I had a rare (and brief) "reality shift" into the high life last weekend whilst visiting my son in London. We went out for a fantastic Sunday lunch at a semi-exclusive establishment which cost much more than I've spent on eating out for a very, very, long time. We had champagne cocktails to start with, a bottle of good wine and all the extras. I really enjoyed myself. Strangely, and a little uncomfortably, the large bill almost added to the enjoyment. After the "high" of the experience died down I began to wonder what it was that I had actually paid for?
Like anyone who makes a habit of being aware of how they are spending their money I automatically question the value of what I buy and weigh up if it's "worth" what I'm paying. I admit that this calculation, for me, is not always as simple or as "pure" as it is for some FI'ers. I'm quite happy to add factors into the equation that could be regarded as self indulgent or self-defeating from a FI point of view - time being a frequent consideration. For example, I might buy something at one supermarket that I know I could get cheaper elsewhere, just because I am already in the shop and it would take a chunk out of my free time to save the difference. Not worth it, in my view. Similar calculations about value might include stress-reduction, health, quality and social responsibility. It's not as simple as pennies and pounds.
But when I think back about the meal at the weekend I realise that one of the things that I must have been including in my calculation of the "value" of the meal was the glamour of the whole experience. "Glamour" is an interesting word. The archaic meaning is "a magic spell, enchantment or charm" but modern definitions refer simply to "exciting" or "attractive" and current usage of the word definitely tends to overlay associations of the excitement and allure of wealth. Was I happy to pay more purely because I was seduced by being part of all that affluence, was I paying to be "glamoured" (anyone a "True Blood" fan?) - I suspect so. That's not a comfortable realisation.
Co-incidentally "Made in Chelsea" is back on Channel 4 this week. It is a (very) guilty pleasure of mine, watched alone and in secret, seldom talked about or admitted to :-). For those who haven't come across the series it is a structured-reality show featuring a group of very attractive twenty-something year olds living in London with more money than they can handle, no responsibilities and no grip whatsoever on what life is like for the majority of their contemporaries. Strangely enough, despite all the champagne-swilling, holidaying in Barbados and shopping in exclusive boutiques they seem no happier than "ordinary" people and they spend as much time obsessively discussing and dissecting relationships, crying, falling out and making up again, as young adults in all walks of life.
However the overiding theme of the show is "glamour" and the cult of the mystique of wealth; not what money can do, or buy, but what having money makes us into. Somewhere along the line we seem to have bought into the delusion that this equates to attractive, charming and happy. And that, apparently, includes me .... (or at least a small part of me :-))