What “middle class” world do they live in?

I made the mistake of clicking on a link I saw on twitter to an article on the Telegraph entitled “‘I went to private school – but I can’t afford the same for my children’“. It made me cross. Things often do now days, as I get older perhaps I’m not quite as tolerant as I used to be or maybe, just maybe, it’s other people.

Nominally the story is about how the cost of private schooling has increased by 20% in the last five years. This isn’t really news, it’s something I’ve been loosely aware of for a while now. No, for me the preconceptions about living well and what is or isn’t extravagant were the real story.

“I’m not extravagant but I don’t monitor my weekly shop – I’ll go to Marks & Spencer for the right fruit and can throw a dinner party and not worry about spending £150 entertaining that weekend. 

This appears to be some sort of different middle class to the one I live in, especially post kids and post the 2007 recession. Most people now seem to shop to a budget and have to be careful about what they spend don’t they?

 Customer experience consultant Hannah, 37, lives in Rickmansworth with her husband and says that together, the couple bring in a six-figure income. But the family still couldn’t afford the full cost of secondary private school fees for their sons Oscar, four, and two-year-old Jake.

 I don’t mean to be harsh or judgemental of Hannah, 37, and her husband but Rickmansworth is only just along the road from us and house prices aren’t quite a silly as they are here. Unless they have a million pound mortgage, I can’t work out the maths as we live quite comfortably on well under half of what Hannah’s household income brings in. If their 6 figure household income was simply a pound over £100,000, the differential between our income and theirs would be enough to send all three of our kids to a fee paying school with no change in our lifestyle.

I’m not being excessively harsh, and nor do I want to make out that we’re soldiering on in epic middle class poverty as we’re not but we do have to watch what we do spend. We don’t spend thousands and thousands of pounds on a big foreign summer holiday like I know a lot of people do, for example. If we want something, we have to save up for it, like most people do. We certainly couldn’t throw a dinner party on a whim and splash out £150 on it. Heck, I’m not staying over for the MAD blog awards next week as the hotels are too expensive (yes, even a Travelodge).

 “I’m really frugal. Going out for nice meals and spending money – you can’t do that any more,”

Really Hannah? Spending £9,500 on private fees for your 4 year old out of a six figure household income leaves you that impoverished? I think Channel 4 needs to launch a new reality show where they do a lifestyle audit on people, including people like Hannah, and show them where their money goes. Who knows, they might even be as surprised as I would be to find out what the hell they’re spending it all on. Even based on two people earning £50,000 each, that would leave a take home of a little over £6,000 a month. If Hannah is saying finding £800 for school fees a month is a struggle, I’d love to know what the other £5,000 is being spent on.

Perhaps I am being harsh, perhaps it’s a result of the cheap credit and the property boom pre crash- perhaps a lot of these high earners are forking out three or four thousand a month in mortgage payments. Perhaps they should consider moving, if it’s feasible.

Don’t get me wrong though, I’d love to send our kids to a fee paying school, I really would because I think it genuinely would benefit them hugely and give them the head start in life that they wont get in even a good state school. But for us, even on 50% more than the average household income, it’s a non starter. The compromises we would have to make to even send one child would involve moving to a smaller house 30-40 miles away and having kids share bedrooms. And then what about the other two kids? Would they just have to take their chances with an inferior education? It’s just not feasible and we have looked into it, so when I see people earning well over twice what we do bemoan their lot, it sticks in my craw somewhat.