Fight frugal fatigue with imaginary eyewear!!

Those of you who are also living a long term thrifty life, either to pay off a debt or because times are tight will be very very familiar with frugal fatigue. This affliction sets in sometime after the initial enthusiasm and gusto of taking financial control has worn off.

Making a decision to live a thrifty lifestyle is almost fun at first. The feeling of taking control of any problem is always empowering and a bit thrilling, if a little bit scary. (Writing a blog about it adds an extra frisson!)

The savings we made in those first few months were huge. We had spent years not paying very much attention to where our money was going. Just by making an effort to take notice, removing non essentials, shifting some debts around, finding the cheapest utilities and changing where we shopped instantly reduced our spending by hundreds per month. You can do the same by visiting the Money Saving Expert site and following the money makeover tips.

But, as each month passes, the savings to be made get progressively smaller. You begin to look at ways to save pennies, and to postpone necessary purchases until times are better. Little things start to get you down. The fact that you have denied yourself all month and still not managed to make an overpayment on a debt. Arguing with your partner as they really want to buy something you believe is non-essential, and because you are secretly resentful that they want to buy that lovely thing for themselves rather than asking if you’d like something. Functioning irons and vacuum cleaners are reclassified as luxury items. Having to say no to social occasions. It all starts to feel like too much hard work, and you long to be able to blow some money on some frippery. These frustrations build until you just feel ground down and a bit miserable.

Then to make you feel a bit shittier, summer arrives, and facebook steps up. Friends post all their lovely smiley holiday pictures from far flung destinations, or let you know they’re off to a spa day, because they’ve been working really really hard and they’re worth it. And slowly and almost imperceptibly you begin to get really grumpy at them instead of pleased for them. This is probably the worst feature of frugal fatigue. Resentment. You refuse to press ‘like’ on their status updates; silent protest at their rampant bragging about all the money they have to throw away.

And this is not good or healthy. I was reading a Mummy blog this week, and she introduced me to the concept of Perspectacles. Wearing perspectacles allows the wearer to see things as they really are, and to take the wider picture into account.

My Perspectacles are not designer, on the contrary, they have been fashioned from recycled tin cans. Nevertheless, as soon as I pop them on I can see the following.

1. My lovely gorgeous friends are completely entitled to go on holidays. I too have been on holidays. They’re great! By getting this financial crap out of the way now, I am ensuring that I will be able to afford some kick-ass holidays in the future. Especially once we’ve jettisoned a few kids! (Too dear to take with). When I do go on my kick-ass holiday, I promise not to brag about it on facebook.

2. Not having enough money to go on a fabulous holiday or buy some new clothes for a couple of years is not the same as never having enough money to go on any holiday or buy clothes. There is an end to this. If all goes to plan we will be straight again this time next year. This, actually, makes us really really fortunate. Some people are trapped in real actual poverty for real, for ever, and watching the pennies is not some wussy lifestyle choice.

3. Overspend this month was due to a hefty dentist bill. I can afford to pay the dentist. Which means I will continue to have teeth. This is a good thing although the root planing was not a good thing. It was as unpleasant as it sounds.

4. Having to watch the pennies still feels loads better than the relentless nagging anxiety and stress caused by worrying about running out of money entirely. I am in control. No alarms and no surprises.

5. The future is bright. Our long term financial forecast is good. This is a relatively short term inconvenience.

Having read this post, I now realise that I sound like a totally spoiled wuss. I am tempted to delete this post altogether so that you continue to believe I am a nice lady and not some spoiled, bitter, resentful old cow. However, I’m going to leave it up, as everyone has moments where we need to put our Perspectacles on. Whether it’s worrying about our bodies, our jobs, our families or our health.

And anyway, perspectacles may well just be the best ever made up thing that should be a real thing EVER!

I’m off to visit the dragons den with two tin cans tied together with garden twine to see if I can make me a million……

The Thrifty Paradox.

Since we began our thrifty adventure, I have noticed something very strange.

You have to spend to save.

Yes really.

The secret to our improving financial position is that I am spending money more frequently. I feel I should explain.

When we first started trying to tackle our worsening financial position, we convinced ourselves that if we were just more disciplined, bought fewer things, went out less, said ‘no’ more, then it would just happen that we would spend less and the debt would go.

This is the impression given by TV shows such as Spendaholics, where people are given £40 for the week and told to get on with it and then, as if by magic all of their problems disappear.

But, month after month we made no inroads. We ended up each Christmas in exactly the same position as the previous, in fact usually worse. And we we’re cross, grumpy, and feeling deprived.

(Christmas is my personal financial line in the sand…I’ve spent the last three in a state of abject panic. I will know I have succeeded in turning things around when I can get through a whole Christmas break without crying).

This ‘no spend’ , ‘be more disciplined’ approach simply did not work.

Why?

Just like when on a diet, you can’t cut all food from your life, you still have to eat. Trying to eat nothing at all just leads to crankiness, cravings and an unhealthy relationship with food. It also leads ultimately to bingeing. The key is to eat an abundance of the right quality foods in the right proportions, at the right times.

So it is with spending. Unless you really want to take up a no spend challenge (I know people do, but I consider them to be financial anorexics) you have to spend something. The children need school uniforms. We all need food. Friends have birthdays. I have a birthday! I like going to the theatre. I enjoy meeting friends for coffee. I need to drive a car. Our hair grows and we don’t wish to look like scarecrows. And Christmas happens every year, God dammit!

The secret for me has been to be more mindful, and to take more opportunities to buy. Yes. I shall say that again. I shop more.

When I was trying to avoid all spending, I would only go to the shops when a purchase became absolutely necessary, leading to panic buying. For example, the kids uniform would all be bought in one mad panic the day before school started. No surprises here but shops don’t tend to offer discounted goods the day before school starts. They also tend to not have a lot of stock left. I would end up paying inflated prices on things that weren’t quite right. Now, when I see that there is an offer on an item of uniform, I’ll buy it and put it away for when I need it.

Previously, if a friend had a birthday get together, I would rush to the shops that morning, and buy something in such a frenzy, that the gift was neither prudent or appropriate. I have now assembled a little box of ‘thoughtful gifts’ that I have picked up in sales, markets and on the internet.

The internet is great for picking up bargains. Facebook pages such as Facebay and Bargain Buys for Busy Mums regularly post details of hugely reduced items. It was via this page that I learned of the massive reductions in a House of Fraser sale. I managed to pick up 10 children’s Christmas gifts for £50. Full price on these items would have been £150. I also bulk buy items such as loo roll and washing powder from sites such as Groupon.

In addition to being a more cost effective way to shop, a further benefit of this is that it has put me back in touch with my local community. I live in a beautiful midlands market town but I rarely visited our town centre, more frequently choosing to get in the car and drive to the nearest retail park.

I now cycle to the town centre regularly and find that the items I can pick up outside of the usual high street stores are unique, and reasonable. I have made other connections too. While picking up some sausages in the local butcher, an old school friend served me, and we got chatting. In addition to serving meaty delights, she had recently set up as a mobile hairdresser. She now cuts the kids hair at a fraction of the cost of our old salon.

I often hear people say that they don’t have the time to shop like this. And that used to be my reasoning too. I felt I was far too busy, and I genuinely thought I was saving time doing everything by the seat of my pants. But I now feel I SAVE time by shopping in this way. I already have the kids uniform. I don’t have to waste a whole day dragging them reluctantly around the shops, and then find time to go back and pick up the bits I’ve missed. Likewise birthday gifts, hostess gifts, Christmas gifts etc. It’s easy to mistake feeling rushed and panicked for being busy. I am busier with work than I ever been and shopping in this way has actually freed up a huge amount of time and more importantly mental energy.

I Would love to hear your thoughts. How do you shop?

Lots of love

The Thrifty Ninja xxxx

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

Counting the cost of a great day out. Oops.

I have just had a marvelous day out with a group of wonderful women celebrating a friend’s birthday. We dined out (twice in one day!) We took taxi’s. We drank more than a few cocktails. We chatted, we shopped, we laughed and we cried. I wouldn’t change a single moment of the day. As the Mastercard advert would say: spending time with good friends? Priceless.

Except it wasn’t priceless at all. In fact, not only did I individually spend more than I would on a weekly food shop for all five of us, the husband also ordered an expensive takeaway as I wasn’t home to cook the tea.

There were loads of ways that I could have reduced the cost of the day. I could have just not gone. I could have joined them after lunch. I could have insisted on a more reasonable restaurant. I could have asked for tap water. I could have skipped cake. I could have walked. I could have left a curry in the slow cooker.

How on earth can I call myself a Thrifty Ninja when I deliberately chose not to take any of the frugal options open to me. Am I a fake? Hopelessly deluded? Doomed to failure? No. Just human, and quite frankly, I fancied a day off.

I have decided to treat the day as a positive learning experience.

1 Own up and move on.
The money is gone. I have written it’s loss down in the money book under ‘social’. I can’t get it back, but I can ensure that future ‘social’ spending is reduced accordingly. It will probably even-out over the course of a few months as long as I don’t make a habit of it.

2 It could have been worse
The fact is I could have spent an awful lot more. Visiting shops during leisure time is deemed to be an enjoyable hobby by many women and I could have bought a new lippy or mascara and convinced myself it was a little treat. I didn’t. In fact the visit to the department store made me realise how pernicious marketing is. I was overwhelmed with the promises to make me younger, more beautiful, thinner, sexier, more sophisticated and successful in return for outrageous amounts of money. And, while I am on the subject, how can a cushion cost £50? It’s just two bloody squares sewn together!!!!! Like, SERIOUSLY!!!

3 Take Advantage.
During our girly day, we visited a vintage fair. Secreted beneath a Farrah Fawcett Majors thermos flask and a Chewbakka mug, was a beautiful 1970’s floral curtain. £8 for 4 metres of florid exuberance. I have already covered an old chair with it, and intend to use the rest to put together a few cushions that I will sell. Apparently, people will pay £50 for two squares stitched together. Who knows, I may even end up making a profit on the day!

Now, does anyone want to buy a cushion?

Credit Card debt. done and DONE!!

I am very proud to report that this month I have reached two very significant milestones.

Firstly, I have ended the month with no overdraft.

Secondly, I have finally finished paying off the credit card that at it’s worst was £5,000.

*takes applause graciously*

This is a significant achievement. It means that the steps I am putting into place are working, and I can see definate progress.

It also means that I can now begin snowballing. This is the process by which some of the money we were using to service the credit card debt, can now be put towards paying off the remaining loans. Once the loans are paid off, that money can be put towards the mortgage etc. Once the mortgage has been paid off, we can look to spend the kid’s inheritance on one long hedonistic bender!!

So, my sights are now set on paying off a loan in one year rather than the agreed three. Three times as early. Triple-thrift! Can I do it?

Yes I can !!

I have three strategies to get this done. They are not rocket science.

1 put all previous credit card payments to loan
2 continue to budget effectively : no more overdraft EVER!!
3 Put ALL money from side hustles (found money) to the loan.

My next blog will let you know all about my side hustles…what’s worked for me, and what hasn’t.

I’d love to hear how you are taking control of your finances. Please add a comment.. : )

Jacqui