Money lessons with Dickens
Victorian English novelist Charles Dickens is helping me cut my spending this year. He’s also been reminding me of a few fundamentals of money management.
I am reading Dickens’ novels because earlier this year I vowed to stop buying books until I had made my way through the many unread ones on my bookshelves.
The vow was an act of political protest. Each year Auckland Council delivers me another eye-watering rates rise. And each year, I try to find a way of trimming my spending to limit its impact on my bank balance.
I have largely stuck to my pledge to curtail my book-buying habit with the exception of being persuaded to buy Harry Potter and the Cursed Child for my resident 10-year-old Potterite and a copy of A History of the World in 100 Objects, resist.
Dickens used to be on the British £10 note. That was very fitting, because Dickens was intensely interested in money.
But of all the six Dickens novels I have so far got through, it is Great Expectations, the story of a blacksmith’s apprentice who suddenly comes into a generous income, that I found most professionally interesting.
We tend to think of consumerism, easy credit and financial profligacy as being particularly modern evils.
They aren’t, and nor is the tendency of people to squander an inheritance.
Great Expectations is the story of Pip who comes into ‘‘great expectations’’ of wealth.
It goes to his head. He runs up debts. Spends a bundle on food, books, clothes, jewellery and living it up.
He lives beyond his means, runs up debts, and spends practically none of the income (which comes from an anonymous benefactor) on anything useful.
Pip makes five mistakes people today often make with money.
He spends more than his
which I could not
Aim for self-sufficiency Develop a savings habit Don’t bank on inheriting anything income, which is the road to ruin in Dickens. Saving and frugality is the hallmark of good sense.
He lays nothing aside against the future, and worse, he does not invest in property or skills. When his great expectations vanish, he’s indebted and unable to see how he will earn money.
His spending is guided by the desire to earn the approval of others, namely the cold-hearted Estella, who he loves.
He relies on others to pay his way. Pip’s debts are paid off by the blacksmith, whose modest wealth is built on work skills, pride and frugality.
Pip banks on coming into money. Many people today bank on a bit of money coming their way in wills. It’s a dangerous thing to do. Even if you have expectations of inheriting money, it’s best to live as though this won’t happen, and treat it as a bonus if it does.
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Central bankers used to be such a big deal in the 1990s, along with grunge music, choker necklaces, and the Ally McBeal TV show.
These days, you could forgive Reserve Bank governor Graeme Wheeler if he yearned for a 90s revival. Whenever the likes of Wheeler’s predecessor Don Brash used to click their fingers and pushed up interest rates – and interest rates were always going up, since monetary policy was always tightening – our exporters would tremble, and beg for mercy.
All changed now. Across the developed world, central bankers seem to be impotent.
The doctrines of austerity they once presided over are now widely seen as failures, or even as impediments to growth. Now, it is central governments with their neo-Keynesian economic policies and their quantitative easing and their massive infrastructural spending projects who have reassumed the task of pumping life back into the productive economy, thereby undoing the damage that (fairly or otherwise) has come to be blamed on the central bankers of yore.
Not that the ancient rituals have been done away with, entirely. Last week, the Reserve Bank’s Wheeler was once again sawing away ineffectually at interest rates, in an effort to ignite a spark of inflation in the wet, dead wood of New Zealand’s productive economy.
The inevitability of the gesture was underlined by the fact almost every commentator not only predicted the interest rate cut, but its exact size. Wheeler, everyone said, would be taking interest rates down to a new record low of 2 per cent, in an effort to get inflation back into the Bank’s preferred 1 to 3 per cent target band.
That’s exactly what Wheeler did, and it probably won’t make a scrap of difference. In the 90s, the