Skint professional with GSOH seeks new life
I'm a 21st century cheapskate in the age of austerity – My mate Emma said to me few years ago: 'If there's a war, I'm with you.' It was the greatest compliment I've ever received. I reckon if there's a war, you should all be with me. Because I'll take care of you.
I've been poor for almost two decades and I spent a short time being homeless in my early twenties, this was just after I got pregnant at 19, so I've put the hours in. Honest.
I'm that very special strata of working poor. You know the type: business class flights to Asia on work trips, five-star hotels, champagne lifestyle on cider money, dinner with the King and Queen of Sweden; my own chauffeur on a [window-] shopping trip in UAE, dinner with Ambassadors and diplomats, my teenage son has a full scholarship to one of UK's top independent schools. I'm encouraging him to tip the Tory balance with our socialist leaning ways.
Let me be clear, I (still) haven't actually got a pot to piss in myself. And I'm 37.
The other week I discovered that for almost two years I've been living well below the Joseph Rowntree Foundation's definition of the poverty line. THIS CAME AS QUITE A SHOCK TO ME as I'd been very confused about why I was so skint all the time. I felt well off, sort of, even though I generally have no money at all.
I've always thought I was in an average income bracket, at least.
But it turns out – I'm POOR!
Very special things happen to you when you are poor. Like…The other week I talked my way out of being gang raped by seven young men. Actually, that last bit was scarier than I'm letting on. And it's only because I've lived on a council estate on and off for the past 13 years, and fancy myself as an actress, and I've dated some proper rough types, that I could get away with pretending to be an untouchable gangster's moll. (I am not advocating it.)
Back to Emma: she said 'If there's a war, I'm with you' because I make food last FOREVER. I reckon I could even make a three-course meal out of pondweed.
On that afternoon I was serving 'Christmas Turkey Curry' and 'Christmas Turkey Risotto' for a get-together celebratory dinner in my garden. It was a hot August day and we were eating outdoors, we had candles, olives and lots of Prosecco. When we were really drunk, someone broke out into song. (I don't own an iPod. Or an iPod dock. Or Vinyl. We had to be creative.)
We were marking some sort of engagement, book prize, TV commission, triumvirate situation going down. We were all pretty pleased with ourselves: gee aren't WE doing well! (The smug didn't last. OK it did for them, but not for me, the TV commission failed to pay up and then I was poor again.)
Even though I was hosting a celebration dinner, there was no need to be extravagant.
No need to go out and actually buy new food for the occasion or anything. I just needed to redistribute the turkey I'd been hoarding in the freezer for eight months and make the most of some good spices. The trick is to only tell your dinner guests what you have cooked for them after the event, otherwise they'll never eat at yours again.
Don't judge me, but I was tucking into that Christmas Turkey shred-by-shred for a year.
The thing is, I'm used to being poor. I even wrote a book about it (and became less poor for a while until the taxman and literary agent banked 40 per cent of my advance, buy it here ).
I've been poor since my early-twenties. Eight years ago I was so poor I was feeding myself and my son on £8 a week. Something that is impossible now, even if you do snack on other people's nettles and nasturtiums and start cooking their cats.
I'm no longer pedestrian poor, I've gone up a level to aspirational poor, this means that I buy reduced items at Waitrose, I eat quinoa and I tap other people's expense accounts for Champagne.
The Tories don't need to talk to me about austerity measures; I've been known to make everyone in my household use the same bathwater because I needed to reduce the heating bill (yes, I got first dibs on the dip). So until David Cameron has bathed in Sam-Cam's pubic hair bathwater, he should shut up.
Or he should come and live at my house for a bit. I'll show him a thing or two about austerity. He'd be back on that Virgin Pendolino from Manchester to London begging Samantha for some Turkey Twizzlers. He totally would.
Because I'm poor, I'm used to trimming the corners off mouldy bread and whacking it in the toaster. I haven't owned a television for over six months now because my television broke and I can't afford to buy a new one. I don't care if I can get one on freecycle, I don't want to pay for a TV license to watch crap TV. As I work in the arts, this makes me look like an intellectual.
I drink wine out of teacups because it's a waste of money to buy fancy glasses now we've smashed them all. As they are from a carboot sale, I look bohemian.
We stopped eating meat a year ago BECAUSE WE CAN NO LONGER AFFORD TO BUY MEAT. Therefore, I appear to be a vegetarian.
My personal austerity measures may go further still:
- It might be the case I give up drinking alcohol completely, even the free stuff at launch parties, because it has knock-on expenses like taxis, Dr Pepper and a supply of Anadin. But then I'll just look boring.
- I only ever buy my clothes from charity shops. Therefore I look ethical.
- Last Sunday I began sorting out my wardrobe to find clothes for the Keep Syria Warm campaign. It soon became apparent that my clothes are too crap to donate to Syrian refugees, at which point I binned most of them. Now I look naked.
- I might sell some furniture. And then I'll look Scandinavian.
- I should sell my car. Good grief, then I'll look eco-sensitive.
Given my new image, I should probably move to Levenshulme.
But why am I so poor? It's because I owe the equivalent of A NEW Vauxhall Meriva in accumulated debts – and let's face it, who wants to be forced to own A NEW Vauxhall Meriva? This massive cash flow sink hole comes from a period in 2010 when I didn't get paid for some work, then worked for four years without a pay rise, during inflation, followed by a cut in hours. Now I get paid a decent salary, but the cost of living, combined with debt, keeps rising.
Jeremy Hunt said recently that changes to the tax creditsystem were necessary because tax credit claimants lacked 'dignity' and 'self-respect'.
I think Jeremy's been spying on me. Sometimes I leave the house in my fur coat without wearing any knickers – this is because I don't own enough knickers, Jeremy.
And because I'm poor, it's not even a real fur.