Should you save, or should you splurge?

5 June 2013

Are you a grasshopper or an ant? In Aesop's Fables, the grasshopper sang all summer and then when cold winter came, faced with starvation, she went to the ant for help. The ant, who had worked and saved while the sun shone, was not at all sympathetic. So the moral is, save while you can.

That used to be the way we were all brought up. But what is the point of saving now?

Given the infinitesimal interest rates, should you be an ant and be thrifty by hanging on to your savings (preferably stuffing banknotes under the mattress instead of your deposit account to avoid bank charges or a Northern Rock-style catastrophe)?

Or should you, grasshopper-style, splurge the lot, buy a picture you love or the house you've always longed for and gamble on the possibility they will increase in value, while inflation nibbles away at the money in your bank account?

Many of us are struggling with this dilemma, trying to decide which is the best way to deal with our money - to be an ant or a grasshopper.

In the genes

But watching my children as they manage their money, I realise that, in this, as in so many things, you don't really have a choice. You do what your genes tell you. I have come to the conclusion some of us are born miserly ants, while others are spendthrift grasshoppers.

For instance, my two daughters are very careful. They put their savings, such as they have, into locked-up bonds or deposit accounts, planning for a rainy day. One daughter actually sacrifices fun she could afford: the pretty, inexpensive jacket, the outing to the movies. She is a born puritan - obviously she inherited her money genes from the maternal branch of my family.

One of my aunts was a lovely woman, but hung on to every penny, and became renowned for the stingy presents she gave at Christmas. Fortunately, my daughters are generous to friends and family, but definitely mean to themselves.

Find the best Cash ISA or savings account for you

My son, on the other hand, lets his money blow away with every breath he takes. In any round of drinks, he, like his father would have, leaps in to pay the bill. He lends money and he buys new gadgets as soon as he can afford them. He never, happily, goes too far and gets into debt, but he certainly sees no point in locking it away in the bank. Money, he thinks, is for spending. There are no pockets in shrouds.

And yet I always treated all three of them exactly the same. They all had pocket money, just as I did when I was very young, a small amount each week. They could either watch it mount up in a moneybox, so eventually they could buy the toy they yearned for, or splash out every penny on sweets or comics.

My parents never had much money, but they always gave me a pound or two to spend each week, just to teach me the value of frugality. So I did the same for my children, with the ant or grasshopper results you now know.

Learn about finance

How soon did these characteristics show themselves?

I honestly cannot remember whether my conscientious toddler daughters let their pocket money mount up, while my little mischievous son stuffed his small mouth with Liquorice Allsorts. But I do believe the fact they don't get into money trouble is at least partly due to learning how to spend their pocket money.

Funnily enough, I have two friends who adamantly refuse to give their sons pocket money, preferring to give them what they want when they want it. I have mentioned the value of learning how to save, to defer their pleasure until they can afford it, but the parents just don't see the point.

From September 2014, all schoolchildren will have lessons in school about managing money, about borrowing and saving. I wish I had. Perhaps then I would be more confident about making financial decisions, instead of being so confused about the value of equity release, and annuities, and the dangers of interest-free mortgages.

But, all the same, I bet half the kids will turn out to be ants and half will be grasshoppers. We can't beat our genes.

Add new comment