The AKB School of Life
Inspired by the recent arrival of my third daughter, here is my take on Life. What follows is a list that perhaps, I will share with my now three girls when they turn into parent-hating teenagers. No doubt, there are stages I’ve missed, stages I’ve grossly mis-categorised, or stages I’ve generalised. So, be warned: the following text is fundamentally flawed.
This is the Free Rider stage. From birth, you poop: somebody changes your nappy. You sleep: somebody cradles you. You’re hungry: somebody feeds you. You don’t care who gives you what. So long as it gets done, you’re happy. These stages evolve, but essentially the fundamentals remain unchanged right through teenhood. There’s always someone cleaning up your crap and you assume it’s for free.
This is when you realise there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Whether it’s university fees, the cost of moving out of the nest. The cost of living, full stop.
You discover a new word, Leverage. At first it’s as cheap as peanuts: loans from parents carry zero interest. When you’ve taken out your limit, you discover student loans – cheap cheap cheap … until you max those out and leave college / university so debt ridden that – if you do find a job – most of your pay goes towards paying it off. Parents may forgive your debt. Banks won’t. Some people may be lucky enough to have a Financial Sponsor – i.e., someone who’s willing to throw money at you and happily watch you throw it away. But essentially for the vast majority of young adults, this is the Life is Sh** stage. You start following Russell Brand and become a fanatical Jeremy Corbyn supporter. You hate the tough love your parents are dishing out. You even call them capitalist-loving Tory pigs. You don’t call them for a week.
This is where you’re so in love that you spend willy-nilly as you wine and dine and enjoy life with the love of your life. Your pockets are bottomless pits. Actually they’re not, but you’re like the venture capitalist, willing to throw anything and everything to finance what you believe is the biggest deal of your life.
Financing The One has paid off. Economies of scale are to be reaped. You pool salaries to meet the higher rent for that extra morsel of square footage. You could get that mortgage to afford the shoebox your Other Half fell in love with. Basically, financial decisions are easier. In fact, the realisation that you can afford certain things, motivates you to work harder.
The thing most people miss – the first time around, at least – is that marriage/civil partnerships are contracts bound in law. Forget God or Allah, or Yahweh, Buddah, Brahma or whoever. There is nothing religious nor romantic about a marriage contract. It’s a signed document which says that two people are bound for life. Get that? Life. We are living longer. Surely, in the marriage vows of today, there should be something that reflects that? Until death do we part just doesn’t capture the fact that you’re going to be stuck with someone until you turn a hundred years old.
So here’s the thing: do you really want to over-invest in something (i.e,. a wedding) that represents a sunk cost? Keep it small people! Why be a Bride- or Groomzilla, fixated on having the fairytale wedding? Marriage is not a fairytale. It’s a journey. Look at Princess Diana for God’s sake. Also, think about it: if divorce does come your way, there’s a cost to that too. And it could be big. Lawyers love clocking up fees. Divorce lawyers will do everything to maximise their fee from a divorce. So here are three mitigating factors for consideration:
(1) Don’t get married. To quote McCartney and Wonder, just live together in perfect harmony.
(2) Get married and get a pre-nuptial agreement. It’s a common misconception that pre-nups are for the filthy rich. Just like marriage, it’s another type of contract. I know it’s not romantic to get a pre-nup, but think of it like insurance. You’re willing to insure your car, your home. Why not insure your marriage? Get the pain out of the way, divide whatever it is you want to divide, keep it watertight, and Bob’s your uncle, it’s done. And guess what: after going through the process of a pre-nup you will discover one of the following: (a) you argue so much over the pre-nup, you decide not to get married. A cost worth paying. (b) You argue so much over it, that you don’t ever want to get divorced and you put the pre-nup in a drawer and forget about it. Like (a), it’s a cost worth paying. And if you do get divorced, then you have your Blue Peter moment, because you’ve prepared one already – hooray!
(3) Don’t get married and stay single. Who wants to share their cosy bed anyway? Be like the venture capitalist, hungry for success after success after success. Seek multiple The Ones through life.
Call me sexist, but I’ve separated this into two – one for the fairer sex and one for the male sex. Also, I’ve not commented on those who cannot have children. It’s deeply painful and I don’t want to make light of it. So if you’d rather not read this bit (and you’ve made it this far?!) skip ahead.
A. The Fairer Sex
(1) You don’t want kids
But you want something. A pet: a dog, a cat. Anything. But it’s your decision and you will do what it takes to get the one you want. This is not a decision for your Other Half to participate in. You stealthily research your acquisition target. After all, this is going to be the purchase of your life. Whatever you choose, it must pay off. If successful, then you may want to push the boat out: not just one, but two, three pets … because, if you just had the one, it would get lonely wouldn’t it?
(2) You want kids
But you’ve been focused on maximising your earnings potential. Now you’re ready, you see your biological clock is going tick-tock. OMG time is Running Out! You have a Finite Supply of Eggs. You will do anything and everything to get pregnant. You don’t care about the cost of a child. It’s a child, for God’s sake! You’re like a CEO hell bent on making an acquisition, irrespective of the cost. You will pin your Other Half down at any given moment. He will wonder what’s wrong with you. Be warned: your demands exceed his supply. Of energy. Do yourself a favour. Don’t tell him when you’re ovulating or that you have to him now. He will withdraw to the Spare Room. Take a chill pill and just enjoy the wild thing … because after having a child, your utility of life will … well … Just be prepared to take on the role of Head of Back Office if you choose not to go back to work. If you go back, remember that in financial terms, your contribution to Household Ltd. will fall on account of the additional expense of childcare which (in the UK) is not tax deductible. It will also fall as there are very few roles you can do which give you the work-life-balance you want and pay you the same. Unless you decide to forgo that and surge on, determined to fulfil your earnings potential. Because, dammit, you can still have it all. It’s all about outsourcing, you tell yourself: outsourcing childcare, delegating tasks to anyone. (That includes your Other Half.)
Whichever path you choose, you will work hard, wandering through life in a fog of exhaustion. You’ll stick to your left wing leanings. You question why your Other Half has started reading The Daily Telegraph, while you loyally stick to The Guardian and look back at your pro-Corbyn days through rose-tinted glasses.
B. The Male Sex
(1) You don’t want kids
Your Other Half is up to something, but you don’t know what. And then, one Saturday, she walks in, accompanied by a cockapoo/labradoodle/box pug thingy/rottweiler/kitten/hamster/guinea pig. Snake. ‘Say hello to Bobby,’ she says before rubbing said pet’s nose into your face. There’s a no return policy. There are no receipts full stop which tell you how much this thing cost. You have a bad asset on your books and there’s no way you can offload it.
(2) You want kids
But then you do some maths. And Christ, it’s expensive. There’s no return on this investment. It’s more of a sunk cost than your wedding. In fact it’s an infinite sunk cost. You’re rational. You’d rather have a pet. And why is it your Other Half keeps pouncing on you? Suddenly her supply of energy has gone off the charts and as you think about the cost of a child, your own performance runs out of steam. With her talk of Key Dates, Ovulation, Eggs, it’s all getting too much. But it’s when she suggests you should get yourself ‘checked out’, you retreat to the Spare Room …
… As D-Day arrives, you realise you need to step up. You’re going to have to raise your revenue potential. No, you can’t think about early retirement, or that car, that killer app you had your eye on. And on and on it goes with the arrival of each child. The Financial Times’ Mrs Moneypenny got it right when she dubbed her own children, ‘cost centres‘. You realise you hate paying tax. Not just income tax, but council tax, capital gains tax, wealth tax, road tax, flight surcharges … tax tax tax. You’ve become right wing. You deny you ever supported Corbyn.
A. The Fairer Sex
You realise you didn’t have a pre-nup. It’s like winning the lottery. You roll up your sleeves and look at the assets you can strip away. You try not to notice your lawyer salivating as he/she goes through your Other Half’s wealth. You are on a mission, driven on by images his 22-year-old lover posted on Instagram. You are Uma Thurman in Kill Bill. This is revenge time and it’s going to get ugly.
B. The Male Sex
You realise you didn’t have a pre-nup. You idiot. There goes another sunk cost, and in England, there’s no such thing as fault. If your Other Half cheated on you, you will still have to shell out shed loads. And if there are children involved and you have a very healthy cashflow you’ll be financing your former Other Half for years and years to come. The face value of this debt keeps on resetting. You will never be able to pay it off. Ever.
You’ve learnt your lesson. You get the pre-nup. You discuss children. You discuss roles. Objectives and aspirations are carefully outlined. You may even record things in a spreadsheet. You’ve become cautious. Even your financial decisions of late have become quite prudent.
This is the moment you’ve been waiting for. You have your life back. Who cares that you’re 75? You look 45 thanks to your canny investments in cosmetic enhancements, cleaner living, and Zack, your personal trainer. You can book any holiday at any time. You can buy what you want without the guilt. You can streak naked down your road. You don’t care if you’re an embarrassment to your children. Because you are Strong. You say ‘no’ to the kids when they ask for the next loan and it feels good. You tell them life is tough and you’re dishing out tough love from now on. There’s no such thing as a free lunch. They call you a capitalist-loving Tory pig. They don’t return your calls, but you know that in a week from now, the phone will go ting-a-ling.
Until next time!