Peter and Paul

Posted August 24th, 2009 by Penny Wise

For someone whose bank balance looks the worst it has in ages, I'm actually feeling extremely chipper. It seems to me that the less money you have, the easier it is to be in control of it. You know exactly how little you have and how little you can spend. It's non-negotiable, cut and dried. Although it's not very helpful when something unforeseen comes along, like yesterday. Somehow I managed to run over our beloved spaniel, Minnie in the driveway. I still don't know exactly what happened as I was driving Noel's tank and couldn't see a thing, but the dogs were doing their usual welcome dance to herald my arrival and mercifully I was going extremely slow. It was hard to assess the situation as Minnie is a drama queen at the best of times. When we got her speyed she held me personally responsible for the whole traumatic event and would have nothing to do with me for a week, preferring to hide herself under a flax bush instead. Today was no different, except the first time I knew what was wrong with her - this time I didn't.

So we set off on a mercy dash to the vet, who very kindly squeezed us in between a Newfoundland with a mysterious lump and a cat with no teeth. Amazingly for Minnie, she was very brave for a change and fingers and toes crossed, the damage does not seem too severe, although we have to watch her closely over the next 24 hours, it could be that she still has some bad ligament damage to one of her legs. I'm just relieved that things didn't turn out much worse, I would never have forgiven myself, although rest assured Minnie did have her revenge. Apologies for imparting too much information but apparently when dogs experience major shock or trauma their anal glands inadvertently 'pop', emitting a foul smelling liquid. Suffice to say this happened in Minnie's case and I copped the whole stinking lot. At least the vet thought it was funny...

Unexpected vet bills aside, I am celebrating! Yes folks, as of today I am the proud owner of a zero credit card balance. It's gone, paid off! And I swear with all my heart, I will never, EVER have a credit card with my name on again. No loans, no hire purchases either. It's cash only for me, woohoo! I actually find it quite liberating. If you don't have it, you can't spend it; it's that simple. Noel still has a credit card - he has to for work expenses but I have tied up all the loose ends so that nothing else finds its way onto the credit card (main examples being things like Trade Me account top ups, Vodafone bills and so on. It's easy to chuck all these little things onto the credit card online because its quick and convenient - well, it's convenient until the statement comes and you just about faint when you see how all these little amounts have added up. But no more! I'm in control and I'm feeling GOOD!

It's at times like these you realise how blooming brilliant some of the free tools are on Simple Savings. The Bill Payment System is fantastic. I used to use it religiously, then stopped because I thought I knew it all. WRONG, you never know it all! The Bill Payment System shows you at a glance how much money you need from week to week so you know exactly how much money you need to have at any time to cover your expenses. It also makes it easy to see how much money you have left over once all the important stuff is covered. Your chances of getting caught out are basically zilch - unless of course you don't have enough money in the kitty in the first place, but at least when you have your whole month's worth of expenses set out in front of you, week by week, it does at least give you a little advance warning and maybe even the chance to recoup some savings elsewhere. That's another great thing about the Bill Payment System. It gives you a constant update of where your money is going and makes you think 'Eek, the power bill's high this month, have to make more of an effort there!' or 'Jings, do we really want to be paying that much on insurance each month?' I have tried all sorts of budgety-organiser thingys over the years, both online and offline but this one is the best by a long way. It's so simple you just can't go wrong and best of all, it really works!

The Bill Payment System is awesome for keeping track of your bills but for tracking all other day to day expenses the Savings Diary is just priceless. I'm the kind of person who makes sure there is enough money to pay the bills and breathes a sigh of relief, then completely forgets to keep track of how much everything else is adding up to, while still going out merrily out of the bank account! The Savings Diary reminds me just how much those little bits add up and can literally be the difference between choosing to spend or not spend. I particularly love the fact that you have to ask yourself with each purchase whether it was essential or not. It doesn't matter what excuses you come up with for spending on something non-essential, it still sounds lame! Like buying both of the kids a king size chocolate bar on the way home from the vet to say a) thank you for coming to the vet with me b) sorry for running over your dog and c) sorry for running over your dog just as you arrived home from school so I didn't get time to give you something proper for afternoon tea, here have this instead so I won't feel so bad for you having to go hungry all afternoon!

It could be worse, I could easily have got them KFC or Macca's in a lousy attempt to ease my own conscience but then it would have only made me feel even more guilty in the long run for spending money we don't have on junk food. I smiled when I saw this week's Hint of the Week, 'Exploding the Myth of Cheap Fast Food' as this is exactly what I did with the boys at the weekend. I'll copy the whole hint here, as it's great 'food for thought'!

"One fast food corporation currently has a 'meal deal'; for $4.95, you get a cheeseburger, a small soft drink, small fries, and an ice cream sundae. Sounds great, doesn't it? And $5.00 is nothing, right? But let's say you have to buy three meal deals - that's not $4.95 - that's $14.85! Now, factor in the petrol you use driving to the fast food outlet, and while waiting in the drive-thru - add $3.00. If someone wants to upsize or have M&Ms in their sundae - another $3.00. A therapeutic cappuccino for Mum - yet another $3.00. Suddenly, our original $14.85 fast food treat has blown out to $23.85! For a little less, I could buy this list at the supermarket:

500g extra lean mince, $5.99

Hamburger rolls, $1.99

Cheese slices, $3.49

1.25ltr lemonade, $0.69c

2ltr premium light ice cream, $2.99

Chocolate wafers, $0.65c

Frozen French fries, $1.99

10 sachets of cappuccino or latte mix, $4.49

Total: $22.28

That $22.28 actually has the potential to save me buying:

15 cheeseburgers @ $1.95 = $29.25

5 toasted sandwiches on the go @ $3.00 = $15

10 ice cream sundaes @ $2.00 = $20

8 fast food soft drinks @ $2.00 = $16

Side dish of fries for dinner @ $4.00 at the fish and chip shop

10 cappuccinos @ $4.00 = $40

Total: $124.25

So a saving of $101.97 for my $22.28 spend! While fast food appears to be cheap at face value, it might not be the bargain you think it is. Always ask whether the 'face value' cost is all you'll pay - it probably won't be!

I felt even better about giving the kids McMummy's instead of McDonalds after rugby at the weekend after reading that! OK, they had to wait a little longer when we got home than it would have taken to go through the drive-thru but it was healthier, more filling and they appreciated it far more that I had gone to the effort to make something special for them. It didn't leave a nasty taste in my mouth either, philosophically speaking, which it would have if I had coughed up $30 for the four of us to have Maccas instead.

Mind you, paying a fortune for fat laden fast food doesn't really appeal anyway when you're lucky enough to feast on fresh food instead. Check out Ali with one of the impressive fish he caught at the weekend! They had a wonderful time fishing at Coromandel and caught around $270 worth of fresh snapper with their own fair hands (well, fishing rods actually). It's been a while since we had a feed of fresh fish and we couldn't wait! The fish were so big and fat we were able to give enough to SEVEN other households to feed them for at least two nights as well! Ali, our little hunter-gatherer is very excited because this weekend he is going to start his very own vegetable garden. He went to help his dad plant potatoes a few days ago and decided he wanted to grow some things of his own, so they've marked out an area next to the potato patch which is to be Ali's alone. It's going to be quite a big garden for a little fella but no doubt Ali will devote himself wholeheartedly into caring for it; just as he does with anything he puts his mind to. He wants me to film the whole process from clearing the ground to his first harvest, so watch this space!

So between Ali and his dad we should be extremely well provided for from now on! And I have finally found the secret to getting my husband to agree to me menu planning! All I have to do is ask him if there is anything in particular he would like to eat/cook for dinner. He tells me if there is anything and we pick the best night of the week where appropriate, then the rest of the week is mine to plan and cook whatever I like. Even he has to admit that we eat so much better when I menu plan. I'm more willing to try new or more challenging recipes because I have the time to prepare for them. I made the BEST French Herbed Roast Chicken dinner at the weekend, I even amazed myself! It came out of a recipe book I've had for 17 years and never looked twice at before! It was only when I was getting all the cook books out for my menu planning and trying to base my meals around what we had that this little gem jumped out at me. If anyone else would like the recipe, let me know!

So one way or another I'm feeling highly organised and in control at the moment. There's just one thing Noel and I can't agree on with regard to money (well, I'm sure there's plenty more than one, but on this particular occasion we'll discuss this one!) I have been reading a book written by a friend of mine, Lisa Dudson. She's the financial planner behind the Money Man show here in NZ and is one of the few people who talks about serious financial stuff in a way I can actually understand. Anyway, I'm a big believer in saving by putting money away where you can't see it by making regular automatic payments into different accounts. I've done this before with Christmas money and have a separate one at the moment that my Trade Me money goes into for our Australia trip. It's an easy way to make sure you don't fritter away any spare cash and ensure some savings. Out of sight, out of mind and all that!

Now Lisa recommends divvying up your money in the following ways:

1. Day to day account. Speaks for itself, your wages go into there and you use this account to pay for all your day to day bills and other stuff.

2. Big-ticket account. This is an account where you save for large items that you would like but don't necessarily need - e.g. a holiday, lounge suite etc.

3. Emergency account. Again self-explanatory, this is your rainy day money for unexpected bills and so on (like vet bills, grrr)

4. Get ahead account. I like the sound of this one! This account is where you should aim to put as much money as you can for life's bigger goals, such as saving for a house deposit or paying off your mortgage.

5. Sanity money. Otherwise known as pocket money, 'mad money', whatever you want to call it. Money for you to have fun with, go to the movies with, have a facial with or whatever. I started a sanity money account a couple of months ago and have so far found I use it on everyone else except me. When it comes to the things I want, I'm too stingy to part with it!

Now I really like the way these accounts are set up. It covers you for everything and encourages enforced saving, which is something I would probably never get round to doing if everything was kept in the same account; it would just gradually disappear. So as soon as I read this I thought 'yeah! That's what I want to do with our money!' I thought Noel would think it was a great idea too - but no. He thinks having accounts all over the place is simply robbing Peter to pay Paul. What does everyone else think? I would be really interested to hear how others make their money work for them!

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