Black to red and back again

Posted June 10th, 2007 by Penny Wise

Sometimes it doesn't matter how hard you try to save money, things just don't go your way. The third week of my month-long $21 Challenge started well enough. Noel's fishing expedition kept us in lunches and dinners for two days and nights and I splashed out on lettuce, tomatoes and cucumber to go with it. Maybe not the cheapest option but a welcome change from all the stodgy winter vegetables we've been having lately! There we were, living off the sea for next to nothing and I was feeling very proud of my hunter-gatherer husband for enabling us to eat so well during what was becoming an ever more challenging mission. This week was going to be a particularly tight one as the mortgage payment was due to go through mid-week and as Wednesday arrived, I thought I had better check the bank account to see whether it had gone through yet. I wasn't looking forward to seeing what little was in there but was hoping for a nice surprise. Instead I just about fell over when to my horror I saw that we were over $900 overdrawn - and the mortgage hadn't even gone through yet! The bank hadn't notified us to let us know we were over, they had simply slapped a $15 fee on for having an 'unarranged overdraft'.

So where had we gone wrong? The annoying thing was, nowhere really. We hadn't spent any money unnecessarily, the reason for us going over was simply due to a lot of bills. The reason I had been so blissfully unaware was simply because I had been so wrapped up in sticking to my $21 Challenge - and doing a great job of it too, it never occurred to me that we wouldn't make it, hence I didn't even get round to checking the bank balance earlier. If I had, I would have had a large reminder of all the bills that get paid automatically via direct debit - ones such as the power bill, which change every month and you never know how much it's going to be. Not to mention my petrol bill. I have a Mobil card through Noel's work and the upside of this is that I always pay Mobil's lowest national price for petrol, regardless of which of their service stations I fill up at. It all adds up to a valuable saving but the downside is it is then automatically debited twice a month and I never have the foggiest how much it's going to be. Thanks to the $21 Challenge I haven't really been going anywhere unless it's an essential trip but when there's nothing in the bank to start with, even the smallest amounts add up. In my own defence, I couldn't have done anything more to prevent us going into overdraft, I was already doing everything I could but if I hadn't stuck my head in the sand over the last couple of weeks at least I may have been spared such a nasty shock - not to mention I could have gone and grovelled to the bank and saved us the $15 fee.

Mercifully, by a huge stroke of luck, it had been a long weekend in NZ and the mortgage went through a day later than usual. By another huge stroke of luck, my wages went in first! I also transferred the $360 I had so far saved with the $21 Challenge from my grocery account and we were back in the black. Not by much and not for long mind, but instead of letting myself get down in the dumps for too long, I decided I should really count my blessings instead. OK, so there's squattley-doo in the bank but we still have our health, not to mention a freezer full of food and plenty of ingredients in the pantry to survive on for a good while yet. I briefly toyed with the idea of stopping the extra $70 a week I started paying a while ago to help pay my car off faster, along with the $10 a week I put into a Christmas account but I talked myself out of it, knowing full well that if I stopped the payments now, I would never get round to starting them again. So I continued as before with the $21 Challenge and until Friday had spent a total of just $9.25 on the salad items and a huge bag of corn chips on special. Once the fish ran out, we had bangers and mash for dinner on Wednesday, chilli beef nachos on Thursday and Naomi B's Tuna Pie from the $21 Challenge Survival Guide on Friday. Last night we had steak and veges and while ferreting around in the freezer yesterday for the steak, I was delighted to find a whole frozen chicken hiding in the icy depths, so there's tonight's dinner and more than likely tomorrow's too!

However, whether I managed to stay within the $21 Challenge boundaries is a matter of opinion, as instead of food for the week I ended up having to buy toothpaste, conditioner, shaving cream and deodorant. Noel has very sensitive skin and even if I had been able to persuade him to use conditioner to shave with instead of shaving cream, we didn't have any of that either! Also, after more than three weeks of filling my dishwasher with salt or laundry powder, my dishwasher was not happy. In fact, it sounded so close to blowing up that I washed the dishes by hand for over a week as we couldn't afford to get a repair man out. Noel never liked me chucking salt in the dishwasher anyway but in the end even I had to admit defeat and since I bought some 'proper' dishwasher powder it has been running properly once again. It was the logical choice in the end, spend a little extra on some dishwasher powder or spend a lot more on getting it repaired - not to mention I wasn't looking forward to telling the repair man I had more than likely stuffed it up myself! So in the end, my total spend for the week was $38.05 but hardly any of that was on food so I'm not sure if it really counts. I refuse to beat myself up about it anyway - us frugals have enough of a dodgy stereotype in the outside world without adding to it by walking around hairy and smelly!

Of course, a real bummer of not having any money is that invariably you see heaps of stuff you want. In the case of our family, it's not really material things we want; more that we want to enjoy more time together doing things. We want to be able to take Ali to see the All Blacks play the Wallabies for his birthday in July and stay overnight in Auckland. We want to be able to go away for a few days or even a week together before Noel starts his busiest time of year work-wise. We want to go and see the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie! With these things in mind, we have set ourselves a new mission. Rainy days (such as today - or pretty much every day at the moment!) are going to be set aside for decluttering. We have SO much stuff that we just don't need and the kids have so many things they no longer play with, just gathering dust. So we have decided to sort everything out, sell or give away everything we no longer want and put any money we make into a 'Family Fun Fund', solely to be used for good times. A bit of sanity money for the family, if you like! Over the past nine months there have been heaps of things we have agreed to go without as a family, in order to pay off our debts faster. However, all work and no play is not good for anyone! The only real rule is, that the Family Fund has to cover whatever we do - if there's not enough in the kitty, we don't do it until there is. The boys are making a start on their toys today and they tell me they're going to be really ruthless. I'll believe it when I see it! In the meantime, it's still another five days until Noel gets paid and I need to work out if I can keep us in the black or whether I am going to have to talk nicely to the bank. Fingers crossed we can make it this time!

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