According to the documentary the average British family lives on a net (ie after tax) income of £40,000 (with two people working). That's more than we come home with but kind of what we'll hope to be earning in another few years (at the age most of the couples in the show were for sure anyway!).
It was very, very interesting - and made me realise something really significant.
Most people now live beyond their means.
Life now is made up of a great long (and totally accepted) list of ways to live beyond your means. Mortgages, loans, credit cards, hire purchase, buy now pay later.
My husband and I got into debt before we met which we both dealt with badly at the time (minimum repayment...nope, cinema trip and a kebab, definitely. Oh, red bill...bottom of the drawer for YOU. Hmm...snotty phone call - change mobile number, move house - hurrah for dealing TERRIBLY with debt!)
This meant that we, in our early twenties, were in a situation wherein we couldn't get more credit. Between us we owed about £12,000 when we met. Since then we've accrued zero more debts and been steadily paying it off. (By we I mean HE has been, since he's been working and I've been breeding and sponging off him for a living until recently!)
We get no benefits beyond child benefit - which pretty much everyone reading this gets. That buys nappies.
Tonight I sat down, after watching (half of) the show and worked out how much, usually, we'll come home with after tax and we listed all of our outgoings.
We listed all the essentials and - because I'm now working - we upped our old weekly shopping budget from £50 to £100 - I feel giddy just thinking about it. I'll go to asda, I'll grab a trolley, I'll walk around and buy THINGS I ACTUALLY WANT TO EAT and not just very VERY basic things that we can only just afford. MEAT! I'll buy MEAT - more than once a month! ACTUAL MEAT! That is genuinely something we've had long periods of our time together being unable to do.
After totting up all our expenses we saw that childcare costs us - even having got an EXCELLENT price for it (baby is half price when we pay for full time for toddler) double our rent, which used to be our biggest expense.
My husband pays the rent and all of the bills and buys our shopping - these are costs he's always covered.
I pay for the childcare.
After paying for all of those things we have a similar small amount left (totalling less than £300 which is A MASSIVE AMOUNT OF MONEY compared to how we've lived until now.)
Most of this is going to go to paying off our debts. We could think about moving out of this flat - but moving here was such an excellent financial decision that we want to stay longer and reap the benefits for a few more months at the very least - it's saving us £250 a month compared to our old home and that is making great inroads to other things, and has made a massive difference to how we eat/live day to day.
We could think about buying more things/going on holiday etc - but we'd rather clear debts and start saving a little than do those things - we've lived this long without diamonds and sun soaked hotels - we can survive another year.
I look around me at the majority of the people we know and the population (which the people in the documentary seem a fair and broad representation of) and I think, for all that we're living hand to mouth at times and we've struggled on a limited income, we're in a much better place than most people. We are travelling in the right direction - earning more, owing less as time goes on. Most people our age are getting MORE in to debt and taking more credit year by year.
In five years - less really - we'll be debt free and have a buffer of savings behind us. That's a nice feeling. It's been really, really hard at times. Having to say to friends that I don't fancy meeting for coffee because I literally couldn't justify £2.50 to buy one. Having to keep my boys at home because the £1 entrance fee for a playgroup is more than we have. Having to live on noodles because even value beans are extravagant. Having to think of imaginative ways to eat toast because we can't afford butter.
We have been VERY poor. It has been VERY hard. But we made it through that - and now we're doing ok - and we're doing it on our own, with no credit, paying our way in cash.
Don't get me wrong - we have had a LOT of help from family in that time, a huge amount - and we are so grateful for it - and we plan to pay that back too now - we wouldn't have survived without having to ask for help at times - but we were lucky that the help came from the right places and didn't get us into even more trouble.
We are so lucky - and so grateful for where we are.
Knowing that next month I can treat my husband to a meal out, knowing that I've been able to buy my children Christmas presents - that's a great feeling. A great feeling. One I honestly, for a long time, didn't think I'd ever have. I am so relieved to be where we are now - and to have got here still strong and together when it's been so hard.