And what a year its been. An amazing, nerve wracking, heart wrenching, mind blowing year. I had imagined that reaching my first 12 month milestone since the end of my marriage would be this monumentally emotional occasion - but it wasn't. I mean, let's face it, it's hardly something to celebrate is it? Well, maybe for some couples it is! But not for me. Anyway, as it turned out, 'the day' when it arrived felt pretty much just like any other day; although I guess I'm glad to get it out of the way. Over the past year I have learned so much. I've learned that people I thought were dear friends weren't after all. That was probably one of the hardest things - but on the other side of the coin I was amazed and touched by some wonderful shows of friendship in the most unexpected places. I've learned that people will always take sides even when there are no sides to take. I've learned that people think that 'solo parent' and 'single parent' are one and the same. I've learned that, as soon as a separation becomes public knowledge, you' are instantly 'on the market' and have to develop very long arms to keep people at the end of them. Perhaps one of the saddest things I have learned is that people always need something or someone to blame. Why can they not accept that two people can and do sometimes just grow apart? No big dramas, no terrible fight; they just evolve into different people. I guess unless they have had a marriage end themselves, they can't possibly understand but for the couple at the heart of it all, it's hard enough without people speculating about who could have done what. Still, that's human nature for you.
And it's not all negative, to be sure. On the positive side I've learned that I'm made of much stronger stuff than I thought. Indeed I've learned I can do pretty much any dang thing I put my mind to! I was hoping to tick off 'use a chainsaw' and 'fix a leaking tap' off my bucket list before 'the day' but alas the sun keeps shining and calls me out to pick tomatoes instead. And there's another thing I never thought I could do - feed a whole family with food I've grown all by myself! Who would have thunk it? Anyway Penny, listen to you blowing your own trumpet! We all know there's no way you could have got this far without a ton of help. Yes, and don't go thinking I'll ever forget that either! I had an appointment with the budgeting lady the other day and things are looking pretty good! The debt is dwindling (I can see it go down on the screen, that was a buzz!) and if I play my cards right and don't do anything stupid like pay $700 too much in bills again, I actually have a predicted weekly surplus! Which is just as well considering the mail I got sent the other day - one notice to say the power bill is increasing by $20 a week, an invoice from Ali's school for $34 worth of school books and my personal favourite, an invoice from Liam's school for $855. As you can imagine I was immediately filled with joy - especially as $115 of that is for a compulsory gym membership! In comparison my mum told me when I was the boys' age my glasses were free, my braces were free, my school bus pass was free, I went on one school camp in five years and all we had to bring for educational and sports trips was a packed lunch and a gold coin, not like the $290 plus food it cost for last week's history trip, which I had two days' notice to pay for! How times have surely changed. Still, whilst a tad inconvenient, we are at least heading in the right direction and I have my lovely freshly printed budget sheets to prove it! Although previously a veteran of two whole budgets, this new one from the Family Budgeting Services is fab. I now know exactly how much money I need every month for my concrete expenses and how much of my (hopeful) surplus I have to use on other incidentals such as the upcoming car rego and dog vaccinations. Best of all, with every meeting I should hopefully get to wipe another debt off my spreadsheet, woohoo!
I'm sure many people reading this would be thinking 'Er - isn't she Penny Wise? Why is she using a budgeting service? Shouldn't she be able to do that herself?' I guess I am pretty different from many of their clients as I already know how to save. They don't have to teach me a whole new way of life or tell me what I can and can't spend my money on. But I always was rubbish at maths. That's why Simple Savings was such a lifesaver to me; for the first time ever I found a way to save money where I didn't have to do the maths! And now, thanks to those lovely ladies I know how to do the maths as well. It's so good to feel as though I'm not winging it any more! I would recommend budgeting services to anyone who ever feels they can't see the wood for the trees; it's a wonderful feeling to know that even though you still have to put in the hard yards yourself, someone out there has your back, knows you're really trying and cares about how you're doing.
Take last month. Gayle and her colleague insisted they give the boys and I a food parcel to see us through a particularly tight week. I had no idea what to expect and was absolutely overwhelmed when I was given three huge boxes which filled up the boot of my car. I couldn't help myself, I burst into tears. The boys came home from school and couldn't believe it when they were faced with their own mini supermarket; it was much, much more than I would ever normally buy in a week and over four weeks later I still have tons left! I found it rather ironic that when we lived in our previous home town of Te Kauwhata, my mum used to work for the local Foodbank and I was always donating things to it. Now I was the one accepting help! I couldn't thank the ladies enough and wanted to give something back to thank them for everything they do in the community. They came up with the perfect solution - but that's another blog!
One thing the ladies did enjoy about me being a Simple Saver was being able to give me all kinds of weird and wonderful food items to use up! Sadly the majority of families who come through their doors don't know how to bake, or wouldn't have a clue what to do with a jar of green curry paste, tinned asparagus or other items the local supermarket is kind enough to donate - but I do. Hence I will not have to buy flour, sugar, walnuts or coconut cream for a very long time! Talking of coconut cream, I'm trying a new recipe from the $21 Challenge book for dinner this evening so I can use up a can of it! For anyone who has a copy of the book, I can highly recommend Kate's delicious casserole recipes - there's a rich, gravy casserole base, a tomato base and her savoury mince with hidden vegetables is a huge hit in our house - once I hid so much silverbeet in it I turned it bright green but the kids still loved it! However I have never tried her coconut based recipe before so am going to try it tonight and use up some of the curry paste I was given too! I truly hope that I am never in the position to have to accept a food parcel again but it has been the most amazing help, more than I ever dreamed and the boys and I will continue to benefit from the items in it for quite some time yet!