Money

Jan. 14th, 2013 11:33 am
liv: cast iron sign showing etiolated couple drinking tea together (argument)
[personal profile] liv
Yesterday I bought a £100 pair of trainers. I didn't actually spend quite that much, they (or at least last year's equivalent) were reduced to £60 in the January sale, but still. It's hard to think of myself as the sort of person who makes that kind of purchase, partly because really, I can get perfectly adequate trainers for £10, what could possibly be worth an order of magnitude more? And partly because I am actually spending serious money on, of all things, running, which rather belies my self-image as a couch-potato.

If it hadn't been for my friends convincing me that getting a gait analysis done before choosing shoes is worthwhile, I would have been absolutely certain that it's a scam. I mean, it's a perfect marketing technique, making the customer go through a big palaver so that they're emotionally committed to the purchase and there is social pressure not to waste the salesman's time. And claiming to offer an individualized good which, although mass-produced, is in some sense supposed to be matched to the customer's personal needs. And lots of technobabble about the amazing features of the shoe that are supposed to magically enhance your running ability. It's practically a textbook example of how to get your mark to fork over ten times what the product is worth!

If I think of it as 50 books, I feel like a fool; how can trainers come even close to giving me that much pleasure for my money? If I think of it as a couple of months' gym membership, well, ok, that starts to feel a bit more like a proportionate investment. And if I think of it as the price of a return ticket to London, well, I spend that kind of money several times a month without really thinking about it, because that's the best way available to me of having a social life in addition to a full-time job.

I was particularly reminded of this because coming home on the train, I was woken from a doze by an argument between the ticket inspector and the guy sitting opposite me. The passenger had an Advance ticket and was trying to travel on a different train from the one his ticket was valid for. The ticket inspector insisted that the passenger pay a full single fare from London to Manchester, with no discount for his student railcard. That is a really swingeing amount of money, over £75. When the inspector absolutely wouldn't budge for arguments or pleas, the student offered his debit card and paid up, but he was visibly really upset, and spent the whole rest of the journey fighting back tears.

I seriously considered offering to swap tickets so that he could use my open ticket and I'd buy a single instead. But half-awake, I couldn't really think of a way to propose this that would satisfy the draconian inspector and also not embarrass the young man. The thing is, I remember very well being a student with £80 a month to live on after accommodation. I know viscerally how that feels, when one mistake with travel plans means nothing to pay for social life or pleasure for the rest of the term. And in lots of ways I was lucky to have that £80 a month (and somewhere, deep-down, the knowledge that my parents wouldn't let me actually starve if I really screwed up the budgeting.) I didn't have to borrow to attend university, my parents covered my rent during term and allowed me to stay in their home during the vacations. Plus my university and my city provided plenty of social and cultural opportunities that didn't cost money, making the tight budget a lot more bearable. In fact I never really felt short of money during that phase, I just had to plan carefully.

Student poverty is totally different from actual poverty. (Except when it isn't, of course; plenty of students genuinely are poor and don't have a parental safety net.) It seems like a lot of right-leaning chattering classes are confused about the difference, though. They remember living on a tight budget as students or perhaps as new graduates or newly arrived in London, and they are full of excellent money-saving tips and don't understand why actual long-term poor people can't just make money (such as state benefits) stretch in the way they did when they experienced a related, but actually totally different situation.

In some ways, if I'd been awake enough to think quickly and help out the student, it would have been a pointless gesture, a show of empathy for someone who is (I assume, though you can't always tell by appearances) basically like me, someone who probably won't suffer any worse consequences than a sad few weeks for the sake of that £75. If I'm going to distribute that sort of money on a passing humanitarian impulse, it would have been more useful to give it to one of the homeless people I passed between the running shop and the station, or indeed to a charity that addresses real poverty.

I still feel a little weird that in the decade since I graduated I have become so rich that I can in fact just blow £60 on a pair of shoes without making much of a dent in my lifestyle. Or indeed on a train ticket, but really the problem is that train tickets are absurdly overpriced. There are so many tricks and tiny T&C small print details set up to trap passengers into paying the "walk-on" fare, which is almost always utterly exorbitant. For the customer, if the train is late or cancelled or rerouted or whatever, at very best they might get a refund of half the fare if they jump through a lot of hoops and accept their compensation in the form of vouchers which, guess what, can only be used for overpriced walk-on fares purchased at the station and not for any sort of only-available-online special deal which might bring the journey into the vaguely reasonable price zone. But if the customer changes their plans in any way for any reason, or even misses a connection through no fault of their own, they suddenly have to pay a swingeing fine of a full-price single ticket in addition to the reduced price ticket they've already bought.

My brother the poet expresses this much better: If you suspect it, report it. That's a video with his performance of his poetry as the audio track, and works well as a whole piece beyond just the words of the poem. I'm happy to transcribe it if you can't watch videos, but I don't want to put the transcription right here, because he has a book out and I don't want to hurt his sales, that wouldn't be very sisterly of me!

(no subject)

Date: 2013-01-14 11:48 am (UTC)
simont: (Default)
From: [personal profile] simont
If I think of it as 50 books, I feel like a fool; how can trainers come even close to giving me that much pleasure for my money?

I can see the point of trying to make value-for-money judgments across entirely different kinds of good on some kind of basis like that, but I have to imagine that if I were to attempt to judge value for money by comparison to books then almost nothing would pass the test except books themselves. Because they're so cheap and have such enormous reread value, in terms of pleasure per unit money, I think books are a very extreme outlier!

(no subject)

Date: 2013-01-14 12:15 pm (UTC)
simont: (Default)
From: [personal profile] simont
Yes, I nearly mentioned the special case of food. I suppose for this sort of analysis one should properly divide the question into "buying enough / appropriate food to not starve or be malnourished" and "spending more to have nice food", and only really the latter is sensible to compare on pure pleasure-per-money.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-01-14 12:36 pm (UTC)
ptc24: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ptc24
See also: varying degrees of malnutrition[1], varied food as a form of niceness, being able to afford convenient food (including being able to throw away food rather than having to eat things up before they go off/eat gone-off food), having food in a variety of social contexts, giving food to other people, trips to the vending machine for comfort food, etc.

[1] The message I get from reading Poor Economics is that a lot of the people who live on $1 a day have enough food to survive and do some work long-term, but not enough to really flourish, in that if they ate more they'd be able to do more. In Poor Economics there was a case of someone who scrimped on food in order to afford television; it seems there's a certain level of boredom at which you'll accept some hunger in order to stave that boredom off.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-01-15 08:22 am (UTC)
ptc24: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ptc24
Oh yes, it's a book I'd recommend very highly.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-01-14 12:47 pm (UTC)
antisoppist: (Reading)
From: [personal profile] antisoppist
This household has agreed at a New Year's resolution budgeting meeting that a certain moderate budget for food is reasonable and any food spending in excess of that should come out of a separate "fun and hobbies" budget which allows each of us an equal amount for non-essential pursuits. If one of us wants to spend an entire day creating Beef Wellington with truffles, that is all very well, but they don't get to argue that it is essential spending to stop the children from starving if this means there is no money left for the other one of us to buy books, clothes or theatre tickets.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-01-14 02:18 pm (UTC)
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
That sounds sensible to me, I think it's roughly how I think of it even if I'm not explicitly setting up a budget.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-01-14 12:19 pm (UTC)
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
... makes me a miser. A well-read miser, but...

ROFL!
Edited Date: 2013-01-14 12:20 pm (UTC)

(no subject)

Date: 2013-01-14 12:27 pm (UTC)
ptc24: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ptc24
preventing misery as well as providing pleasure

I think, as well as providing pleasure, books stave off boredom. Also, reading the right books creates connections with people, it gives you something to discuss, so they can help stave off loneliness too. Furthermore, if you were restrained from buying and reading books, you'd be frustrated, so arguably they stave off frustration too, though that one looks a bit more tenuous - what if books hadn't been invented?

(no subject)

Date: 2013-01-15 02:45 pm (UTC)
naath: (Default)
From: [personal profile] naath
Running staves off boredom too :-p in fact running staves off boredom *even if* you aren't deriving pleasure from it, on account of how it consumes time.
(doesn't anything that consumes your time in a way that is pleasing-to-you stave off boredom though?)

Running also often done in groups (although that's optional) so can help with the loneliness also.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-01-14 12:13 pm (UTC)
ptc24: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ptc24
Of course, if you think in terms of marginal utility, books make perfect sense. The average Cambridge geek is oppressed by a too-large to-read pile; the pleasure-per-pound value of an average book is very high, but the pleasure-per-pound value of yet another book when you already have too many... less high. You might get more pleasure-per-pound out of expensive trainers when you only have cheap-and-nasty trainers than out of yet another 10 books when you already have too many.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-01-14 12:45 pm (UTC)
simont: (Default)
From: [personal profile] simont
I suppose there's also the question of what books. When I made my comment above, I was thinking in terms of books I really like and will reread multiple times over my life – the kind of books I want my shelves to be filled with. But if you're looking at the pleasure-per-unit-money of buying a book unread, based on someone else's recommendation or the author's previous form or good media reviews or entirely on spec, then perhaps the p/m ratio goes progressively down.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-01-15 05:16 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] ewt
Well, especially if it means your eyesight lasts longer.

Then you can read more books.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-01-14 02:39 pm (UTC)
khalinche: (Default)
From: [personal profile] khalinche
Yes, quite! But also, how many books do you buy which cost £2?

(no subject)

Date: 2013-01-14 02:53 pm (UTC)
ptc24: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ptc24
Back when I was reading a lot of science fiction, I bought lots of books second-hand from second-hand bookshops and dealer's rooms at conventions... and £2 is a pretty typical price tag.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-01-14 08:56 pm (UTC)
lovingboth: (Default)
From: [personal profile] lovingboth
Quite a lot of things I want on Amazon are 1p + £2.80 postage. If I am prepared to wait, then they will be somewhere between '4 for 99p' to £2 in a charity shop at some point.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-01-14 11:53 am (UTC)
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
but I don't want to put the transcription right here, because he has a book out

Bought (and the previous anthology).

(no subject)

Date: 2013-01-14 11:56 am (UTC)
angelofthenorth: (Default)
From: [personal profile] angelofthenorth
I spend that amount on trainers as well - apart from the fact that New Balance (my brand of choice) are made in the UK with the consequent improvement in working conditions for the people making them, I now know how much of a difference proper trainers make. They don't entirely prevent plantar fasciitis, but they have made a difference when I get it.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-01-14 12:06 pm (UTC)
angelofthenorth: (Default)
From: [personal profile] angelofthenorth
It's worth something - Brooks have a reputation as a good company, and my super-ethical friend Ceri buys their shoes.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-01-14 01:56 pm (UTC)
lethargic_man: Yellow smiley face, only with a neutral expression instead of the smile (Have a [gap] day)
From: [personal profile] lethargic_man
The passenger had an Advance ticket and was trying to travel on a different train from the one his ticket was valid for. The ticket inspector insisted that the passenger pay a full single fare from London to Manchester, with no discount for his student railcard. That is a really swingeing amount of money, over £75.

Ba*d. That was what National Ex-bloody-press did when they were running the East Coast line, and it resulted in me having to spend £110 on a new ticket on top of the £48 I'd already spent, thanks not to my missing my train, but to King's Cross removing trains from departure boards three minutes before they go, *growl*.

I'm not the only one who had steam coming out their ears over this, and when the government took the franchise off National Express, they acceded to public demand and changed the rules so the money you'd already spent was deducted from the price of the replacement ticket. Shame on Virgin as greedy exploitative ba*ds if they are not doing this too.

And even that's just the best you're going to get nowadays. Twenty years ago, your rail ticket said you had to take the train you had booked for, but I never once got hauled over the barrel for taking the wrong train (though this may not have been the case had I been older and presumably richer).

(no subject)

Date: 2013-01-15 10:02 am (UTC)
naath: (Default)
From: [personal profile] naath
Not even allowing a ticket to the next station is very very mean of them. Presumably if he had claimed he had *no ticket at all* he could then have claimed to be going to the next stop...

I hate railway ticketing. I usually end up paying the walk-on fare because I'm really just Not Organised Enough to plan months in advance which specific trains I'm going to be taking.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-01-21 11:04 am (UTC)
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
I reluctantly came to the conclusion that maybe Virgin were awful, but the others were all worse so Virgin is more prominent, so maybe the extent to which people love/hate them depends on how much they know about trains..?

(no subject)

Date: 2013-01-14 02:55 pm (UTC)
khalinche: (Default)
From: [personal profile] khalinche
Urgh, spending money does such difficult things to one's head, or at least it does to mine. The degree to which context and framing affect how comfortable I am with decisions is ridiculous. I have a fairly solid belief in 'good clothes bought on sale, which you will wear many times, are a worthwhile thing to spend money on about once every two or three years', which is based on the idea of price-per-wear. Your running shoes are going to be used at least a few times a week for a few years, so it's worth paying for quality. And yet spending money on even quite important everyday things seems to fall into another category. For example, I have a bad chest cough at the moment, and so went to get an old prescription for more inhalers filled. However, being ill and a bit out of it, I took the wrong prescription and the pharmacist actually filled a prescription for something else entirely - a thing which is probably good to have around, but not as important as the inhaler. My reaction, despite being happy to spend many pounds on, eg, clothes on sale, was 'oh, fuck, I can't spend another £7.65 on inhalers now that I've paid for this' - which is nonsense, because I'm earning enough money at the moment to be able to do so. This post has reminded me to go back and get the inhaler.

I also saw a much nicer version of the train guard situation play out recently: I was on a train to Scotland and the woman opposite had misplaced her seat reservation, without which her ticket (which she had) wasn't valid. As soon as it became clear this was a problem, several people in the seats around asked the guard if she would accept the email showing the booking and reservation, and all offered the use of their smartphones and laptops for the woman without the reservation to pull up the email with her booking details. The guard was happy with that, and people were happy to help, and the woman was happy not to have to pay another £90 or so on top of the ticket she'd already bought.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-01-14 05:41 pm (UTC)
yvi: a runner in front of a sunset (Sports - lonely runner)
From: [personal profile] yvi
Good shoes make such a large difference for running - they really are worth it.

I graduated almsot three years ago and sometimes I just hesitate when buying something and think "wow, are you seriously just spending 50€ on swimming gear" or "seriously, self, 90€ a night for a hotel?". But on the other hand, I also work 40 hours a week, the husband does more like 60, we can afford it, and I am really not going to stay in hostels anymore if I can help it :D It's all about priorities, though - I spend quite a bit on food and sports and travel, but have yet to shell out much money for furniture or a car.

Nice shoes, by the way! They will probably last you a year or maybe even longer.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-01-14 09:01 pm (UTC)
lovingboth: (Default)
From: [personal profile] lovingboth
IME, it depends on why you are trying to travel on a different train. Missed connection because a train company or TfL messed up? No problem, just talk to the guard as you get to the train. Decided you want to be there 30 minutes earlier / overslept.. ah.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-01-15 10:49 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] shreena
I completely agree that walk-on fares are ridiculous. And also lots of empty first class carriages (First Great Western, I'm looking at you) is ridiculous.

But I'm not sure that I agree that the ticket inspector ought to charge the walk-on fare minus the cost of the advance ticket for cases like this. I think - though I could well be wrong - that the whole point of the advance ticket system is to address the problem that trains are often extremely full at rush hour but almost empty off-peak. If you allowed people to book advance fares and then get that money off a walk-on fare if they ended up on a different train, what that incentivises is people booking an advance ticket on the off-chance that they can take that train but with the back-stop option of taking a different train and not paying any more than if they'd taken the different train to begin with. So, the train company is still faced with the problem of overcrowding on some trains but other trains being empty. If you're trying to spread your customers over the whole day, you need to make advance tickets significantly cheaper and need to make it punitive to change your mind.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-01-15 09:05 am (UTC)
atreic: (Default)
From: [personal profile] atreic
Yes, money is Very Weird. And this post and the comments are very interesting!

Soundbite

Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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