I was shocked to see an item on The One Show the other night about scam artists deliberately targeting older people. This wasn’t some hi-tech internet scam but very much an old economy one. Somebody would receive a letter through the post (remember that?) telling them that they had won a prize, but to get their hands on the money they would have to pay an upfront fee. Now, savvy users of this blog will know to throw these letters into the shredder, but many elderly recipients take them at face value and have lost tens of thousands as a result.
I was taken aback. These scams were appalling – elderly and vulnerable people were deluged with up to 30 letters a day from con artists all over the world once they’d replied to the first letter, yet were almost addicted to responding and sending off the fees, believing that eventually some day they would win the money. But, if I’m honest with you, it wasn’t simply that fact that shocked me. I have no idea why, but it made me realise I have been labouring under the illusion that older people are more frugal and canny with their money than other generations. In reality I’m sure that this is a completely inaccurate and prejudiced view, but I suppose it’s because of the idea that many of our elderly relatives lived through the war years and learned to make do and mend.
My generation are the spendthrifts, or so I was told. Surely it’s us that have been corrupted by the availability of credit – as many credit cards as you like and endless marketing letters from banks suggesting we take out humungous loans to ‘treat ourselves’? Some of my friends took advantage of these loans and now owe thousands of pounds which they may never be able to pay back. Strangely enough, I haven’t received one of those letters for a while. It’s funny the difference a recession can make to your correspondence.
In contrast, my grandmother never threw anything away and could somehow make a roast chicken generate meals for six people for an entire week. My mother, her daughter, hates owing money to anybody and has inherited the frugal gene, too. It’s her I have to thank for my ingrained habits of filling the shampoo and washing up liquid bottles with water when they’ve finished but there’s still that annoying bit left at the bottom. Nature tells me I can’t be bothered and should just recycle them, but nurture insists I have to get that last bit of detergent out if it kills me.
But does age or experience in fact have anything to do with how frugal we are as individuals? Is it learned behaviour or instinct? While my grandmother was thrifty, my grandfather was not in the least. Even when he was in his eighties, he believed that the whole point of the existence of overdrafts was to have one and use it. Maybe you could try to argue, then, that frugality is a gender issue – that because women ran the home and had to manage the shopping budget they had a keener grasp of the household finances, but I think this would be wildly inaccurate too. I know plenty of women and men who are hopeless at managing their money and others of both sexes who are extremely capable.
Perhaps, then, it’s down to our own life experiences and the subsequent attitudes we form towards money. It’s possible that the experience of making do during the war years could have had the opposite effect on some people in the long term and made them crave luxury. They might have dreamt for years of a letter dropping through the door informing them that they’d won millions and thought that, at last, that moment had arrived, not realising that some evil scammer somewhere was simply trying to steal from them.
Do you think age has any bearing on how we manage our money? Are older people thriftier or do you think younger people are more aware of the best deals available on the internet, for example? Leave a message and let me know.
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