The Recession Challenge

Posted November 2nd, 2008 by Penny Wise

Good grief the boys are growing up! Ali absolutely loves his new school and the phone rings constantly these days with invites to go and play. His best friend Ellis lives in town and for a child who has always lived in the middle of nowhere, Ali loves the independence of being able to do things with Ellis that other kids often take for granted, like being able to walk to Mr Patel's for a bar of chocolate. Although it's probably just as well we don't live within walking distance of the shops otherwise Ali would be permanently broke, not to mention overweight. It amazes me how many kids I see walking through town to school every day clutching a two-litre bottle of Coke and tucking into a pie at eight o' clock in the morning. Every one of them is grossly obese and are the same kids you see buying another pie on the way home from school, or hanging around the local fish and chip chop. These are the unfortunate offspring of Sad Sally parents, who instead of giving them a decent breakfast or school lunch, send their kids off with money to buy whatever junk they need to get them through the day. Ironically, they are all lower income families who are throwing away a fortune on crap each day when they really can't afford to. It's such a big problem in our area that the Lions club started a breakfast programme in a couple of local schools several years ago. They regularly donate bread, cereal and toast toppings so when kids are sent out from home with empty tummies, they can come in before school and the teachers will make them some toast or a bowl of cereal. The teachers support it whole-heartedly as the children's behaviour and ability to learn is so much better when they have food in their tummies. This programme has been a huge success for several years now at the primary schools. Unfortunately when the kids reach secondary school they're on their own again and it's back to the old bad habits. Such a shame.

I'm glad - and I have to say proud - that my kids are not one of these. At 12 Liam is growing at an alarming rate and is now officially taller than me - eek, I thought that sort of thing didn't happen for at least a few more years! He has recently fallen into the trap many kids his age fall into - the lure of the mobile phone. Actually to be fair he's had one for quite some time and has never even run out of credit until recently but now more of his friends have got their own mobiles, that's all changed. We always know where Liam is these days because loud beeping noises are constantly emitted from his pocket. It's a real bone of contention with Noel, who while he has no control over other people's kids wasting their money, cannot bear to see his own son throwing his hard earned pocket money away; particularly when he and most of his mates can actually call each other for free using a regular phone! Liam has fast learned that a $20 top-up doesn't last very long if you don't use it wisely and now asks himself 'do I have to text this now or can it wait until I see them in person?' Nine times out of ten, it can wait.

A very sensible lesson learned - and one I also needed a reminder of! Years ago I had a mobile phone on contract but I switched to pre-pay as it was costing me $80 a month for something I hardly used. This has worked out really well until recent months but these days I use it all the time. I realised to my horror the other day that I had topped up twice in less than 48 hours, spending a total of $40 that week and $50 the week before! 'This pre-pay lark isn't working for me any more, I'll have to go back to contract', I grumbled to Noel. 'Jeez, how many texts and calls are you making then?' he said, aghast. 'Gimme that phone here!' On closer inspection we could see quite easily how all that money had disappeared. Sometimes I was sending up to 10 texts a day to the same person! All you need is a few of those to your mates and there's $20 out the window. Obviously there were quite a few calls in there as well but it was a real wake-up - er - call! Basically it made me realise that using my mobile was working out to an average of $2 every time I used it! 'You Sad Sally you!' chided Noel, who was of course right. My mobile had become far too convenient for me. I love texting because it doesn't take up as much time as talking on the phone, which takes time away from my family. However, looking at most of the texts I had sent, it would have been easier to pick up the phone most of the time, not to mention free! Doh!

A costly mistake for Penny the Plonker but that's all about to change. I am proud to announce our new family money saving project, which we are calling 'THE RECESSION CHALLENGE'. Wow - I've never been so excited about a recession before! It's thanks to Fiona, once again. Her article 'invest in your life' in the October newsletter is brilliant. Even though we already do most of the things which she said need to be done to cope with the recession, it still made me go 'WOAH! OK, let's see how well we can get through this!' We are so fortunate to already have these skills that so many others sadly lack - we know how to garden, we know how to cook, we know how to slash our living costs when we need to. Let's stop taking these skills for granted and REALLY make them work for us. Go hard out, just like in No Spend Month - but this time it's for keeps. No more bad habits are allowed to sneak back in! Noel has recently begun reading my blog for the first time ever . He's started from the very beginning and in between falling about laughing at some of the things I've 50c soup recipe means that we can all continue to eat well for very little money but just as important for me; it also means that by saving money on my grocery bill, we will still be able to afford to pay $40 each for the kids' summer cricket, $90 each for their swimming lessons and a new uniform for Ali who has just joined cub scouts.

One thing which is already saving us heaps of money is our newly-named and much-loved 'Cuddling Chair'! I bought Noel a comfy reclining chair for his birthday back in September. It was a real bargain and is something he has always wanted. Technically this was intended as a 'Dad Only' chair but we recently discovered that we can both fit in it very comfortably! So this has become our evening ritual - once the kids are in bed, we both snuggle up on the cuddling chair and talk. The only problem with this is that it's SO cosy that we both fall asleep in minutes but we came to the conclusion that it's actually a very good money saver. We drink far less wine because we either fall asleep or are too comfy to be bothered going and refilling our glasses. We go to bed earlier too, because we're already sleepy so this saves us heaps in electricity to power lights, TV, computers and so on, not to mention it also saves us using more firewood. However, we've decided that we had better stay well out of the chair on rugby nights in future. We couldn't wait to watch the All Blacks play the Wallabies live from Hong Kong on Saturday night. We waited impatiently until 9.30pm for the game to start and... slept through the whole thing, didn't even make it past the National Anthem. Disastrous!

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