A billion pounds is a lot of money. Or is it?

A billion pounds is a lot of money.

Even when using the now commonly accepted ‘American’ meaning of the word, a billion is a seriously big number. At a thousand million, or 1,000,000,000 (that’s nine zeroes) it is decidedly large.

A pound may not be worth so much these days, but a billion of them? A very large sum of money in any language.

Indeed, for almost everyone apart from those tiny number of people who have that sort of wealth already, the value of a billion pounds is difficult to imagine. The interest in one year alone would be many times the amount most of us might hope to earn in our entire lifetime. To be able to afford thousands of homes, when many struggle to even buy one. Lots of money. Loads.

At the same time, a billion pounds is not a lot of money.

You hear about them on the news all the time. Our government plans to spend 802 of them this year and so one billion is small change, just 0.12% of a year’s spending. So small that the government could decide to spend an extra billion pounds and it might not even show up in the numbers due to rounding.

Of course, the reason for this duality is simple; for a country with tens of millions of inhabitants, even very small amounts for each individual add up to a lot of money.

Thus £1 billion is just £15.10 per person when spread over the 66.1 million people that live in the UK. On a monthly basis, that’s only £1.26 for each of us.

Enough to buy a high street coffee every other month. Not very much at all.

You can start to understand why there are so many of these billions around. A £4 billion cut in spending; that would save each of us about £5 a month. That extra £2 billion on housing? That’s going to cost us an additional £2.50.

So, when you hear that the government intends to spend an extra billion pounds a year on something or other to make our lives better, just remember that it is not a big amount of money at all.

Even so, it is also important to realise something too.

A billion pounds is a lot of money.