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Profligacy, the cause of the problem: not in Bulgaria

There are strong cultural and lifestyle differences between Britain and Bulgaria and nowhere is this more obvious than in the realm of money. The personal financial profligacy by Britons is starkly contrasted by their Bulgarian counterparts who exercise financial prudence and healthy money habits. Why are the Bulgarians better at thrift than the Brits?


Different cultural attitudes to money are at the root, which are highlighted even more in these financially challenging times. The Bulgarians are better placed to embrace long term frugality as a means to weather any financial or economic storm. In the UK, people are only embracing prudence as a short term solution, after years of ridiculous over-consumption and over-spending.

Those who have bought property in Bulgaria and visit the country regularly or live here, will already understand about the Bulgarian way of life. For those who are considering property, this is a short analysis of how the Bulgarians are a living example of a financially cautious people yet have a great quality of life.

Figures released show that more than 55% of Britons have changed their money habits during the recession, endeavouring not only to spend less but even save. Big holidays and unnecessary goods are gone. Bulgarians by contrast have always saved and rarely splash out on luxury items. It is the Bulgarian national attitude towards thriftiness which sets them in front as folk who are way ahead in being financially prudent.

The global financial crisis made little difference to the Bulgarians. Bulgaria was already a belt-tightening country where they grow their own fruit and veg, use local suppliers, walk rather than take the car, enjoy time with the family rather than down the pub... 

In Britain, whilst there has been a shift towards this way of life, it is mainly cited as being 'for the environment', rather than a true lifestyle change. Bulgarians do this as a matter of course and values, Britons more usually because it is attractive to be seen by others as putting the environment first rather than themselves: allowing them to feel morally superior to those who buy the imported veggies in the supermarket. It is only now that they are starting to perceive the other result of this kind of labour: saving money.

The Bulgarian mentality is ingrained with living in a simple manner and part of that is spending less. If you have spent any time in the country you will see that lack of big-spending and over-indulgence is conspicuous.

A main reason cited in the UK for emigrating overseas is to lead a more simple life and have a better quality of life. The Bulgarians have that, enjoying family, conversation and a good laugh, rather than spending lavishly on the latest trends. Don't get me wrong, they like the newest mobile phone as much as anyone but they never take credit to purchase.

Through centuries of skimping and scraping, and more recent memories of hard times, thriftiness is a natural part of the country's psyche. This leads them to a simple lifestyle but a higher quality of life, where their personal balance sheets are in good shape.

Family upbringing plays a huge part in this, with most Bulgarians feeling proud to be like their grandparents, who re-use nearly everything, make their own clothes, grow their own food, look after family and are kind to their neighbours.

Pessimism also has something to do with this financial prudency. Most Bulgarians are naturally pessimistic, preferring to save now because tomorrow may be worse. Compare this with the British attitude that things can only get better. There is an innate British belief that no matter how bad things are right now, everything will always get better.

The pessimistic attitude, and natural caution, of the Bulgarians creates good money habits and putting money aside for a rainy day. The ever-optimistic Brits and western Europeans, however, whilst making some changes in the crisis, believe that it is for the short-term.

Bulgarians also have the highest home ownership in the EU without mortgage and have very little in the way of any form of personal loans or credit cards. The Bulgarian banks have long exercised cautious lending, well before the crisis.

One wonders though what kind of price those in Britain will pay for such rampant personal financial profligacy with record personal debt and houses at five to seven times income. I should imagine there is more than one person who proffers up a prayer when tapping in their PIN number, hoping it will pay out some money and not swallow the card.  It should have been recognised years ago that 'prudence had left the building'.

It was interesting recently to talk with English friends (Sue and James) in the UK, who confirmed a completely different attitude towards money, which has just had to drastically alter. They are just your normal family in the UK. Huge mortgage, maxed out credit cards, kids wanting everything Nike and new computer games. They are both well educated and not at all stupid. But even though earning good money - 64,000 sterling a year - they are still left counting the shrapnel at the end of the month to see if they can afford a beer down the pub.

They recently totted up their debts and credit cards, which worked out to a hefty 120,000 pounds not including their mortgage! Now, they are also finding it hard to make even the minimum payment on their credit cards and are being hounded by the credit card companies. It was evident that they had to alter their spending habits. They knew the debt was down to their reckless spending. They cut back their budget and were trying to see if they could get by on 400 pounds a week, or some 1600 pounds a month, not including mortgage, electric, gas or council tax.

Sue recounted the horror of it, "It suddenly dawned on me that I had no idea how much anything cost. I couldn't have told you how much we paid for internet or food shopping. Now, I have to say what I've never said in my life before, 'I can't afford it'. It makes me want to weep. When I looked at the figures it was so clear that we'd been overspending by a grand or two a month for ages."