The unexamined life is not worth living, Socrates said, and he knew a thing or two. Though I doubt he was referring to the painful self-scrutiny involved in deciding whether or not to swap an expensive shower gel for a cheaper brand.
Shop Well for Less? (Thursdays BBC1) is full of critical decisions like this. If you haven’t seen it, you should, before I try my best to get it removed from our screens forever. It’s where Steph McGovern and Alex Jones try to persuade high-spending families to, indeed, shop well for less. So yes, they are helping people who spend too much money. Boo flipping hoo.
As families are being murdered by their own government in Syrian hellholes, BBC1 is helping people who spend too much money.
I’m not as pious as my anger about this series suggests. I enjoy spending money – who doesn’t? I’m not some aesthete who needs only a well-thumbed copy of Proust and soup made from pine cones for my intellectual and physical sustenance. Let me tell you, I am helpless in the face of a pair of rock crystal drop earrings. We must all treat ourselves, if we can. But endless, pointless conspicuous consumption of stuff, stuff and more stuff is depressing.
Just look at the family in this week’s Shop Well for Less? He’s a mechanic and she’s a beautician and they have an eight-year-old daughter. Mum is obsessed by designer labels and won’t wear the same outfit twice because she’s appalled at the prospect of people seeing her on social media wearing something she’s been photographed in before. Why? Apart from the fact you must wonder at the calibre of friends and acquaintances who are even going to notice or care about this. But, just, why?
Of course, she has a wardrobe of clothes she’s never worn, still with their price tags on. She also, on an impulse (on an impulse) spent £29,000 on a Range Rover because she likes driving a car that says Range Rover on it.
As part of their austerity plan Steph and Alex persuade her to drive a similar-looking but much cheaper car for a few days. This makes her feel “sick to her stomach”. Meanwhile, Dad uses three expensive bottles of bubble bath every week. Fine, go on, knock yourself out. But don’t expect me to feel sorry for you at every agonising step on your conversion as both of you try to decide whether to use a cheaper handwash.
This couple clearly love outward displays of wealth and enjoy nights out with, we are told, £100 bottles of champagne. Again, great, go ahead. But they don’t actually enjoy eating in good restaurants because they are always preoccupied by who might be watching and admiring them. So they are taught by Alex and Steph that having a night in with pals and a takeaway is fun and cheap!
Similarly, she gets her big expensive car valeted regularly, both in and out, so Steph and Alex teach the family that washing the car together with a bucket and some suds is fun and cheap! I’ve never wanted to be the kind of person who says, “This isn’t why I pay my licence fee”, but this isn’t why I pay my licence fee.
Showing people how to have fun or wash a car isn’t a public service. Or persuading someone to switch from sunbed sessions to cheap fake tan isn’t educational or instructive. There are people in real need and in real debt across the country. Send Alex and Steph to help them.