Like many children, I used to go supermarket shopping, as well as other food shopping, with my mother. I used to enjoy it, being responsible, going off and finding things, being helpful.
My memory tells me, and memory can be fickle, that she would dither over a particular product, whether to buy brand X or Z. Was one better than the other, what were the ingredients, was the price differential worth it, was it too expensive? I learned to read food labels at a young age and still do. Unsure, she would often buy the cheaper product and only if it was unsatisfactory would she move up to the more expensive one. After a meal my parents would often have the conversation about whether to buy it again, or try something else, an oft repeated criticism of meals that put me off.
As I grew older I realised that this uncertainty was related to other expenditure, on clothes and things for herself, or myself. Not on theatre or cinema tickets or on going out together as a family, just some areas.
As a young adult I was at a seaside town with my parents and I saw a fantastic swimming costume. I had no money on me, so showed it to my mother, who agreed on its merits but who had no money either. My father needed much persuasion before lending me the money to make the purchase. I realised then, possibly for the first time, that if something is of no value to him, then he doesn’t recognise that it might be of value to others. It was a nice costume; it lasted me for years. My mother saw its value for me. My father didn’t.
As a teenager I remember my father going through her credit card bill to check it before payment. She couldn’t check it off herself and say it was fine; he went through it line by line. What was this for, have you got the receipt; he wanted all the details. I started then to see that the way he maintained control of the finances was humiliating to my mother, although she never said anything.
My parents would often visit me separately as they wanted to do different things with me. I would invariably go out for a meal with one of them when they visited. My mother was hesitant about going to a slightly more expensive restaurant, or choosing a wine other than the cheapest. She occasionally pointed out to herself that my father would happily pay for the meal if he was there, so why was she so hesitant about paying it herself.
Eventually it dawned on me that my mother didn’t feel comfortable spending his money because it was his, not theirs. She’d only once briefly worked for an employer (when I first went to school) so she had no financial independence. She knew she would have to account for money spent and therefore had to consider whether he would feel the expenditure was justified, not just whether she would.
My father worried about every single penny and planned for each one. When we went on holidays he would invariable have a different envelope with money for each country we would drive through. After filling up at a petrol station he would pull up, get his notebook out, write down the mileage and cost so he could calculate the cost/miles/gallon ratio. It used to seem so petty.
Over the years I’ve struggled financially; I have, through necessity, gone to several shops to find the cheapest provider of a product. I bought the unbranded pack rather than the brand, which quite often is perfectly acceptable.
Now I struggle to not worry about whether I could have got it cheaper elsewhere. I struggle to accept that I can buy myself clothes and they don’t have to be Primark prices. I have to persuade myself that I can buy me a treat, that whatever it is that I am buying, it doesn’t have to be the cheapest; that money isn’t wasted if it’s spent on me.
My value is not determined by what I spend on me. Contrariwise, I deserve better than the cheapest.