Monthly Archives: December 2010

2011: Hope or Despair (part 2)

Are some people immune to the recession?

Not everyone is affected by the recession. Some people are lucky enough to be recession-proof. According to George Orwell, in his book “Animal Farm” “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

To single out Premiership footballers, I am sure Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney and Manchester City’s Carlos Tevez are smiling like Cheshire cats having recently signed new contracts after successfully holding their clubs to ransom over their intentions to leave.

Furthermore, I am sure we all remember the recent remark of Tory grandee, Lord Young, that most Britons “have never had it so good.”  Of course, there is no doubt about what side of the divide Lord Young happens to be perched on.

On a philosophical note, life may not be the party we hoped for, but while we are here we might as well dance.

Tips for getting value for money from expenditure during these desperate times

Don’t be afraid to haggle when you are out shopping. For most of us, haggling is something we only engage in when holidaying abroad – mostly in developing countries. However, given the current economic climate in the UK and retailers being at the mercy of the consumers, some retailers will extend discounts to customers on request.

Local markets are a good place to get value for money. You will save a significant amount of money doing your grocery and meat shopping at a local market compared to a big chain store. Don’t forget your haggling skills.

Utility bills are next. Remember to check your gas and electricity bills to make sure you are on the right tariff. If you are not sure of your tariff, call your provider to find out. Chances are that you are on the most expensive tariff, just like I was for the last six years before I changed it.

Try and get into a habit of reviewing your bank statements on a monthly basis. Apart from staying on top of your cash flow, it is important that you highlight and query any unexplained bank charges or transactions posted to your account.  Contrary to what some people think, the banks do get it wrong sometimes.

I wish you all a very prosperous 2011. God willing, we will all succeed in keeping the wolf from the door over the coming months.

2011: Hope or Despair (part 1)

As 2010 draws to a close some of us are busy thinking about New Year resolutions and hoping that we stick with them this time around. For my part, I am going to pass on the resolution thing for the simple reason that, even at the best of times, it falls by the way side after only two weeks.

What’s more, it will also be difficult for me to focus on keeping a resolution whilst thinking of the possible surprises the Nick Clegg and David Cameron show may spring on us Britons in 2011.

I agree Britain is not alone in this voyage to the doldrums of economic austerity. Recent public demonstrations-turned-riots in Spain, Belgium, Italy and Greece are testament to the far-reaching effects of this harsh wind of change. I also acknowledge  that the citizens of some African countries (Nigeria, Ghana, and Zambia) have only ever known a life of austerity measures. And yet they have gone on living, living and partly living.

Seemingly, some Economists believe that austerity measures run the risk of slowing down the stimulus needed for growth. Others are of the view that drastic measures are needed to curb the excessive public spending that has resulted in the huge national debts. I don’t intend to get into this debate as I am more concerned about how bad things are going to get before they begin to get better.

So what has 2011 got in store for us?

With VAT expected to raise from 17.5 to 20% in January 2011, rising rail fares, rising fuel costs and further job loses expected in 2011, it is hard to see anything but gloom on the horizons for many Britons.

Who knows what will happen to the NHS in 2011? Will citizens now be required to contribute towards treatment costs? Will the Bank of England put up interest rates? Will there be more policy U-turns from Mr. Clegg or even Mr. Cameron?  Have we heard the last of the University students? Would it be the Clinicians, Nurses and Teachers marching on London next? As if this is not enough worry, we are constantly reminded of the ever-present threat of al-Qaeda, cyber-terrorism and pedophilia.

How will all this gloom impact upon our health over the coming months? Whether it is in our forgoing healthy food for cheaper junk substitutes in our attempt to spread that pound a bit further, or the stress of all this negativity on our cardiovascular health, the bottom line is that something may just have to give in the end. Hopefully, it won’t be our poor hearts.

What about the survival of our marriages during these hard economic times? So far, there has been good news on this front. Contrary to predictions, the divorce rates for 2008 were the lowest in 29 years, according to the Office of National Statistics. Hopefully, the 2009 figures will echo the same theme when released in early 2011.

Are some people immune to the recession? Find out in part two of this article, which also provides tips for getting value for money from expenditure during these hard economic times.

Hark the Herald Angels Sing, What Does Christmas Really Mean?

I was listening to a talk radio show a few days ago when a British-born muslim gentleman called in to say that  Christmas, to him, is about spending time with his family, buying presents for his children and putting up Christmas decorations.

The next caller, a Christian woman, said Christmas to her was about spending quality time with her  friends and family. These comments made me  ponder how relevant the religious significance of Christmas really is in present day UK.

Although much has been said and written on how Christmas has snowballed into a commercial ritual, my question is this: how should Christmas really be celebrated?

Now, with Christian scriptures being silent on Christmas, how it should be celebrated and the exact date and year of Jesus’ birth,  it really is little wonder that the origins of this commemorative holiday is steeped in so much controversy.

I do not intend to fuel this controversy as I really have nothing to add to what historians and some Christian theologians have already said and written on this subject.  I do, however, wonder if there ever was a period in the UK, within living memory, when Christmas was a truly religious affair?

If the comments made by the Muslim gentleman and Christian woman, are anything to go by, maybe Christmas has now become a secular holiday with no religious significance whatsoever.

Personally, I do believe in Jesus Christ and his miraculous birth, but I do not mark the occasion as a religious holiday. Consequently, Christmas has no religious significance for me, although it accords me two weeks off work annually to relax and ‘chill out’ in preparation for the new year.

Please take my poll and let me know what Christmas means to you? Also feel free to leave a narrative comment if you want to.

Happy Holidays !

Underwear-tugging Nadal to Front Armani Undies Campaign

So Rafael Nadal is set to become the new face of Armani underwear in 2011. Am I alone in wondering what swung it Nadal’s way for Mr. Armani?

Please don’t get me wrong. I have nothing but love for Rafa. I think he is a smashing tennis player and I unreservedly applaud his on-court accomplishments. Most notably, his transformation from clay court specialist to major all-round grand slam contender. At the time of writing, his grand slam tally stands at an impressive nine.

Whatever it is that swayed it for Mr. Armani,  there is no denying that Rafa definitely has oomph and takes pride in his appearance.   Yes,  I agree it is lovely to watch him on the tennis court in his trademark sleeveless tops that  accentuates his muscular torso.

So where does it all fall apart for me?

The answer lies in Rafa’s constant tugging at his underwear while on the tennis court.  There’s no two ways about it, constantly pulling ones underpants out of ones behind in full public view is a non-starter. I use to  wonder why, with all his money, Rafa couldn’t get himself proper-fitting underwear.  Well, according to Rafa, it isn’t about the underwear, it is a habit he picked up when he was young and which he is finding difficult to break.

We hear what Rafa is saying, but isn’t it ironic that someone with this impulsive habit is selected to front a major underwear campaign?

Of course, it would be interesting to know whether  there is a ‘no underwear tugging’ clause in the Rafa’s contract with the House of Armani. If  such a clause does exist, would it ultimately help Rafa kick this disgusting habit?

Well, I guess if all else fails, Mr. Armani may just have to accept defeat and make  ‘underwear tugging’ the main theme of the advertising campaign.  Who knows, it may transpire into a win-win situation for all. What do you think?

Taxpayers’ Money: Whose Money Is It Anyway?

Assorted international currency notes.

Money's too tight to mention !!!

If you are lucky enough to live in a tax-free country, you may have been spared the recent barrage of news headlines featuring the word “taxpayer” or the phrase “taxpayers’ money.”

These headlines have become commonplace for us less fortunate mortals who live in the UK.

Whether it is the £131bn taxpayer support of UK stressed banks; the estimated £7bn taxpayer support to bail out Irish banks; the expected £20m taxpayer bill for the Pope’s recent UK visit; or the potential taxpayers’ bill of £22bn if British Telecom goes bust, these headlines have very much become run-of-the-mill for us Brits.

So who does taxpayers’ money really belong to?

To answer this question, let us reflect on the contemporary phrase “taxpayers’ money.”  I see this phrase as a misnomer, for the simply reason that once tax revenue is collected from citizens and residents, it belongs to the government.

Tax revenue is generally used by the government to provide public amenities for its citizens and residents, as well as, fund other projects it deems necessary. So regardless of the hackneyed misleading phrase, tax revenue really is  controlled by the government.

Okay, let us assume that I owe someone £20 for goods I purchased. Once I settle my debt of £20, I cannot say that the money is still mine. Furthermore, it would be naive of me to contend that I have any realistic control over how my creditor chooses to spend this money.

Unfortunately, I have not been able to establish the timeline and circumstances of the first public use of the phrase “taxpayers’ money.”  I do, however, suspect that it may have been politically motivated by opposition politicians to incite the wrath of taxpayers over a public spending exposé.

Nonetheless, it is now commonplace for we taxpayers to rant about how our political leaders spend our tax revenue contributions. Especially when our political leaders spend this money bailing out struggling banks and economies, as well as, help rebuild countries that we should not have helped destroy in the first place.

For example, the cost to UK taxpayers, for combat missions in Afghanistan and Iraq (including rebuilding costs) is estimated to be in excess of £20bn. According to former Mayor of London, Kevin Livingstone, this amount will adequately fund free university tuition for 10 years in the UK.

As a UK taxpayer, I am disheartened that, in spite of my tax contributions, my welfare and that of other taxpayers no longer dominates government spending priorities. Of course it is clear as night and day that we have been short-changed.  To add insult to injury, we have now been left out in the cold in our birthday suits. Only when we accept that we have no real bargaining power in this relationship would we have begun our preparation for the rough and bumpy terrain that sadly lies ahead in 2011.