I lived with a millionaire for four years.
I know, weird, huh?
Shortly before that, I was a cash-strapped au-pair in Austria. On pay-day (£35 a week), I schlepped to the supermarket on the main square and bought a single vanilla yoghurt.
It was the most delicious treat in the world and made the endless toddler-wrangling of the previous seven days all the more worthwhile.
When I was living with my new partner, I went to the same supermarket and bought five and ate them all in one go.
They were awful. The taste had gone. When I could have as many as I wanted, I didn’t want them and that unique taste which made them so irresistible had died.
Fast-forward a few years and I’ve pretty much been cash-strapped for the last two decades. Unexpected bills, a brutal divorce, a rapidly-growing child, school trips and all the other weird and wonderful paraphernalia of bringing up a child without passing on the money worries to him took its toll. But we got through it, trimming bits here and there, never making him feel he was different from his friends.
The Teenager would often come home from school and find me giving a new lick of paint to my most recent Gumtree find, or extolling the virtues of an empty pot of earth, which eventually grew into a chestnut tree. Until he went to high school, a lot of his clothes came from charity shops, as did most of his books. Despite the roller-coaster of financial ups and downs, we always just about managed to get through.
Then MS hit and the reality of losing my job and taking on alternative work at a much-reduced wage was tricky. I realised I was never going to earn a decent income, so I ploughed this anxiety into studying instead and it’s been the making of me.
There’s nothing more heartbreaking than your teenager asking you if we were ‘poor’.
We weren’t. Poverty is relative. He always had what he needed, perhaps second-hand, but he had it nonetheless. Technically we were disadvantaged and according to statistics, living close to the poverty line, but he did not need to grow up with that stigma.
Now The Teenager is forging his own life at University, I can fully appreciate the fantastic house we have created – our plant pots may come from a skip, but they produce a wondrous ambience. Our garden table and chairs are from Gumtree and were nothing a quick wash didn’t solve. Most of our furniture is second-hand, but lovingly-chosen and restored, the rest is donated.
Living with less – financially and health-wise – really made me wake up and appreciate every single thing I have. I’m not denying it was difficult but when I welcome The Teenager back home on vacation, I feel proud that we have made such a cosy and warm environment. The love and care that has been put into our house speaks volumes and I always want him to feel he has a safe space to come home to.
Looking back on my ‘Five Yoghurt Scenario’, it really did teach me many valuable lessons – you can’t take it with you, love is priceless and be careful what you wish for.