Our good and bad relationship with money
I never thought I would enjoy eating out of a bin. Turns out, I really do.
I've always loved a bargain but, whilst making Cherry's Cash Dilemmas for BBC3, my commitment to frugality was tested. I was introduced to the world of freeganism and skipping by Katharine Hibbert. Katharine has been studying the art of living for free for two years, learning the do's and don't's of hitchhiking, squatting and skipping.
To experience skipping, we prowled the streets of London waiting for cafés and restaurants to close so we could dive into their discarded bin bags to see if there was any edible hidden treasure. I have to admit that my initial reaction was one of horror - until Katharine opened up bin liners containing sandwiches, sushi, bread, muffins, cakes - all within date, all in their plastic packaging, all completely edible. I did however say no thanks to the big bags of warm soup - just a little bit too close to hospital waste.
For Katharine, her decision to live for free is a political one but for others skipping is a means of survival. Katharine was eager to make this distinction clear - for her, it is a reaction to our dangerous culture of waste.
Up in Gloucester I met someone who was perfecting the art of gold digging. Twenty-something Esma gave me the makeover of a lifetime to demonstrate what was needed in order to bag a rich hubby. With a chocolate brown tan, nails so long I struggled to do my jeans up, and a downstairs accessory (a tribute to TOWIE - you know what I'm talking about!) I was ready to go out on the town with Esma and her friends, all of whom had set themselves the goal of living off a rich man.
Whilst the method was very different to Katharine's, in a way, they also wanted to live for free. Each week they ploughed their salaries into their appearance in order to attract the "right" kind of man. They felt the money they spent at the salon was an investment - that one day Mr Moneybags would scoop them up, buy them an IT bag and give them the keys to his kitted-out 4x4. All their hopes and efforts were focused on this one outcome. They had no backup plan and they wouldn't accept that there was a chance it wouldn't happen for them. They had total faith they would achieve.
I also met someone with a strong belief in their ability to achieve. Except, this was a faith in their ability to make their own fortune. Amanda, inventor of My Carry Potty, was unbelievably glamorous, successful and motivational. She had juggled children and a business and, after years of working late after putting the kids to bed, she was reaping the rewards of her labour. And wow, were they some rewards! Beautiful houses, designer clothes, diamonds and a champagne lifestyle - but Amanda told me that the real joy was knowing she had earnt everything herself. She didn't have to ask anyone's permission, she didn't have to worry about keeping someone sweet, she didn't have to feel guilt about a single purchase. Amanda had accepted that money made her happy, and she was determined to make sure she was never without it.
On the opposite side of the county, was someone living a very different life. In one of the poorest areas of the UK, and with seven children, Claire refuses to go on benefits. She told me that, whilst benefits were vital in emergency situations, they also contributed low self esteem and lack of aspiration. And in light of the recent London riots, her views on money are perhaps even more poignant. Like Amanda, Claire has an incredible work ethic. As a teaching assistant and mum, Claire begins her day at 5am and takes two buses to get to work. She brings in just enough money to pay the bills and feed her gaggle of children, yet she loves her job. I don't at all want to romanticise financial hardship but I can't deny that Claire's family was very happy. Of course, Claire told me her life would be easier with more money but it would not affect how close they were as a family. Money or not, Claire had invested time and love into her children and was reaping the rewards.
Whether money can make you happy or not was the core question that I asked whilst making the programme. There is no question that it can alleviate problems and make life easier. Being able to pay bills without stress, being able to outsource admin, being able to help family and friends, these are undeniable benefits of having money. However, I've always felt that whilst money can make a happy person happier, it can't make an unhappy person happy. Money comes and money goes, but investing in family and friends is what truly makes the difference in how happy we are.
Cherry Healey presents Cherry's Cash Dilemmas on Monday at 9pm.
Next week, Cherry will be talking about women's body issues on the blog and you can watch Cherry's Body Dilemmas on Monday 22nd August at 9pm.
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