Tales of the Unexpected..”Shit happens”

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It’s been a while since I reported how we’re all progressing financially at Thrifty Towers. Part of the reason for this is although I am blogging very publicly about my bid to earn my financial planning halo, I still feel the actual figures involved are my business and my business alone. Plus, the figures themselves must be pretty boring and meaningless to an outsider.

I mean detailing a weekly shopping budget for a family of five with three enormous teens will bear no resemblance to that of a single parent feeding a toddler. Our mortgage will seem huge to a couple, and tiny to a Londoner. My shock at the price of car insurance for my newly driving son will only resonate with parents in that position themselves, in which case they don’t need me to tell them how ridiculously expensive it is.

However I am happy to report that in addition to now being overdraft and credit card debt free, (yippee..little pat on the back) we are now well on the way to achieving stage three of our plan. That is to have a healthy “shit-happens” fund.

We have prioritised getting this over tackling the next debt because the interest rate is quite low and therefore a few months more of just paying the minimum will not make a huge difference to the final amount payable.

But as with many families, it is those little emergencies that eat into an otherwise well planned budget. You know, those events that happen quickly, where you have no time to find the best deal and no choice but to hand over the money. The car needs fixed. A molar breaks (ow – yes that happened this month). A family member becomes ill and all that extra petrol and parking to visit them adds up. Visiting them means you can’t work; as a freelancer, you lose pay. All these expenses are necessary and justified and ridiculously hard to plan for. Typically, having analysed our spending history it has become apparent to me that it is failing to plan for these costs that sends us into overdraft over the course of each year. Like many families, we would be just fine and dandy if we could only guarantee that the washing machine won’t break, or that the dog will stay away from deadly chocolate contraband – or cars! But life happens. It just does. There is no point in wishing and hoping and keeping fingers crossed and then cursing our bad luck when the poo happens.

So this year, we have settled on an amount that we think is reasonable and are putting this aside for ’emergencies’. If we never have another emergency, then it will sit there forever. But life being life, and as we and our parents get older, it is highly likely it will be dipped into regularly. The plan is to replace any amount taken as quickly as possible so that it is always there as an emergency float.

The amount we have decided on is twice my monthly income. As a freelancer, my income is pretty variable anyway, so this emergency fund will also cover us if for some reason I cannot work (no sick or holiday pay for me!) or a client is late in paying me.

Of course now I have made plans for the unexpected, the law of Sod will mean that life will proceed beautifully smoothly from here on in.

Fingers crossed.

The Thrifty Ninja. Xxx

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Re-CYCLE-ing. (With beery bribes and barter)

I love cycling.

When we lived in Germany we could safely cycle with the children through bike friendly streets. Cyclists actually have priority over cars at junctions (yes you read that right) and cars give riders ample room when overtaking. The cycle trails were extensive, well maintained, and liberally peppered with beer gardens for refreshments . During the summer months, I barely used the car at all (not least because I was full of beer!)

Fast forward a few years, back in dear old blighty, and our bikes hardly ever leave the shed. We have been burgled so many times that we have to keep them hidden in a padlocked shed. Propped behind a lawnmower and some furniture, and chicken stuff for chooks we no longer have (god rest their souls). So inaccessible are the bikes that it has become our habit to hop in the car. And yet we live in a tiny and very flat city. Most of our local journeys could easily be cycled and sometimes, it would actually be quicker than a car journey.

This car habit has negative implications for our health, and my pocket.

So, the first step to rekindling our love of cycling is to ensure that we can all actually get to the bikes. We need somewhere safe from burglars, safe from the weather, and that is easily accessible to the kids.

We need a bike shed.

A quick look on ebayzon revealed that you can pick up a good one for £150. And in years gone by I would have forked out. But, this is the new me. How could I build one for less? With no building skills whatsoever?

Hello bartering and freecycle. I may not be able to build anything but I can sew, cook and keep children happy. These are my special skills.

My friend has a dog food delivery business and always has pallets hanging around. In return for my making 10m of bunting for a float in a local parade, she donated some of these pallets to my cause. I put a wanted out on Freecycle for items and was gifted some roofing felt. My brother, who is a wiz at making stuff, agreed to come around and bring some bits of old wood lying around in the back of his van and to have a go at designing and building something. We agreed that in return for a days labour, I would bring him unlimited quantities of beer and tea, keep him well fed and his kids happy. My husband and children were willing apprentices and on a lovely sunny afternoon everyone worked together to built the best bike shed the world has ever seen.

I am thrilled with the result, and throughly enjoyed the process of family and friends coming together to create something. It felt a bit like an Amish barn raising but with beer and electricity. We even had an official opening ceremony with bunting and cupcakes.

I estimate that if the kids and I use our bikes for every journey of less than 2 miles, we will save about £20 per month in petrol. But much more importantly we will be healthier, fitter, and every time I go to my bike store, a little bit smilier.

Friday Night Fakeaways

In our previous lives, and for as long as I can remember, Friday night has been takeaway night. Fish and chips, curry, Chinese, or pizza eaten decadently in the living room in front of a good film. No washing up, no planning, no chopping, no moaning from the kids – it was a little weekly treat for all of us. But at between £15 and £20 a week (that’s between £780 and £1040 per year!!!!!!!) it is a treat we can no longer afford.

So, inspired by the fantastic blog by Skint Dad, Saturday night Fakeaway I have begun to think of Friday night as Fakeaway night. Takeaway food, but prepared in my own kitchen. My rules are that it needs to come in at under a fiver and involve as little washing up or faff as possible.

So, every Friday, I will share what we at Thrifty Towers are consuming. I will also let you know how much it is costing.  The dish won’t make the cut if it takes longer than half an hour to prepare.

I’m no Nigella, so it goes without saying that all of the recipes will be easy peasy, and use ingredients that you can buy from value ranges, and can easily substitute for other ones.

This Fridays offering is Sweet and Sour Chicken

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Feeds four people for £3.57p (ish)

Ingredients

2 x Chicken leg portions. £2
Sugar snap peas (or peppers) 50g 50p
Tin pineapple chunks. 50p
Onion (chopped). 10p
8 tbsps Tomato ketchup
(Or passata). 2p
2 tbsp muscovado sugar. 20p
2 tbsps malt vinegar. 5p

Portion of rice to serve 20p

Put a little oil in a flat bottomed pan and fry the onion and chopped sugar snap peas until soft. Add the chicken to brown it off. If slow cooking, transfer everything to slow cooker.

In a jug mix the tomato sauce, piñeapple including juice, vinegar, and sugar.

Add to slow cooker, or pan.
If slow cooking cook on low for 4 hours, or high for about 2.
If not slow cooking, bring to a simmer, and cook for about half an hour.

Serve with rice.

Enjoy on lap with a good film. 😀

Rat a tat tat….

My daughter is 13, and is growing so fast that she no longer fits in her cabin bed. She rolls over and her knees bang the sides. She stretches and some trinket from her shelves will end up in pieces on the floor.

It is time to build her a new bedroom, fit for the young woman she is becoming with a bigger bed and some grown up furniture. Maybe even a dressing table, and perhaps a telly. Thirteen was the age the boys got their first telly, as she keeps reminding me. How times have changed! Back in my day, we didn’t even have a family telly, until I was 13, never mind our own personal viewing device.

Anyway, last weekend, we set about decluttering her room with a view to selling some of her stuff to raise funds for the transformation.

Now, please bear in mind we are not hoarders. I usually go through this process at least once a year, usually before Christmas to make way for all the tat that Christmas inevitably brings. But this felt different. This time, my daughter seemed happy to part with objects, books and toys from her earliest years that she previously wanted to hang on to. Some special items she kept, her special teddy ‘golden-bear’, a golden Wenlock from our trip to the Olympics, a battered copy of Guess a how Much I love You, a musical box with a townscape of Munich (where we lived for a while). We had lovely warm snugly conversations about the happy memories these seemingly insignificant items brought forth.

Some things she refused to part with. Some she lingered over, and then decided they could go. But what really shocked me was that all of the things that she did not hesitate to put to the boot sale, the things she did not linger over for a single minute, were all without exception Christmas gifts. Usually stocking fillers, or things I’d bought to make the pile of gifts look a bit bigger, or to even the piles up a bit as one kid’s pile looked a bit bigger than the others. Or something I’d bought because I felt guilty as one kid had more spent on them, or some other spurious panic induced, guilt laden reason.

These gifts hold no intrinsic meaning for my daughter. Which is quite a revelation, because for me, buying gifts at Christmas is a way to show the children that I love them. Now, these gifts are not the only way I show my love. I am not trying to buy their affection with gifts because I starve them of my time. It’s simply that I love to see their faces on Christmas morning when they see that Santa has been (yes, he still comes here). I cannot imagine them having a Christmas where there aren’t mountains of gifts to open. And they do love opening them and the ritual of it all. They are not ungrateful or spoilt, but they don’t really love the gifts. They don’t REALLy love the gifts because the gifts don’t mean anything. The gifts are just stuff. Tat.

Which is interesting because I put myself under enormous pressure at Christmas time to buy the right gifts, as I am sure many women do. I usually end up in a total exhausted meltdown, and with high levels of anxiety at whether we can afford it all. Christmas is no fun for me, and all because I am trying to keep everyone else happy and make memories. But you can’t force happy memories.

So, this Christmas I am going to try and take the pressure off myself a bit. I don’t quite know how I am going to do this yet. I really can’t imagine a Christmas without mountains of gifts. Heavens, that would be bloody awful!! And I’m not going to just give them money either. I know some parents do, but that feels so cold and heartless.

I will find a way to ensure that each gift this Christmas has some real meaning or purpose, so that they don’t end up in a boot sale during Summer 2015.