Having bought my new laptop, got it home, and got it working, I fished out the portable floppy drive with which to load my ancient copy of Microsoft Money version 3.0 from the floppy disk which I also had to hunt for (since the last time I needed it was 10 years ago). The brand new laptop appraised the clunky old software with a superior, snobbish air, and then pronounced it too old to load.

Oh-oh. I’ll have to get a new version then. How about that Microsoft Office 2010 suite that I paid an arm and a leg for? No, it’s not on there! (Actually I didn’t pay an arm and a leg for it. I was lucky enough to get it at a special, incredibly cheap, price for academic staff. There are many advantages to working in academia! But even so – most people have to part with several limbs, if not major organs too, in order to get hold of this increasingly essential commodity. And surely something that is called “Office” should be capable of helping with all the things one does in an office, including managing money? Surely keeping one’s grip on one’s financial affairs is far more of a basic need than, say, publishing or giving Powerpoint presentations?)

OK. Off to PC World where I bought the damn thing. Software department. No sign of it. The shelves were crammed with software for doing really useful things like editing photographs (as well as lots of dreadful computer games of course). That sort of thing will help to keep you solvent. No need to bother with silly old Microsoft Money.

I ask an assistant, who asks another assistant. “No, you can’t get it here, you have to download it online”.

Oh dear. I’m not a big fan of downloading stuff, much less buying things online. Never mind, here goes, back to the laptop.  Google. Microsoft Money. Aaaaarggh!

“Microsoft no longer supports this product”.

Whaaaaaaat?

The shop assistant might have added: “Not much call for that, sir. Not around these parts”. I was beginning to feel like I was in a Monty Python sketch.

However, there was apparently something called Microsoft Money Plus Sunset or something, which you can download, so I download it, and it is free; or perhaps the website peeped into my computer, saw that I was a good Microsoft customer, and decided to let me have it for nothing. It was full of warnings, but these appeared to only apply if you connected it to the internet. Apparently the simple electronic abacus that I had on the old PC had grown into a monster that could dial your bank and do all sorts of dangerous online things. Thankfully there is a “manual-only” option. Click. Phew. I’m home.

But thinking about it … honestly, what sort of society are we living in where there is apparently insufficient demand for software to help you manage your money? What do other people do? Are there people out there who have never used Microsoft Money? What do they use instead? Fourteen column A3 financial ledgers?

I used to use a book of course. But the software was so much easier, because you can have unlimited categories and the calculations are done for you. Categories are imaginary pots of money into which your bank balance is divided up, so that when you get paid, you can put this much into a pot for paying bills, this much for food and other essentials, this much for house maintenance, this much for buying birthday presents, and so on. With 14-column paper you can only have 8 categories, which was one big reason why I went electronic all those years ago.

But are there people who don’t even keep a book? I imagine, sadly, that there are. For I have often noticed, while waiting at the cash machine, that most people take out money without getting a “receipt”. (Of course it isn’t really a receipt, more of a withdrawal record, but let’s not quibble). So what do these people do? Remember how much they took out, then rush home and enter it onto their computer or in their account book? I don’t think so. So how exactly, if the only figure you have access to is your overall balance, do you remember how much you’ve got pugged away for all those various expenses I mentioned just now? Or don’t you? Do you just keep on spending until the machine eats your card, or you get paid again? How responsible is that? OK, lots of people pay all their bills monthly by direct debit (another pet hate of mine – I don’t do them. I won’t allow other parties access to my bank account any more than I’ll invite them into my house. There are precious few things left that we can control. I want my money to be one of those things) so maybe if they wait a couple of days after getting paid, the remaining balance is what they can spend. We-e-ell, yes, but what about your daughter’s birthday present? What about getting that leaky gutter fixed? How much have you got to save for that, and where are you going to save it?

Well, maybe there are powers-that-be in our society that actively encourage this irresponsible attitude. The banks could do better – for instance, their cash machines are continually whining about the need to save paper, so do you really need a receipt? Of course I do! When I can get one, that is – often the machines run out of paper and no-one seems to care.

The companies that make money out of us ordinary people – and that’s almost the entire economy in this post-privatisation world – want us to spend, spend, spend and not think about the consequences. When buying things with a card (something I avoid as much as possible, though others seem to like it – even, annoyingly, for a £5 purchase in the corner shop when I am in the queue behind them!) the receipt (and it really is a receipt now) is invariably shoved into your bag and not handed to you to put in a safe place. You don’t want that, no, don’t worry, you’ve got lots more in the bank, or more likely in your bank loan, no need to keep a check on things … and so everyone runs up huge bills and takes on mortgages they can’t afford,  and the bankers get rich on the back of our misery.

Frugality, sir? Responsible financial management? Not much call for that, sir, no. Not around these parts. You don’t need to worry about all that; debtors’ prisons were done away with years ago. Credit is the buzzword today. Have another bank loan. And what about this lovely bit of Ilchester cheese …

Is the whole world becoming a Monty Python sketch?

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