Thursday, 28 May 2015

Only Kindness Matters

I cry at everything. OK not everything. I don't cry at the things I probably SHOULD well up about. I don't cry about having no money, or global disasters or things on the news. I cry when good things happen. I cry when someone wins $50,000 on Millionaire Hot Seat. I cry when Simon Cowell presses the golden buzzer on Britain's Got Talent. Just yesterday I bawled my eyes out at an abandoned puppy who got rescued on Facebook. And I cry when people are kind.

At the end of last week I was feeling pretty flipping awful. All this horrible mail kept arriving! Ms J Gower your Warrant of Fitness is due. Ms J Gower your car registration is about to expire. Ms J Gower your AA membership is due for renewal. Your dogs are due for their annual vaccinations. Ms J Gower you owe us $312 on 2/6/15. Whilst I wished they'd all just go away at least I could stick my head in the sand about some of them. I mean I don't go anywhere anyway so it didn't really matter too much about my car; I could afford a little leeway there at least. What was preying on my mind most was Ali. The past three weekends in a row we had ended up at the doctor's emergency clinic with rugby injuries - once with concussion and twice with a dislocated shoulder. Three after-hours appointments were costly enough but there were also additional appointments during the week, two trips to get x-rays, talk of ultrasound and physio and chemist prescriptions. All up Ali's shoulder ended up dislocating four times in the space of a week and the weekend culminated in a trip to hospital, followed by another trip to the doctor the next day to get referred to an orthopaedic surgeon.

Poor Ali. Obviously it wasn't his fault! The poor kid was in a lot of pain, he could barely do anything and his whole life was basically on hold until he had recovered from surgery - and who knew when that would be? I tried not to let him see how much the cost of everything was getting to me but every time I had to fill up the car with petrol for yet another trip I just felt as though I was being dragged further and further down. We couldn't afford to have this happen. The orthopaedic surgeon we had been referred to was almost two hours away, how were we going to afford the travel? Not to mention I still had four doctor's appointments to pay for. Every time we had gone I had had to lie through my teeth in front of a waiting room of people that I'd forgotten my Eftpos card or some other lame excuse. But worst of all I was doing a crap job of hiding how stressed out I was and on top of everything else Ali was dealing with, he also had his mother making him feel guilty about being a big old inconvenience!

The thing was, I didn't know what to do any more. I couldn't see how the hell I was going to pay these bills. Sunday morning dawned and I was pretty much ready to throw in the towel. I got out of bed, switched on my phone and... my phone. My brand new phone which Spark had given me a couple of months ago to woo me back after changing both my mobile and landline provider to someone else after being a loyal customer of 23 years. I had given my old phone to Ali but I didn't need a phone like this! You know how you automatically judge someone who says they have no money yet still drinks like a fish and smokes like a train? As far as I was concerned I was no better. There I was being all woe is me, my life's so hard, I'm broke as a church mouse yet I was walking around with a gold iPhone 6 in my pocket! What was stopping me from selling it? Nothing! Ten minutes later I had sold it on Facebook for hundreds in cash plus a perfectly good and adequate older model phone. That was all it took and all of a sudden I could cope again. The next morning I paid off my $312 bill, strode merrily into the doctor's and paid for the four outstanding consultations, paid some more off the vet bill and still had enough left to put petrol in the car and pay for a long-awaited haircut for Ali. My God did it feel good.

I also wanted to get Ali a little present to say sorry for being a grumpy arse so I went into one of the local shops to get him a $3.50 pack of incense sticks. He absolutely loves the stuff, has done since he was little! As I handed over the money the girl behind the counter saw my new/old phone in my hand and said, 'I bet that phone feels a lot different to your other one doesn't it?' Ah, she had obviously seen my Facebook ad on Buy, Sell, Swap. Before I could say another word she flashed me the most beautiful warm smile and said 'Don't worry, I totally understand. Last year I had to sell my Samsung Galaxy so I could buy firewood. I've been there'. And I could tell from her face she had. I was so touched I felt like bursting into tears right there on the spot. Someone got it. They really got it.

I've had a song which keeps popping into my head for the longest time. It's called 'Hands' by Jewel and the words say 'in the end, only kindess matters'. Maybe I'm just getting old but that's pretty much how I look at things these days. As long as I'm kind, as long as I keep striving to be a good person, as long as I know I'm doing a good job, well I'm happy. And if you're really lucky, sometimes kindness comes back to you, just like it has to me this week.

Four and a half years ago I had just moved to Whangamata. After years of being in a town where everyone knew everybody else I was enjoying the relative anonymity. Then one Sunday afternoon my phone rang. It was one of the local teachers, asking if he could pop round and buy a copy of the $21 Challenge book. 'Sure, no problem!' I said. Half an hour later we were chatting over the gate. He told me he was going through a really tough time financially and hoped my book could help him. He had a girlfriend who he adored and wanted to be able to make nice meals for her and who knew, if this challenge worked and he was really lucky, perhaps he could even save enough to take her out for dinner. I knew it had taken a lot of courage for him to come and see me and on hearing his story there was no way I was going to take any money from him! I handed him a copy of the book and said the only payment I needed was for him to tell other people about it if he thought it was any good.

Fast forward a few years and I still have one son at the local school. Like most schools they have uniforms and one of our school's regulations is that they have to wear plain black shoes. Unfortunately Ali's fell apart recently and were beyond repair. Unable to afford new ones he resorted to wearing another pair but of course every time a teacher saw them he got in trouble. 'Mum, can you please write me a note about my shoes and explain we can't get any right now so they leave me alone?' he asked a few days ago in frustration. I duly did so and promptly forgot about it. Until yesterday when Ali came home from school and pointedly sat down in front of me, waiting to see if I noticed anything. He was wearing a brand new pair of school shoes. A certain teacher had given them to him. And I cried like a big girl's blouse again.

I'm still absolutely gobsmacked at the kindness of this wonderful man. I have no idea whether the $21 Challenge helped him or if he managed to woo his girlfriend with the recipes in it but they did go on to get married and have a baby on the way so he must have done something right!

Monday, 25 May 2015

The Man of the House

My ex-husband and I have a wonderful relationship.  We really do!  He helps out wherever he can, bringing us free firewood from his partner's farm and meat for the freezer, even vegies from the garden.  I know he doesn't have to do any of it and I really do appreciate it.  But even more valuable is the fact we can still talk to each other about anything.  At least once a week we have a good old chat about life in general and of course in particular about the kids.  I like to think of myself as a pretty good parent but two heads are still definitely better than one and on the occasions I find myself a bit stuck, its wonderful to know I can still pick up the phone to the boys' dad and we can nut things out together.  We raised our boys together for the first 14 and 16 years of their lives and whilst I'm responsible for looking after most of their day to day needs, when it comes to instilling things like good old fashioned morals and values and helping them get through what child psychologist Nigel Latta calls 'the Mad Uncle Jack' years, that's still an ongoing job for both of us and their dad's input is just as important as mine; probably even more.

Even so, as the only man of the house these days, 16-year-old Ali has a great deal of weight on his young shoulders and I am acutely aware that a good deal of this comes from me.  Since his brother left home, things have become much harder financially, not easier and whilst the only indication Liam has of it is a distinct decrease in care packages winging their way to his uni digs, for Ali there is no escaping it.  I try not to talk about it too much but it's unavoidable.  Every day there are constant reminders of what we can do and what we can't.  What we can buy and what we can't.  What bills are due to come out this week and why I can't take him to visit his friend 45 minutes away because we can't afford petrol until God knows when.  Things such as wanting to book a hair cut or buy a new pair of school shoes are major financial decisions which can often take weeks, even months to make happen.

It must SUCK.  I wish I could take it all away so he didn't have to put up with it.  Sure it's character building, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger and all that but I think he's had more than his fair share of character building stuff now.  I'd love to be able to wave a magic wand and whisk him away for a week on the Gold Coast or something, Lord knows he deserves it!  But like pretty much everything life throws at him, Ali takes it all in his stride.  That's just how it is and he just gets on with it.  Even on days when we can't even afford so much as a loaf of bread and I feel like the worst mother in the world, not once over the past two and a half years has he ever shown any anger or frustration.  He's a pretty special kid.

The thing is, I'm not often able to talk about how special but today I thought 'stuff it, I will!'  I want people to know what a bloody good kid my son is.  I do worry that despite all his years of Simple Savings training and living with Mother Hubbard he may possibly never manage to get a grip on his own finances.  I hope I'm wrong but if this turns out to be true it will be because he's far too generous for his own good.  The first inkling I had of this was when he was barely knee high to a grasshopper at a national Pet Expo.  He came across a dachshund who was collecting for the SPCA and wearing a little barrel for people to put coins in.  Ali was instantly enchanted with the little dog and by the time I had managed to drag him away from the venue he had given every cent he owned to a sausage dog!

The bigger he's got, the bigger his heart seems to have gotten too and I have been proud and deeply touched on a few occasions when he has come home and confessed he has given his lawn mowing money or even birthday money to other families in need to enable them to buy food or petrol.  They always pay him back, even though he tells them not to worry.  I think the last time this happened was the week I fed us with $6, around the time I started this blog.  I remember being proud of him as always but having a right old chuckle at him helping another family buy food when we had so little ourselves!  Still, he insisted they were far worse off than we were and I believed him.  And, he thinks a lot of those families.  They have a real bond and mutual respect which I think will always be there.

Us 'old farts' can be quick to jump to conclusions about teenagers and I was no exception when a few months ago he started coming home later than usual and not saying where he had been.  Immediately I thought he must be up to no good or just wasting his time hanging out with the rabble who descend on our seaside town in summer.  So it brought a real lump to my throat to learn that he had in fact been going and sitting with his mate's dad most afternoons while he was suffering from a debilitating illness.  Ali going round there and chatting to him and helping to make sure he was comfortable for a couple of hours meant that his friend was able to keep up his holiday job.  Once again I was immensely proud of my boy.

Not that I'm under any illusions he's perfect of course!  He's still your average teenager in pretty much every sense and he still does like hanging around town with his mates rather a lot more than I'd like.  But there are a few people out there who will always be glad that he does.  It was around New Year, either just before or just after.  It was school holidays anyway.  Ali was supposed to be staying at a friend's house so I was surprised and immediately worried to receive a phone call at 1.00 in the morning, saying could I please pick him up and that he had something really important to tell me.  I could tell by the wobble in his voice that something was very wrong so I drove into town as fast as I could and found him sitting alone, huddled up on the concrete outside one of the local dairies.  It was a hot summer night but he was shaking.

He told me that he had been with his friends as planned and they had just been wandering around town talking and laughing when by chance they went to the wharf, right at the very end of town.  It was midnight and they didn't expect to see anyone there but there was one lone figure, down on the platform.  'Do you know that guy?' Ali's friends asked him.  'Yeah, kind of', Ali said and called out to him and asked what he was doing.  The figure called back that he was hand fishing - you know, not with a rod, just with a hand reel, over the side of the wharf.  'Oh OK' Ali replied and started to walk away - and then thought about it and suddenly stopped short.  Wait a minute - who on earth goes hand fishing by themselves at the wharf at midnight?!  He told his friends to go on without him and ran down to the 'fisherman'.  He had a line alright, but it wasn't a fishing line.  It was a makeshift noose and Ali got there just in the nick of time.

Much to the distress of its owner, Ali immediately began untying and dismantling the noose from the post on which it had been tied and refused to give it back, saying 'You can talk to me.  I'm not letting you do this'.  So he did and Ali sat and listened while he cried and poured out his problems.  Then he walked him 3km back to the safety of his house and promised he would check on him the next day. It was after he dropped him home that he called me.  Ali kept in touch with him constantly over the next few days and promised he would tell no one but it was becoming apparent that trying to carry this alone was more than he could handle.  In the end we went to a local member of the police who we trusted.  We stared at each other wide eyed as Ali gave a full recount of what had happened and it gave me chills to realise fully just how close it had been.  Whilst Ali didn't like to break his friend's confidence, he immediately felt as though a weight had been lifted and the police swung into action straight away, taking the chap under their wing.  He's doing well now but even if they never speak of it again I think that's another bond that will never be broken.

Which is more than I can say for Ali's shoulder right now!  As if he didn't have enough stress living with a daft bat like me, he's gone and dislocated his shoulder playing rugby and is on the waiting list for surgery!  He is SO miserable.  He was captain of the rugby team too and doing a wonderful job, I really do feel for him, he looks so sad!  He's not able to work much right now and has been stressing out over being able to pay his brother for his car so he's taken a leaf out of his mother's book and been selling his Xbox and games and anything else he can make a few extra dollars from.  'I made $200 in five minutes this morning!' he told one of his mates who came to visit and cheer him up.  I know everyone thinks their own kids are super special and of course they are.  I just wish I could make life easier for him than it is right now but all I can do is let him know how loved he is and how proud I am of him.  And now you know too :)

Thursday, 21 May 2015

The Hidden Ones

I've realised of late I'm actually part of a rather special secret club!  I first became aware of it after writing the blog 'Fake it 'til you make it' and in the weeks which followed I was approached out of the blue by several people who said 'I love reading your blog because I'm just like you!  Everybody thinks we're loaded but it couldn't be further from the truth!  We're just really frugal and have got so good at faking it that nobody realises we're on the bare bones of our bums'.  I tell you what too, these people were GOOD.  They'd certainly all had me fooled!  I didn't know any of these people particularly well but from then on I felt a little bit closer to them, as though we were allies, all getting through it together.

Since then I've received more emails from others in the same boat.  Here we all are, living in nice homes, either rented or mortgaged, going about our everyday business, at least one partner is working in all cases, if not both and just like Hyacinth Bucket we're keeping up appearances.  We live quiet, unassuming lives, our kids are well fed and nicely dressed and nobody would dream that we can't even afford to buy something as simple as a roast chicken for dinner.  People say to me all the time 'oh you're so good, selling all your stuff on Buy, Sell, Swap!' - they think I'm just decluttering!  They have no idea I'm doing it because I HAVE to.

Mind you I suppose it's a fair enough assumption.  Most solo mums don't own their own homes I guess.  People are always surprised to learn that I own it rather than renting.  I don't really recommend trying to manage a mortgage on your own but at least it's mine.  Well, mine and the bank's.  I adore my little home!  If I say so myself it's beautiful.  It's cosy, quirky, funky and cute.  I get up in the mornings, open the door, stand out on the front step and the tui's immediately swoop over my head and land in the tree across from me, shouting their crazy noises the way only tui's can.  I open the back door, stand on the deck and throw bread to the sparrows.  It's my little morning ritual and it's always a comical race to see who can get there first; the sparrows, our tubby spaniel or heaven forbid a million squawking seagulls.  Often a kingfisher will pop in to say hi and come and chill out on a post or in the branch of a tree for a bit and if I'm really lucky a pair of rosellas or rainbow lorikeets will also make an appearance.  It's a wonderful way to start the day and every day it makes me smile and I never want to let it go.

Not only that, my own back yard has led me to meet so many wonderful people!  In the last couple of months alone more than 20 families have been to visit to help themselves to fruit from my trees.  I had only ever met a couple of them before, now I have a whole bunch of new friends!  I'm happy just to give my produce away but it's also a wonderful old fashioned way to barter and I'm always over the moon when people bring things to swap, it's so much appreciated.  Even the windfall doesn't go to waste!  A friend of mine passed on my number to a hobby farmer who keeps pigs and every few days he and his children come around after school and fill up buckets with fruit that is 'past it' for humans but perfect for pigs!  In exchange I now get free eggs and have been promised roast pork and bacon by way of thanks in the not too distant future!  And then there's Fred.  The first day I met Fred he had jumped over the neighbours' fence and was helping himself to my apples!  Not that it was a problem, I had already told the neighbours and their kids to hop over and take whatever fruit they wanted whenever they felt like it; I was just a little taken aback to see a strange man in my garden!

Anyway, as I quickly discovered, Fred was a complete fountain of knowledge when it came to growing just about everything and from our regular chats which followed I learned heaps about mulching, how to get more yield from my trees and what I should be doing with my banana bunches to name just a few!  He promised to return with a jar of home made chutney and this he did just a few days later.  Turns out Fred is a total whiz at making jams, chutneys and other home made goodies. Tomato relish, spicy peach or feijoa chutney - they're all amazing and Ali and I happily scoff them all. These days Fred uses the driveway and it's always a delight to see him when he ambles up on his bike!

As for the inside of our home, I love it just as much as the outside, with its warm, pumpkin coloured walls, slanting ceilings and timber beams.  I love my retro kitchen too, with its wonky cupboards and benches that are way too high but suit me just fine.  At this time of year I can hardly wait for the evening to close in so I can light the fire, draw the heavy curtains, switch on my up-cycled lamp with its leopard pattern shade and light my favourite vanilla candle.  I know, I'm a creature of habit.  Not to mention a bit of a hippy!  But I love it and it's all we need to light our tiny place.  The very real thought that I'm probably going to have to sell it is really starting to scare me but I'm not finished yet. There are still more jobs to apply for, more stuff to sell and more miracles to pray for!  So I guess I'll carry on keeping up appearances for a while longer.  Thank you to all my allies for 'coming out of the closet' - at least to me.  As we all know, it really helps to know you're not alone!

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

The Hunger Games

Well slap my leg and call me Roger.  Actually maybe Murphy would be more appropriate, seeing as it's his law I seem to be getting slapped with at the moment!  That nasty piece of work has seen fit to bestow me with the same hideous cold which knocked Ali for six last week.  Being ill when you're trying to do a $21 Challenge isn't really ideal as you need your wits about you.  Fortunately one of the many brilliant things about it is that you have to be organised and know what you're going to cook for the whole week.  I took care of this yesterday, did my shop for the week and can now happily prepare dinner every day on auto pilot.  No thinking required!

I'll admit, I did spend more than I wanted to but that was largely down to one thing.  Even before I got sick I knew I couldn't go on eating as poorly as I was.  I was starving!  We needed food - GOOD food.  And much as I didn't want to spend a single dollar I didn't have to, I knew from previous experience that if you don't eat properly and look after yourself, the wheels will eventually fall off.  If you get sick, everything suffers.  It affects your work (not to mention your ability to work), your emotions, your decision making, your organisation and every one of these is costly in at least one way.  I had no choice but to give in to my hunger and much as I was annoyed with myself I knew it was the right thing to do.  Not that I went massively overboard, far from it.  And I was always going to go over my $21 because when you don't have so much as a potato or an onion in the house, let alone eggs, cheese or butter, well you have to be a bit realistic. A 500g block of cheese on special is going to take over a quarter of that on its own!

But I bought the things I wanted to eat.  I wanted a flipping big roast with all the trimmings so I bought a little chicken on special and will be able to make both chicken soup and Sophie Gray's 'Chicken Pie with Herby Cobbler Topping' with the leftovers.  I wanted seafood chowder so I bought a bag of frozen prawns on special for $6 and didn't feel too bad about that knowing I would be able to freeze half for another meal.  Mixed with a $2 pack of surimi I didn't think $5 worth of 'meat' for the two of us was too excessive was it?  I bought a $2 pack of schnitzel to make a beef stirfry, a six pack of enormous chicken thighs for $6 which will feed Ali and I for two meals at least and 600g of mince which I will use to make my 'Bung it in Bolognaise' (will post the recipe on my Facebook page this week) and no doubt turn the leftovers into pasties.  Ali loves them and let's face it, pretty much any leftovers taste fantastic when they're wrapped in pastry!  So that's us sussed for the week.  I've already eaten at least half my own weight in seafood chowder and by crikey I'm looking forward to my roast dinner tonight!  Ali's friend Billy is here for dinner too so I can bulk it out even further by making Yorkshire puddings.  Oh who are you kidding, you were going to make those anyway you big piggy!

I had to remind myself of the rules of the $21 Challenge as I went around in order to avoid beating myself up too much.  I mean you would think me of all people would be familiar with them, I've been drumming them into other people for years!  But I've just become accustomed to being super hard on myself.  So when I cringed at buying the dog and cat's food I had to remind myself  'it doesn't include pet food, Jack'.  When I wanted to curl up on the floor of the toiletry aisle in despair at having to buy new razor blades for Ali, I had to remind myself 'the $21 Challenge isn't for toiletries Jack, it's for FOOD.  Stop being so dramatic!'  So I did what I had to do.  I've got everything I need for the week so I don't have to set foot in any shops again, I'll still have some food left for next week and I have $44 left which almost exactly covers the two $21 after hour doctor's consultations for Ali's concussion and dislocated shoulder.  Flipping rugby!  Still, at least I have the money to pay them now, I was a bit embarrassed when I had to take him in with another injury on Sunday when I hadn't paid for the previous one yet!  Not the $100 I planned but next week should hopefully be better now I at least have a few more staples to add to the equation.

Because when I went to do my pantry inventory this is what I found:

20 - yes 20 - tins of fruit
1 tin of chick peas
1 tin of lentils
2 tins tomatoes
1 tin of sweetcorn
1 tin cream corn
1 jar asparagus spears
4 opened packets of cereal (these have been unused since Liam left home in February, Ali and I don't eat cereal)
1 jar tomato relish
1 1/2 bags flour
1/2 bag white sugar
3/4 bag brown sugar
Odds and ends of pasta
2/3 bag rice
5 bags Mi Goreng noodles

With the exception of the tinned tomatoes the first five items on the list were all given to us in food parcels over the past six months or so.  I swear I've already used half as much tinned fruit again!  But I've been busy using up the fresh apples and feijoas in my garden and there are only SO many crumbles and fruit muffins one can handle!

In the fridge:

1 litre milk
2 cheese slices
2 opened jars of jam
2 almost empty jars of chutney
Soy sauce, fish sauce, sweet chilli sauce, wasabi, tomato sauce, hoisin sauce and wholegrain mustard
Beer (also been there since Liam left home as neither Ali or I drink it but I have pinched a couple to use in casseroles and it's bloody marvellous!)

In the freezer:

Bit of ice cream (literally a bit in the bottom of the tub)
2 packs venison sausages
4 packs venison patties (these and the sausages feed Ali but I don't eat venison)
Lots of frozen vegies - leeks, broccoli, sweetcorn, cauliflower and beans all thanks to my mum
Bread rolls
12 frozen basil ice cubes

As you can see, I didn't really have too much to work with!  All things considered, I probably spent as little as I could.  OK, I shouldn't have spent $4.99 on a block of feta but I wanted it so badly!

I'm going to keep going and doing the $21 Challenge as much as possible because even though for the first time ever I didn't make it within $21 (considering I did my first one in 2006 that's not half bad Jacqueline!) the thing I love best about doing the challenge is this - it restores your PRIDE.  Pride is a huge thing, it's a bloody great weapon to have.  I know a lot of people reading this are Simple Savers and know the $21 Challenge inside out and back to front but there are also some who don't so I shall explain a little more what it is:

The $21 Challenge got its name from its rather marvellous creator, an Australian Simple Savings member called Barb.  The reason the figure is $21 is because this was the amount she was given to feed her family of four with for a week.  Barb asked her husband to bring her home some cash so she could go food shopping and he returned with a cheeky grin and a $20 note, the joke being that there was no way Barb could feed herself, him and their two teenage boys on such a small amount.  However he had underestimated his clever wife!  Determined that the joke would be on him, Barb went through every nook and cranny of her kitchen, digging out every morsel of food she had on hand and worked out how she could turn them into meals rather than have to go to the shops.  She also found another $1 in her pocket, taking the magical total up to $21.  With some careful planning and resourcefulness, not only did she manage to feed them within her $21 budget, they ate really well!

At the time I was writing my Penny Wise blog on Simple Savings and Barb wrote to me to tell me of her triumphant week.  I was dead impressed and it got me thinking, EVERYBODY should have a go at doing that for a week!  I mean, how many times do we go grocery shopping because we think we need to?  Because it's Tuesday and we always go shopping on Tuesday? Because we think you have no food, just because when we open the pantry there's nothing we can instantly grab to feed our faces?  What if, for one week we broke the cycle and did like Barb did, refused to buy any more food until we had used up as much as possible of what we already had first?  How much could everyone save?  So I gave it a go, shared Barb's story and encouraged other Simple Savings members to join me and we discovered it was not only a lot of fun, it was very, very possible!  We had a whole lot of laughs, shared the embarrassing contents of our pantries (if you think my stash of tinned fruit was impressive that was nothing!) and helped each other find ways to use up random ingredients so that we didn't have to relent and go shopping.  A new star was born in Simple Savings land and for a joyous time all us members were doing $21 Challenges and saving money all over the place.

And then the media got hold of it.  To be fair they really did do a good job!  But there's only so much you can cover in a few minutes of TV and before we knew it, rather than enjoying the $21 Challenge in the confines of Simple Savings land where everyone 'got it', we were spending half our lives explaining it to people, dispelling the myths, correcting the idiots until it got to the stage that we decided there was nothing for it - we had to put ALL this in a book so that EVERYONE could get it and benefit from what we knew was a terrific money saving resource.  So that's what we did and I'm so very proud of that book! If you would like to know more about the $21 Challenge and read the first and second chapters for free, you can do so here.  You can still buy copies from Simple Savings too, but I'm not telling you that to line my pockets, I don't work for them any more.  I'm telling you because I really do believe it's a great book and I would love you to give it a go if you haven't already.

Anyways, that's the history of the $21 Challenge and how it got to be $21.  If you can manage $21 that's brilliant!  But if you can't it doesn't matter, the point is that you break that cycle, you stay out of the shops as much as humanly possible and you get resourceful with the things you have.  It's a great way to learn some new skills, try some new recipes and break the hum-drum of using the same old recipes we always tend to cook.  But like I said, one of the best things is the pride you get in yourself for a job well done.  When I do a $21 Challenge I feel like a domestic goddess.  Think Nigella Lawson crossed with Xena Warrior Princess!  A culinary genius with a steel resolve, that's me!

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Let's try that again...

I'm really glad when Fiona and I wrote the $21 Challenge book many moons ago that we remembered to include the following: 'Sometimes it feels as though the entire universe is trying to put the cobblers on your Challenge.  Don't panic!  You haven't failed.  Try again when things have settled down'. Because that's exactly what happened to me last week.  Despite my best intentions we had everything thrown at us from coughs and colds, to lengthy power cuts and even a dislocated shoulder thrown in for good measure and the outcome was whilst it wasn't bad budget-wise, it was incredibly bad food-wise to the extent I didn't manage to have an evening meal at all for at least four nights out of the week.  I know, not ideal is it?  If nothing else it was a good wake up call that I really need to look after myself better.  But on this occasion at least it really was circumstantial and I can assure any concerned fellow parents that my darling son WAS provided for throughout!

In fact that was how the first disaster arose.  The first morning of the Challenge Ali awoke with a nasty cold.  He looked like crap and sounded even worse so being the indulgent and sympathetic mum I am, I decided to make him a huge pot of comforting soup to help him feel better and hopefully speed up his recovery.  There was however a bit of an obstacle here in that for once I had nothing really in the house to make soup from in the form of meat and vegetables - and it was a $21 Challenge week too!  So I went to the supermarket, spent $1 on a piece of beef schnitzel and carefully selected one carrot, one parsnip and two potatoes to go with the couple of wilted celery stalks I had at home.  I threw everything into the pot along with the last of my packet of soup mix (you know, the ones with lentils and split peas and pearl barley and so on), brought it up to the boil, then turned the heat down and left it to do its thing.

Unfortunately despite making this soup at least 100 times and being on the lowest possible heat setting, it decided on this occasion to do its thing too much and before long I was alerted to an awful burning smell.  To my absolute distress the whole enormous potful was ruined to the extent I couldn't even feed it to the dogs.  Whilst once upon a time I would have just been a bit peeved at a pot of soup gone wrong, I was absolutely heartbroken.  We couldn't afford to lose all this food!  But we had and that was just the way the week went.  Fortunately I didn't ruin the sausages we had for dinner that night, which was just as well because the whole town experienced a power cut the following night and all we were able to have for dinner was bread and butter and a cold sausage!

Still, it wasn't all bad.  We still saved enough out of our grocery bill to pay two other bills and that was my goal so we did achieve that.  And this week is a brand new week!  So let's give it another go. Tonight is easy, as Ali is having dinner with his dad so I only have me to worry about.  That's a good thing as I can't afford to buy any food until tomorrow!  I'll do a proper food inventory then and I'm under no illusions that this $21 Challenge will be the toughest one I have ever done.  But I'll bloody well do it and I'm going to do it well because Lord knows I need some decent food!  If I never eat cheese on toast again it will be too soon.  At least it won't be for a while now because I've run out of cheese!

So.  Goals this week:

1. Complete a SUCCESSFUL $21 Challenge.  With dinners and proper food like a normal person.

2. Sell some more stuff.  This is tomorrow's job and a very important one because I don't know when I'm going to be able to get enough work to pay the bills so I have to pay them somehow.
3. Keep trying to find work.  An ongoing mission and a whole other blog. As it is I have no work for the foreseeable future. Quite frankly I'm bricking it.  But something will come up.  Even if I have to take a leaf out of Forrest Gump's book and start going to church and singing to the Lord at the top of my voice every Sunday in the hope he smiles down on me I will do it.

4. Stay positive.  I'll admit, I've been losing my mojo the last couple of weeks.  I'm feeling perilously close to giving in.  But the amount I will gain compared with what I will lose is at this stage so little that selling my home would be a really bad and irreversible move.  Fortunately I don't give in easily.

And it ain't all bad.  I managed to shave another $266 off the monthly bills today, that's not to be sneezed at!  People are so lovely - even people on the end of the Telecom - sorry SPARK line.  It just goes to show you can always make a few savings here and there.  It doesn't matter that I only rang them a couple of months ago and asked how I could get my bill down, I still did it again today and they slashed off another $60 a month!  Plus my power bill is $170 in credit!  Yes, CREDIT! Woohoo!  Long story, I don't know if you saw on my Facebook page but a few weeks ago I was talked into cancelling my power supply with Nova in favour of trying out Globug; a 'prepay your power' initiative which is currently being offered to families on limited budgets and low incomes.  They crunched some numbers and estimated that our enormous household of Ali and me would save between $400 and $500 a year on electricity.  What a crock.  They sent us a traffic light style monitor thing which glared at us ominously from the kitchen bench and within 24 hours it had turned both of us into nervous wrecks, checking every five minutes whether we had used up any credit and if it was still green or had turned to orange (meaning a top up of our account was required within 24 hours) or red (which meant disconnection was imminent).

On the positive side, it made the two of us completely OCD about saving power, rushing around constantly shutting doors and windows and switching lights off.  But it soon became apparent that Globug was NOT saving us money when we chewed through our first $50 credit in just five days. Bearing in mind we don't have a dishwasher, or a dryer and don't even watch TV this was pretty unbelievable but most ludicrous of all was the fact that we weren't even home for three of those days and when we were, we were so paranoid about using up our precious credit we were almost sitting in the dark!  Yet we were already spending more than before?  There was no way I was giving them any more of my money and as if by magic a lovely man from Nova rang out of the blue and said (in as many words) 'What the hell are you doing?!  These guys won't save you money!' I had absolutely no hesitation in running back into their welcoming arms with promises of no hard feelings, cancellation of disconnection fees and promises of further discounts.  So at least I don't have to worry about the power bill for the foreseeable future, yippee!

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Knights of the Dining Table

Am asking myself WHY I sold the tumble dryer a couple of months ago when it's been piddling down with rain all day and I have 22 rugby jerseys and 22 pairs of rugby shorts to get dry before tomorrow?  I can't see across the lounge for red and white stripes - and why won't the fire do what it's supposed to and bloody well FIRE?  Ah yes, that's right.  I sold the tumble dryer to make money to pay bills.  Everyone told me I was mad and I'd regret it but I haven't.  I'll sit up all night and blow on every one of those 44 pieces of clothing if I have to!  I've sold a heck of a lot of things these past 12 months and I haven't regretted a single one.  This week alone I've sold $50 worth of clothes and the BBQ table.  Well, it was the mother of all BBQ tables really.  It was absolutely enormous, had never been used and seeing as I have no social life I decided it was surplus to requirements.  I'd rather have the money in my pocket thank you very much!

The thing is, how much longer am I going to be able to sell stuff before it runs out?  I'll do whatever it takes to keep dragging it out but at the moment it's feeling like nothing is ever going to be enough. Don't get me wrong, it's saved my proverbial behind many a time and we've paid a lot of bills but IT NEVER ENDS!  And I've had a bit of a crap thing happen.  You see last year I was offered a job at a local real estate office which was supposed to be starting in April.  I had it in writing, even the bank manager had been given confirmation.  Year-round positions like this are hard to find in our little town and I felt very lucky. At 30+ hours a week this would be the answer to my problem and if I was still able to keep up a few shifts a week at the club too, even better.  All I had to do was get through the next few months and Ali and I would be home and hosed! 

All through March I waited but heard nothing.  People asked me constantly 'When does your new job start?' and I was starting to wonder myself but still wasn't panicking.  After all, I had it in writing and so did the bank.  Things got busy and before we knew it we were well into April but I still wasn't that worried; it would happen!  But in the end I couldn't stand the not knowing any more and contacted my new employer.  Who responded that the member of staff whose job I had been offered was no longer going overseas and was now staying on.  Bugger.  I still haven't told the bank yet but I'm going to have to very soon because the past couple of days I've come to the horrible realisation that I simply can't survive.  Not for any length of time anyway.  I've been selling everything I can left right and centre and doing everything possible to try and pay off my debts and I have and I'm proud of that. But I can't keep going.  Our little town pretty much dies in winter and I just don't earn enough to pay for even the basics.  Quite frankly I'm sh*tting myself.  So was Ali when I mentioned to him in passing this morning that we might have to sell the dining table and chairs.  Yes, I have reached a new low point, selling essential furniture items!  OK well I haven't reached it yet.  But lying awake at night thinking about it is pretty close.

So what's the plan?  I'm going to have to put my thinking cap on and I might need an extra brain or two to help me.  Realistically I don't think I can reduce our costs any more.  We need power.  We need a car.  We need Internet and we need insurance.  Things like rates and ACC are also unavoidable.  What I need to do is make more money somehow!  Obviously I'm applying for jobs where I can but they are pretty few and far between at this time of year and being in a small town you're usually vying with half the neighbourhood for a coveted position.  And then there's my writing.  If I work every hour God sends I can see any opportunity to write going down the gurgler. And that is ridiculously frustrating.  I've been offered a book deal from one of the country's biggest publishers for God's sake, that's the stuff I've always dreamed of -  but I can't afford to take the time out it needs to write!  How shite is that?  A writer who can't afford to write.  Ugh.

God, listen to yourself Jack.  I'm sorry I may sound all doom and gloom but there's plenty of life in the old girl yet.  I am not going to give up easily and I know there are still some things I could do better.  I don't have the first idea about getting myself 'out there' as a writer, you know, all that networking and stuff.  I'm happy wittering on in my little space here but funnily enough I'm not too comfortable blowing my own trumpet.  I read things about people I know who have made money writing e-books and have a squillion blog followers and Facebook fans and I think 'Wow, that's brilliant, yeah, I should do that!'  It all comes down to three little words.  Procrastinators Unite Tomorrow.  That and lack of confidence, lack of know-how.  But I guess if I want to keep my dining table I'm going to have to learn.

Anyway, first things first.  I have to get through the next week.  I have bills to pay, I still haven't told the bank I have no shiny new real estate job to look forward to and the mortgage is due to come off interest only this month.  If I don't use our grocery money I can pay at least one bill, hopefully two. And unless you've never met me before or been hiding under a rock you'll know how I'm going to do that - yes folks, it's time to dust off the $21 Challenge!