of luxury gifts down to the front door and then collect them later.

No hulking heavy bags round the other shops as I stocked up on yet more presents.

Shopping in a global superstore among the well-heeled is a relaxed pleasure — or should I say, it was.

For today it is merely a gold-tinted memory, as remote and exotic as going to Timbuktu.

This year, the arrival of the festive period has sent shivers down my spine. And not because of the cold.

Like many thousands of families across Britain, I have experienced a dramatic downturn in my ­fortunes in the past year or two.

To put it simply: I may be middle class, but I’m poverty-stricken.

Five years ago, I earned £1,200 a week from my work as a TV and film producer and would have thought nothing of spending £45 on a pot of gold-lidded lusciously scented body cream as a Christmas present for a distant cousin.

Now, I live in a two-bedroom rented flat in West London and my cousins will have to make do with little ­trinkets for their children only.

So how did this happen? Put simply, my partner and I started a new ­business four years ago, and we ­borrowed and borrowed and bought a country house alongside the two we owned between us in London.

We practically rebuilt it while I fussed over the kitchen, oohing and aahing over Farrow & Ball paint and butler sinks. We moved to the Cotswolds and I even bought another cottage as an ‘investment’.

When the recession hit, we realised the value of our properties had slumped and we were largely in ­negative equity. We had to rearrange our lives totally. These days, I am lucky if I earn £500 a week as a writer.

When I first wrote about becoming one of the Nouveau Pauvre — the newly poor — in the summer, many readers reacted angrily, feeling that because there were times when I’d been more fortunate, to complain about losing luxuries was repugnantly selfish.

That’s as maybe — it doesn’t alter the fact that my life has changed ­radically through having far less money. And I’m certainly not the only one struggling to provide a happy Christmas for one and all

Many of my friends are in quiet despair. One girlfriend told me that she’d planned to spend only £50 on her 15-year-old daughter and yet the same daughter is now asking for an iPad, which can cost more than eight times that.

Another mum, with three grown-up children, told me that five years ago she would go to H&M as a matter of course for cheap and quirky clothes, but now she finds herself baulking at the prices.

Even Boden, that reliable stand-by of well-to-do mums in the Home Counties, is now looking too expensive.

One friend has not stopped thanking me since I told her about a local ­charity shop that sells quite good children’s clothes. And another tried to save money by buying her son cheap trainers, only to be advised by her daughter that he would not be seen dead in anything other than the latest Nikes.

It’s certainly not confined to my group of friends.

According to a recent survey, more than half (53 per cent) of mums are planning to cut back on the cost of Christmas presents this year, looking for better-value options and discounted items, while 42 per cent just plan to buy fewer presents.

And shoppers are set to spend just £195 on festive gifts for loved ones, down £37 on last year’s figure.

Personally, if it were just me and my partner, we’d tighten our belts and be done with it.

But I have a six-year-old daughter and a 12-year-old step-daughter — not to mention six godchildren and about a dozen other children, ranging from teenagers to toddlers — who I need to buy presents for.

Just as I used to do as a ­little girl, my daughter has written a wish list to Santa and is confidently expecting him to wiggle down the chimney with a sack bulging with goodies ranging from a violin to Silly Bandz, the ubiquitous rubber bracelets all the rage among young girls.

She has been aglow with anticipation and her face lights up every time she hears the word ‘present’.

And the idea of having to disappoint her makes me feel sick to my stomach. In an attempt to soften the blow, I tried to lower her expectations the other day.

We were singing along to carols in the car and when it came to the last verse of In The Bleak Mid­winter I made her listen to the bit that involves the poor man with nothing to give other than his heart.

My six-year-old smiled at me from the back seat, agreed that love was a very nice present and then asked with considerable shrewdness for her age: ‘But Santa’s still coming, isn’t he?’

Incapable of treading on her dreams, I decided I might be able to afford stockings if I filled them with lots of little, cheap things that would give the illusion of bulk and plenty.

So, far from perusing the aisles of Harrods, I found myself checking out the bargains at Poundland.

I discovered excellent deals like giant Toblerones for under £1 — but still, it was not the place to fill an entire stocking. Yet even the most reasonable of places, like Asda, no longer seem that cheap.

I have made it a golden rule not to spend more than £5 on a stocking present, and am horrified by how many items like window stickers, sets of crayons, colouring books, little plastic puppies and so on cost well over that. Even Silly Bandz just squeak in at £4.99, depending on where you buy them.

I tried the internet, but quickly filled a virtual basket that came to over £320 so, feeling queasy, I abandoned the website.

And when I went back to the shops, all I could think was: ‘I can’t afford this. Why am I here?’

And it’s not just presents I can’t afford. There are the time-honoured rituals, like the annual visit to the local pantomime or to a London show, that are now out of the question. Tickets for the musical Wicked were £90 when I last looked.

Then there are the decorations that suddenly seem oh-so-­expensive.

My mother always had a glossy, fat-berried holly wreath on our front door, but today something similar can cost well over £40, even if you try to track one down cheaply in a local market.

What my mother did save on was tree decorations — we had a few red and green baubles and some lengths of lank tinsel that were wrapped in tissue and carefully put away each year.

I still own a few surviving baubles and some tiny birds made out of pipe-cleaner that will make it on to our tree this year.

And don’t even get me started on food. Ever since Nigella first exhorted us to be domestic goddesses, even my most laid-back friends have become control freaks in their Christmas kitchens, feeling pressured to make their own stuffing and cranberry sauce — all organic, of course.

Long gone are the days when you just bought a supermarket turkey and shoved it in the oven.

Now, we are made to feel like lousy cooks if we haven’t soaked it in a spicy brine full of expensive Maldon sea salt, ­cinnamon sticks and maple syrup for days beforehand.

My mother was lucky because my grandmother provided us with tin upon tin of home-made mince pies and a Christmas cake. I would love to bake, but I don’t have time.

Even wrapping paper has become a source of irritation.

My mother spent hours wrapping presents, turning even a mundane gift into an enticing, beribboned box worthy of one of the Three Kings.

Following in her footsteps, I used to buy ribbons from VV Rouleaux — now their price of £50 for velvet and silk ribbons seems truly shocking. Obscene, even. So I was thrilled to spot a six-pack of gold twine at Tesco for £2, and I’m hoping that will do the trick.

Of course, to some struggling to pay even basic household bills, this may all sound like another self-pitying whinge from someone who once had it all. But I guess the point is that still — despite the recession — many of us feel under more pressure than ever before to create a perfect Christmas.

How many families, I wonder, are tormented by the question: can I spend less this year without looking horribly mean?

Their anxieties will only be fuelled by the pressure to spend, spend, spend our way out of recession, as retailers advertise like mad for what customers there are who do have money to spend.

Every commercial seems to be rooted in the cheery assumption that we all have oodles of cash again.

‘I want that!’ has become a familiar cry in our household as my girls are targeted by yet another advertisement for a Nintendo or an all-­singing, all-dancing plastic pet shop.

There is no point trying to buy children a cut-price version of what they ask for. They are ferociously loyal to their brands and they would far rather have a cash donation towards a real pair of Uggs than be palmed off with a fake pair from Sainsbury’s.

Yes, Christmas is heaven for the rich, but increasingly hellish for the less well-off. The plight of those of us living in reduced circumstances is made even worse by those lucky enough to have remained in employment, who are also enjoying vastly reduced mortgage rates.

And while I expect little sympathy, I’m not too proud to admit that it seems a particularly brutal hell when once, not so long ago, I could treat my little ones to almost

everything (within reason) on their wish lists.

And I suspect I am not alone. Christmas is always a peak time for family break-ups, but I can’t help feeling it will be even worse this year.

Cooped up families worrying about their jobs can only be enraged by the extra ­burden of celebrating a Christmas they may not be able to afford.

Kirsty White, a counsellor at the Tavistock Centre For Couple ­Relationships, says: ‘Families ­experiencing financial difficulties are especially vulnerable at this time of year.

‘For those with children, Christmas brings an extra challenge to fulfil their expectations and possibly repair either real or perceived damage caused by financial constraints.

‘This can be divisive, with one partner seemingly turning a blind eye to difficulties by indulging expectations, leaving the other forced to play Scrooge.

Both can end up feeling judged and misunderstood. In these circumstances, engaging with the reality of their financial situation seems even more unbearable.’

In Christmas’s bitter aftermath, Kirsty expects to be busy in January. I for one don’t want to spend another year bickering with my partner about what size of tree we can afford while wondering if I will be deemed mean for spending £10 less on a favourite godson.

The whole thing has become one big headache.

This June, I finally paid off the last of my credit card bills. I have not used one since. I know, in reality, as Christmas Day creeps up on me, I am bound to dust off one, persuading myself that my family’s and friends’ presents are paramount.

I wish I were brave enough to do things differently. But the truth is I’m just too squeamish about disappointing my children in the short term — even though in the long term I would probably be doing them an enormous favour.

So with Advent upon us, I can only look to the next few weeks with a creeping sense of dread.

Cry ‘Bah Humbug’ if you must. Call me spoilt if you wish.

But the fact is, I wish I could ­cancel Christmas.

I guess she's paid by the word...

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Five years ago, I earned £1,200 a week from my work as a TV and film producer and would have thought nothing of spending £45 on a pot of gold-lidded lusciously scented body cream as a Christmas present for a distant cousin.

Here's the rub, £60k a year doesn't buy admittance to the Harrods lifestyle. It didn't then and it doesn't now.

I'd guess her problem is less falling earnings, but more that she was already spending well above her means even when her income was higher.

I know many people who say, "Well, I earn £50k, £60k, £70k a year. Therefore I'm entitled to the good life. I won't even bother doing a budget or keeping track of my expenditure, because that lifestyle must be possible when I earn so much more than the average.

What they don't appreciate was that it was only the rising value of their property that gave them an artificial view of their spending power. The reality is that "average household income" equals "average chavvy subsistence", and not "average Sunday supplement glamorous life". And even without a crushing mortgage £60k a year allows you to select just one (or maybe two if you bought your current house in the early 1990's) pretty baubles from the standard list of,

1. Big 4x4 for the school run

2. Long haul summer holiday plus a skiing holiday

3. Regular eating out (including wine) in genuinely good restaurants

4. One child in private education

5. A boat in a marina (or any other expensive hobby)

6. Private health, regular Farrow & Ball house makeovers, plus glitzy gifts all round

7. Expensive gym membership, good and fashionable wardrobe, frequent spa visits, new teeth for all the family

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Its that awful Mail writer woman from the wail isn't it, i.e. I want to put my daughters through private school etc etc etc yadda yadda.

Its like a dog whistle these sorts of things....

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Here's the rub, £60k a year doesn't buy admittance to the Harrods lifestyle. It didn't then and it doesn't now.

I'd guess her problem is less falling earnings, but more that she was already spending well above her means even when her income was higher.

I know many people who say, "Well, I earn £50k, £60k, £70k a year. Therefore I'm entitled to the good life. I won't even bother doing a budget or keeping track of my expenditure, because that lifestyle must be possible when I earn so much more than the average.

What they don't appreciate was that it was only the rising value of their property that gave them an artificial view of their spending power. The reality is that "average household income" equals "average chavvy subsistence", and not "average Sunday supplement glamorous life". And even without a crushing mortgage £60k a year allows you to select just one (or maybe two if you bought your current house in the early 1990's) pretty baubles from the standard list of,

1. Big 4x4 for the school run

2. Long haul summer holiday plus a skiing holiday

3. Regular eating out (including wine) in genuinely good restaurants

4. One child in private education

5. A boat in a marina (or any other expensive hobby)

6. Private health, regular Farrow & Ball house makeovers, plus glitzy gifts all round

7. Expensive gym membership, good and fashionable wardrobe, frequent spa visits, new teeth for all the family

+1

Dopey cow...

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I'm tempted to buy her a dictionary for Xmas, so she can find sympathy somewhere between sh1t and syphillis, because she'll get sod all here.

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I'm tempted to buy her a dictionary for Xmas, so she can find sympathy somewhere between sh1t and syphillis, because she'll get sod all here.

:lol:

+1 million.

luckily the comments are withering - akin to the scorn heaped upon the 'I've got 5 kids and earn 90k a year - I neeeeeed child benefit' Grauniad article.

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Current #1 comment

Brilliant. So all the middle class people who bought multiple properties 5-10 years ago as an 'investment', banking on ever rising property prices to fund their lifestyles (whilst simultaneously squeezing out everyone else from the property market) are now going bust? What a terrible shame.

I'm all in favour of people working hard, earning money and enjoying their affluence. But if you've over-speculated on the property market, relied on credit to fund a lifestyle you can't afford or been too arrogant to assume the party will never end and then come a cropper then you only have yourself to blame!

Well said love!

It's actually funny reading stories like this, people like this have seemingly gone through out life having everything she wants, now she needs to limit her spending to what she needs, she thinks she's the poorest person in the world. Snotty little cow.

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These days, I am lucky if I earn £500 a week as a writer.

My god - the poor, poor darling!!!

Quick, someone organise a charity campaign for her and her ilk.

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So she was earning around £60k? That's a huge salary to me, but if you eat out a lot, buy a flasher car, buy the season's fashion, get your kids all the technotat they expect, etc. you will probably have much less spare cash than someone on £25k that lives within their means.

Easy debt culture allowed the moderately well off to amass multiple homes and despite merely having a big mortgage debt they felt like millionaires as values increased. Only needs the smallest fall and the Emperor's naked, of course.

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My god - the poor, poor darling!!!

Quick, someone organise charity campaign champagne for her and her ilk.

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  • 312 Brexit, House prices and Summer 2020

    1. 1. Including the effects Brexit, where do you think average UK house prices will be relative to now in June 2020?


      • down 5% +
      • down 2.5%
      • Even
      • up 2.5%
      • up 5%



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