The Fun Allowance

June 4, 2010

As the prospect of potential unemployment (or at least, reduced income) wavers on my horizon, I have found myself – much like our new coalition government – undergoing a review of spending cuts.

Some of these cuts are easy to identify (if not quite so palatable to implement): a freshly sharpened axe has been swung in the direction of overseas holidays; Gastropubs no longer feature on my social radar (surely a good thing – Gastrobpubs are so Noughties, wouldn’t you agree?); London’s black cab drivers will not enjoy my razor-sharp conversation quite so often as they once did.

But a conversation with a colleague of mine yesterday introduced a whole new chapter into the book of personal budgeting. This colleague recently married his sweetheart; the marriage came two years following his proposal to her, and the intervening 2 years had required a strong focus on saving, in order to part-fund the wedding and honeymoon etc. A key strategy within the required austerity measures – one that went beneath the big numbers and scythed away at the everyday costs – was what he termed a ‘Fun Allowance’.

Every week he allowed himself £50 to cover off ‘fun’. Fun included: beer & wine, eating out, cinema and lunch. (Evening, weekend and any ‘home-based’ meals were part of a separate budget)

Three things struck me about this:

1. The whole nature of a ‘fun allowance’ – which I appreciate the underlying pragmatism – seems to me something of an oxymoron. Fun, by its nature, is not something that one allows.

Now, you could argue that that I am being pedantic: placing unnecessary focus on my colleague’s choosing of a certain word. But I have long been an advocate of the importance of the exactitude of our language. Words have power – they both shape and reflect our perceptions. Therefore, if I tell myself that I am “allowed” a certain degree of fun, I have established a boundary. The boundary may begin as one that is defined purely in its financial terms, but a dangerous seed will have been planted.

2. The inclusion of lunch within the fun allowance. I’m troubled by this partly because it seems nonsensical (surely an all-encompassing ‘food budget’ would make more sense?) but also because it prompts a wider question – can ones daily lunch be considered fun? 

Of course, lunchtime is often the best part of anyone’s working day, increasing proportionately the more you dislike your job. And food is good. I am reminded of the logic of Prof R Childs (whilst in the employment of the London Fire Service) in arguing against saving money by making his own packed lunches: that the only parts of the day he looked forward to were a) the lunchtime visit to the sandwich shop; b) the anticipation of said visit and the preceding decision as to what filling to have that day.

But I maintain that my daily lunch is not, in itself, fun.

3. The setting of the weekly budget at £50. Whilst I can’t claim to understand the particulars of my colleagues financial situation (versus my own), one does not need these details to understand that fifty pounds worth of fun – especially in our nation’s capital – is not enough fun.

Have any Pabs contributors had experience of a ‘fun allowance’ or similar?

TBM

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