I’m down to my last few pennies and when I say pennies, I literally mean the contents of my penny jar.
I should probably have some sort of anxious feeling in my stomach, but in a perverted way, I find it quite fun and exciting to challenge with myself with the art of survival. I’m no longer going to give myself the security blanket of el banco de papá. I want to start with nothing so that everything I have is truly my own.
Money & Me
I’ve been so incredibly fortunate to never have witnessed the worries of money growing up. My Mum and Dad worked beyond hard to make sure we wanted for nothing. We had three holidays a year, adventures every weekend and on Christmas morning we would each have three giant sacks of toys waiting for us under the tree.
I hover on the brink of calling us spoiled and maybe we were, or maybe we were just fortunate, but all they ever wanted was for us to be happy; we were spoiled with Love.
As a child I would do anything to top up my piggy bank. I’d scour the house for coins that had slipped out of people’s’ pockets and down the side of the sofa, I’d wash dishes and water plants for fifty pence. I’d set up garage sales and try to sell the contents of our shed to passers-by (until I’d get caught trying to sell the bush-trimmer to the neighbours for a quid). I’d print out makeshift leaflets offering dog walking and child minding services for neighbours, even though I was a child myself.
Then the second I could get myself a real job, I did.
I was a paperboy chauffeured door-to-door in my mother’s car, I was a woman named Ethel behind the counter at Woolworth’s selling Play Station games before their release date, I was stuck in the middle of awkward arguments between deaf and hearing people, I worked at Chester Zoo on a campaign to save the Turtles, I surveyed pensioners outside Morrison’s supermarket, I was an awful bar tender and an even worse waitress, I processed PPI claims, I worked in my favourite clothes shop and got paid in clothes. I handed out wristbands at Leeds Festival, I was a courier on a campsite near Venice, I made crêpes at food festivals and I tutored French and German.
My list of weird and wonderful jobs is endless and then of course, there’s the ten-year career I’ve just left behind. But as quick as the money was in my bank account, it was out again.
Hey Big Spender
Growing up, my Dad’s approach to spending seemed to be work hard, play hard. If you’ve put in the graft to make the pennies then spend them. Life’s short.
I adopted the same attitude but added a serious addiction to clothing into the mix. With a background in Accounting, he was signing cheques for his well-earned joys knowing exactly what the balance sheet was looking like, whereas I developed an allergy to checking my bank balance.
And this is where I started Benjamin Buttoning the hell out of responsibility.
In my very early twenties I had a beautiful grade two listed cottage, a mortgage to match, and a car that I owned outright. But as the years went on, my adulting slipped away into the mist of travel and London Life. My closet went from crappy rags to couture, my socials became extravagant and my travels more regular.
The joy I got from finding second-hand treasures dissipated and I soon found myself spending hundreds and hundreds of pounds on Russel & Blomley brogues, Cacharel capes, Prada frills, Valentino heels and Chloe frocks. My wardrobe became a totally contrasting mix of rags and riches. And I loved it.
I went and side-street-caféd my way around Paris, I spent almost a month in Uganda and lived out my Lion King dreams on safari, I travelled to Budapest to watch the ballet, I waltzed the streets of St Tropez, I cruised the Caribbean, I cycled Sicily and lava-skied down Mount Etna.
I discovered a love for coffee and espresso martinis, sipping them at events all over the capital – an eclectic concoction of grunge, gigs and glamour. Wining and dining out became less of a luxury and more of a convenience, and the bills were getting bigger every time.
Then around 2007 contactless was invented and I was doomed.
Back to black
In no time at all, my Lifestyle Inflation started to exceed my income.
I accidentally racked up a £2,500 bill on my company credit card which got me into trouble and I was permanently in the red. So in May when I handed in my notice and had no intention of making my next career move for a while, I knew I had just three months to get back to black.
I stupidly made zero change to my spending habits during this time and my social life has been as lively as ever, but somehow I’ve done it. Apart from the make-believe debt we all know as a student loan, I’m officially completely and utterly debt free.
How? Well I worked three jobs for a start; I worked out my notice period at the office, during the evenings I was tutoring languages and at weekends I was making gallettes at food festivals. I hosted clothes parties with friends, auctioned off some of my fabric favourites on-line and I offloaded the remaining materialistic crap I’d accumulated over the years to strangers at a car boot sale.
Then there’s the magic.
Every time I’ve tottered on the edge of bankruptcy, about to crack open the porcelain pig, something miraculous has happened. I’ve received a refund that was supposed to come through months ago, or the Cath Kidston backpack I listed on Facebook Marketplace back in April has suddenly got somebody wanting to buy it, then yesterday, in true The Secret style, a cheque for a £200 council tax rebate found its way through my letterbox.