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.

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?

I would do anything for thrift….but I won’t do THAT!!

I wrote in my last blog about how much I am enjoying developing new skills that have enabled me to save a little bit of money. These have included grooming the dog, building a bike shed, and mending a loo seat. Heavens, I have even cut my own hair this week.

However, I have realized that there are some things I am simply not prepared to compromise. However much they cost, and despite the fact that hard cord thrifters may consider me to be a rookie lightweight, I am simply not prepared to budge on these important essentials.

In no particular order these are:

Eyebrow shaping
A well groomed brow takes years off a woman. Better than Botox, more effective than a facial. I have tried plucking. OW! I only got as far as completing one before taking to my bed with a migraine. I have tried home waxing, but ended up with a slightly perplexed lopsided expression. So, threading at my local salon it is, even though they look down on me like I am some kind of unkempt bag lady when I walk in. Clearly, not their usual class of customer.

Dog poo bags
Yes yes, I know. Hardy thrifters use pound shop nappy bags. But you can see the poo through them!! ARGGhHhH!!!! And, even worse, you can FEEL the poo through them!! No. No. No. I need industrial strength poo bags with the approximate thickness and transparency of a yoga mat. Thank you. I knew you would understand.

My dentist
He is not NHS. He is a private practitioner. I know that the standard of treatment given by the NHS is second to none and as could save myself a small fortune by transferring to another dentist. But I am not blessed with strong teeth, and I have a real fear of that chair. He is the only man who has ever managed to fill my molars without having to knock me out first. He is really kind and gentle and I trust him, so he stays.

My hobby

I sing in a choral society that has pretty hefty membership and show fees. Getting there involves quite a drive, and so there are petrol costs. There are lots of free choirs nearer my home that I could easily join. But over the years I have made many good friends, and joining together for a good old sing is balm for the soul. The benefits for mental well being have been proved by science and everything. So singing stays! Tra la la.

What are you not prepared to compromise?

Lots of love

Thrifty Ninja

The Shitty Side of Make Do and Mend

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I have to admit, I get more than a little peeved with the modern rose tinted take on ‘Make Do and Mend’.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not wasteful, and I try to get as much life out of every item as I possibly can.   

What I particularly dislike is the rebranding of previous generations of Make Do and Menders as happy, rosy cheeked, chirpy, patriotic types who sewed for victory and never complained. This image suits modern marketers who want us to spend our modern disposable incomes on trying to recreate the frugality of 1940’s by buying mountains of retro fabric, buttons, crochet hooks and new sewing machines.  

I grew up in a family who through necessity made do and mended, and I can honestly say that it was pretty shitty. 

The memories of my childhood are not of Mum merrily whistling as she craftily fashioned my 70’s flares into an A line skirt. The lack of money was  a constant source of tension, and discord between my Mum and Dad. My memories are of my Mum’s angry tears as she discovered Dad had stored engine parts in the oven (to warm them up for some reason) or had spilled battery acid on the work surfaces. I remember that the twin tub leaked every wash day, and the spin cycle was a bit erratic. We would subsequently have to endure a long walk to the launderette with sacs of wet washing. I remember that our house was pretty much held together with pollyfiller and duct-tape and was very very cold.  Apart from the time the airing cupboard set on fire due to some faulty wiring.  It was warm then. 

Cars were usually the main source of tension, as we could not afford to take them to a garage to be mended.  Every morning we would have to push the car down the hill and jump start it, then drive round the estate like boy racers to get the battery charged. At traffic lights and junctions one had to keep the revs very high in case of stalling. Nearby pedestrians would flee, thinking you were about to mow them down.  I even had to to do this during my driving test. 

When one car finally gave up the ghost, Dad, convinced he would have to pay someone to take it away, made our drive his own personal breakers yard.  Armed with a hammer and a saw, he reduced the car to tiny pieces, lovingly saving parts that he could use for spares.  All of which caused my Mum to have an actual breakdown, flee to a hostel, and refuse to come back until he removed all traces of the wreckage. 

So, as I grew up, not surprisingly, I began to think of being able to pay an ‘expert’ some ‘money’ to do things for me, as desirable. Car not working?- take it to a garage and someone will fix it. No tears.  Washing machine broken?  Buy a new one!  No hassle. Decorating needs doing?  Fine – I’ll see if any friends can recommend someone good. Dog looking a bit scruffy?  Book him in at the groomers.  

I see that this habit has cost me a lot of money over the years, and actually I have more skills than I think I do. 

So, whilst I am not whistling a merry tune and hanging out the bunting – I have done a few things for myself recently that have saved me a few pennies.

1 I groomed my own dog! With scissors and clippers, and he didn’t look too bad.

2 I put up a curtain pole.  With a drill.  Go me!

3 I have replaced the seal on the washing machine. 

4 I mended a wobbly toilet seat. With a screwdriver (yes, really I would have asked someone to do that for me)

Little steps I know. But important ones none the less. And as the months go by, I am sure there will be more things that I will learn to do for myself. 

Better go – I must dig for victory. I’d love to hear of things you now do that you used to pay someone else to do….

 

Jacqui xx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

You say potato…..I say….Can you get that cheaper?

My husband and I are very different people and 99 per cent of the time, this is a very good thing. We are like salt and pepper, he is the Yin to my Yang and all of that.

When it comes to our attitudes towards money however, we are so different that it can sometimes quite difficult to reconcile our views. We have worked hard to come up with a coherent and workable financial plan, and one that won’t end up with a visit to a divorce lawyer.

Our difference in attitude has been perfectly illustrated by a little incident that has happened on our holidays this week. Before I share with you, I should just like to point out that neither of us are “right” or “wrong”. I’m not sharing this to point out how wonderful I am, or how terrible he is, or vice versa.

So, what happened?

The zip on his Samsonite suitcase broke.

Is that it? I hear your collective disappointment.

Yes. Really. That’s it.

My initial response was to fiddle with the zip a bit (whilst pulling my best zip expert face) and assert that it’s still functioning well enough, and since it is hand luggage it will never be out of our sight and so there is probably a good 3 or 4 trips left in it. And we have several hand luggage sized suitcases to use when it ultimately and inevitably takes a trip to its final destination, suitcase heaven. If we ever really do need another small suitcase, we can pick up a good one from TK Maxx for about £20.

His response was to spend several hours meticulously researching hand luggage on the internet and he found the ideal replacement for £200. His justification is that he flies frequently with work, and so needs something that is up to the job, will last a long time, and very importantly, looks professional. (Such a shame that this is one of his criteria, as I found a great Spider-man one on Ebay for £5!).

Impasse. He will not be moved. Several lengthy and heated discussions ensue, and eventually, he reluctantly finds another suitcase that will do, for £90.

Now, in his mind, he has already sacrificed himself to our thrifty cause to the tune of £110. He has ‘saved’ £110. To my mind, £90 is still more than the £20 I would spend, and therefore he is about to ‘waste’ £70.

I see the £70 as a sum of money we now can’t use somewhere else. He believes that there is no point in working if you can’t buy nice things with your money. I do kind of agree here. Who doesn’t like nice things? But I really don’t view a suitcase as a nice thing.

Neither of us is right or wrong, but what to do?

There really is no point in arguing, it is only a suitcase after all. Ultimately, this single purchase will not send us spiralling to financial ruin. The fact that we are discussing this purchase with each other is a very good thing. Good financial management involves making these micro-decisions every day, and each one won’t make us or ruin us. As long as we keep our eyes on the bigger picture then I am sure that all will be well.

And at least I can be confident that I will never find myself in the embarrassing position of having to retrieve my underwear from the floor of some departure lounge!!

Does this ring any bells with you? I would love to hear from you, so please feel free to comment.

Supporting Teens to Realise their Financial Dreams

This blog was started not so long ago with the intention of merrily charting how my husband and I went about saving a sum of money to go on an adventure holiday with our three teen children. Easy! That’ll make an interesting read I thought. I can chart our travel research and our saving tips.

First things first, as we surveyed our finances, we realised that we are carrying quite a lot of debt, and so my attention quickly turned to how we should pay it off. I like a challenge, I’ve made a plan, and I am confident it will be done. No worries.

Now, as we know, life is what happens when you are making other plans, and whilst my head has been buried in budgets, travel research and side hussling, one of my lovely boys has been offered the opportunity of a trip of a lifetime to Tanzania, with an organisation called World Challenge. The project aims to build young people’s personal and social responsibility through a combination of physical challenges, and participating in charitable projects.

I am genuinely thrilled for him, and pleased that he has signed up for it so wholeheartedly. In order to go, he needs to raise nearly £3000 over the course of a year. The organisers are keen to emphasise that the young people need to raise this sum for themselves, and that it isn’t gifted by parents. (No chance of that! Ha ha!) It is a brilliant way of teaching them about resourcefulness, entrepreneurship, deferring gratification, and ultimately, financial literacy.

We have jointly worked up a list of ways he can make the £3k, which include services to friends and neighbours such as babysitting, gardening, and teaching the family elders to use computers (he is very patient). He is a great baker, and intends to join me at car boot sales selling cakes. Car washing, bag packing, and organising a party are all on his list. I have encouraged him to think of the £3k as 600 x £5. This makes it feel more manageable. He has made a chart with 600 little squares on his wall to plot his progress. He has researched the best bank account that will give him the best rate of interest.

In short, I have no doubts that he will achieve his goal.

Which is a bit of a bittersweet realisation for me, as I have to acknowledge that his travel dreams are not the same as mine. He is a young man about to enter the world in his own terms. The Tanzania trip will take place during the window that I had earmarked for our family adventure.

My wish was for us all to have one long family holiday together before my children grew up. It seems I am too late. They are grown up. And I could not be prouder.

Budget Holidays with Teens…

Budget Holidays with Teens

We had to think long and hard about whether taking a fortnight’s holiday was allowable within our current financial constraints. Would taking a holiday just involve wasting money we don’t have?

On balance we decided that we should, because, life being life, we may never actually manage to take our intended sabbatical next year, regardless of whether we manage to save the money (more on this later).

Everyone needs a chance to kick back and relax. We haven’t managed a full two week family vacation for over 5 years. This has been mainly due to husband having set factory shut downs which have not corresponded with school holidays, or have clashed with children’s exams, race fixtures (my son is a runner) my work, or other unbreakable family commitments.

This year, the hubster has been able to take two weeks off, over the Easter holiday!!! We have no weddings to go to, no exams to be sat (although both lads have bought mountains of text books to revise for exams when they return) no important races to compete in, and no house renovations to be done. This may never happen again, and so the decision was taken, and we are now settled in a lovely little house on the Bodrum peninsular in Turkey.

Bliss.

Two sunny weeks with which to do… not very much.

We still need to be conscious of the pennies though, and I think we have managed to get here very reasonably indeed, with change from £1500 for flights and accommodation for five of us. Not bad eh?

Here are some of the ways I have managed to minimize my financial guilt trip!

1. Check the age the airline charges ‘adult’ prices from. We managed to get my 13 y/o a child’s priced airfare by shopping around.
2. Don’t think you have to fly there and back with the same airline. We saved quite a bit by flying with 2 airlines.
3. Some airlines accept Clubcard points or airmiles. We have taken £150 off the cost of the flights.
4. Watch the extras, and pack carefully. At £20 a bag, hold luggage is expensive, and £6 each for advance check in, these extras all add up. Don’t feel pressurised. We have managed to get everything in hand luggage and one hold bag, which admittedly contains mainly text books for revision. Without impending exams, we could probably have done without hold luggage altogether.
5. Cashback. We have managed to get Cashback on our airport parking and our holiday insurance from http://www.topcashback.co.uk/home
6. Like many large families with teens, hotel accommodation just doesn’t work for us. We need a house or apartment, and we have found that Airbnb offers great accommodation at very reasonable prices. Basically, the concept is that people put up their own properties for rent while they themselves are on holiday or not using it. The choice ranges from “pretty basic” to “OMG That’s a castle”. We are currently situated in a three bed house, a little away from the main holiday resort, but with the most amazing view over the bay, all for just under £600. Check out http://www.airbnb.com/ for some ideas.

I intend to check out houseswopping for future holidays, and am currently working up an Airbnb listing for my own house, to try and make a bit of extra money in the school holidays.

I’d love to hear how you have saved money on your family holidays…

Ta at speak later xxx

Mother’s Day…groan..

This Sunday is Mothers Day.

I have a real problem with Mother’s Day. Not the idea of celebrating motherhood; of course we deserve a special day all to ourselves. But I have a massive problem with the endless adverts telling me what I REALLY want for Mothers Day. They tell me that I should not be happy unless I have received some form of indulgent pamper package, a massive bouquet, and a weekend away. And some hair straighteners. And smilier, frecklier kids. Anything less is a poor show, quite frankly.

Of course, the implication is that if we do not spend buckets of cash on our Mothers, we do not love them. It is also a triple spending whammy, as not only am I being told I need to spend oodles on Mum, and Mum -in-law in order to prove my love and respect, but also my husband (ie. me really, as it’s a joint account) should spend a fortune on buying presents on behalf of the kids. Like they really actually care.

What I REALLY want, is, well, nothing. I will genuinely be more than happy with a nice card, some daffs, and for the kids to cook Sunday lunch and wash everything up. Without arguing. Likewise, when the kids were younger, just a ‘day off’ from chores, and a chance to go to the loo alone were hugely appreciated.

Of course, the advertisers realise that this is actually, probably, what the majority of women really want, and so they have engaged in a game of double bluff with the men-folk. “Don’t trust women when they say they don’t want anything” they shout. “She will never forgive you” “Women always say one thing and mean another”.

Which as we all know, is mysogenistic claptrap.

Honey, if I say I don’t want a gift, I really don’t.

Here are some things I really would like for Mother’s Day, and they are all free:

A lie in
No washing up
No laundry
Cups of tea on demand
A trip to somewhere beautiful to walk the dog, preferably with sunshine
Some home made biscuits or other delicious thing
The chores to be done, as if by a magical fairy
To hear that I am loved and appreciated.

Xxx. Happy Mothers Day to all you wonderful Mums out there. I’d love to hear how you will be celebrating Xxx

 

 

 

Month One: Nasty medicine…

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Month One

So, here’s a little monthly review. Hope it’s not too dull! I promise that this will not be a blog detailing every penny I have spent. Everyone’s families and lives are so dissimilar, I don’t know how that would be helpful, or particularly interesting!

So far things are going well -ish. Taking a long hard look at our finances has been a difficult process but I am positive that having done so, we can move forward. I know where we are, where we need to get to, and I have put in place interim targets to ensure we keep moving forward.

Owning up to a debt is probably a bit like being told you have a serious illness. There is some disbelief and denial involved, before you finally realize that you just have to take your medicine. Or ‘suck it up and deal with it’ as a good friend of mine says.

Having spoken to many friends and family about what we are trying to achieve, it has become very apparent to me that we are not alone. Most of my friends are also carrying debt. Some are worried. Some are not. One amazing friend told me how she found herself £7k in debt after unexpectedly becoming an unemployed single mother. Prior to her becoming single, she hadn’t viewed the debt as a problem. It was just something she lived with. It was only when her circumstances radically changed, that it became a problem. This fabulous amazing woman, in circumstances that would floor mere mortals, took stock, and took action. She is one of the savviest women I know, and I shall be picking her brains for tips.

But it’s an interesting thought; how many people if they found themselves in a life changing situation tomorrow would be in a financial stable place? We certainly wouldn’t, and Step-Change believes that one in ten of us would need to borrow within a week if we lost our jobs.

So, in order to get ourselves sorted, very simplistically, we need to spend less than we earn. YES! This is exactly like rocket science. But just like trying to lose weight, just knowing that you have to eat fewer calories than you burn, doesn’t magically make it happen.

To lose the weight of our debt, we need to 1) develop money mindfulness 2) spend less 3) earn more.

Mindfulnes.

I am trying to think of every decision I make as having a financial consequence. Not just purchasing ‘goods and services’ but in every day actions such as using the tumble drier, or putting the kettle on. Having considered the consequence, I am then free to make a choice. A bit mentally exhausting at first, but I’m in the habit now, and it’s having some amazing results. Best of all, I haven’t banned myself from anything, I am still free to choose to do whatever I like. But it is surprising how many decisions are made through habit and association. Such as getting a coffee from a certain coffee shop, or chatting on the home phone when I still have free minutes in my mobile. And how many times I boil the kettle, and then forget to make the tea!
2 Spending less
Good news on the energy front. I am a bit neche, and so have the heating on a timer. We have decided to put it on, only when I feel cold, instead of “because I might get cold” I have also been submitting weekly meter readings, so that I can track what we are using, and keeping a close eye on the energy monitor. Result? We have cut our usage by one third, and as we are coming to the end of a fixed rate deal, I have been able to negotiate a reduction of £40 per month off our energy bills. I expect this to come down further once our changes have had longer to bed in.

Other notable savings this month have been gained from

Making Mother’s Day gifts and birthday gifts (tutorial available) saving £60
Using a mobile hairdresser for family haircuts saving £15 per trip
Reviewing direct debits, subscriptions etc £15 per month
Reviewing Phone contracts saving £10 per month
Monthly food shop…. £250. Really proud of this!

3. Earn a bit more

We haven’t quite got into the swing of this yet. As a freelancer working in education, my earnings are a bit up and down. Over the year, it averages out at a good salary, but there are times when I have a fair bit of downtime, such as school holidays. When my children were young I really valued this time with them, but now they are older, I don’t need to worry about childcare, so my aim is to seek more contracts to fill the summer holiday void. So far, I have picked up some workshop delivery at the local library, and some assessment work. This will definately help with the cash flow.

Other income

Ebay….a bit….we really need to get into the loft and get rid of some junk! Made £120 this month though, just selling a few coats and children’s clothes, so not bad. That’s straight towards the credit card debt.

Car boot sale. I used to love doing these in years gone by, before Ebay even existed, and can’t wait to get my pasting table out again. I’ve buddied up with a friend, picked a date next month, when it’s a bit warmer (told you I was neche) and I will let you know how I do.

Better go. There’s a loft waiting for me to rummage around in.. Xx