What a difference a month makes...

Posted August 11th, 2011 by Penny Wise

I have learned there is a heck of a difference between living the Simple Savings way out of choice - or as if your life depended on it. We've been in our new home almost a year now and during that time we've been cruising. Enjoying the easy life, the smaller house, smaller garden, the constant stream of visitors, the busy social calendar and not really worrying about too much at all really. Even after all these months there's not a day goes by where we don't pinch ourselves that we still actually live here. We are so thankful for our wonderful life. Sure, the last couple of months has seen the bank account dwindle a bit; there doesn't seem to be much sitting in the bank any more by the time payday comes around - BUT - we told ourselves recently, we are HAPPY. This is the lifestyle we wanted and we're loving every minute of it. We've done the hard yards all these years, we've done the self sufficiency thing, now is the time to just kick back and enjoy ourselves.

And then, just as we were getting complacent, things went horribly pear-shaped. Yesterday was I think one of the most horrible days of my life. I never, EVER want to repeat the experience again. Earlier in the week I had been merrily choosing presents for Liam's birthday when out of the blue I got declined for $36. 'There has to be some mistake, I must have put the wrong PIN in there?' I said in disbelief. 'Um, nope - if it says declined, it's 'cos you're declined' said the assistant helpfully. I ended up having to put the item back and headed straight for the ATM. To my horror I saw that we not only had no money, we were well and truly overdrawn!

Nothing like getting declined unexpectedly to put a damper on your shopping I can tell you. OK so I should have checked the bank balance first before I left the house but I didn't think I needed to. A nice deposit was due to go in the week before and I just presumed it had. Besides, I had been sick with the flu for almost two weeks and hadn't left the house to spend anything! In a panic I rang the bank. To my relief I discovered that the payment hadn't actually gone in yet - but until it did, Noel and I were not permitted to use our Eftpos cards. I don't have a credit card; only a debit card so that wasn't an option and Noel wasn't due to get paid for another week. All of a sudden things were looking pretty dire.

I wasn't worried about food; I knew we had enough of that to get us through. In fact I wasn't too worried about having to buy anything really - whatever we needed we could either go without or wait until we had the money to get it. But there was one BIG problem - Liam's birthday was just a couple of days away and I couldn't buy him even as much as a card.

Yesterday was a new low. Noel got up and needed cash for work. Liam got up and needed cash for his basketball trip after school. The bank account still showed nothing. We had no choice but to borrow Ali's birthday money from a couple of weeks ago. I've never felt like such a rotten parent. Worst of all, it was Liam's birthday TOMORROW and we still couldn't buy him a single gift. I wanted to go and dig a big hole and just disappear from the world.

The thing is, it was just as much our fault that we didn't have any money as the fact the payment didn't go through. Sure, it shouldn't have been ten days late - but not so long ago this wouldn't have mattered. We would have had sufficient money in the bank to last us over until it went in. But not this time. We let ourselves get too blas, we didn't keep a tighter rein on our finances and it came back to bite us. Noel and I spent the whole day beating ourselves up. 'We are not to get in this situation again. I am never borrowing cash from my kids again. We have to stop being so slack and wasteful' he texted me from work.

Ali was home from school with a cold. 'So - are we really broke?' he asked gravely. 'We are until we get some money mate!' I told him. He sat at the computer with me and the two of us went through all our transactions for the last month. Two things showed up startlingly clear. Firstly, our food bill is HUGE. It has almost tripled since moving here. We're now up there with the average $320 statistic for a family of four. The amount Liam and Ali eat these days is unbelievable. I remember when we first took Alex under our wing, I used to laugh about his enormous appetite and say 'is this what I can expect from my own two in the future?' Boy is it ever! I wouldn't have them any other way but I could never have predicted just how much of a huge effect feeding teenage boys would have on the food budget. We already do shop smart, bake, and waste as little as possible so it seems the only solution to getting the food bill down is a) start growing a LOT more of our own food and b) stop feeding half the town!

Even so, food is food and we need to eat. It's not as though we buy mountains of packets or junk food, not at all. We shop smart and cook smart, so there was no point us beating ourselves up too badly. What was a real blow to the conscience however was adding up how much we had spent on socialising and non-essentials. No wonder we had run out of money; we had spent more on having fun than we had on food! On the positive side there was no finger pointing, no apportioning blame. We had both done it and we had done it together. And it had been fun! Until the money tree lost all its leaves.

So now we knew where all our money had gone. I highlighted all the 'bad' transactions in bright yellow and stuck them on the fridge. As well as serving as a memory trigger for Noel and I for 'what not to do' in the future, I thought it was also really important for the kids to see how much gets wasted. We need to work together as a team to get back on track. We need to see the hole we've dug and all pull together to make our way out. The next few months are going to be tough on everyone. We are going to need to pull out every SS skill we have but we will get there.

This knowledge might have helped to clarify a few things but it still didn't solve the fact that unknown to him, Liam was facing a birthday with no presents. I rifled through the drawers and found some blank charity cards and thankfully came across a suitably boyish looking one. At least he now had a card! My lovely friend Kiri bless her heart came and brought Ali and I lunch and as she left she pulled out some cash from her wallet. 'So you can go and get something for Liam', she insisted. How I didn't burst into floods of tears at this point I'll never know. Her kindness blew me away but there was no way I could have accepted it. There had to be another way!

Mercifully, there was. By chance I checked the bank balance one more time 15 minutes before the shops were due to close and - the money had gone in! I honestly don't know what I would have done if it hadn't - but it had, and in the nick of time. I whizzed to town and this morning Liam woke up on his 15th birthday chuffed to bits with his presents. But it could have been so different. One thing is for sure, there is NO WAY we are going to be in this situation on Christmas Eve!

But we have a bit of a long road ahead for a while. We are fortunate that we can change our own luck and start moving forward again with SS but it's going to take time. There's always a positive to everything though. I see this experience as a great opportunity to prove to ourselves how resourceful we can be. The challenge is on!

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