One week down in No Spend Month already and I have to admit, mine is going really, really well! I can honestly say, hand on heart that I have not spent a cent on anything non-essential and it feels great! Every little thing makes me stop and think before doing anything that could possibly cause me to spend money. I have been a lot better about using the car less, combining trips to make the most of each journey, or often simply finding another alternative so that I end up not needing to go out at all. All those silly little naughty habits one often does without thinking, such as driving between shops rather than walking, or buying a snack or drink when out have all gone out of the window because quite simply I refuse to let myself down or break my No Spend Month commitment. Honestly, what is it about No Spend Month which just magically heightens your consciousness when it comes to wasting money? I honestly feel like I have it tattooed on my forehead at the moment! I wonder what I can do to make sure it stays there for the rest of the year? Perhaps I could ask Fiona if we can make EVERY month in the 2015 calendar a No Spend Month!
Anyway, suffice to say so far I'm going along great guns, which is just as well as January ended up being a bit of a 'Mensis Horriblis' in our house. Liam has always had issues with his vision, being almost blind in one eye (although his good eye has always more than made up for it!) however he was concerned as his vision seemed to be getting worse. I thought I should probably do something about this before school went back so off we went to the optometrist and left an hour later clutching a bunch of Vision Plan forms to enable me to pay off the $1,400 worth of glasses and contact lenses he needed in order to be able to read in class and catch a cricket ball out of it. This left me feeling mildly depressed to say the least but hey, we do only get one pair of eyes in a lifetime after all! Not much I could do about it and Liam quite likes being compared to Superman's alter-ego Clark Kent in his new specs!
Unfortunately this also brought my attention to another pressing matter however. For the past year Ali has been waiting to get braces - $6,000 worth of them. Unfortunately for the poor chap his parents have been far too busy trying to sort their own lives out for the last goodness knows how long and whilst it was possible to pay the treatment off over 18 months, somehow I never managed to be able find a spare $2,000 for the initial deposit. Much as Ali understood, he was still a bit miffed about not being able to get his teeth fixed and I knew that when he found out about his brother getting his eyesight sorted, he would not be impressed. Ali, bless his heart has had very little over the past year compared to the 17 year old car-driving-school-ball-suit-wearing-overseas-rugby-playing-school-trip-snowboarding Liam and he flipping well deserved those braces! I made it my mission to try and get them for him no matter what and rang the orthodontist to see if there was any way we could achieve them. The receptionist I spoke to was also the orthodontist's wife and a mother herself. Straight away she understood our predicament and explained not to feel bad or embarrassed, that this affects many families. Basically, the $2,000 was just a nice, round ballpark figure they used but they were open to suggestions - whatever deposit I felt I could manage they were willing to look at and arrange the payments and terms accordingly. She was so lovely and understanding and I was ever so grateful but even so, I hung up the phone feeling deflated. Whatever deposit I could manage? That was nothing - WINZ wouldn't help and we had absolutely nothing to spare. There was only one thing left I could do - I had to go to the boys' dad and ask for help.
I know what you're probably thinking - 'Why didn't she do that before? The boys are half his too!' and yes, you're right but while my skin isn't as thick as a rhino's, my pride is. I wanted to be able to manage everything. I wanted to be able to take care of those expenses myself so I could say 'Yep, that was me, I did that all by myself, aren't I just a wonderful parent?' Stupid I know! I didn't know what Noel's situation was or if he could help but there was only one way to find out. He agreed to use his savings to pay the deposit for Ali's braces (we always did joke he'd be a lot richer without me!) and a couple of phone conversations later I was able to give Ali a wonderful surprise; that in just five days his dental treatment would finally be starting. Honestly, I've never known a kid to be excited about getting braces before! But I think for Ali it was about more than the braces; it was about mum and dad showing they cared. He's been wearing them for a week now and while trying to eat his favourite sushi unfortunately proved to be an epic fail, he has taken to them like a duck to water. Only 17 months and 3 weeks to go!
The thing was, even with Noel's help, the braces and glasses still amounted to almost $400 a month in extra bills for me. All those bills I'd reduced, all that money I'd been excited about saving each month was getting eaten up with every week that passed! I honestly felt like I was drowning in bills and I would never make it out. Every night I would wake up with a start and lay there, worrying and trying to come up with a solution to no avail (after all, we all know how logically our brain works in the middle of the night, don't we!) I felt like I really needed help but was still too scared, too proud to ask for it. Until I read a post in the Forum called 'Hardship Application' and I kid you not, it felt like a sign. Somebody else was considering taking that step, just like I was! Could this really work for me? I had become accustomed to being told 'Sorry, you earn too much' - even though some days I couldn't even afford to buy a loaf of bread. The questions and answers I read in that thread dispelled some fears, explained the procedure and gave me hope - hope enough to pick up the phone to my local Community Trust and ask for budgeting assistance.
I know, right? Me - Penny Wise, going to ask for help with money. Just goes to show, it can happen to anyone! But as Gayle, the lovely lady I saw told me, 'Penny, you know how to make something out of nothing. You know how to make everything stretch whether it's a bottle of shampoo or a tin of kidney beans. But nobody can pay bills with thin air - that's what I'm here for!' Prior to going to see her, I had drawn up an updated version of my budget (I know! My second budget in as many months! This is becoming a bit of a habit!) and just like the first time, it wasn't complicated and didn't take long. I was scared, though. I didn't want to face all those numbers. I didn't want to know exactly how much I needed to get through every month. But you know what? I had enough. I could scarcely believe it - but I had enough! What I didn't have was room for anything to go wrong - and I still owed my mum for bailing me out with my car. All of a sudden I was daring to feel a little more positive - but not too much. After all, you're talking to a person who failed maths twice; there was every chance I could have made some huge miscalculations somewhere! However after going through things with Gayle, it actually did seem as though I had remembered everything. 'So, what happens now?' I asked. 'Now you leave all this with me and I get back to you with a couple of days with a plan. It's not going to magically make everything go away overnight but I'm pretty sure we can start to see some wood through all these trees over the next month or two'. Wow! So I wasn't a lost cause after all!
And that's where we're at; I'm waiting to see what she comes up with and no matter how hard it is, or how harsh it is, I feel really excited because it feels like there's someone really on my side, who can help me make sense of all this mess. As the chap with the starting gun said to me more than a decade ago when I stood nervously on a river bank waiting to jump in and start my first triathlon 'It doesn't matter HOW you get there, as long as you get there!' Which pretty much sums up life in general doesn't it? I can't wait to see what Gayle has in store for me!