The JAMs

A new set of initials entered the language of British politics this week – JAM.  They stand for ‘Just About Managing’ and refer to families or individuals who are just about getting by in the current financial climate, but who, by implication, might feel the pinch hard if the economic situation in the UK worsens.

I realised that I’d been a JAM for about twenty years, – in fact, I was a JAM WELL before it was trendy and had it’s own set of initials. I think I entered JAMness in the late 1990s and have meandered around the edges of it since.

So, leaving the political commentaries aside, what has being a JAM meant to me and mine?  I should add that we’re a single income household,  don’t have children, and to be honest I chose a career path that whilst it’s given me flexibility, hasn’t given me a load of cash!

So…what might new JAMmies start to realise after being on the JAMline for a few months.

Financial planning is something of a joke.  The idea of putting a portion of my income away in to savings. I manage to contribute to a pension because it’s taken at source.

You reach the end of the money before the end of the month.  Having said that, I do have the option of doing a little more freelance work to take up the slack; at least I have something sellable.  Of course, time is an issue.

Socialising, holidays, buying folks you love nice gifts – forget it. These are things that require planning to generate the spare money. Christmas planning for us starts 2-3 months ahead of the start of shopping in order to work out how to get the money together.

Decisions as to whether to eat or heat. When you have ‘pay as you go’ electricity and gas it genuinely can boil down to feeding the meters before feeding yourself.  You realise how expensive energy is and end up running the house at a lower temperature and wearing more clothes.

One unexpected expenditure – dental work, unexpected vet’s bill, new shoes, etc. will knock the carefully planned weekly expenditure totally off kilter. You can try creating a ‘rainy day’ fund but trust me, unless you can top it up regularly, it soon runs dry.

Spur of the moment spending is not possible.

Having said that, what advice do I have for new JAMmies?  Of course, many of you are there already but now you have a name for yourselves.  For those who may become JAMmies in the near future….

Well, welcome to the club. It’s a bit of a pain in the arse, but these days it’s no longer the perceived refuge of the  the idle and feckless that it used to be.  After all, we’re here. 🙂

As soon as possible, work out your spending and income – do a budget and attempt wholeheartedly to stick to it.  In fact, most people don’t have a grip on where there money goes – if you can get a handle on that then you’re already ahead of the game.  Saving money on occasional, small things that you really enjoy is pointless – you don’t actually save that much and you make yourself miserable. Factor some ‘me money’ in to your budget.

If you feel JAMminess approaching, get to work on reducing credit card debt as soon as you can; that credit card may well be the thing that keeps you fed some months, assuming it’s not maxed out with computer games and handbags.

Prepare family and friends for the new regime. Explain that whilst you love them dearly, you can no longer afford the big presents, the frequent (and mainly expensive) nights out.  You may find that they too are approaching the JAM status and can see where you’re coming from.

Be prepared to swallow pride; if you need help from friends, food-banks, etc. go for it.  State help is, as you’ll be aware, a decreasingly common option (and of decreasing value) so don’t assume that ‘the Government’ will help you out.  They won’t; they only help you IN to the JAM Today club.

I don’t expect this situation to change; for me it’s so much a part of day to day life that I forget the shock to the system that it can be for people when they find their life changed in this way.

It will be tough; but you will survive. After 20 years at it, trust me; it’s possible. Just don’t expect your view of the world to stay the same!

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