Ridiculous Spending? What Ridiculous Spending?

Range Rover

Nothing ridiculous to see here

The Escape Artist often talks about ridiculous spending as one reason why many people aren’t as rich as they should be.

This prompted one commenter on the blog recently to say that here in Britain they saw little evidence of ridiculous spending around them.

Now this might be true for them. If you are a hill farmer in Cumbria, visually impaired or are currently incarcerated in a secure institution then, yes, I guess its possible that you see no examples of ridiculous spending around you.

I put it to you that most of us live in towns and cities where evidence of ridiculous spending is all around us. Just open your eyes and walk down any high street. But its is a bit like in The Matrix. You only see it after you have taken the Red Pill.

In no particular order, here are 10 clues that ridiculous spending does exist in Britain.

1. Strip clubs

This is going to shock some readers…but there are actually places where people pay money to look at other people take their clothes off! I know!

When I was a young idiot, I visited a couple of strip clubs. Purely for the…ahem… noble purpose of researching my future blog and educating the next generation of young people about money, of course.

I verified for myself that these places are depressing and offer poor value for money.  But it’s undeniable that they exist and contain lots of paying customers. You can form your own view on the morality of these places, but I’m pretty sure this is not essential spending.

If money is so tight and there is no ridiculous spending in Britain, then why are there so many strip clubs?

2. Fruit machines

There is a place in America called Las Vegas. Its not hard to get to: there are regular flights from Glasgow, Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester.  It has become unexceptional for people to go there for stag dos and hen parties.

When I visited Las Vegas I was surprised to see how much spare money my fellow tourists wanted to get rid of.  But they were nothing if not resourceful and had a cunning plan to dispose of that irritating surplus cash.  They spent hour after hour feeding fruit machines with coins from plastic buckets. In return for taking the spare cash, the machines rewarded the customers with a negative edge and…wait for it….flashing lights and noises in their head.

If putting your money into a slot in return for an expected loss compensated by flashing lights and noises in your head isn’t a working definition of insanity, then what is?

At this point, some people may say that Las Vegas is not in Britain.  That is true but I have to tell you that, like in Terminator, the machines are everywhere.

3. Money shops

Imagine you haven’t bought any Elizabeth Duke jewellery for several days. Your willpower and patience are wearing thin. Its basically a form of abuse that you have been deprived like this…its probably against your human rights or something. Not only do you want that 9 carat lucky gypsy charm bracelet, you deserve it!  Why should rich people have all the bling?

Unfortunately, those nasty security guards at Argos are insisting that you pay for the bracelet before removing it from the shop. Worse, you are skint and payday is not for another 2 days. What to do?  Aha!….your friendly local money shop is conveniently located next door to Argos.  They helpfully offer to lend you the money!

Before you borrow the money, you leave a couple of children and a kidney as collateral, you check the loan pricing against the sterling yield curve and decide that 1,000% APR is a bit of a punchy mark-up over LIBOR…but what the hell? You only live once…am I right?

4. Tattoos

Tattoos are big business in the UK. According to a recent article in The Economist:

Tattoo parlours, once the preserve of sailors and ex-cons, have become a typical sight on the British high street. Their number grew 173% between 2003 and 2013. Meanwhile, demand has increased as tattoos become more mainstream. A survey by Harris Interactive showed 28% of middle-class people admitting to at least one tattoo (compared with 27% of working-class people).

If you have matching “Wayne & Shanice Forever” dolphins tattoed on your butt cheeks, that’s very sweet, no doubt. Or “Henry & Jemima Forever” dolphins for that matter.

But The Escape Artist does not regard tattoos as essential expenditure for the hard-working families and the squeezed middle class that we hear so much about during election campaigns.

5. Tanning salons


Nothing ridiculous here

As Shakespeare might have said: Some people are born orange, some people drink Tango and others go to Tanning Salons.

According to the Guardian:

No one knows how many tanning salons there are in Britain – Kathy Banks of the Sunbed Association, an industry body which voluntarily regulates about 20% of sunbed providers, puts the figure at 6,000-7,000, but admits that is “just a guesstimate”. The influential Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment (Comare) estimates “8,000 and rising”.

Now The Escape Artist does not want to rain on anyone’s parade, but those killjoys at The World Health Organisation list sunbeds as a cancer-causing habit, as dangerous as cigarettes. So perhaps not an essential item in the household budget.

6. SUVs

If you are looking for ridiculous spending, why not take a look out of your window and inspect your vehicle choices. What do you see there? If it’s a couple of bikes, then I agree….no evidence of ridiculous spending.

If however you see a row of SUVs, then there is your ridiculous spending RIGHT THERE.

There are some exceptions:

  • If you are in the Army and drive a green Land Rover; or
  • If you are the farmer from Shaun the Sheep; or
  • If you are competing in the Paris – Dakar rally this year….

…then I’m not talking about you. But if you have an SUV to pick up the Cabernet Sauvignon from Waitrose or because it snowed in Surrey three years ago, then yes that is fucking ridiculous.

7. Holiday homes

Let’s get controversial.  I want to suggest a simple guideline.  If you haven’t already achieved financial independence or at least mortgage freedom on your main house then it might be a teeny weeny bit premature to go off borrowing more money to buy additional houses that sit unoccupied for most of the year.  Because, yes, in my book that counts as ridiculous spending.

If you are a member of the Royal Family, please don’t leave angry comments on my blog saying its vital that you have Sandringham, Balmoral, Windsor Castle, the Duchy of Cornwall etc etc for your onerous duties.  I get that you can afford it. True, that’s mainly because your ancestors successfully oppressed mine, but hey, we’re all friends now and The Escape Artist does not believe in bearing grudges.

8. Shopping Malls

There is no law saying that on weekends you have to wander round Bluewater or the Trafford Centre etc etc in a trance of consumerism, your mind addled by easy finance and easy listening music and your hormones addled by processed carbohydrates.

There is no need these days to step inside a shop.  With the magic of the interweb, you can get almost anything delivered to your own home.

I get that we all want shit.  But the way you get value is by fighting the battle on your own terms, at a time and venue of your own choosing.  That means in the comfort of your own home without being head-fucked by advertising, marketing and sales pressure.

There are shopping malls worth billions of pounds across the UK. These are legacy buildings, built on the false premise that shopping is a hobby.  They are prima facie evidence of ridiculousness.

9. The Harry Potter Experience at Kings Cross

The Escape Artist is all in favour of Harry Potter. I used to read the books to my children at bedtime. But I’m writing this on a train from Kings Cross station (the setting for the Hogwarts Express) and I have to report the following.

HPSome marketing genius has come up with the idea of putting a sign saying platform 9 ¾ up on the wall and allowing people to imagine that they are in the Harry Potter books.  You can then pay £10 for a photo of you pushing a trolley through the wall to the mythical platform.

This is all good harmless fun and I can imagine the temptation for the occasional member of the Saudi royal family to indulge their little prince / princess in this way.  But what the fuck?!?…the queue was massive and there were NO children in it!!  Instead the queue was full of 18 -40 year olds waiting to pay £10 to use their imaginations.

If you want to pay £10 to someone for the privilege of using your own imagination, that’s fine. In fact, you can wire me the money.  I’ll use my magic wand to make the cash disappear and I’ll send you some Harry Potter branded air which I bottled at Hogwarts.

10. Sports betting

Isn’t it funny that we live in a society when everyone is told that shares are DANGEROUS and RISKY and they should consult a financial adviser before they consider buying any. Yet there are no health warnings when you gamble on horses or football and no one says you should consult a sane person before going to a bookmakers.

Gambling on sports reminds me of the City before the 1980s….insider dealing is rife and considered part of the process.  The dealing costs (i.e. the spreads) are huge and most outsiders have no edge. The Escape Artist says this…if you are going to gamble, why not do it via equity investing where the odds are at least stacked in your favour?

Let me clarify.  The Escape Artist is not Prime Minister and has no plans to ban any of the above. The Escape Artist is not trying to judge or shame anyone….in fact I have participated in many of these follies. The Escape Artist is a libertarian and does not believe in banning things.

So if you want to do any of the above, that’s fine. Its absolutely your right to do so. You don’t have to pursue financial independence or get rich. You don’t have to read this blog and get wound up. Just please don’t tell me that there is no evidence of ridiculous spending in Britain.

You can follow The Escape Artist on Twitter here


  1. This is already a good list. Items you could add: a new phone/tv/car/jeans/jacket because mine is last years model. TV with 789 channels…

    But the thing is: people buying these itmes have a different view on what males them happy, what is important for them: They actually want that Harry Potter photo, they actually need that new phone. I used to be like that, not anymore now…

  2. Brilliant post- just had a great laugh reading this with my wife

  3. on fruit machines/vegas…. I had a great life lesson at a young age from my A level maths teacher, who before he became a teacher designed the logic programmes inside fruit machines… he simply explained to us all that we would not win in the long term….. skip forward 15 years & I then had a work trip to America that took me through Vegas for a few days…. & I avoided the temptation to put even a dollar in a one-armed-bandit.

  4. I had seen the sign, trolley and queue at King’s Cross but had naively assumed it was free and the queue was just a well-mannered waiting mechanism for a free photo op. Ten quid! They’re having a giraffe…

  5. Excellent list, TEA.

    You can go on and on with this sort of thing when you start thinking about it. It is quite remarkable how many people engage in ridiculous spending without really being aware of it. It has become so normalised that we forget to question it.

  6. martin · · Reply

    You could definitely add to the list spending £500-£1000 on a bicycle 😉

  7. bobbyo · · Reply

    True, that’s mainly because your ancestors successfully oppressed mine, but hey, we’re all friends now and The Escape Artist does not believe in bearing grudges.
    Funny as Fuck!

  8. Haha — We saw that Harry Potter queue when we were in London last year, and couldn’t believe how many people had paid! That was a good laugh. Of course, people waste money on lots of cheesy tourist things, so it shouldn’t have surprised us.

  9. Engaged in a few of these in my time and still engage in maybe 1 or 2 now (hello sports gambling… oops)

    I never got the point of tatoos. I also heard that blood donations are dropping because of the increase in people getting tatoos as you aren’t allowed to give blood after getting one, which is a real shame.

    In fact I never got the point of most of these thinking about it! Conclusion: people are actually insane I guess.

    I saw that Harry potter thing years ago and took a picture of it for free (I didn’t even know what it was at the time but thought it was cool/funny), maybe before the entrepreneurial genius had set up shop and started charging for it or maybe it was just late at night and he’d knocked off for the day.

    Either way I feel like I’ve stuck it to the man just a little bit on that one 🙂

  10. Never understood why people pay MORE than others for a car so they too can sit in traffic.

  11. Hi EA,
    Love your blog. You must love OECD statistics to back up your field research:
    UK households spending in Alcohol, Tobacco, Narcotics and Prostitution is half what they spend in food and non-alcoholic beverages and 20% more than what they spend in Health and Education combined!

    1. I LOVE this comment! Thank you for the link to the OECD data….I’ve been meaning to find a primary source and drill into the spending data and this looks like a great treasure trove of information.

  12. Great list there, a few which I’ve participated in, in the past! There’s only one which I still engage in – like TheFirestarter, I do partake in a bit of sports betting!

    Perhaps you could include buying lottery tickets, something which I continue to do even though I know it’s a bad thing, it’s only a small vice of mine.

  13. I used to work in betting shops & each fruit machine would have 3 or 4 different chips you could plug in. each chip would have a % number indicated on it, which basically told it how much it should pay back out. I think 85% was most commonly used.

    Re Sports betting… This can actually be a great source of income, there are a number of sign up & ongoing offers that when used correctly can be very lucrative & almost (not 100%) risk-free.
    Until I got eventually barred/restricted from all online bookies I was making over £1k each month net profit.

    1. Aah…it sounds like you qualify as an expert / insider when it comes to sports betting. Its certainly not my field. Non-experts should be wary. Like Warren Buffet says, if you are playing poker and you don’t know who the patsy at the table is, then its probably you.

      1. golfmonkey123 · · Reply

        You should absolutely make sure you understand how to take advantage of these offers before progressing, MSE has a dedicated forum with loads of good advice & articles. You don’t really need to have knowledge of sports, its basically backing/laying at odds that are in your favour rather than the bookies…

  14. Terry McCann · · Reply

    About 15bn gbp a year in the UK among approx 11m smokers. And that’s just from the tax take numbers. Add in a another 20% where hmg doesn’t get a share and it sounds like each of them spent 1500-2000 each a year.
    That’s a lot for the privilege of standing outside the pub

  15. My two-penneth:

    1. Driving. A guy who works for me at the moment is commuting 50,000 miles a year. I kid you not. He has no family. He lives in Hull and works in Nottingham. He complains endlessly how tired he is, how his car is falling apart, how terrible the traffic is.he says there is no work in Hull, yet just bought a house there. He refuses to stay in digs as he ‘prefers his own bed’. He’s an extreme case but commuting 2 to 3 hours a day by car is deemed the absolute norm at this workplace. Insanely costly in money, time and energy terms.
    2. TV. One of the analysts at work told me her husband likes watching sport. Their TV bill is over £1200 a year. WTF? Cancel this bullshit. Sell the TV. She wants to progress and easily has the ability to do it, but no time. OK, swap the TV for study and before you know it you’ll be rich, well, much richer. Again TV removes not just cash from your life, but also time and energy.
    3. Utilities. I work for a multi-national energy company at the moment. They deliberately charge higher rates to anyone who doesn’t switch supplier, yet half the country can’t be bothered to switch. It takes minutes.

    On the plus side, savings are absolutely everywhere, just need to have an eye open for ’em.

    1. Thank you…that’s good advice and worth a lot more than 2 pennies. The commuting example is bonkers. I’ve lived in Nottingham and there’s plenty of cheap accommodation there. Sounds like that guy is run down / in a rut and could use some help…although it can be hard to get through to such people.

  16. Don’t think including holiday homes is controversial at all. They may be a dream for most (myself included) but when you sensibly run the numbers they make no financial sense.

    Plus, they tie you to the one location so you don’t get to see the world.

  17. Ha! Great list TEA.

    Here are 12 more:

    1. Smoking (which Terry mentions above). Why do so many of us still do that?!
    2. TV – (mentioned above by OurTour) basic OK, 200 channels…not so much. It’s the best way to turn into a zombie.
    3. Second cars – Really?!
    4. The lotto – might as well burn the money instead…
    5. Clothes. How big do our closets need to be? We need a few go-to pieces to show our personal style, not a closet-full of throw-away fashion.
    6. iGadgets…now there’s a watch?! How many screens do we have to have around us?
    7. Unused gym memberships. Hint: Their business model depends on us not showing up.
    8. Interest (credit cards, car loans, lines of credit…). Anything beyond a mortgage is insanity.
    9. Eating out regularly. Restaurant food tastes better when it’s a special occasion.
    10. Beer or wine at the pub. What other product do you know of that has a 200% markup?! Invite your friends to your place instead or go out fewer times a week.
    11. Paying for space that we fill up with more stuff. How we can pay square footage just to use as storage is beyond me. Less stuff = needing less living space. Note: This may be more of a North American problem…
    12. Jewelry. Take it from a woman. We don’t need this sh*t. Just pick up after yourself, tell us sweet nothings once in a while and put the toilet seat down…priceless.

    1. Your list might actually be better than mine, F2P. Especially number 12.

      If you continue to show me up in this way, I might be forced to delete your comments 😉

      1. Hardly the case TEA. Yours was the springboard to this one. Plus, #1 and #2 were repeats from previous comments…What is it they say about using other people’s ideas, artistic and otherwise? “Steal with abandon.” 😉

        BTW: I thought you’d be partial to #12…I saved the best for last.

      2. Yes, apparently there’s a book called Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon that I like the sound of…

      3. I’ve read “Show Your Work” by Austin Kleon. In it he refers to that theme as well. His writing is on the lighter side but quite insightful too. Based on the one I’ve read, I’d bet you’d like “Steal Like an Artist”. Sadly, it isn’t available at my local library. *sigh*

  18. The Harry Potter item resonates for me. On a visit to York a few months ago I counted three Harry Potter shops. Two next door to each other and one over the road. I assumed they were all owned by the same person and a limitation of the buildings requiring three entrances but no, this is not the case.

  19. […] went on to talk about ridiculous spending stopping people from being rich. I wasn’t guilty of getting tattoos, betting or even wasting […]

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