I’ve mentioned in previous posts how most people don’t know how much free time they have until they become a parent, by which time it’s too late to make the most of it until the nest is flown. One other major effect of procreation is also to soak up all that spare money you didn’t know you had. If it were a requirement to submit an individual business case to justify the production of offspring, there would be a swift decline in the sales of Parental Guidance movies: all the benefits of offspring are subjective in Western society, what with there being laws to prevent children contributing a revenue stream of their own. The cost is enormous though: childcare fees before school age approximate a full second mortgage; they grow out of their shoes every two months; and, because you want to be good parents, you make sure they have opportunities to do sports and music and other activities with not-insignificant impact on the pocket. Then of course they get to school, wearing holes in their nice smart uniforms every other week, and gain a plethora of party engagements to fulfil with their newly inflated social circles. I can hardly wait for the inevitable plea for iPhones, netbooks and go-karting lessons. Child Benefit being stopped? So what – it’s a drop in the ocean anyway.
Happily, evolution doesn’t give two hoots about business cases, so we keep on churning the little angels out. (Of course macro-economics would hold that population maintenance is key to the overall wealth of the country. But in a celebrity death match evolution would kick economics’ derrière every time anyway.)
And so in that context, my wife’s return to studentdom and accompanying plunge in salary has meant that things have been somewhat stretched. Now clearly the fact that she is actually earning could be considered a strong position for a student – I’m sure many undergraduates would be delighted to bring in a four-figure sum a month. But it’s that context which is all-important: you cut your cloth according to the amount you have available, and when the amount drops by over half you are inevitably going to feel the pinch more. So despite what many would consider a healthy household income, we are currently officially Boracic*.
Being under financial pressure is not much fun. I have always had trouble understanding the cliché that money doesn’t buy happiness; indeed, I argue strongly that this is utterly false. I’d concur that it doesn’t always buy happiness, nor can money alone buy happiness – money is rarely a substitute for relationships or health. But even if you have those foundations in place, lack of money can cause unhappiness, and the reverse is also true.
Another cliché that has always astonished me is the assertion that “I wouldn’t know what to do with all that money if I won the Lottery” (and occasionally its even weirder cousin “I wouldn’t want all that money”). Really? Have you no imagination at all? If you won a couple of million pounds, would you not buy a nice house (maybe just paying off your mortgage if you already happen to have one), all the clothes and furnishings you’ve ever lusted after and a couple of quality cars, and then quit your job and live off the interest on the remainder if whatever you decided to do instead didn’t pay particularly well? That surely doesn’t take much thinking through.
Recently though I was explaining the concept of the Lottery to my eldest (I’m trying to ensure he has a good grasp of money matters from early in life). I asked him if he could imagine being able to buy anything, literally anything, he wanted, and what he would do if he could. I’d expected off the wall answers like a digger or a rocket and wasn’t surprised when he later suggested a combine harvester, but his immediate response that he would buy a toy tractor was, I thought, a little daft – as I pointed out to him, he already has more than one. “No Daddy, I don’t mean for me,” he replied, huffing slightly at my ignorance. “I mean for my baby.” Baby, I pressed? “You know! The baby I’ll have when I get married!” (He didn’t say “Duh!” but that was the tone.) Amusing though this was, it also does serve to highlight a generosity which is in my experience unusual in one so young – his first thoughts were what he could buy for others rather than himself. Perhaps as well it also suggests that he doesn’t want for anything, which if true is of great comfort to me. I’m sure that will change when he learns what an iPhone is.
Inevitably, with many of our outgoings being inflexible, we are cutting back on the more extravagant elements of our regular menu, and opting more frequently for those meals which are on the less expensive side (taking for granted that the “quick to make” is a constant – we don’t have anything currently that takes more than about 40 minutes of effort to prepare). I am also being more frugal with costly ingredients such as saffron, of which I am making a pack last three meals instead of two, and alcohol, which I am either reducing or removing entirely from some dishes. But cheap does not have to mean lacking in flavour, and the below is one example of a very cost-effective but extremely pleasurable meal to which I am resorting with increasing regularity.
Blue cheese pasta bake (2 good-sized portions)
- About 150g of blue cheese of your choice depending on how strong you like it; we’re fans of Blacksticks Blue and creamy Stilton
- an onion, diced
- a stick of celery, finely sliced
- a clove of garlic, crushed or finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons of plain flour
- 2 tablespoons of butter
- a cup of milk
- enough pasta to feed two people, about 200g (fresh pasta is better but dried is about a third of the price)
Make a white sauce from the butter, flour and milk by heating the butter in a pan, stirring in the flour and then adding the milk a little at a time until you have a smooth, creamy sauce, about the thickness of a creamy soup. Dice the cheese and stir it into the sauce until it has melted (although you might prefer to leave some lumps). Cook the pasta according to packet instructions. Soften the onion, celery and garlic in your preferred oil. (These three things can be done simultaneously once you’ve got used to it, otherwise it takes rather longer.) Stir the fried veg into the cooked, drained pasta, then place in ovenproof dishes and pour the sauce over (we use single-serving dishes but you could use a larger dish and cook slightly longer). Put in a preheated oven (200C) for 10 minutes or so until you have a nice crispy skin on the cheese sauce. You can vary this recipe by adding cooked mushrooms or unsmoked bacon if you wish.
*In deciding which link to add here I found myself exploring the derivation of words and phrases meaning penniless. If, like me, you have a slightly nerdy interest in etymology, this is worth a read.