I hate to say it but my ex-husband was a rather smart man. Just kidding, he and I are still great friends! But I've lost count of the times he said over the past few years, 'One of the biggest problems with the world today is that nobody takes responsibility for anything. Nobody is willing to be held accountable for their own actions'. Being a bit of a cruiser, I never thought about the world's problems too much and always thought this was rather an over dramatic statement. It's only now I'm out in the big wide world all by myself that I realise he was - and still is - absolutely right.
Apologies once again for the delay between posts - it's just all this STUFF has been happening and to be honest every time I tried to write something I sounded like a right old whingebag! But even if I do sound like a whingebag (and I apologise heartily if I do) I've decided I will share it after all because let's face it, stuff happens to us all and it just so happens that all this stuff has come about through exactly what I was talking about before; people's failure to take responsibility. Which as I have recently discovered, is not only extremely annoying but it can cost you a lot of money. And one of the other things about STUFF is that it always tends to happen all at once!
Anyway, get on with it Penny. As I type, I'm a bit up the proverbial creek without a paddle. Some of it is my fault - I probably shouldn't have spent a fortune on ingredients to make Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie after seeing it on Facebook. And I probably shouldn't have let the boys convince me to take us all out for dinner on Mother's Day. But the rest I'm pretty comfortable in saying that I really don't believe it was my fault. Now we all know how life has a quaint little habit of sending us two steps forward, then three steps back and it always seems to be the case with finances too. One minute you're full steam ahead; the next, slam on the brakes! Which is exactly what has happened in our household lately. Just as the budgeting ladies had me knowing exactly where I was going and the future was looking bright, my little parade got well and truly rained on! I shall endeavour to explain:
Stuff 1: I check my email one morning to find a letter from my insurance company along the lines of 'Dear Penny. Remember that nice little car you bought back in June 2013? Well whoops-a-daisy, when you rang us up at the time of purchase to change your policy to cover your new vehicle, we didn't charge you enough. We'd like another $518 please'. Right - so what you're saying is, even though I did everything that was required of me as a customer and it was someone at YOUR end who didn't do their job properly, it's still perfectly alright for you to suddenly demand hundreds of dollars out of me almost a year to the day later. Fortunately, being the nice caring people you are, you're allowing me to pay it off at $184 per month over the next four months.
Stuff 2: The same week I open my mail and almost faint to find a bill from the local Council for $2,200 in rates arrears. 'That can't be right! I've been paying my rates automatically at $80 a month for as long as I can remember!' I thought, so got on the phone to the credit control officer at the Council. I've dealt with him before and he's a really nice, helpful guy. 'Yes I remember setting that up with you, I've still got the paperwork!' he said. Come to think of it, so did I. However when he checked the records, he could find no record of payment from July 2013 - the time I bought my house and we switched the rates over from my old property to the new one. 'That can't be right - can you check from your end?' I can't believe I never noticed before but with all the myriad of automatic payments I had constantly coming out, somehow I didn't realise that he was right. Even though we both had the paperwork to prove it, the direct debit had never been actioned and I was now indeed more than $2,000 behind in my payments. Which means that my carefully budgeted $80 per month has now rocketed to $328 per month in an attempt to catch up before the year rolls round again! Who should claim responsibility for that one? Marc - even though he drew up the document? Me - even though I sent it to the bank? The postal service - for not delivering it to the bank? Or the bank - for not loading the direct debit? We'll never know but it's a bit blooming inconvenient to say the least and puts a nasty big hole in my budget!
Stuff 3: Bank Tale of Woe #1. With my budget going swiftly down the gurgler and a neverending stream of new bills coming in adding up to thousands (I won't bore you with them, heaven knows we all get them, especially with teenagers!) I went to see my bank manager to take her up on her pre-Christmas 'hopefully we won't have to go there' offer of changing my mortgage agreement to interest only for 12 months. This is a very long story which has been going on for almost two months now and I shall also refrain from boring you to death with but suffice to say I have been well and truly led down the garden path. As it currently stands I am receiving assistance from the banking ombudsman but should the situation be unable to be resolved it will take me a very long time to recover financially. Even the budgeting service has been unable to help for weeks - they have been trying, bless those lovely ladies but as we are constantly waiting for updates from the bank, everyone's hands have been tied. As long as I can hold on to my beloved Nawtypoo I will be happy.
Stuff 4: Bank Tale of Woe #2. Although my bank balance wasn't looking too healthy, at least Liam's was! After a busy summer working his socks off he had made some great savings and was trying his utmost to spend as little as possible. Unfortunately somebody went and spent it for him by hacking his debit card details and spending the whole lot in what we soon discovered to be a global scam. An organisation or individual pretending to be Google systematically withdraws $10 at a time for 'games', then another $10 and another until before you know it, they've cleaned out your whole bank account. As you can imagine Liam was devastated and I was certainly miffed but not panicking too much as the exact same thing had happened to two other people I knew in the last 12 months. Interestingly they were all customers of the same bank, BNZ and they had both had the same amount of money withdrawn by the same organisation. All it took for them to get their money back was a quick email or phone call and the bank replaced the lost funds and issued new cards so I figured the procedure would be the same for us. Not so unfortunately. You see the other two parties were adults. Liam on the other hand is 17 and as far as the bank were concerned he must have been playing games and 'done' something, e.g. signed up for something, therefore it was his fault. Firstly, Liam doesn't and never has played online games. Secondly, he has never given out his bank account number online and although he uses his Eftpos card to make in-store purchases, he has never used his debit card for online purchasing without me being present to make sure everything goes through OK. This has only ever been used for Trade Me and purchasing clothing from Culture Kings in Australia, which all his friends use regularly without any problem. He has never once used his card for purchasing games, yet the bank still insist it must be his fault and told him that he would have to pay to lodge a dispute. 'Seriously, this is a worldwide scam! You only have to Google the transaction reference to see this is happening to thousands of people!' I told them. What's more, they have all been reimbursed by their banks in less than two weeks. In comparison, Liam has been waiting four weeks and has heard nothing whatsoever from the bank with regard to either the dispute claim, who was responsible for taking his money and where they were from, or if and when he can expect his money back in his account.
I think that's quite enough stuff to be going on with for now! The funny thing is, even with all this inner turmoil sloshing round in my brain I feel wonderfully content. The boys are settled and happy, our little house is adorably cosy and all three of us are just enjoying a simple routine and a simple life. My constant challenge to make delicious food from next to nothing has resulted in a huge love of cooking and what I always saw previously as a chore has now become an absolute pleasure. Every day I can't wait to cook something new and fill my boys' tummies with something yummy. Of course they love it too and I had to laugh the other day when Liam was tucking into his dinner and said 'This is absolutely exquisite Mum! Your standards have definitely improved!' Not a bad effort considering much of what we eat comes from food parcels these days! Whenever I open the pantry door I see countless opportunities - how can I use up this cereal? What can I put this can of soup in? Without blowing my trumpet too much I always considered myself a pretty good cook but now I pride myself on being an excellent cook and it has brought me much joy and confidence. The other night a friend of mine was on her own for the weekend so I invited her over for dinner. This is something I haven't done since my marriage ended so it was a little nerve wracking for me, especially as I wanted to make something special. I warned her with a giggle that my challenge was to make her a gourmet cafe style dinner entirely from my garden and my food parcel! Undeterred she agreed to be my guinea pig and I set to work.
With no money in the kitty for meat I took advantage of my lovely crop of silverbeet, parsley and carrots in the garden and together with some of my tomatoes I had frozen from the summer glut, used them to make Garden Cafe Vegetable Lasagne. You can find the recipe for this in my little recipe book 'A Dash of Soy and a Splash of Lemon' in the Downloads area. It really does taste just as good as anything you would find in a cafe and is so full of flavour even the boys can't tell there is no meat in it! I accompanied this with a fresh salad and some little dinner rolls I already had in the freezer. For dessert, with so much fruit in the garden the options were endless but Ali especially requested an amazing and very simple recipe for 'Gooey Little Chocolate Puddings' from my heroine, Chelsea Winter. Once again, these are as good as any restaurant dessert and I made them almost entirely from my food parcel goodies, including the tinned raspberries which accompanied them! It was such a pleasant and relaxed evening and I really enjoyed using my culinary skills to turn everyday foods and basic ingredients into something really quite lovely.
My recent prowess in the kitchen has elevated my status to such that Ali finally felt he could trust me to cook something I had never done before - wild roast pork, provided by the young hunter-gatherer himself. I confess, I do not like wild or 'gamey' tasting foods and before had always managed to get out of it by saying I didn't know how to cook it; instead delegating that job to his dad! However Ali insisted he had faith in me (well his actual words were 'harden up Mum!') and with it being the only meat we really had in the freezer, last night I relented and attempted my first wild roast. The fire crackled in our cosy home, the candles gave off a comforting glow and as the smell of wild roast pork filled the air it felt so rustic and homely it was hard not to break out into a Beverley Hillbillies style accent at that there dang cotton-picking hog a-cooking! The only challenge was, it was such an enormous roast that even three hours later it still wasn't cooked and I had to squeeze it into the microwave to finish it off. Thank goodness for modern technology, or we'd probably still be waiting! But we got there in the end and although I wasn't game enough to try it myself, the boys scoffed it happily. Ali was proud he'd contributed to dinner and even more happy that his mum had finally taken the bull by the horns (or rather the pig by the leg) and cooked something she always swore she couldn't.
So another new week begins and who knows what STUFF life will throw at us this week! But whatever happens, thanks to the budgeting ladies and my self-sufficient son, we will at least be able to eat. And even though it feels some days as though everyone is out to take from us, as long as we have the support and love of family, the company of good friends and the kindness of strangers, we will always be rich - and nobody can take that away!