As I mentioned in my last post, we had to work hard to make sure our holiday money stretched to the end of our stay in France. Conveniently, for this story, £1 was worth around 25% less than it was last time we were in France. So the daily lunchtime beer in a cafe was out, replaced by a beer back on the terrace at the flat. The daily late-afternoon ice creams came from the supermarket, not the ice-cream parlour. It was hardly the 1930’s, but it wasn’t 2008 either.
So we changed our behaviour to adapt to our circumstances. The other time we did that was when Francis was born. We agreed that Antonia would take a year off. Again, handily for this story, that meant that we had to cut our budgets by around 25% (one salary lost for 6 months). We took advice from Alvin Hall, and tips from Martin Lewis. We worked out what money we would have, and set ourselves a budget. Most importantly, we went back to the cash economy. We agreed what we could afford to spend, and then took that cash out of the bank at the start of each month.
Handing over bank notes focuses the mind in a way that paying with plastic never could. It feels like real money, and gives you a greater sense of whether what you are about to purchase feels like good value, and is really needed. Anyone who gives you advice on how to spend less will tell you to start dealing in cash.
I’m fully aware that there are millions of people who are in a far worse position than me financially, for whom weekly budgeting, on far less money than me, is a painful fact of life. So my 25% cuts aren’t anywhere near as painful as someone else’s. But they are still significant – for me at least.
I’ve been thinking recently how (or if) I should work with organisations which are going to have to slash their expenditure by 25% or more. I enjoy a lot of the work I do. That doesn’t feel like the kind of work that’d be much fun.
But how could I help? I think that one thing I bring to my work is that whilst I’m driven by helping people to achieve social change, I’m also a realist and a pragmatist. I can separate the emotion of a social mission from the hard realities of the market. Maybe that’s one way I can help. Any discussions about budget cuts – particularly if there is a real/illusory desire to involve all staff – will be full of emotion, and rightly so. Trying to find a workable way forward in those circumstances will be very difficult. An outsider might be able to help.
Helping people to “think the unthinkable”, and challenge long-held assumptions, which have been sheltered from real life by the odd parallel universe that is the World of Funding, might be of use too. Could organised abandonment of that cherished, but less effective, project, be better in the long term than cuts across the board? And might it be worth looking at the way we work, and how we deal with our customers, to see where there is failure demand in our systems? In other words, demand (and therefore spent resources) that is only there because things aren’t dealt with properly first time. There is no one big idea which will help to cut expenditure less painfully, but I personally find the idea of failure demand pretty useful.
One thing is clear, any answers that I help people come up with won’t be my answers. Just as I don’t write business plans for people, I won’t be advising people on how to cut their budgets. But it might be that I can be part of something in Leeds or elsewhere where a group of organisations come together and share the burden of finding ways to continue to deliver change with less money.
If you have any thoughts please let me know by leaving a comment below.