Friday, September 26, 2008

Can spend, won't spend

It's so rare to find myself in an empty house, and when I do I feel as if I'm queen of the world. I can write and think with a clear head. The luxury!

The trouble is that my head is so clear this morning that I can't think how to entertain you. That's why I'm falling back on a piece I had in The Times several years ago. I hope you enjoy it...

Can spend, won’t spend

I am considering offering up my husband as a guinea pig for trainee salespeople.

He wants a new bicycle, he needs a new bicycle, he can afford a new bicycle. He just cannot bring himself to buy one. The current one has already been rebuilt and resprayed once, but after 120,000 miles the formerly elegant frame is suffering from metal fatigue. If he doesn’t buy a replacement soon, the bottom bracket will snap on a ride and he and the bike will suffer the ignominy of a lift home in the car.

The problem is that whilst he is passionate about cycling, he hates spending money on himself. It’s a puzzle how he managed to buy the bike in the first place. He bought it on the day our second son was born, eighteen years ago. I don’t know whether this was by way of a celebration, or a don’t think I’m going to give up cycling and spend more time at home gesture, or a panicky I’d better buy it now while there’s still some money in the bank purchase.

Whichever it was, he needs a new bike now, yet he remains immobile. Thriftiness is a welcome virtue in a family man, but my man is so parsimonious that he would be the only guest ever on Alvin Hall’s Your Money or Your Life programme to be told to go out and spend more money.

Years ago, the first time he asked if I wanted to go shopping I naively imagined that this would mean entering shops and handing over money for purchases. What it actually meant was walking disconsolately up and down the high street, looking in shop windows. We never stepped over a threshold because, either the desired item wasn’t in the window so they obviously didn’t have it, or, if it was in a display visible from the street it was always too expensive. “They don’t know what to charge” should be embossed on his wallet.

Consequently, for the last thirty years I have done all the shopping. This has definite advantages. It’s easy to smuggle an unjustifiable purchase into the house, hide it in the back of the wardrobe, and get it out to wear a month later. Then when he says “Is that new ?” I can honestly say “No, I’ve had it for ages,” which happily forestalls any questions about price.

I have to buy all his clothes as well as anything he actually wants – from guitar strings to books to spare parts for his bike. It only takes two months to rev himself up to shell out £5.99 for a set of new guitar strings, and it’s easy to take written instructions on brand and type. But only he could choose and buy the bike, and it takes more like five years to change into a high enough gear to hand over the money for that.

We have passed the first stage: three months of complaints about the fact that each and every component needs replacing, and three months on how it’s not worth doing because the frame is rusting and the transmission is as slack as his eighteen year old sweatband. We are now into the 2 years of weekend forays to local bike shops. He has weathered the shock at the increase in prices since 1984, but has so far not spotted his platonic ideal of a bike.

When he does, we will enter the period where I try to persuade him to do the deed, and he says no, he wouldn’t get the value out of the purchase because he only has a few years left to live. He is 51 and in good health; his only ailment is pessimism.

I’m starting to get desperate about this bike business, though. I’ve just remembered that he bought his guitar when our daughter was born. I hope he doesn’t have some strange yet-to-be-labelled syndrome which means he can only buy things when in a new surge of fatherhood. I love him dearly, but if he won’t buy a bike till we have a new baby, he can take up running instead.

© Sue Hepworth 2008

Appears here with kind permission of The Times


Anonymous said...

Let him get his bike, the benefits of bike riding to your health and the planet are well worth it.

Isaac said...

This is one of my favorites of your articles!

Sue Hepworth said...

Of course he should have bought his bike! It wasn't me who was stopping him!