When my wife and I told my mother that we were getting married, she tried to warn her off: "Peter's very impatient and he's hopeless with money." Ten years on, I'm still trying to live it down. I refuse to apologise too much for impatience. The alternatives all seem so long-winded; but hopeless with money? I've tried everything - taking out ISAs, pensions, going for 0 per cent deals on credit cards, but still the label sticks.
So last week, I bought my first Lottery ticket.
The National Lottery was launched more or less as we married, so I suppose it's odd that I haven't taken the plunge before. And slightly embarrassing when I had to ask the very nice woman in the corner shop how to fill in the ticket. I rushed home to show off my latest attempt at prudence. "Is that how desperate we've become?" was the only response the pink ticket elicited. "But it's the Lottery's tenth birthday and someone's got to win," I pointed out reasonably. "You've just fallen for the advertising slogan," I was told firmly. I kept silent until the evening news, slipped in to the other room to watch, ready to make a dramatic return with my magic wand and transform our lives. And well, you can guess the rest.
The Lottery didn't improve my financial wizardry, but my brush with it suggests it has much bigger problems of its own. The number of players is falling and it has become the modern day equivalent of a prayer to Saint Jude. The worst of it is that the Lottery's image problem has become our sector's problem too. Survey after survey show that people still perceive it as a pot of gold for us and so cut their donations accordingly. Those who continue to buy tickets regard it not as a contribution to a good cause, but as a last throw of the dice. The two are incompatible.
Receipts are down, goodwill is eroded and what money does filter through has been cut by government claw-backs. It is a fairy story that is turning into tragedy at every level. Sour grapes? Well, maybe. It's proof positive than I'm hopeless with money. The struggle to nail that lie continues.
- Peter Stanford is a writer and broadcaster. He chaired the trustees of the national disability charity Aspire and now sits on various trustee boards.