I’m middle class. Or at least that’s what you’d think if you met me. I am well-educated, live in a nice area, enjoy eating out at restaurants and walking in the countryside. I play the flute and am a stay at home mum by choice.
But I’m a fraud.
What you see may look like the comfortable living of a UK middle class family. But it’s actually the strategic spending of a family of four who live on a precariously low income.
Every in-going and out-going is carefully monitored and budgeted down to the last penny.
I feel so keenly the pressure to “keep up”.
I’ve never been one to care about peer pressure but it’s different now that I’m a mum. I want to give my kids the absolute best start that I possibly can, providing them with good opportunities and setting them up for the future.
The house needs to be spotless in case our 2yo decides to lick the carpet! We need to eat at posh restaurants to expose our children to culture and good food (fish fingers and chips just won’t cut it anymore – halloumi cheese is where it’s at!) The children need to extend their learning and development by attending a wide range of extra curricular activities.
I want all of this for my precious children… but we just can’t afford it.
The thought of holding my children back because we can’t provide for them adequately is heartbreaking.
Of course I know that a lot of these ideas are ridiculous – Charis will not drop dead if the house is a little messy, and Jenny will not fail at life because she doesn’t go to gymnastics. But there are a lot of experts and fellow parents out there who would make you believe that is the case.
As parents, we spend a lot of time feeling judged. We’re all trying our best, but society / social media / childcare experts / older generations / non-parents / etc, are great at pointing out our weaknesses and failings.
We feel under constant scrutiny. So we play our part.
We sign them up to the sports clubs. We lavish them with gifts at Christmas. We pay for the organic food option and go on exotic holidays.
I’m a middle class fraud
But actually, this isn’t our family. We are not middle class. We don’t have disposable income. We can’t afford to do much of it at all.
But we’re determined not to be beaten. We’ve worked around the lack of finances and created a life that is comfortable. It takes a lot of careful planning to maintain and there are times that we long for more, but we’re happy. We’re on the up. We’re content with our life choices.
- We carefully substitute exotic holidays with day trips or family sleepovers at Nana and Grandad’s
- We lovingly wrap lots of Christmas presents by buying them second hand from charity shops
- We live in a nice village by saving money in other areas (cycling / walking places, free tv channels, hand-me-down clothes)
- We scour the internet for free activity sessions and create our own themed holiday sessions
Punctuate these with a few nice trips out and a well-spoken manner and you have a recipe for success as a middle class fraud.
Middle class ambition
Have I really played the part so well? Can none of you see beyond the smoke screen we’ve created?
If I’m honest, I don’t know if I want you to realise or not. I must admit to feeling a pang of jealousy when you tell me about your holiday plans. Perhaps it would be easier if you knew about the life I’m really leading? But at the same time, I want us to be equals. I don’t want you to pity me or feel like you can’t tell me what’s going on in your life.
Perhaps I should come clean and be honest about just how different our worlds really are?
But I’m not going to. Because I am proud! I am proud of the life we are carving out.
Yes it may not be the real deal (yet), but we’ll get there. We’ll keep working and saving and giving our kids the best opportunities that we possibly can.
And as much as I’d love the money to do everything, by being careful with our finances and making wise choices, we’ve got the opportunity to teach our kids some really important life lessons.
Being realistic about money and living within your means, even when you really want to spend it, requires massive self-discipline. It means assessing what you really want and forgetting the rest. It’s about setting goals and working to achieve those goals.
We are teaching our children be ambitious and to believe that they can make a better future for themselves. We are showing them that you have to make choices in life and that sometimes that means making sacrifices to follow your dreams.
And I hope that one day we will be able to demonstrate that hard work pays off. Perhaps when we are sat sipping Prosecco on a beautiful foreign beach with our Joules swimwear and the keys to our second home? (Well I can dream, can’t I?!)
So yes, it’s hard. And I guess, right now I’m pretending to be something I’m not. But I wouldn’t change it. I’m happy being a middle class fraud… for now!