Posted August 31st, 2010 by Penny Wise

Aug 31, 2010

What an eventful week it's been! Not all of it good I have to admit. Big news is we sold our house! Unfortunately it got unsold again the next day as they decided they would withdraw their offer until a builder's report had been carried out. Which of course they have every right to do - we just have to try and be patient until the weekend and keep our fingers and toes crossed. Which will be hard for Liam and Ali with a broken thumb and two broken toes respectively. I told you it had been an eventful week! On the positive side, we did save ourselves thousands of dollars in the blink of an eye - or rather a phone call.

You see, we've been a bit down in the dumps lately. I don't know whether it's due to the weeks of unrelenting rain, or just the stress of trying to sell our house but we all just feel down. Down doobie-doo down down. So down in fact that we decided to throw caution to the wind and head for the Gold Coast for a couple of weeks. The guys have been dying to go back there since we went two years ago and I would love to go and experience all the things I missed out on last time when I had a raging case of the flu. There were only two things stopping us. Common sense and fear. Fear of flying on my part but most of all fear of debt. It's something Noel and I have been talking about a bit lately. Almost every day we come across people who complain about having no money and how hard their life is. It's pretty hard to be sympathetic however when they announce in the next breath that they're going overseas for a few weeks. 'I don't get it', Noel said. 'We have money in the bank, yet we don't go on holiday because we feel we can't afford it! How on earth do you do that when you have no money?' Simple. You just stick your head in the sand, pretend that you can afford it and put the whole lot on your credit card.

We could do that too, if we wanted. Just the other day Noel received a letter happily announcing that he had a pre-approved new credit card limit of $20,000. All we had to do was pick up the phone. But we didn't, because we hate being in debt. We're scared of it. After years of having no money, we're terrified of the thought of overdrafts or massive credit card debts. We just can't bring ourselves to be ostriches. We could go on holiday tomorrow and pay cash for it if we wanted but we've learned over the years that you never know what's round the corner. Call us old fashioned but we like keeping our money safe in the bank for a rainy day. All the same, for a brief moment we did run with the idea of going away for the whole school holidays. The kids certainly didn't need any persuading and I couldn't help thinking to myself 'Life's too short. If I was to kick the bucket before I turned 40, at least I would have had a memorable couple of weeks of fun and sunshine before I croaked.' Plus it would be absolute heaven to get away from the house and all the incessant cleaning for a while.

'Stuff it! Let's do it!' we said after umm-ing and ahh-ing for several days. 'Other people do it, so can we!' We knew exactly where we wanted to stay; at the Mari Court Resort in Surfers Paradise. Noel was put in charge of getting the best deal on flights, accommodation, rental cars and so on and we would then sit down and do our sums. No sooner had he clicked on Wotif than the phone rang. Out of the blue, a couple had seen our house on the Internet and loved it. They wanted to come down and buy it - today! There was just one obstacle. They were well short of the asking price and the bank wouldn't give them a cent more. But they didn't have to sell their own property first and wanted to move as soon as possible. For us, that was the clincher. We already think of Whangamata as home; all we wanted was to get there. At (almost!) any price. Once again we did our sums. We were going to have to ask the bank to increase our mortgage. It was a big drop but we could do it. We were Simple Savers for goodness sake! Not only could we manage, we could do it with our hands tied behind our backs. So the wheels were set in motion, albeit for a blissfully short time before they were brought to a halt again.

All we can do for now is wait and hope but if there is one thing we learned from the exercise it is that no, we cannot afford to take a holiday. If this sale goes through we are going to need every cent we can get. Yesterday I had to do something I haven't done in longer than I can remember. I had to go to the bank and grovel to them to borrow money. We wanted to be sure that if the buyers did come up trumps, we were free to be able to go ahead and buy our much-wanted house in Whangamata. Noel was completely unruffled. 'Of course they'll lend it to us!' he assured me. 'Our mortgage is the only debt we have. Even with the new increase, it's still a tiny mortgage compared to most people's these days!' I wished I could be as confident. I also wished he was coming with me. The lady at the bank was very nice and laughed politely at all my jokes but I was still terrified. What is it about asking banks for money that always makes you feel like a criminal, even when you've done nothing wrong? Over the years, we've had nice bank managers and horrible bank managers. The nicest one was a delightfully jolly bloke but he did us more harm than good. We knew we could bowl in at any time and instead of simply agreeing to the $5000 overdraft we wanted, he would blithely say 'Sure, no worries! Tell you what, how about I give you $10,000 just to be on the safe side?'

He was the kind of bank manager most people only dream of. So it came as a heck of a shock when he was replaced by a serious chap called Darren Brooks, who was branch manager of the BNZ at the time. Darren was mean. At the time we thought he was horrible but of course now we can see that he was brilliant. He saw we were in one heck of a mess and knew the only way to prevent us from getting worse was to be impossibly tough on us. He refused to lend us a single cent. He was the first one to point out to us that a) we were on a bloody good income and b) we wasted most of it. 'You're outgoings are huge!' he said, horrified. This was the beginnings of my Sad Sally wake up call. OK, I got it. I was crap with money. But even though I knew it, I didn't know what to DO about it. It took a few more years and Fiona and Matt to create Simple Savings to teach me that!

Anyway, as bank managers go, the lady I met yesterday was very nice but I still found the whole ordeal torturous. We went through every single itty bitty expense from our monthly power bill to how much petrol I put in my car each week. I couldn't help laughing however when she asked how much we spent on food each week and I told her I could get it down to as little as $21 some weeks. I honestly don't think she realised I was serious! After what seemed like an eternity later she bashed out some figures on her calculator and asked us how soon we needed the money. I was gobsmacked. Things have obviously changed since I last had to ask the bank for money! Gone are the days of having to get two signatures and then having to mail the forms back to the bank sit and wait for the loan to be approved. There is one thing that hasn't changed though. I still HATE having to ask for money!

I arrived home to find that Noel's credit card statement had been delivered in the mail. Noel doesn't actually use his card; it's solely so we can use it for online shopping. I've since swapped it for a Visa debit card so that the money now comes straight out of the bank. I love it, it's so liberating and I feel a lot more in control of my money than using a credit card. However, there was still last month's transactions to pay off and with both the boys' birthdays falling during this period I was not looking forward to seeing the grand total of how much I had spent in black and white. I opened the envelope in fear and trepidation and... found I was $15 in credit! Don't you love surprises like that!

So no more credit cards for me, woohoo! That's one debt I'll never have to have hanging over my head again but I haven't forgotten how horrible it feels. I feel very fortunate that we have eliminated them from our lives because I know there are a lot of people who can't. We had a huge reponse to a recent Hint of the Week entitled 'Wise up on credit card interest and save thousands'. As soon as it was sent out the emails started coming in thick and fast and opinions were clearly divided into two camps. The first camp was aggressive and accusing. 'Who has that much credit card debt? Or more than one credit card?' 'Credit cards are a waste of money! People should just spend less.' 'How can you call this a Simple Savings hint? Simple Savers would never dream of having $15,000 in credit card debt!' The second camp's response was simple and quite different. 'Thank you. This hint is a lifesaver'. 'The lady who sent in this hint deserves a medal'. 'Huge thanks. What a wonderful tip.' You see, Simple Savers DO have debts. Lots of them. That's why they're here. I almost had heart failure a couple of years ago when I racked up $3000 on my credit card. Then I read about other members who had credit card debts of $30,000 and $40,000 and realised how lucky I was. But it's not about the size of the debt. And it's not about apportioning blame or pointing the finger. It doesn't matter how people got into debt. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have a Darren Brooks to stand in their way and say 'no more'. What's done is done. The important thing is that they're trying to get OUT of it. So here's a salute to all the ostriches who have bravely pulled their heads out of the sand and are sticking their heads in the Vault instead!

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