Friday, April 30, 2010

Day 203: Saving v. Living

I believe I have landed on another cultural difference between us Yanks and the Brits: saving v. living.

Perhaps I am off, but it coincides with bits and pieces I have picked up from other Brits, and especially those from the Continent (for those unaccustomed to the English sense of geography: there is England, and there is the Continent, never to be confused...) about lifestyle choices and running businesses.

In the states, the desire to save and make money is a given. It's what drives all businesses, large or small. Almost without exception (my husband and I found one when we went to purchase my wedding ring, but they were an Italian company, and that didn't really count). It's also what drives people to work, and work hard. Long hours are quite common in big cities, and shops are generally open much later than they are here (and on weekends). We have shorter vacations and longer days, and it shows in our GDP.

My husband and I are extreme cases. Both of us can often be found working on Saturdays, and working long into nights, both engaged in our various work. We make a decent living, but we also are very conservative in our spending. Sometimes, it is a game. I have always enjoyed a good thrift-store shop, finding designer pieces for $2 or 2 pounds, and I bargain about most things, thanks to a good negotiations class in law school. My husband and I brag to each other when we find deals.

As I shared one of my latest success stories (unfortunately, my bragging habit is not limited to my husband) to a dear friend of mine here, she queried, 'What are you saving for?'

It caught me off guard. Our chances of having a decent living throughout our lives are pretty good, so we will never want (although that is true in part because we don't want much), but we have financial goals. For what purpose? My husband and I would like to fall off the map at an unspecified time, and to have resources to do good things with. But are those laudable excuses to hoard money towards an undetermined future when we will finally have 'enough'? If so, what is it all for?

It seems the driving force behind the English mentality leans more towards having a good life. Enjoying the here and now, rather than saving up tomorrows. The same mentality of giving people good experiences now is probably why one of the gyms we investigated didn't want more customers (you would rarely find that in the states) because they wanted their customers to have a good experience being the only one or one of two in the gym. People aren't as interested in saving towards a better future if they aren't enjoying today. Not to say that is exclusively the case, just as many people don't save a wink in the States. But if one can comment on cultural differences, my gut tells me I'm on to something subtle yet significant.

I think there are benefits in each approach. I'd like to keep all that is good with the American ambition to work for a better tomorrow (and even, perhaps, work for the sake of work) while adopting the English example of making the best of each moment.

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