Observation

For Richer or Poorer—What Is Wealth?

I don’t know many wealthy people. But I know one. An old friend of mine, who after university, didn’t bum about like me, but got a job.

I met up with him a few weeks ago, and we started talking about money and wealth and what it meant — if anything. As a way of quantifying our progress since we left university almost twenty-five years ago, we totted up all the money we had in the entire world.

It was a bit of fun, we were a bit drunk, but the results were very telling, and quite surprising. My friend has a house worth £800k, has investments worth £300k, plus a steady job earning him £150k a year.

‘So you’re a millionaire,’ I commented. ‘Congrats, you’ve made it!’

He stared at me in disbelief. ‘You’ve no idea, Phil, have you? You’re probably richer than me.’

‘Yeah, right,’ I said, quaffing my beer. ‘I work on a farm in Normandy, for God’s sake, and earn €19k a year. I don’t own any property, and except for my savings, have no investments whatsoever. Compared to you, I’m a pauper.’

He didn’t see it like that, though, and told me that despite his big salary, come the end of the month, he probably has less money than me. In fact, by the time he’s paid his mortgage, his two cars (BMW & Mercedes), utility bills, food, petrol, clothes, nights out, booze, holidays, trips for the kids, etc., there’s barely enough to feed the dog.

I didn’t believe him. My friend has always been prone to exaggeration, but this was silly. And yet, he insisted it was true. Even his wife backed him up.

‘Even after my wage,’ she declared. ‘We still struggle.’

I was reeling. Struggle is not a word I’ve ever associated with my friend. I have other friends who struggle, but not him. I thought my old university flatmate had got it sorted: rich and wealthy beyond my wildest dreams. Turns out, he can’t even feed his dog.

‘So, what do you do for money at the end of the month?’ I asked. ‘Beg?’

‘Not quite, but close,’ he admitted. ‘We borrow. Take out loans, or get another credit card. Move money around.’

I felt cold. Is this how people live these days? On a financial precipice, playing one credit card company off against another, just to pay some bills. If they do, this monthly digital financial hustle seems exhausting. Harder than actually working. Or perhaps I’ve been living in rural France too long, and have lost touch with the reality of 21st century England.

‘I could lend you some?’ I offered, half joking,

I could tell he was considering it, but laughed it off.

‘Why not?’ I insisted. ‘I have money in the bank.’

‘Really?’ they both answered in unison.

I wondered what had happened to my friend. He was no fool at college and had always got much better grades than me and had worked hard to get where he was. And yet, he seemed to be squandering it on £5k TV sets when he couldn’t even afford to feed the dog. It seemed absurd.

My friend freely admits he sometimes gets up in the middle of the night and starts work, he’s so worried about losing his job. It’s not that he’s on the verge of being sacked, his position is quite safe, it’s just that if it happened, it would be a catastrophe. As a result, he’s always tired, doesn’t eat well, and by his own admission, is overweight.

He’s always been a bit of a spender. At university, he was always the one to get the rounds in down the pub. Always the one to buy everyone shots of tequila at closing time. And always the first to run out of money.

He often accused me of being tight. Arguing that money was there to spend, not hold onto like a teddy bear.

‘I’m not tight,’ I would argue. ‘I just don’t like spending money. There’s a difference.’

This subtle difference has shaped our lives, and will probably shape our futures. I doubt either one of us is going to be rich (I mean mega rich), but if one of us ends up poor, it won’t be me, that’s for sure.

After the stay with my friend, I concluded there were two types of wealth:

— Pure wealth

— Perceived wealth

The first one is money in the bank. This is me, albeit on a very minor level. The second one is my friend: lots of shiny whistles and bells (and cars), but when you look in the vault, there’s nothing there except dust.

There’s nothing wrong with that, in fact, I don’t really care. But next time you think someone is richer or wealthier than you, and before you start to feel bad about yourself, go and have a look to see what their dog has got in its bowl. It might surprise you.


This article was originally published on Medium on 25/01/22—click here


(Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash)

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Feature

Why I Canned Social Media

I joined Facebook in 2009 and for ten years used it almost every day. Ten years of logging on to a web page to ‘like’ someone else’s lunch. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

I thought so. What an idiot.

It was fun for a while I admit. Hooking up with old friends, seeing what each other was up to. Conversing, joking, having a laugh. But then it got too serious and too silly. Too many photos of people’s dogs and children, too many petitions, polls and posters on stuff which didn’t interest me.

The very reason I stopped reading the news in the first place. Now it was being shoved down my throat. Suddenly Facebook had become a news channel in its own right. Personalised and branded news beamed right into my home.

I was a villain in this as much as anyone else. Posting my own self-congratulatory crap. Or links readvertising my book on France over and over again to MAKE SURE everybody saw it.

Buy A Man in France — It’s only been out for two years!

Once I was FB-free I felt lighter. The feeling was palpable, which is quite disturbing seeing as it’s just a website and proves, almost without a doubt, how stupidly addictive it is.

I also realised how much time I’d been wasting. Time I could put to better use, like looking blankly in the sky for instance. Thinking for myself.

Someone once coined Facebook “Boast Book”. I tend to agree, although it’s not necessarily a bad thing — we all show off, it’s part of human nature. But before I deleted my account I looked back at some of my postings. It’s pretty boring. Here’s a cycle/run I did today. Here’s my lunch? This is what I’m reading. I mean honestly, who really cares? Was I that insecure about myself that I couldn’t do anything without sharing it? When I look back now, I’m not really sure what the point of it is.

It didn’t take me long to delete my other social media sites. And last Friday I finally deleted Twitter. This was quite hard as I quite liked it even if I still don’t know how it works.

I can’t remember the number of times I’ve Googled “What is the difference between a reply and a mention.” Before concluding that it doesn’t really matter. Putting a full stop before a @ sign means more people might read that pointless fragment of information I’m posting than if I’d simply left it blank. Which I think I was craving for. A blank in my life. Just me again. And now I’ve turned it all off I feel like I’ve rejoined the real world. Even if everybody else hasn’t.

Last Christmas I worked in an Aldi warehouse as an order picker (I wrote a piece about that too here). At break times we all piled up to the canteen for coffee and cake. There was some lively banter on the way up — slagging off our bosses, goading one another, showing off about how much stock we’d nicked — you know, the usual stuff. However, as soon as we entered the cafeteria and got our coffees from the machine, everyone got out their phones. You could hear a pin drop.

I was the only one sitting there doing nothing — I haven’t got a smartphone either in case you’re wondering (perhaps that’s a boast). Simply looking out of the window drinking my coffee while everyone else was plugged in. I’m not passing judgement on my colleagues, I’m simply making a point. If I had a smartphone, I’d probably do the same. But I don’t so instead I sat there thinking of the pub I used to visit as a student in Nottingham.

It was called the Plumtree and on Thursday nights it was as raucous as hell. Jukebox on full, everybody tanked up, smoking and drinking, singing and talking. Everybody paying attention to each other and nothing else. No phones, no internet, no messengers, no social media.

I use technology. I read a Kindle. I’ve published books on Amazon and I use this site. I’m not anti-technology. I’m 45-years-old so I grew up with it, and yet I’m lucky enough to have lived in an age before it. When I could go to the pub like the Plumtree without the fear of being photographed cross-eyed and blind drunk in the corner. The image of my bedraggled self appearing around the world in seconds.

In 1994 if I took a camera down the Plumtree I would be considered really weird and unless it was my birthday would have probably been kicked out:

“Got some pervert here with a camera photographing everyone — you’re barred.”

I don’t think social media is bad — for a small business, it’s quite useful. But neither do I think it’s good. And I have the feeling (a strong feeling in fact) that as we creep towards the third decade of the century people will start turning off — if they haven’t already. Finding more innovative and fun ways of keeping in touch and promoting business. We might all go back to writing letters to each other. Imagine that?

“Dear Friend, since the last letter I’ve been enjoying fresh walks in the countryside, reading books and generally enjoying life…”

Maybe I’m living in the past. Or maybe social media is the past. A dangerous step back to the days of public floggings and hangings. You say something wrong, something off the cuff and you’re lynched for it. The Spanish Inquisition on hand 24/7. Terrifying eh?

Personally I feel better without it. I feel freer.

Copyright © 2018 Philip Ogley

Images Courtesy of GDJ

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