Summer is here! Its over 25C, the sun is shining and this year The Escape Artist will not be spending the summer stuck in an office.
It’s even hot enough to use our new swimming pool. I want to tell you about this, but not to brag. Instead I want to give an example of how everything we think we know about how expensive life is, can be Wrong. The Escape Artist is discovering that deprivation is not required to get the best things in life.
When I was young, one of the archetypal signals of having “made it” was having a swimming pool installed in your garden. This conjured up images of celebrity pool parties in Hollywood or the South of France.
In the imagination of the prospective purchaser, the sun would always be shining, the people would all be buff and beautiful, the music would be playing and the cocktails would be flowing. As long as the party was not at Michael Barrymore’s house, all would be well.
Growing up in provincial England, my occasional experience of using other people’s outdoor swimming pools was somewhat different. Outdoor swimming pools in Britain were what older generations, who had fought World Wars, used to describe as “character-forming”.
For half the year, you would have to break the ice before getting in. After a brief period of cardiac shock, you’d swim up and down trying to avoid the drowning flies, the rotting leaves and the Unidentified Floating Objects. I exaggerate…but only a bit.
As a result, people realised that in Britain, you were better off with an indoor swimming pool. So in addition to the basement swimming pool itself, new mansions were built with elaborate indoor heating and ventilation, sliding windows, pumping systems and all the associated palaver. This made indoor swimming pools expensive, with a ridiculous level of installation and maintenance costs. For a bespoke indoor swimming pool built into your house, I’m guessing the installation costs would run from £100,000 upwards into the millions. Then it had to be maintained. Chemicals had to be bought and added, water heated, pumped and refreshed. The annual running costs would run in the thousands each year.
The “advantage” of a big price tag is that it makes the swimming pool a reliable wealth signal for its owners. In conventional economics, the assumption is that a good or asset provides a certain level of utility (independent of price) and that the lower the price, the better for the buyer. Back in the real world, the rest of us realise that a high price is not a downside for a status good, it is a pre-requisite.
An indoor swimming pool is reassuringly expensive and provides a strong signal of ostentatious consumption. The reason it is such a strong signal is that it is hard to fake. There is no cheap way to get an indoor swimming pool that looks the part. You have to spend the money.
So if you are Hugh Hefner and looking to signal wealth to prospective mates (and to customers for your brand of nonsense) then a swimming pool probably seems like a good investment. For most people, however, an indoor swimming pool remains a bad idea out of reach.
Outdoor swimming pools are much less expensive…but, for me, most still count as ridiculous spending. Especially for anyone that still has to work for a living. According to the Daily Mail:
The Society of Pool and Allied Trades Association (SPATA) quotes £12,000 for an upmarket above-ground pool, £10,000- £15,000 for a pre-plumbed one-piece fibreglass pool (if you DIY), an average £25,000 for a liner pool (rendered concrete block or panel system, vinyl liner) and £40,000 for a concrete, reinforced fully-tiled affair.
If you read the media, you will get a distorted view about how expensive / difficult / risky life is. Ironically, the thrust of that article was all about how cheap outdoor swimming pools now are(!). Personally though, I am never going pay £10,000 and upwards for a swimming pool. The Escape Artist says fuck that.
My wife however always wanted a swimming pool: she loves sunbathing with the ability to jump in the pool to cool down. When I was in the Prison Camp, she would sometimes talk about getting a swimming pool built in the garden. At this point, The Escape Artist’s blood pressure would rise, doors might be slammed and toys thrown out of the pram.
Over the years, The Escape Artist learnt the value of strong boundaries in a marriage. Sadly, I have seen too many Walking Wallets cajoled into buying pointless shit, only to be packed off onto the 6.28am commuter train to Waterloo to pay for all the nonsense.
However, along the way, The Escape Artist has also learnt the art of negotiation and looking for win-win solutions. So when my wife recently again floated the possibility of buying a swimming pool, I listened calmly. I knew that this was not a passing impulse. Even better, she’d done her homework and had found a swimming pool that got delivered to our house all for £90, thanks to the magic of the interweb, free trade and globalisation. You can check it out yourself by clicking here. And no, I am not on commission.
Together we put up the pool in about 15 minutes. It was easier than assembling shelves from Ikea. So far, it’s done its job really well. Our children love it and often use it during hot spells. It seems easy to maintain as well.
You don’t have to buy the pool. The Escape Artist does not want to encourage anyone to buy more consumer shit that they don’t need. But I think this is a good example of what is possible in terms of getting value and enjoying life without spending lots of money.
The experience has also reminded me that it’s possible to unbundle the perceived benefits provided by an asset. So, for example, a swimming pool might have 3 distinct potential benefits:
- Cooling (its hot outside, lets jump in the pool!)
- Training facilities (I need somewhere to train for the Olympic 100m freestyle)
- Status display (look at how rich and successful I am!)
When you unbundle the “package” in this way, you realise that benefit 1 is what really matters to everyone during a hot summer. Benefit 2 is only important for professional swimmers. Benefit 3 is only important if you are a chimp or other status-focussed monkey.
The £90 pool is not recommended for benefit 2 or 3. It doesn’t provide much in bragging rights at the office or the golf club. It won’t allow you to host the swimming events for the next Olympics. But its great for you and your kids to cool off in.
Enjoy your summer!