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Are you contented and carefree or a stoic struggler?

Today sees the launch of the first Which? Quarterly Consumer Report, shedding light on how us Brits are coping in this economic climate. Are you young and carefree or a stoic struggler?

One of the key findings of the report released today is that just 53% of people said they were ‘satisfied with life’. But is it all doom and gloom?

I’m part of the team who have worked on the research behind the report and I’ve found it fascinating to learn what drives people’s attitudes towards their finances and the state of the UK economy. We analysed levels of debt, spending and savings to allow us to gain an understanding of how people feel about their finances.

The research identified four key consumer groups and explores the impact the economic climate has had on each group. Over time, we’re going to track how these groups and people’s attitudes change, to allow us to see when things are improving and which groups may need a helping hand.

Contented Carefree

Oh to be young and carefree – our ‘Contented Carefree’ group are typically younger than average (40% are under 35). If your profile fits this bill, you are hopefully happy with life overall and are more optimistic than most about the economy.

You may feel more satisfied than other groups, but it’s based on expectations that things will get better soon. You’ll be optimistic – 53% expect their finances to get better in the coming year and 47% expect the economy to improve. But your trust in government will be tested if improvements don’t come as anticipated.

Mature Secure

Many of the over 55 category (two-thirds in fact) were seen as the ‘Mature Secure’. Overall, you’re pretty happy with your life and are most likely to be satisfied with your income, living standards, leisure time and home.

Just 3% of the Mature Secure find it difficult to live on their current income (compared with a national average of 35%) and can cope with their relatively low levels of debt. This group is the least likely to be cutting back on spending and least likely to worry about finances.

Feeling Low

We all feel low from time to time but sadly a portion of the population is ‘Feeling Low’ on a regular basis. Those in this group are most likely to be in full time work and could be on a lower than average income.

You may find you have a bleak outlook on most areas of life and you’re less likely than other groups to feel happy with your job, home and social life. The Feeling Lows are very vulnerable to changes in the cost of living. Many in this segment would be tipped over the edge if, for example, energy prices increased.

Stoic Strugglers

And last, but by no means least, we have ‘Stoic Strugglers’. This group are more likely to be 25-54 years old. You could be in work or maybe you look after the family home. If you’re in this group, you’re among the most economically vulnerable – as 78% of you find it difficult to live on your current income and 71% often or always run out of money at the end of each month. You’re probably reducing your spending across all household expenditure.

However, despite your potentially fragile finances, you’re likely to remain positive about your home, social life, health and family life.

Where do you fit in?

Of course, you may find that you sit across one or more of these groups and don’t fit into any of them perfectly. But in this tough financial climate, I’m curious to know, which group or groups do you most identify with?


I am an OAP – I am struggling below the poverty line and no interest on so called “savings”- I have no future except to pay for my long term care until I am a pauper – my choices are freeze or starve in winter – or beg for hand outs – How can I be care-free unless I suffer from severe dementia??

John H.S. Craig says:
27 July 2012

Join the club! I am an Equitable Life victim and still working at age 79 to make ends meet,
br’s John H.S. Craig

thedogsmum says:
27 July 2012

Richard, I am concerned by your comment ‘beg for hand outs’ and hope you don’t mean any benefits you are entitled to receive. No-one should be in the position of ‘starving or freezing’, so please do check your entitlement. I know from previous working experience that, once you tap into one benefit, it can often open up many more.

Charlie says:
27 July 2012

I am Mature Secure but only because I am still working. I am now 72 and years ago after my husband died I realised that my pension would not push me into poverty but would not be enough for holidays, keeping my car on the road and maintaining my house. I retrained when in my 50s and have been running my own psychotherapy and coaching company since 2002. it is something I enjoy, keeps me in touch with life and people and stops the grey cells from degenerating too quickly. I work in private practice and can mostly choose how many hours I work.

In all honesty – I’m 82 and though fit have no interest whatsoever in working for a living ever again – I viewed the prospects of retirement from my very stressful job with relish – nice restful days walking and looking after retired dogs needing adoption – The prospect of having to sell my house to pay for Health Care fills me with dread – particularly as I have paid for health care “from cradle til grave” by my National Insurance all my life – Not much of an “insurance” if it doesn’t cover me from “cradle til grave” is it?? It seems I paid for all those drug addicts – unwanted pregnancies – drunkards – obese people – the vast vast majority self inflicted – and poor sick people – for free – without complaint as I thought we had a welfare system where we all paid in for the benefit of all – but suddenly it doesn’t apply to me any more – nope – I will die a pauper because old age care costs anybody with a tiny amount of money their entire assets – So much for my dream of donating a significant amount to a cause I care enormously about –

And I’m told I should be grateful and “help” youngsters struggling to pay for their low interest mortgage “As it is “unfair” Not to. It makes me rather sick and sad.

Dave says:
27 July 2012

I am 79, my worry is more related to health than worrying about finance, fuel, electric and rates worry me more than any thing else to do with money. I can cope at the moment but am apprehensive about future cuts. The local council is talking about car parking charges, my car is my life line as I live in a small village with no access to shops etc, I feel that I am paying enough in taxes and rates with out paying any more and as my purchasing power is getting less due to the government printing paper money and interest rates are so low and likly to get lower I feel that I am being punished for being careful,living within my means and saving for my old age.

I’m certainly not rich but I am “mature secure” having taken early retirement nearly 20 years ago after holding down a stressful job in the city.The only reason that I could retire early & become “mature secure” is that I never married or had children.Also I have never lived beyond my means so never had any large debts…other than the unavoidable mortgage (1st generation home owner…inherited nothing from my (otherwise!) excellent parents). which has long since been repaid.
I have every sympathy with those forced to live on eg the basic state pension.We have a governing class in this country which has never personally had to struggle financially & just make concilliatrynoises every so often to get votes every 5 years.The class war has been won by the rich who broadly govern in their own interests…see last budget for example.

John says:
27 July 2012

” The report found that for every pound earned in this group, 47p was owed,”

May be I missed something here. To me it seems that there is a big difference between a debt that has no security, eg for goods/services/holidays – money gone and lost forever – and a mortgage on a property that is ‘equity’ and hopefully covers the debt. Generally speaking, these figures often seem to take no account of this. Whilst a mortgage is a millstone, at least there is the comfort that overall one isn’t in debit. I’d rather be paying a mortgage, especially at today’s rates, than paying rent which in our area is very high, possibly more than a mortgage repayment, and which has no long-term hope of financial gain. First-time buyers are in a rotten position.

Lets consider my locality – My income is just over £560 a month – the cheapest flat is £1000 – now exactly how do I eat at the very least? And I’m expected to be cheerful?

James J Paton says:
31 July 2012

Hi John
Interesting – what about those who cannot afford to buy or rent in the curent climate?

thedogsmum says:
27 July 2012

I am bordering on, or, just about mature secure. I say this because I got used to living frugally, so I could overspend on my mortgage to pay it off early and retire from work. My income is approx. 50% of what it was when I was working but if I rigidly stick to my budget, which does include a holiday, keeping my car on the road and the upkeep of my dogs, I shall be ok. If I didn’t have to pay income tax, I could have two holidays – good ones!!!!!!!!!!!

I’m mature/secure baby boomer with no debt and modest pensions, savings/income and OA pension.
I consider that my age group were for the most part brought up with a reasonable grasp of the need for ethical and financial self discipline and appreciation of what has real worth, whether material, intellectual or relational. Also we had an appreciation of the hardship/sacrifices/hardwork our parents and grandparents endured following the two world wars.
We do seem to have had a problem raising a generation with similar values, in particular understanding the real weight of debt. They also lack understanding that productive spend/investment is good, consumptive spend on shallow, tinsel jollies, binging on anything, drugs, labels with no real substance, excessive travel etc, cinema/bingo/clubbing addiction is effectively wasteful and needs to be metered within limits or it becomes a burden on our earned resources. We seem to have lost the concept that the rarer the treat the sweeter it is!
I’m not a prude or a religeous person and am generally upbeat whilst laid-back, but it does sometimes seem that Sodom and Gomorra may be just over the horizon.

My husband and I fit into the mature secure group, too. I recognise and agree with some of the sentiments of Philmo. It was a very different, and perhaps simpler, world in the 50s and even the early 60s. Perhaps it was easier then to acquire more disciplined attitudes and behaviour towards work, saving, and rights balanced with responsibility.

I do feel sympathy towards the younger generations. For good or ill, we have raised them and helped to shape the world as it is today. The challenges facing the young are more complex and multi-faceted than those I had to deal with, and in some ways I’m sure they are harder. But at the same time, there are now tremendous opportunities far more extensive than my generation could take advantage of.

So, I do not feel guilty or embarrassed or in any way unjustified in having the lifestyle I do. I have worked hard, followed the rules, looked after my family and benefited. We are not a wealthy couple (unlike the very rich, the economic situation in the UK and beyond has certainly impacted on our finances) but we enjoy a reasonable standard of living still. For that I am appreciative.

Wendy says:
27 July 2012

I’m 52, more in the mature secure bracket, although our outgoings are frightening! Never known what it’s like not worry about money. Have grafted to get what I’ve got today and suffered through the recession of 1990’s. I don’t relish old age and I dread being hard up in my old age! Hopefully I won’t be. Who knows?

Dave says:
27 July 2012

I am 55 so should just be in the mature secure bracket – not a hope! I was made redundant 10 years ago and have not found another full time job since. For the last 5 years I have been working part time earning a twentieth of my former income. All you hear about in the news is the need to help the young unemployed who have been out of work for 6 months. What about me and what is this doing to my pension prospects? At least I don’t have to pay tax or NI – my earnings are so low.

john woodward says:
27 July 2012

I am 81 years of age & am worried at the price increases of food heating petrol also people like sky are increasing prices yet again .Do these people not understand that the old age pot will only go so far , some companys are showing huge profitsl like british gas &sky they should be lowering prices not increasing them.&people wonder if we are happy with our lot,WELL WE ARE NOT.& it is time we pulled out of the EU. I HAVE ALLWAYS VOTED CONSERVATIVE BUT WILL BE VOTING UKIP AT THE NEXT ELECTION.GOD SAVE THE QUEEN &THIS COUNTRY. JW.

mike says:
31 July 2012

I agree. get out of the EU. I too have always voted consevative, but not anymore. They have allowed the LibDems to screw everything up. It is UKIP for me.
We used to lead the World, now we are pretty well third world standard.

Michael says:
27 July 2012

This correspondence is extremely interesting and points up the importance of very long term financial planning, which limited term contracts and other job insecurities make very hard to realise. As a single earner and with a dependent family I first understood how important it was to save for retirement when I switched jobs after 10 years in a prosperous company and found, when I moved my pension pot into the pension fund of my new employer, that the capital value involved was £2000 (in the early eighties). From that moment we paid our mortgage down every time we had £500 saved up, and when the mortgage was paid off after 20 years we saved for our pension. I don’t think there is any alternative. Investing through one fund manager or another seems a complete mug’s game- all the normal returns are swallowed in fees or fund expenses of one sort or another. I run a spread sheet showing my expenses month by month and year by year. It allows me to see how much I spent last month and compare it with the same month last year or any other comparable month going back 15 years. I try to find ways to keep spending constant from one year to the next and in fact we spend no more now in current prices than we did 10 years ago. That means we run a 15 year old car, but as long as it is mechanically reliable and has new tyres, why should one worry if it is rusting? It means we try constantly to find the ways of reducing fixed overheads to a minimum: metered water, pay as you go telephones, monthly gas meter readings. All of this is in our own hands. I listen to people complaining when they are made redundant that they have to pay the car loan, the loans for the furniture they have bought, the mortgage. Those bills are to a large extent their own choices. Caveat emptor.

Greg says:
28 July 2012

Here here! Sentiments to my own heart. I watch my family budget every month also, and watch spending while not being a tyrant about it. In the current climate we go for cheaper things, and cut out any luxuries. It is a challenge with our teenagers though.

About 11 years ago I stopped paying into my private pension because I moved to London and reckoned that I would be better off simply buying a reasonable property with mortgage and paying for that. The gains have been tremendous, more than I would have got from a pension. But of course to realise it I will have to move.

mike says:
31 July 2012

Yes to all that, but when you retire you find all you have saved including pension is practically worthless, because various governments have dipped into it.taxed it or found some way to grab it. No incentive to work hard.

I did as I thought was right, saved for my pension with Equitable Life, bought ISAs. Equitable’s mis management became known within a few weeks of my taking my pension, so that my income from it was halved. The Labour government did nothing, the Coalition arranged paltry annual sums in compensation. I wanted my missing income reimbursed, but it won’t be.

My low income is reduced by one ninth by the council tax. Why? I am not even a taxpayer. I get no state help apart from my state pension because I have savings. I now live on less income than many people have in state benefits. I will not use capital for current costs as the capital is there to create the small private income, one third of which must now go to council tax. There is something very wrong somewhere.

64 and retired, but on a lower pension than it should be because the bankers have stolen a lot of the pot I built up when I was working. Financially OK, but only because I’m an engineer who can do things for myself rather than pay someone else. Consider this: If you want £100-worth of work done, you have to pay 20% VAT on it – so you pay £120. You have to earn £150 to pay for this (20% income tax on £150 leaves £120). Your provider has to pay income tax on what he/she does for you, so they only see £80. So the government gets £70 out of that £150, ie. nearly 47% in tax. Hardly surprising that people offer to pay cash to avoid VAT etc.

Rod Bailey says:
28 July 2012

I am a OAP and agree with both Richard and John, I also at 76 still have to work part time just to keep up with the ever rising costs of running a home, if only I had become a BANKER when I left school their retirement homes are Yacht’s in the south of France or the Bahamas.

John H.S. Craig says:
28 July 2012

Hey, bankers can up in jail! Perhaps a social (non-) worker)?

Some are struggling but others are definitely not. Look at the number of expensive cars on the road, for example. Many of them are privately owned.

My solution is to have additional tax on luxury items and less tax on essential goods.

Carol c says:
28 July 2012

Stop moaning and think of the poor sods in the third world. We have it extremely easy compared with them. We have tvs, cars, food, clean water …the list is endless. Why do we assume that we are entitled to more, more and even more.

My wife and self are “mature secure” but have, on occasions,had to be the “bank of mum & dad” to our four of a family, even though they are all in reasonabe jobs. However, we find that this is tailing off as they find their own feet.

Jamesz J Paton says:
31 July 2012

As a 51 year old stoic struggler, who was made redundant two years ago, and has found work on 1/7th of my former salary, your analysis is interesting, if howevera litel glib. Whilst generally accurately in capturing the zeitgiest, I asssume, perhaps wrongly, your sample is from Which subscribers – generally middle class?

Think the research misses the point however, research without reference to any action outcome – like so much universityor policy type ‘research’ is as useful as an ashtry on a motorbike. the question so what springs to mind. Keep Calm and Keep Buying Which.

No wonder the you are carefree, they understanabky may well be asking what is the point of saving for future when the banks only rob us one way or another. Any chance on a best bank report – or did I miss that one?

PS As a recent Big Switcher still waiting to here what is going on – what’s taking the time?

stan says:
31 July 2012

I am 74 years old and agree with many comments made by your correspondants. I believe the bulk of the problems are the result of very poor central government inaction for decades. Most problems affecting the nation are the result of not clearly defining cause and affect on people in the community. for example:
A) People who provide for them selves iin earlier life and later in retirement are penalised
by central government thru taxation on income earned over a lifetime up to a total in the
region of 40%
B) Big business is manipulative in selling things like PPI insurance. Repayment of funds
taken from customers also incurr administration cost just to return funds.
C) Thru personal experience…my insurance company tried to ripe me off by supplying a
rental car that would have cost me over £1000. I fought with them for 18 months to
prove I was not at fault for a traffic accident and won, later getting all costs paid by the 3rd
party including my £100 deductable.. The company was one recommended by Which

There are many other areas that need to be sorted out maybe the place to start is for government
to really listen the people and provide more teeth to organisations like Consumer Affairs and ombudesmen, Possibly a good start would be soort out utility companies and the extortinate
billing costs.Make bills from companies identical so people can readily identify true cost.

John H.S. Craig says:
31 July 2012

But the middle class has most to lose! Due to government negligence I lost two thirds of my pension;