It will interest almost no one to know why I never fell in love with money or capitalism, but it’s my blog and I’m going to tell you anyway. (There’s a lot about money in the news at the moment – and it’s about time I got a few things off my chest and onto yours.)
In July 1989, two days after my university final exams, I went to London to be a rock star. I felt 18-something years of education was long enough and had a life to get on with. London was the centre of the universe and so that’s where I went. I was deadly serious. I’d joined a band and everything. Unfortunately it was a shit band.
My debts were modest, at around £2,500, almost exclusively a result of running the car, then van, I used for band practices, gigs and recording.
But the debts didn’t stay low. Finding a job with an arts degree is notoriously difficult – and the NatWest Bank was charging me, if memory serves, £2.50 per day, plus 29% interest, plus other charges. Every cost, from the £220 a month rent, to the £2.60 a day Travelcard I bought to go into Soho to look for a job, to the £10 spent on pizza to feed me and an even more broke friend all came out of my overdraft.
(One of my greatest mistakes was to not sign on at the job centre or claim for housing benefit – information I feel strongly should be part of the school and university curriculae.)
Letters from the bank, which came often (at a cost of £25 each to me, plus interest), were left unopened. What could I do, when I was already doing my best? I tried eight jobs in seven months, all of which cost more money than they earned me. Finally, by Christmas 1989, I got a job in Ratners for about £95 a week – the first serious money I had ever earned. By this stage the debt had grown to an impressive £10,000 (at 29% interest, plus charges).
To put this in perspective, a three-bed house with garden in Fulham cost around £40,000 at the time.
Eventually, the bank called poor, young, jobless me in for a meeting and I signed papers to turn this overdraft into a loan. Very nice for the bank. Seven long years of paying back £250 a month for me.
Two years later, I remember talking to a Financial Adviser in a bar in Leicester, where I’d gone to find a full-time job in advertising. I said all I wanted was to be rid of this debt. That’s easy, he said. Take out a life insurance policy with me today, and kill yourself tomorrow. OK, I said with a strained smile. All I want is to be rid of the debt and still alive.
Four and a half years after that, back on the outskirts of London, I received a statement from the bank that I thought said I had paid off the debt. I remember sitting there, looking at the paper, nearly crying with unexpected relief. Then I saw I had another six months of my sentence to go. No change there.
Six months later, I resigned my job. I’d gone into advertising to pay off the debt, and the debt was paid. It was 1997. I was 30.
So, for the almost no one still reading, it should come as no surprise why I never bought into the acquisition of stuff thing. I never had the money. Nor did I put money into a pension (despite attempting to sell life insurance, commission only, during that summer of 1989), because the bank took it. A bank I believe acted with criminal negligence that, if I had followed professional advice, would have cost me my life.
As a completely unforeseen side-effect, the bank’s unforgiveable behaviour has led to the life I have now. It’s a good life (except, one day a week, when I have to put on a suit and earn money to pay for diesel and insurance – because I can’t barter eggs and sausages to fill the car yet), and one that I see increasingly being promoted as the only way forward.
I suppose you could say I was lucky. Because I was never seduced by the owning of many shiny, new, precious things, and never had the prospect of a pension at the end of it all, I could walk away from capitalism with ease. But I can tell you, it hasn’t always been easy. And as you may or may not know, there’s no such thing as luck.