Q: Like the chancellor, I've imposed my own austerity measures on my wife and three children. As the breadwinner, I find this acceptable but, after three years, I'm having mixed results. I'm impressed by my daughter's ingenuity. She has topped up her pocket money with various entrepreneurial wheezes at school. My son was brilliant when we swapped his expensive karate lessons for free football in the park. My wife, however, says she's fed up with the cuts to the household budget. She wants to return to work full-time but this would mean forking out for expensive childcare for our two year-old, which, in effect, wipes out her salary and makes our lives more complicated. Is it time to let go of austerity?
A: I may be wrong, but your letter makes me suspect that you not only quite enjoy imposing austerity on your family but also that you let it show. You remind me of a couple in a furniture department inspecting an expensive three-piece suite, where the man is saying: 'I only wish we could, my love... ' And the expression on his face is one of utter contentment.
To tighten the belt in difficult times is both necessary and admirable. To seem to take pleasure from it is neither.
Your daughter can use her ingenuity to earn a bit on the side; your wife can't. You have your daily escape to work; your wife doesn't. To her, your 'austerity measures' are unrelieved tedium, with no compensations and no fun.
Furthermore, I don't think your role as sole breadwinner entitles you, unilaterally, to impose stipulated cuts on the household budget. You run your household as a partnership and that should be reflected in the decisions you make - jointly.
Your wife's declared wish to return to work may be the only course she can think of that would return her to a more rewarding life. Perhaps if you showed a little more understanding, and discussed how you could plan for a few treats and the occasional extravagance, that course would seem less necessary. But if she continues to want to do so, and she may, then please help her. A slightly more complicated life is a small price to pay for giving freedom to someone who's feeling trapped.
Jeremy Bullmore is a former creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London. His book Another Bad Day at the Office? is published by Penguin at £6.99. Address your problem to Jeremy Bullmore at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.