Recently, I made my usual trip to Wales to visit an old school friend, M. I tend to visit her before Christmas but with my overseas trip, I wasn’t able to make it until the new year.
M and I have remained friends for over 30 years, despite our lives taking very different paths. I went to uni, she started working straight from college. While I was partying every weekend in my 20s, she got married at 24, settled down and had two children.
She is now in her second marriage and has four children (in total). Her oldest son (my god son), is at university (fees paid by his dad). Her daughter has finished college and is currently working part-time; her other two boys are teenagers still at school. For income, she makes and sells jewellery online and at local trade fairs. Her husband works at a local car plant on the production line.
Since the break up of her first marriage, I’ve always known M to struggle financially. She comes from a well-to-do family and still remains one of the most well travelled people that I personally know. Foreign holidays though are a thing of the past for her now. Of course, two more children to add to the two from the first marriage probably didn’t help. Neither did job redundancy. Her ex was in IT consultancy, so most likely earned more than her husband does.
During my visits, I am usually a sounding block for her to talk about her financial (and personal) woes, about how expensive household bills are, the expense of new uniforms for the kids. having to fix the house, no money to go on holiday,etc.
I’m a good listener but I cannot help but feel that some of her woes were of her own making (of course, I do not say this).
Take the latest visit. I turned up and noticed that her husband’s arm was in a cast – he’d had an operation on his wrist over a month back and was off work to recuperate. My first thought was that this meant that he was not able to work late shifts for overtime pay, which would mean a huge dent in their income.
Anyway, as M was making me a cuppa in the kitchen, I overheard her mention to her husband that there was just enough in the bank to sort out the water bill and that they would have to defer payment on some other bill. Yes, it’s tough this time of year.
However, I could not help but notice that they had two new cats since my last visit, one still a cute little kitten. This along with the two dogs they already own.
Yes, I came to the conclusion a long time ago – my friend’s financial woes have been partly due to her many pets being a priority in her life and eating her out of house and home!
Pets are not cheap. Food, litter (in the case of cats) and vets bills. It all adds up.
Over the last 12-15 years, I’ve always known M to have lots of pets and along with her many children, I’m not surprised she’s always struggling with money.
There was one occasion a few years back when I had to really bite my tongue when she was complaining that she hadn’t bought the kids any treats to eat as they couldn’t afford it and I wanted to ask her if it was more important to feed the kids or feed the pets? No, I didn’t mean that the pets should go without food, I meant that perhaps she shouldn’t have so many pets so that she could reduce costs and feed her children properly.
I understand people wanting pets as part of the family but I did wonder at the wisdom of having two dogs and two cats while struggling with feeding the family? When the children were younger, I recall there being guinea pigs too…her house was a real menagerie!
But no, pets in the family are obviously a priority for her.
Cats and Dogs
We had pets when we were growing up – dog, cats, hamsters and rabbits – I recall that most of my pocket money was spent on pet food/bedding etc. Since I left home and started working full-time, I’ve not felt like I’ve needed a furry friend at home, although it’s possible that I may change my mind when I stop working.
The last pet I had was a goldfish when I was at uni! Living in a large tank by itself, it grew to quite monstrous proportions and survived a trip on the train in a plastic bag of water (when I moved back home!) and lived for nearly 9 years. I didn’t buy another and donated the tank and equipment to charity.
Anyway, M has never asked me for financial advice and I have never offered it – I’m not sure it would be welcome and I don’t think I would feel ok about telling her what she should do, as it’s quite clear to me what she needs to do to get her finances in order.
I think if she blurted out that she didn’t know what to do, then I would roll up my sleeves and start drawing out a plan for her!
We’re not there yet – I’m not sure we ever will be but I’m there for her if she ever wants my help and advice.
But what if she’s too proud to ask?
I sometimes feel like I’m being a bad friend for not giving advice but if I give it and it’s not wanted, that could be detrimental to our friendship, so I just feel like I should tread cautiously.
As for how I’m doing financially? I don’t mention anything (so definitely no talk of FI/early retirement!) and she doesn’t ask – I think she hears about me going on my holidays every year, not complaining about my finances and thinks I must be loaded and live the life of Riley!
We’re just living our lives very differently.