Bank balance blues

Posted August 29th, 2006 by Penny Wise

Well, I managed to complete the $21 Challenge week within target, spending $16.21 in total. I have to admit I found it quite a bit easier this time – mind you, having no power cuts or flu like the first time did help enormously! By Friday morning the school lunch box situation was looking dire (I did actually go and buy another bag of chippies but decided not to hand them out on principle after Liam pigged the first lot) – so what was I going to feed them? The first lot of muffins had been eaten and I couldn't make another batch as I didn't have any milk until I could get to the shop. Then I remembered my friend Janice's microwave brownie recipe, which didn't contain milk and were still fast enough for me to whip up half an hour before school! Here's the recipe:

Microwave Brownies

2 eggs

1 cup sugar

1 tsp vanilla

100g butter

1 cup flour

¼ cup cocoa

1 tsp baking powder

Beat eggs, sugar and vanilla together. Add melted butter. Stir in the dry ingredients – don't overmix. Spread mixture into a 23cm microwave dish lined with Gladwrap. Microwave on high for five minutes (750 watt – mine's a 1200 watt so four minutes is about right). Take the dish from the microwave as soon as the centre is 'dry' – try not to overcook! Cool in dish and dust with icing sugar and cut into pieces when cold.

The good thing is that if you do end up zapping them a bit too long, you can still turn them into a lovely dessert by warming up and serving with ice cream or cream – yum!

I was pretty pleased with my resourcefulness but by the time I reached the end of the Challenge things were looking terribly bare and a decent shop was in order. I was all set for an enjoyable solo trip to town and thought I had better just check the bank balance first. Boy, did I wish I hadn't! I knew we had been particularly hammered with bills the last couple of months and that things would be tight but they had finally caught up with us – and overtaken! For the first time since I started my Simple Savings journey I was going to have to ring the bank manager and tell her we would be 'going over'. It had been so long since I had to call the bank for anything that I didn't even realise our bank manager had left and been replaced with another – eek, what if she wasn't as nice as the previous one? I was mortified at the thought of being in overdraft – after all, we had spent years living with one and just the thought of having 'OD' on the bank statement evoked some horrible memories.

Noel was pretty unperturbed about the whole thing however – after all, it's not like we squandered everything on luxuries or impulse buys like we used to, was it? Luckily the bank manager agreed and was very sympathetic with my woeful tale of tonsils and vet bills. 'Don't worry about a thing Mrs Wise, you're good customers!' she reassured me. Was I hearing correctly – we were good customers?! Apparently so - she assured us we wouldn't be slapped with any nasty fees for being overdrawn for a couple of weeks until pay day. In fact, I was quite glad I gave her a call, as she informed me that based on our track record over the last year or two we would be better off with a different type of account as we were paying far too much in unnecessary bank fees. As long as we could continue to keep a certain amount in our new account at all times, we wouldn't be charged any fees at all! I was most impressed, but not as impressed as the bank manager was when she asked how much extra money we would need. 'Oh, well none really', I answered. 'It's only just to cover the phone bill when it goes through. I've got enough in my housekeeping account to live on for the next two weeks.' 'Are you sure?' she asked. 'That's excellent – how have you managed that?' 'Well, er – I belong to a money saving website', I explained feebly. I was dying to tell her that in fact I had just fed the family for a week on $16.21, therefore could live off my housekeeping money standing on my head, but I wasn't sure she would have understood! I just thanked goodness that I had chosen that week to do the $21 Challenge, the money I have left in my grocery budget as a result will really see us through this tight period. I've said it before but Barb K, thanks a million for sharing your idea in the first place, you are a gem and I owe you a drink, or even ten – when I can afford it!

Some time ago in a blog that I think was called 'Spend More, Save More?' I was talking about my issues with cheap pots and pans – should I keep spending $20 on cheap Warehouse pots that have to be thrown away in three months, or should I just spend a more considerable amount on a brand that is made to last? I remember finding the Forum discussion that followed very interesting as members were all sharing helpful information on brands they had bought and found to be good. So when Mum and I were in our local hardware store last week and I spotted some 'ScanPan' pots on the shelf, I knew just what I was looking at. 'Oh, those!' said the store owner. 'We've got them on special at the moment, it's a once a year deal they do with us – there's a ten piece set in the window for half price!'. Sure enough, there was an enormous set on display reduced from $999 to $499. Even I had to admit they were pretty impressive as pots go and Mum fell for them straight away. 'They'd be perfect for my bulk cooking – not to mention for the Luncheon Club!' she said as the enormous box was loaded into her car. In case you're thinking $400 is still a bit excessive, bear in mind that just one of these pots alone is usually $129 and Mum now had three pots, a stock pot, a steamer and strainer, a frying pan, a Dutch oven and the biggest roasting dish we had ever seen. Literally no need to ever buy another pan again!

Mum couldn't wait to try her new cookware out, so I wasn't surprised to hear the phone ring a few hours later. 'I've just ruined six meals in my new pot!' she wailed. Mum does a lot of bulk cooking and freezing and she had just made a huge chicken and vegetable casserole in one of her new pots, which she had planned to divide into six individual frozen meals. She had made it all up and cooked slowly in her new Dutch oven, but was aghast when she took it out of the oven, lifted the glass lid – and the entire lid shattered and fell into her casserole, leaving her holding just the handle! An expensive mishap, wasting an entire bag of chicken pieces and a heap of vegetables. 'I'll have to chuck the whole lot' she sighed, 'it's full of glass shards!'. I went back through the Forum to find the thread I wanted and read up some more about ScanPan. Most members had a lifetime guarantee with theirs, so I rang Mum back and told her to dig out the instructions she got with the pans. Sure enough, she had one too – all she had to do was take it back to the place of purchase. I was really glad I checked the Forum, and she was too! The store owner was so embarrassed and contacted ScanPan straight away. Not only does Mum get a replacement lid, she also gets a complimentary bottle of wine from the store owner by means of apology! Yay for the Forum!

Talking of the Forum, have you seen the new one? It looks fantastic doesn't it? Even easier to read and navigate and there are a staggering range of topics 'on the go' – the only thing is, as one member pointed out 'you can see who the real SS addicts are!' So true, I have to restrain myself, although I am making a real effort not to let the family catch me in the first place! Ali still won't reveal the whereabouts of his iPod, but it's probably just as well as last time I used it was to listen to the show Fiona did with Sue Dengate about food additives a couple of weeks ago. I was in the supermarket at the time and it was making me hyper-critical in the fruit and vegetable aisles as I scrutinised them all for salicylates – then again, it was probably a good thing to listen to as it really kept the amount of 'rubbish food' I bought to a minimum! Fran Sheffield's show with Fiona last week was also really interesting, all about the history of Homeopathy and the way it works to treat the body – fascinating stuff!

The Morning Drill is still going well and I am proud to say I have kept my end of the bargain and as a result I have even had time to put my make-up on and look half respectable before taking the kids to school in the morning. Liam tells me he doesn't care what I look like as he nags me to get out the door in the mornings, but it makes me feel sooo much better – I was sick of being the scruffiest Mum at the school gates! It's been a while since I wore make-up on a regular basis, so I was a bit perturbed to find that I was running out of foundation and mascara. None of which are particularly cheap to buy, so I decided to try a Vault trick and cut the end off my foundation tube. I couldn't believe how much was in there, clinging to the sides – at least two more week's worth, and I almost threw it away! I decided to purge the bathroom cupboard and drawers to see what else I could find and was chuffed to find there was a whole box of stuff stashed away – I wouldn't need to buy anything for ages! I put my new-found box of tricks on top of the bathroom vanity to remind myself to use them in the morning. Bad idea. Although who would have predicted it? As the mother of two sons I have never had any real need to keep my girly things hidden. It's not like they are going to want to use them! Where girls are concerned most of them fall largely into the 'hideous' category according to 10 year old Liam. Not so my youngest. I was appalled to see Ali post-bath parading down the stairs last night in his undies with 'TIFFANI' emblazoned across his chest in bright pink. 'Oh heck, did you use my lipstick?' I groaned. 'Liam did it!' he nodded, too beside himself with laughter to answer. Ali has had a crush on Tiffani from Room 4 for some time and was most upset when I told him to go and wash off the evidence. 'Aww, but Mum I really like her – and she really likes pink!' he protested. 'Well couldn't you just write her a note?' I reasoned, 'it would have been much cheaper than using my lipstick as a crayon!' 'Tut – you and your Simple Savings Mum!' he grumbled as he stomped back up the stairs. Why do they have to grow up so fast? I much preferred it when he was obsessed with penguins!

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