Well spent: How to live a rich life in the age of uncertainty

For those with not much to spend, experiences are the way to spend it.



Put down the knitting, the book and the broom
It’s time for a holiday
Life is a cabaret, old chum
So come to the cabaret

 

I’ve always loved the film Cabaret. I’m grinning and singing along as a female drag queen covered in tattoos belts out the title track while straddling two members of the audience, turning them into a makeshift motor buggy. It’s Thursday night in London, I’m sober, I’m seeing something I’ve never seen before, and I’m laughing my arse off. The previous week I spontaneously attended a book launch. Next week I might check out a science lecture I found out about on an events app, or some experimental fringe theatre someone gave me a flyer for.

I want to enrich my life by enjoying the urban experience to the fullest for as long as I can.
I used to feel guilty every time I spent money I’d earned on things I enjoyed, but now, in a time of lingering austerity and mounting alternative facts, I’m starting to revel in it. Like the 1920s Berlin of Cabaret, my city feels unstable and unpredictable in 2017. And as a result, I’ve changed my approach to money; I want to enrich my life by enjoying the urban experience to the fullest for as long as I can.

At the age of 29, nine years after the global financial crash, I’m realising that my entire twenties have been spent expecting things—money, education, housing, liberalism—to get better. And sometimes they did; only to become even more precarious in the next moment. University had been a grace period of hedonism, despite minimum-wage jobs and unpaid internships; but once final exams were over, a hovering drizzle cloud of expectation nestled in.

It wasn’t long ago that spending on anything beyond rent, bills, work travel and groceries felt frivolous, naughty, like I was letting someone down. Anything that deferred from the pitiful savings account was a treat that I had to convince myself I deserved. Every advertisement, family member and friend’s five-year plan seemed to be telling me to sacrifice ‘now’ for ‘then’ and the debts I’d no doubt have to pay for who-knows-what. I never knew when ‘then’ was or what it would require of me, let alone how much.

This year the guilt has lifted, and there’s a feeling of elation that comes from spending time and money on things that bring me joy and enrich my life—courses, shows, exhibitions, good food, moments with mates. This is quite aside from salary fluctuations; in fact, I earn less today than I did a few years ago. But now, once the necessities are covered, I seek to experience the city I live in as best I can.

It’s not about squandering money. I don’t go to the most expensive anything, and I still put something aside into savings. But the way I feel when I spend is wholly different. A friend mentions a drawing evening, a sword fighting class, a science lecture in a pub… I go if I can, because these are things that interest me, things that help me grow. And importantly, I enjoy the moment and the aftermath.

Mindful, joyful spending is about understanding what we have, what we can do with it, and using our time and money on experiences we can enjoy now.
Mindful, joyful spending is about understanding what we have, what we can do with it, and using our time and money on experiences we can enjoy now. It’s not about throwing caution to the wind. If anything, we’re more aware of our money than ever before. User-friendly banking apps track our spending and help us set targets. Bare-it-all money diaries online help us understand how other people split their earnings. But apps and websites don’t judge us, and we don’t judge others for spending on experiences, because those are memories and comforts, bought for their own enjoyment, rather than for others to see and be jealous of.

So don’t despair for me or my generation’s prospects of significantly less security. There may be social, political or economic trouble ahead, but I don’t feel unlucky. I feel fortunate to live in a vibrant city at a time of massive change. I have the supreme privilege to enjoy its creativity, its novelties and yes, even its cabarets. I wouldn’t want to spend what little I have any other way.

 

What good permitting some prophet of doom
To wipe every smile away
Life is a cabaret, old chum
So come to the cabaret

 

Follow Becks on Instagram at @semioticlondon.

Illustrations by Alexandra Lunn. Follow her on Twitter at @alexandra_lunn.