The British obsession with class has been revisited again, this week with the announcement that we no longer fit into three social classes. Instead we can be assigned to one of seven - and the BBC has kindly uploaded a 'class calculator' so we can each identify our allocated place in British society.
But I would argue that it's not the narrow British class system that should preoccupy us; but how much we spend compared to people in the same financial situation as us; our income group, stage of life, number of dependants and area that we live in the country.
Do we really care if 6% of the population are classed as 'elite', come from the Home Counties, of which 24% have been privately educated; if we are labelled 'new affluent workers' with working-class roots, from the North West? Where we sit on the broad social spectrum is irrelevant to our day to day lives. The spike in class debate is news today, but gone tomorrow. Lifestyle comparisons among our peers however is a different matter - and far less palatable dinner party chat.
Admit it; comparisons to those around you is something you participate in every day. How did your neighbour afford his new bathroom; could you afford the same? Your colleague has just sent her child to public school and you wonder what she must be earning - especially if you have the same job!
Where we sit and how we perform amongst people coping with the same challenges and life experiences is far more relevant and actionable. If we don't like what we see, we can seek to change it.
I've recently been playing around with official government data that's used to inform the Retail Price Index and also which is used by mortgage providers to determine candidate suitability. The findings have been very interesting and have enlightened me on my own household's spending; we no longer splash the cash on alternative health medicines, we were over spending here compared to our peers! Through some personal benchmarking, I circumvented the awkward "keeping up with the Jones" chat and improved my lifestyle. The class debate can be kept for the dinner parties!
Enjoy some comparisons now - based on the data I used:
The average 40 year old female, living in London with a household income of £70,000 and no dependants spends £1062 on entertainment, £467 on supermarket shopping, £262 on clothes, £323 on savings and investments and £1066 on rent / mortgage a month. Is this you? Or do you spend too much on rent and can afford to spend a little more on your wardrobe?
The average 60 year old male, living in Manchester with a household income of £55,000 and no dependants spends £765 on entertainment, £472 on supermarket shopping, £187 on clothes, £219 on savings and investments and £322 on rent / mortgage a month. How do you compare?
The average 35 year old female living in the South East, with a household income of £80,000, a husband and a five year old child, spends £522 on entertainment, £377 on supermarket shopping, £129 on clothes, £192 on savings and investments and £490 on rent /mortgage a month.
There are plenty of comparison tools and reviews available to help us in our day to day decisions and as a nation we love them. But the best insight is taken from comparing yourself to those you know - people like you. They will always determine the parameters of your lifestyle choices. What does class matter?
David Royle, Director of CompareMySpend.com, whose website allows you to conduct your own spending comparison checks - irrespective of class!