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Addicted to treats

You promise yourself a reward for getting through that marking. Then another one for finishing the lesson prep. And before you know it shopaholism is chomping through your salary. Nicholas Corder offers some tips on how to keep a grip on your finances Illustration by Brett Ryder.

Work is an expensive business. There are the basics like transport, childcare, clothing (although the last is not always noticeable in some staffrooms) and the food that gives us the energy we need to make it through the day. Then there is the stationery, books and computers without which work would be impossible - and for which we often have to pay out of our own pockets. Some of us even equip parts of our houses for school-related work.

It's a tiring business too. There's that pile of exercise books high enough to give a Sherpa vertigo; the covering for colleagues made fragile through stress; the burgeoning bureaucracy and endless, pointless meetings.

Teachers' workloads have soared in the past 20 years or so. Diligent teachers have always worked hard, but nowadays the demands placed on the average teacher make Hercules look like a skiving sissy. Using a cleaning service, or employing someone to do the ironing, tidy up the garden or valet your car begin to seem less like luxuries and more like the only way you can buy yourself some free time.

And as our professional lives encroach on the other corners of our world, we start to look round for treats to cheer ourselves up. We set ourselves little targets and back them up with a personal bribe. "When I've changed 'caplet' to 'Capulet' for the thirtieth time, I'm going to dial out for the largest quattro stagione ever seen. Oh, and a few glasses of Chilean grape juice should help it slip down more easily."

These self-inducements to write one last report, one last worksheet, or tear up that carefully worded letter of resignation soon become part of our daily lives. Indulge yourself with a pizza and a bottle of wine often enough and it is no longer an indulgence. You start seeing it as a necessity. I know, I've done it.

In the old days, I used the products of Messrs Boddington, Whitbread and Walker to prop myself up. I know other teachers with shoe collections to rival Imelda Marcos's, or gleaming cars they can't afford to put petrol in, let alone run. Some have more hi-fi equipment than their collection of Metallica CDs really merits. There's nothing wrong with the occasional treat or bit of fun, but when that's the only strategy left to keep you going, you could be in danger. The short buzz of these little pleasures soon wears off. We're on exactly the same path taken by any addict. The hits have to get bigger to maintain the effect. It is financially and psychologically damaging.

You may not see yourself as the kind of person whose spending is out of control. But all these little extras soon add up. A flutter on the Grand National or the lottery is harmless enough, but start dreaming about that big lottery win too often, and fanciful notions of escape soon take over from reality. At odds of 14 million to one, you've more chance of meeting an Ofsted inspector who's actually taught a child in the past three decades than of getting a persona visit from Camelot.

If you always do what you've always done, then you always get what you've always got. You need to break out of the cycle of hard worktreatmore hard workbigger treat if you are ever to gain the independence you crave.

If you smoke 20 cigarettes a day, you have to earn about pound;2,200 gross a year to pay for your habit. This is around 10 per cent of a typical full-time teacher's annual income. Stop smoking, and you have at least two new avenues open to you. You can save the money, watch the interest grow and plan financial independence. Or you can drop to teaching four-and-a-half days a week. There's no room for non-smokers to be complacent either. We all have our own poison.

Sensible financial planning is tough and requires self-discipline. It may seem hard when you see that disappointing payslip at the end of every month. But it is possible to squeeze a great deal more from what the local authority calls, without the slightest hint of irony, your salary.

Caring for our finances, looking ahead, thinking positively about our options are all ways we can lift our eyes from that restricted view of our feet.

If you want to revolutionise your life, you need to save money. With even partial financial independence, work can take on a different meaning. When politicians had private means rather than political careers, they used to resign over matters of principle. Nowadays they stick around in the hope of promotion. Just imagine how much fun you could derive from your work if you knew that you had the financial resources to walk away when you wanted.

That has to be worth the small sacrifices needed to break from your spending pattern and get some money behind you. Believe me, financial independence beats huge debts hands down every time. Take control of your own life; don't let other people run it for you.

Nicholas Corder has taught in secondary, further and higher education. He teaches part-time and writes for a variety of publications. His book Escape from the Rat Race - Downshifting to a Richer Life is published by Elliot Right Way, pound;8.99


* Try not to buy anything you don't need or won't give you lasting pleasure.

* Wait 24 hours before making any major purchases.

* Structure your workload to give you at least one evening free after school every week.

* Set aside time to be with your family or friends, or simply to do something you really enjoy. A bubble bath and a library book is a good, cheap option.

* Calculate all your work-related expenses, including those little treats and bribes. Once you have recovered from the shock, see where you can cut down. A computer spreadsheet or a home accounts package such as Quicken is handy. But don't buy a computer just to do it.

* Don't ignore your debts. They won't go away. If you've got problem debt, get down to your local Citizens Advice Bureau. If you have "sensible" debts, such as a mortgage, you can probably save money by paying them off more quickly.

* Save money. Regular savings soon become a part of your financial habits. Compound interest is a wonderful thing. And if you've got money behind you, then you always have a safety net.

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