Sometimes you read something that just makes you go 'Woah!' Something that really makes you count your lucky stars. This is how I felt when my attention was brought to an article in the UK's Daily Mail by columnist Liz Jones. From now on, I'm afraid I will always think of her as the ultimate Sad Sally. Like many Simple Savers who read about it in the Forum and were gobsmacked, I think there were also a fair few of us who recognised similar traits from our own pre-SS days. It got me thinking, not for the first time this week what with all my decluttering, about all the things I wasted money on. Why, why, why? Did I really think that spending a fortune on a trendy bowl for my coffee table was going to make people think I was stylish and successful? That they were going to like me more? Thank goodness I woke up before I ended up like Liz. I am so much happier now that I have less stuff!
When Noel and I first moved in together we lived for 12 months in a little one-room sleepout. We loved it! It had a bed, a fridge, a sink with one cupboard, a TV, a dressing table and a table and chairs. The table and chairs and the dressing table weren't even ours, neither was the TV or the fridge. Come to think of it, neither was the bed! Some friends of ours lent us their spare one until Noel's parents got a new bed and gave us their old one. I remember the first time my parents came over from England to visit. Dad said 'Crikey - they haven't got much, have they?' He couldn't believe how little we had. But we had what we needed and were happy as pigs in mud. A year later we moved to a proper house and the two of us rattled around in it. Everything we bought was second hand, from the lounge suite to the washing machine. What we didn't buy second hand was donated from elderly relatives who were decluttering; everything from the ironing board to paintings. A friend of ours used to come and visit regularly and she often brought wonderful things to make the place looked lived in, from a vase and a photo frame to a beautiful pot full of pansies. In fact, we used to get given quite a few things from her parents' decluttering sessions too, anything from light shades and curtains to chests of drawers!
There were no posh ornaments back then. No occasional tables, no six different varieties of pot pourri. There wasn't a thing we didn't need and we were as happy as we could be. So what changed? Where did this desire to consume untold quantities of inconsequential stuff come from? Did it happen overnight, or was it a gradual process? I don't think there was any real 'hole in my soul' like Liz Jones. The Sad Sally in me was brought about through naivety, ignorance and later on, selfishness. In the first few years that we lived together, we met and became friendly with other couples. We would go there for dinner and I was amazed. They were the same age as us and had been together no longer than Noel and I had - yet they had beautiful homes, filled with beautiful things. Unlike us, every stick of furniture they bought was brand new. I admit to feeling a little envious - what 19-year-old wouldn't want a home like that? Still, there was no point getting down in the dumps about it - they obviously earned far more money than we did. Of course, they didn't at all. The difference was that they put everything on hire purchase or on credit cards; two things which Noel and I didn't have. It never even crossed my mind that they couldn't possibly have paid cash for it! How little I knew. Ironically, none of those couples are together any more.
Another reason I wasn't able to 'keep up with the Joneses' back then was because I simply didn't have the time. Noel and I worked countless hours together on the farm before the kids were born. Many a night we sat eating fish finger sandwiches in the bath because we were starving and didn't have the time or energy to make anything else. I also didn't drive for the first three years we were together. If we went somewhere, we went together. Even once the boys came along I was still a pretty good combination of a Sad Sally and a Happy Hanna. I never cooked anything that didn't come out of a jar for Noel and I and baking was a foreign word but funnily enough I always made home made baby food! I became friendly with an older woman who took me under her wing and taught me how to bottle and preserve, and we would often go off on missions for second hand bargains.
I think in all honesty, the biggest mistake I made was letting my kids watch TV. I used to have the TV on when Liam was a baby, as most new mums do to pass the time but he never took any notice of it whatsoever. Until one day at 11 months old I changed the channel and Liam unexpectedly came face to face with a new phenomenon called the Teletubbies. His fascination was immediate and from then on, the TV was a constant source of fun new characters and new things. Ali of course was introduced even earlier, having a big brother who was always glued to The Wiggles, Postman Pat or Thomas the Tank Engine. That was when the trouble started. No longer could we go out and about without running into some favourite toy, book or video from off the telly. Dancing to The Wiggles made them happy. I wanted my kids to be happy, therefore I was happy to buy things for them. We never, ever came home empty handed. I wish somebody had made the Consuming Kids documentary years ago!
Still, even then I wasn't THAT bad. There was still one thing stopping me from spending money - guilt. Guilt in that now I was a stay-at-home-mum and Noel was earning all the money, I didn't feel as though I had to right to go spending it on whatever I liked, particularly on myself. That didn't happen until I got a job. I landed my dream job as a newspaper reporter and typesetter and I had bent over backwards to get it. The kids went into childcare for 30 hours a week and we bought a second car. All so that I could go out to work and make us some more money. You have no idea how much I'm cringing right now. What a plonker! My wages were a drop in the ocean compared to the cost of the car and paying for someone else to look after my kids. On the positive side though, everything happens for a reason and if I hadn't got that job, I would never have had the relevant skills on my CV when I sent it to a certain Fiona Lippey! But from then on, there was no stopping me. I was earning my own money, so I could spend away without feeling guilty (even though it barely covered the child care) and I had my own car, so I could go wherever I liked, whenever I liked! Thus began a neverending spate of weekend shopping trips. I also put on a huge amount of weight. Work was barely a ten minute drive away and I had to pack the boys' lunchboxes every day but I never once thought to pack one for me. Instead I would trot around the corner and buy a fat-laden pie and a bottle of Coke for morning tea and a panini for lunch from the cafe. Ooh, writing this makes me want to give myself a good slap!
I'll admit, I was shocked when I read Liz Jones' admission. I had never heard of her before and I think she is very brave putting her - let's face it - stupidity out there for all to see, but I think she is also extremely sad. How can anyone be happy with a cloud of debt like that hanging over your head? I can't feel sorry for her though, because reading about her sounds a lot like the old me, and I sure as heck don't feel sorry for myself; only angry at myself for all the time and money wasted. I wonder what she would make of Simple Savings. She sure could do with it! But I guess that's a big difference between me and her, along with all the other Simple Savers who have been nodding their heads and spotting similarities in the maxed out credit cards, the refusal to open bills and so on. Just like Liz, we've made mistakes with money. We may not all have bat sanctuaries in our gardens (although I do love bats; dear little creatures) but we admit our mistakes and are doing our best to undo the damage and get ahead. We all genuinely want to save money. I don't think Liz does. Maybe it's because she's been the way she is for so long. I transformed myself from Happy Hanna to Sad Sally in five short years. It took another seven years of spending money like water before I found Simple Savings. I think Lose-It-All Liz has been stuck on her merry-go-round for a lot longer than that. Guess I had a lucky escape!