WANTING IT ALL: I wish I could write that not working saves money, but greater time in the real world, rather than at your desk, makes for more spending opportunities

WANTING IT ALL: I wish I could write that not working saves money, but greater time in the real world, rather than at your desk, makes for more spending opportunities - The week after I stopped work I travelled everywhere by foot or public transport and I

by DEBBIE SANDFORD formerly worked at McKinsey and Random House
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The week after I stopped work I travelled everywhere by foot or public transport and I contemplated excavating my bicycle from the garden shed. Quite a shock for a former taxi queen; it gave me a new-found sympathy for people who would regularly arrive late at work complaining of delays on the Northern line.

I was doing all this in a spirit of siege economy, as our bank balance reeled with two salaries dwindling to one. In fact, refusing to use cabs probably didn't save much, but it seemed highly symbolic.

I wish I could write that not working saves money, but I'm not sure it does. It is possible to save by shopping around more, but greater time in the wide world, rather than at your desk, makes for more spending opportunities.

For me, stopping work coincided with a promotion for my husband, so we didn't need to be too radical and there was certainly never an issue about putting food on the table. But any downshift in one's standard of living is painful; you just live with it because of the extra time you get in return.

All through my first year of not working people would ask how it felt not to have my own money. I responded fiercely: I had worked hard for years and had easily saved enough to buy a year off for myself. The fact that Rupert was the only one bringing in an income didn't mean he was supporting me. As I slide into my second year this is becoming a less sustainable proposition and, yes, it feels strange to have one's life funded by someone else. It is reminiscent of childhood.

Fortunately, we have pooled our finances since marrying, and I manage the money. This has helped me retain a sense of financial control, and I've never felt that Rupert has used my not earning to manipulate me.

Having somebody tell me what I could and could not spend money on would send me back to work like a shot.

I've felt confident about my ability to earn, but over time - scared that my skills are deteriorating - I'm becoming more dependent and therefore vulnerable. I wonder, though, whether it is even more scary for those brought up to believe that they should be able to support themselves financially.

Greg, for example, an ex-pharmaceuticals manager on full-time childcare duty for several years now, still feels out of control financially, worrying about what would happen if his wife got run over by a bus.

Yet my overwhelming feeling is how lucky I am that we can afford it, without having to reduce our lifestyle greatly. Other families are not so fortunate, and usually both parents must work to sustain a reasonable standard of living.

This puzzles me. It wasn't always like this - for the middle classes, at least. When I was a little girl my father was a buyer for Currys and my mother taught geography two days a week. We lived in the big back end of a converted Victorian hospital in suburban Surrey, had au pairs and went to private schools. My father left for work at 8.30 and was always back by 6.30.

Yet in 2001 this is the stuff of unaffordable fantasy, even though average real household incomes rose by 60% in the past 30 years. So why does everyone have to work longer hours under pressure to afford our lives?

Granted, there are more ways to spend money in the 21st century. Holidays, for example, used to be buckets-and-spades in Devon, not sunshine in far-flung lands. And communications - remember when people used to queue for the phone box at the end of the road? Now we think nothing of gabbing at will on our mobiles to friends all over the world.

Our expectations of the good life have been raised. And some key costs have risen too. Property prices have soared, and private school fees have spiralled upwards, at the same time as the quality of education received has become more and more important in determining the sort of job your child can get and hence the kind of life they can lead.

But I think increased income inequality has played the biggest role in everyone feeling under pressure. Earnings in the public sector have lagged far behind those in the private sector; I was shocked to learn recently that today's professorial salary at Oxford was a mere pounds 43,150. A good wage, I know, but for a seasoned Oxford professor? Comparable managers and private-sector professionals earn far more. The implication is that friends from similar backgrounds now endure a far greater disparity in their earnings and lifestyles.

Thank God that one's role in the family is no longer determined entirely by one's gender, regardless of temperament or ability. And probably increased pressure is just the natural bedfellow of greater choice. But it seems that a lot of people get stuck in the middle, with two parents both earning a decent crust, but not enough for either of them to cut back their hours significantly and maintain the sort of lifestyle that their peers enjoy.

I am very lucky. I think I'll be getting that bicycle out now.

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