Thursday, 22 September 2016

These are a few of my favourite things...

According to my records, today is my 84th smoke free day and my 50th alcohol free day.  Which means according to my maths I have saved approximately $2,338.  Understandably I am stoked.  Not to mention more than a little bit shocked at how quickly that amount has added up but I am feeling over the moon to think that amount is money that I haven't spent.  Whilst my bank account isn't exactly overflowing as proof, I dread to think what sort of state we would be in if I HAD spent that money and I do admit to feeling that on the whole, we are doing better lately.

Another big reason for the lack of spending is of course having no car.  Since Mildred's demise we have only resorted to using a taxi once, due to genuinely horrendous weather, the rest of time we simply walk.  Gareth and I are a familiar sight these days walking along together and we often get offered lifts, although we rarely take them because on the whole, we like walking.  His workplace is around half an hour's walk away and we do the twice daily journey together.  Initially I did it mainly to keep him company and to get some exercise seeing as I spend a good part of the rest of the day sitting on my bum writing but as it turns out it's actually a really nice catch up time for both of us, to have a good old chinwag about our day and whatever else we have going on. It's a good way to start the day too, by the time we reach our destination we're wide awake and ready to put a good day's work in.  There's also the added bonus of the supermarket being right across the road from his workplace too, so forgetting things such as milk and bread is now no longer a problem!  Fresh air and companionship aside though, I am REALLY noticing the difference of no longer having to pay the finance company, registration, insurance, petrol... I don't think we realise how much money we throw at and into our cars until you don't have one any more.  It can be a bit of a pain sometimes but so far it's well worth it.  I might feel a bit of a hippie choosing not to have a car but I definitely don't feel deprived!

In case you haven't seen my Facebook posts, it's been a bit of a wonky week.  I have made the decision to list Nawtypoo Cottage with the lovely agent who sold her to me.  My heart was telling me from the start that this was the way to go but my head and other people were urging me to sell privately and save on commission.  Thing is, even though I'm finally getting all my ducks in a row I'm still pretty stressed.  We have a lot going on, not least my mum was recently diagnosed with bowel cancer and just yesterday underwent a huge operation to remove it.  As you can imagine, it's been on my mind rather a lot, as indeed it has for all of us and day after day I had people wanting to come and look at the house, yet day after day I was managing to achieve nothing but walking round and round in circles trying to decide where to start.  Left up to me the house would never have been immaculate enough in my eyes for me to take photos and plaster all over the Internet.  As mum told me just the other day, I am the world's biggest procrastinator!  I know my agent will do a wonderful job, just as she has done for me twice before.  Now I just have to take a deep breath and allow people to come and have a look.

When I'm not cleaning, or stressing about cleaning, I'm gleaning information and watching videos about living on the road and building tiny houses.  That's our ultimate dream at the moment, to live on the road and travel around until we find a perfect place to build a tiny house.  Just thinking about it fills me with so much joy!  One thing is for certain, the boys will be doing very well out of me when the time comes to move as we really won't be able to take anything more than the barest essentials and our very favourite things with us.  Even Gareth's beloved guitar amps will need to be rehomed!  I had to laugh recently when cancelling Mildred's insurance policy.  I thought I would check out of interest how much my house contents were insured for and couldn't believe it when I was told $125,000 - what was I thinking?!  I wouldn't even have $20,000 worth of stuff now!  I managed to knock my cover down to the princely sum of $8,000.

I think that would be one of the character traits I'm most proud of these days, the fact that I'm so minimalist.  Especially considering how I used to be so completely the opposite. I genuinely don't want or need stuff!  It kind of frustrates me that I still have to have all this stuff around until we move when my list of things I want to take with me is so small.  Just for fun and because I love them and want to share them, here are some of my most favourite things.  These are the things which will be coming with me.  I don't think any of them were bought new!

My gingerbread man cookie jar, $5 from St John's op shop.  
He always makes me happy and makes me want to bake yummy things to fill him up with!

My pot belly stove essential oil burner, $2.00 from Trade Me.  In a previous life I was studying to be
an aromatherapist and owned 22 oil burners.  This is the only one I have now, it's too cute
and unique to part with. 

My cherry cup and saucer, free from the local cat rescue charity shop.
I don't even drink tea but it makes me happy just to look at it!

My Union Jack cushions, $8 for the pair from St John's op shop.
Couldn't resist this cheery reminder of home!

My leopard print lamp, $15 from a local lady who repurposes and upcycles.
I'm a bit of a lamp nut, can never have too many but this is my favourite!

My fondue set, free from the local Koha Shed.  Told you I was a hippie!

Roger the writing desk.  This is the only piece of furniture I know of which is coming with me.  He was free from my local Buy and Sell Facebook page and I saved him from the dump!  Roger houses several of my favourite things such as my rose quartz crystal, my heart shaped salt lamp, the Jade Buddha my mum bought me from overseas, my favourite books (Mrs Beeton's Everyday Cookery and Housekeeping and The World of Pooh by AA Milne), my favourite photo, the mini herb and vegetable pots I'm collecting from a current supermarket promotion and sitting to my left is Tessie Bear, an adorable fully jointed, rubber-nosed teddy who is the same age as me.  I also have two favourite framed pictures, one is above Roger as you can see, which is a Maiko Ngaio print (which I bought brand new but still asked the artist herself for a discount and she gave me 20% off) and says 'She believed she could so she did' and the other is an original Love Lis print of a lioness wearing a tiara.  Sounds corny but I guess you could say both of them remind me of who I am and what I'm capable of.  Gareth always thinks I'm bonkers when I talk about the importance of Feng Shui and the art of placement but looking at that list I think I'm pretty good at the Japanese KonMari art of decluttering as well - keep only the things which bring you joy!

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Caution to the Wind

So let's see, where are we up to?  Last time we spoke, before I got sidetracked by a jinxed purple Mazda and a cute blonde Welshman, I had made the rather monumental (for me) decision to sell Nawtypoo Cottage.  Having come quite accidentally and unexpectedly to this conclusion, something rather funny happened almost immediately.  I put the glass down.  If you don't know what this expression means, click on the link and watch it right now because there are a lot of people out there holding glasses.  It was as though an immense cloud, which had been hanging over me since goodness only knows when, decided to just float away.  I started sleeping again and I stopped worrying.  Literally just like that.  Incidentally I really appreciate everyone's wise and supportive words, it meant a lot to me to know your thoughts.
So we are on the market and if I'm honest with myself I detached my feelings from Nawtypoo probably a good year ago.  We haven't got around to listing yet, I just need to stop procrastinating and worrying whether everything is clean and tidy enough and be brave and let people in.  The subject of listing or selling privately is a whole separate blog which I'm currently struggling with so today we will go with the big question everyone is asking me - 'Where are you going?'  To which I immediately and uncontrollably beam back at them, all toothy and twinkly-eyed 'Everywhere!'   Yes dear reader, I am going to buy a motorhome!  To be honest, it's always been my plan, my dream.  I've been researching this lifestyle for months.  I'm just very lucky that now I get to achieve my dream a little earlier than planned, and with the love of my life in tow rather than just me and a tubby, snoring spaniel (although of course she is coming too)!

My reasons for choosing a life on the road are many, but in a nutshell these are the main ones:

* I have no idea where I want to be right now.  I know where I don't want to be and that is here, but I do not want to tie myself to anywhere I may not like or which isn't calling to me.  I also do not want to rent, that much I know.  I refuse to hand over my money to anyone for a property which is not mine.

* A motorhome does not cost anywhere near as much as a house.  If my home sells in the vicinity of the price it has been valued at, I will be completely debt free and mortgage free.  I will also have a roof over my head which is all mine and with a bit of luck a nice little nest egg to grow some significant savings; which is a lot more than I could ever hope to achieve in my current situation.

*I am in the position to be able to live wherever I like because I can write from anywhere.  My choice of lifestyle really will enable me to live my dream - to write and travel, travel and write.  My writing will be more prolific, I will be more inspired by the things I see and experience and all going to plan I might finally get to write the books that have been sitting in my head for so long.  I can also be wherever I need to be should any of my family ever need me.  

Excited doesn't begin to describe how I feel at the prospect.  I am so blessed and fortunate to have someone in my life who is just like me, who doesn't really want or need anything but to just be happy. I already know how to live on next to nothing and I will continue to live this way, but without the stress of having the world and his wife chasing me for money and never being able to hang on to any of it myself.  I came across a poem a few days ago and I think this sums up my decision perfectly:

'You start dying slowly
if you do not travel,
if you do not read,
if you do not listen to the sounds of life,
if you do not appreciate yourself.

You start dying slowly when you kill your self-esteem,
when you do not let others help you.
You start dying slowly if you become a slave to your habits,
walking every day on the same paths - if you do not change your routine,
if you do not wear different colours, or you do not speak to those you don't know.

You start dying slowly if you avoid to feel passion and its turbulent emotions, those that make your eyes glisten and your heart beat fast.
You start dying slowly if you do not change your life when you are not satisfied with your job, or with your love, or with your surroundings.
If you do not go after a dream,
if you do not allow yourself
at least once in your lifetime
to run away from sensible advice'.

Pablo Neruda

I've been doing a lot of research into sensible advice lately too and I don't think I am being silly in choosing to invest my money into a home which isn't a house.  In fact I think it's quite sensible; at least I will only be using part of my money and growing the rest.  Were I to buy more bricks and mortar it would necessitate using all of my money from the sale and would also be a huge gamble as like I have already mentioned, I don't even know where I want to live.  This way, should I find anywhere I want to settle on my travels, I shall be able to do so.

There's one other reason for choosing to live my dream now, rather than later - my dad.  He was a truly lovely man.  Everyone loved him and everyone loved being in his company.  He worked harder than anyone I knew.  During the week he was a builder, at weekends he worked for a local earl and his family, looking after their massive grounds and garden.  He enjoyed it there, the peace, the solitude, the people, but most of all he did it for me and mum, to provide for his family.  When he wasn't working for someone else he was working at home.  Every night he would nod off in his armchair in front of the TV, his fingers draped over his face like a bunch of bananas.  Mum and I would always look across the room at each other and giggle.  It never occurred to me as a kid how tired he must always have been.  

When I moved across the other side of the world age 19, Mum and Dad came to visit me twice.  Dad loved NZ and talked about how he would love to emigrate when he retired.  I have such fond memories of him sitting for hours watching the boats come in and out at Tairua, and carrying five month old Liam in a backpack up the steep Coromandel bush tracks.  We didn't know that perfect day as he sat with his baby grandson on his knee that Dad had terminal cancer.  He passed away eight months later, aged just 57.  Dad never got to retire.  He never got to do any of the things he and Mum dreamed of being able to do when he reached old age.  His biggest regret was not spending more time with Mum and me, always working instead wherever there was work available.  I don't want that to happen to me.  I want to live the life I dream of while I'm still young enough to be able to.  I think Dad would approve.

On the whole, most people think it's a brilliant idea - in fact most people sound envious.  'I've always wanted to do that!' or 'Ohh, I wish I could do that!'  My response is 'What's stopping you?'  There have been a couple of people who ask 'But where will you settle?  What happens when you want to buy a house?  What if you can't?'  If truth be known, I don't know that I will want to settle - but if I do it won't be for a very long time, and it most likely won't be a conventional house but a tiny house or something of the like.  Like I said, I don't need much.  My days of spending and consuming and wanting are long gone.  Give me a beautiful view before my eyes, my soul mate by my side and my loyal four-legged friend at my feet and I will be completely and totally happy :)

Thursday, 8 September 2016


As you have probably gathered, the past few years have not really been the best.  However, as you may also have gathered, there is also one thing which has more than made up for every bit of the bad stuff.  Seeing as yesterday marked our first anniversary together I thought it would be a good time to introduce Gareth to you properly and share the tale of how we met. It's quite a cute story if I say so myself!

Life for me this time last year was, shall we say rather settled.  The highlight of my week days was watching Shortland Street and My Kitchen Rules, topped only by the omnibus edition of Come Dine With Me on weekends.  Most days I did nothing and saw no one.  Even so, I was actually quite happy.  Lonely but happy - after all, the loneliness was my choice.  I didn't WANT to see anyone.  For the first time in my life I was completely comfortable with myself and I was relishing it.

One thing was for certain, I did NOT want a relationship.  Which was just as well as I truly believed there was nobody out there for me anyway - ever.  As far as I was concerned, Ali and me had just over one more year together before he left home like his brother and from then on it would be just me and the pets, forever and ever.  If you don't let anyone get close to you, they can't hurt you.  And nobody was ever getting close to me again.

Although it was just Ali and me at home, I was becoming increasingly frustrated at the cost of food for the both of us and I remembered an article in a Simple Savings newsletter from years back, which said basically the only way to combat rising food prices was to grow as much as you could yourself. So one day I decided to take matters into my own hands and give it a go.  I didn't know what I was doing really, but anything was better than nothing, right?  Being a really adventurous sort I decided I would start with a herb garden.  I prised myself away from Come Dine With Me and headed down to my local Bunnings to see what I could find.

I wandered through the store towards the outdoor area and suddenly came face to face with a tall, blonde haired chap with twinkling blue eyes and the warmest, most genuine smile I'd ever seen.  'Hi Jackie, how's it going?  Can I help you with anything?'  he asked.  This guy knew my name?  He'd never spoken to me before!  'I'm good thanks, I'm just looking for some parsley', I smiled back.  Jeez Jack, what an inspiring answer.  'No worries, well just sing out if you need anything, OK?' he grinned at me one more time before going on his way.  'Yes!  I want you to come back and talk to me some more!', I was shocked to find myself thinking.  A tad flustered, I got my parsley along with a few other bits and pieces and went home and planted my herb garden.

Mission accomplished, I was on my way to saving.  Next step, planting a vegie garden!  There was just one thing bugging me.  Try as I might, I could not get that smiley blonde guy out of my head. What the hell was wrong with me?  I knew his name as he did mine - when you live in a town as small as ours everyone knows who everyone is, even if you don't know them.  For a brief moment I contemplated sending him a friend request on Facebook but immediately gave myself a harsh talking to and a slap on the wrist.  'For goodness sake, he's much younger than you, what on earth would he ever see in someone like you?  Stop acting like a silly schoolgirl and let that be the end of it!' I told myself.

But it wasn't the end of it.  I checked my phone the following day and almost fell over to see a friend request pop up - it was him!  I immediately accepted but again resigned myself to the fact that he was probably just being nice.  Besides, I knew I would never have the courage to talk to him anyway. Even so, all of a sudden I found myself taking on all manner of home improvement and gardening projects which necessitated regular visits to Bunnings.  My vegie garden was enormous and a true sight to behold.  I even built a rockery - my garden had never looked so good!  And every time I hoped that smiling blonde chap with the lilting Welsh accent would serve me, even if it was only to exchange a few sentences about our opposing teams' performances in the Rugby World Cup.

It was the World Cup, in the end which finally brought us together.  Feeling brave one afternoon, I tagged him in a cheeky Facebook post I had seen about the Welsh rugby team.  He responded and that was it, we messaged back and forth that night for six hours.  We talked about everything, our homelands, our travel aspirations, his recent months spent in Canada, music - despite our difference in age we had so much in common.  He was articulate, intelligent, creative, funny and refreshingly honest.  Now here was a change for me - someone who could hold a real conversation!  All I ever wanted was someone who actually wanted to talk and get to know me; instead all I had ever got before now was drunken texts or phone calls from blokes I barely knew who thought I would like nothing better than a 3am visit from them, or even better, a photo of their willy.  Honestly, who says romance is dead?

Gareth on the other hand seemed genuinely quite happy to chat and so we did, night after night, from the moment he came home from work until it was time to go to sleep, when he would wish me 'Nos Dda' - goodnight in Welsh.  Before long, he confessed that he had felt the same as me the day I had come in to get my parsley and both of us were feeling that perhaps we might really have something special.  The only thing standing in the way was me.  I was petrified of dating someone new, was still adamant I didn't want a relationship and besides, Gareth had talked many times of his intentions to go travelling again, I didn't want to get attached to him only to get hurt again.  There was also someone else I had to worry about and that was Ali.  He was my steadfast protector and bodyguard and he and his brother had had a lot to deal with over the past couple of years with young men stalking and hassling me; he even used to sleep next to me armed with a cricket bat and we had called the police more than once.  When it came to men and me, he trusted no one and neither did I.  I also worried that he wouldn't like me dating a younger man and I was right, he didn't.

But in typical Ali style he had his own way of dealing with things and in typical Gareth style, so did he.  I was still working evenings at the local club back then when I realised I had left my wallet in my car and I needed it.  'Could you please drop off my wallet to me?' I texted Ali.  'Nah I can't sorry, I'm busy', came the reply.  I was about to text back 'What are you doing that's so important that you can't spare two minutes to bring me my wallet?!' when he messaged again, 'I'm with Gareth, we've been hanging out for like three hours already', it said, followed by a smiley face.  I couldn't stop smiling to myself, those two! Without my knowledge they had got together while I was safely out of the way so that Gareth could assure my son that his intentions were honourable and so Ali could see for himself that this guy was not out to hurt his mum.  After that, Gareth finally persuaded me to go out on a date and although I was still absolutely terrified, I agreed to go bushwalking up one of the local tracks.  I was worried that I wouldn't know what to say; after all, it would take a good couple of hours to walk the Parakiwai Valley track - and what if I was too unfit and collapsed in an unattractive heap like a sweaty, hyperventilating hippo?

Needless to say, I didn't collapse and we didn't run out of conversation either.  In fact, we were both gobsmacked when we finally got back to the car park and realised that we had been in the bush for seven hours!  We'd been so busy talking about everything under the sun and watching the world go by we hadn't even noticed the time passing.  This guy was an old soul, a beautiful soul, no doubt about that.  But even after that I was still putting up a fight.  I couldn't bear being hurt again, I just couldn't and if I kept everyone at arm's length, well then nobody could hurt me.  And then something really scary happened.  Gareth told me that he had been offered a three-year apprenticeship, which would mean he would be committed to staying here instead of going travelling.  'I never had a reason to stay before - but now I do', he said.  Crikey - he meant me?  That was real relationship talk that was!  I was so happy he had a reason to stay - but could I really let anyone get that close to me?

'For God's sake Mum, this guy is willing to change his whole life to be with you, the least you can do is give it a go!' Ali said exasperated, as I mumbled my concerns.  Maybe he was right - but not tonight.  I was getting ready to go out with a group of friends for the night and it was going to be fun because that's what I was after all, a strong and independent woman who could do whatever she flipping well wanted!  Except it wasn't fun.  I was bored, I felt as though I was in a meat market and as I wandered around aimlessly hoping to find a decent source of conversation to no avail I realised there was only one person I wanted to be with.  'Go!  Just go!' urged my friend Gail and I did.  I went straight to Gareth and I never had even the slightest glimmer of fear or doubt ever again.

As a couple, we have probably been through more together in our first year than a lot of couples ever do.  So much sickness, sadness, stress and drama.  But every morning we still wake up smiling.  I don't know how he has managed it, I really don't but he has stood by me through the worst and most trying time of my life.  For a good part of it he was also extremely unwell himself; there were many days where he could barely move for weeks at a time, to the extent that he had to leave his apprenticeship just a few months after he started.  And I think it's safe to say he's definitely not after me for my money!  But I do think a lot of my frugal ways have rubbed off on him.  Even yesterday, our anniversary or 'Parsley Day' as we affectionately call it was celebrated modestly but perfectly.  'Look - it's 'Steak Out' night at The Lincoln!' I spotted as we walked past yesterday.  'You can get a steak dinner and a beer or cider for $22', I smiled at him, knowing how much he loves steak.  'Hmm - but if we go to the club it will only cost $22 for BOTH of us if we get a burger and chips!' he pointed out.  'True - tell you what, how about we just go to the supermarket on the way home and get something nice for dinner and I'll make us chocolate mousse for pudding?'  I said.  So that's what we did and it was just perfect!  As for the parsley I bought the day we met, I still have it and do my best to nurture it, although I have to say our relationship has thrived a lot better than my plant!

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

The Jinxed Life of Mildred the Mazda

When I first started working for Simple Savings around 12 years ago, I remember Fiona Lippey telling me she had bought a new car.  She and Matt had been putting money aside for some time until they had enough to go out and pay cash for a lovely new red set of wheels.  Not being a Simple Saver for very long at that stage I remember being quite amazed.  I didn't know anyone who had saved up like that and paid for something as big as a car without finance, I couldn't even begin to imagine it! The only car I had ever purchased outright was Ronald the canary yellow Fiat, who cost the princely sum of $1950 back in 1992 and was bought with money a deceased great uncle had left me.  We only had him a few months before upgrading to a white Suzuki ski bunny jeep and so the years of hire purchase began.

I mentioned a few blogs back that over the past few years as a single woman I had made some rather poor and costly decisions.  I swear to God I will never repeat either of them.  One was to get a credit card (now there is a story you won't believe, how I ended up with those!), the other was to put a $14,000 car on the hock.  When my marriage ended, I really didn't want or need much.  I didn't care if my ex took every stick of furniture and left me sitting eating my dinner on the floor (he didn't do that, quite the opposite in fact) but the one thing I needed was a reliable car.  I was working two hours' drive from home a couple of days a week at the time and when you're driving over a mountain road alone at night with no mobile reception you don't want to be breaking down!  Of course no sooner had I started my new life as a solo mum than my previously reliable Holden started suffering from every mechanical malady under the sun.  After three weeks in a row of being stranded far from home and unable to get back to my boys I could risk it no more.  I didn't know how I was going to afford it, I didn't have any money after all but I needed a new car.  One that would last me a long time, which wouldn't break down on me and would get me home safely to my children each week without mishap.

I rang the one car salesman I knew I could trust and who would look after me.  I rang and told him my predicament and totally expected him to laugh hysterically down the phone.  I had no money whatsover and the only thing I had to trade in was a piece of crap.  But he didn't laugh.  He said 'No problem, I'm sure we can do something!'  He put me on to a finance lady and together we worked out how much I could afford over how long.  He was right, I could afford a car!  At the time I was earning a decent wage and $300 a month was do-able.  I wasn't really thinking of the long term, all I was thinking about was that I was a working solo mother of two active teenage boys and we needed a car.  They even agreed to give me $1000 for my hopeless Holden to trade in and use as a deposit. Just a few hours later, Liam and I were driving home in our lovely new purple Mazda Demio.  I named her Mildred and I loved her.

Mildred served me well and to this day she has never let me down.  Unfortunately life was not kind to her in return.  I bought her in June 2013.  In October the same year someone run out in front of me driving home at night and I swerved to avoid them and hit a sign post, causing $3,000 worth of damage to poor Mildred's front.  As if that wasn't bad enough, before the insurance claim had even been processed someone else reversed out of a driveway without looking and ploughed straight into my passenger side!  Fortunately both claims were accepted and with the exception of a permanent dent in her front number plate (which always annoyed the heck out of me) she looked as good as new again.

From then on Mildred mostly managed to avert disaster.  I did reverse into something white (I can't recall what) and scratch her rear bumper and I actually managed to drive into a brick house (fortunately not at speed, Ali dropped his phone under my seat and I reached underneath to help him locate it, not realising I hadn't put the handbrake on, was actually very funny) but apart from that things were uneventful.

The big problem after a while however was not fixing Mildred but PAYING for her.  Although I was earning good money at the start, this unfortunately did not last and I began to struggle more and more to come up with the $300 each month for the finance company.  Not only that, my registration was almost always late because I could never afford to pay for it and several times I got caught and fined for driving without my rego.  When circumstances really took a turn for the worse I got in touch with the finance company.  They reduced my payment down to $160 per month for six months but there would be a $350 charge payable at the end of the loan term for doing this and it also tagged on another 12 months to the agreement, which was now five years instead of four.  It felt neverending.

The time was fast approaching when I could see I was going to have to sell Mildred.  The end of my six months of lower payments was approaching, my driver side wing mirror was hanging off after it was swiped past another car and being an electric mirror was going to cost up to $300 to replace.  To top it off, I could no longer afford to insure her, or even put petrol in her.  Every time I or anyone else drove anywhere I just had to hope and pray nothing would happen.  Gareth and I talked about it over and over again but every time we came to the same conclusion - Mildred had to go.  I didn't mind to be honest.  Sure it was an inconvenience but I had been doing the maths for a long time.  I no longer wanted the debt and I knew how much I could save.  I'd been thinking about it for a while, ever since Rob Stock, Sunday Star Times' money editor mentioned to me he had also sold his car in favour of cycling to work.  'That's $7,000 a year I don't have to earn any more', he'd said.  While Rob lived in the city, I didn't see why we couldn't do the same where we lived.

The only thing I had left to do was get Mildred through her Warrant of Fitness to enable Ali to take his driving test.  The mechanics did their best to fix up the mirror for me so I didn't have to buy a new one and did a wonderful job.  All she needed was a couple of new front tyres, which were a couple of hundred dollars more than I wanted to spend but nonetheless rather necessary and would be the last I would have to spend on her before she got sold.  Choosing to live without a car might be a drastic move for some, and sure, it wasn't going to be totally inconvenient but the thought of wiping out $5000 worth of debt to the finance company, plus no more forking out for petrol, WoF's, rego or insurance had me looking forward to it.

Having successfully passed his test, Ali - already an experienced driver of more than two years, revelled in his freedom and I indulged him one last trip in Mildred to go and visit his girlfriend for the day half an hour away.  He was due to get a car of his own the next day and I planned to sell Mildred immediately.  Now he had a job of his own, running and maintaining a vehicle was down to him, not me!  He said he would be home around 4pm but as yet there was no sign of him.  At 4.35pm a text came through, 'I crashed Mum, I crashed'.  For a brief moment I thought he was joking - but he wasn't.  He was driving the winding road home in the wet when he struck water on a corner and spun out, hydroplaning from one side of the road to the other before smashing into an oncoming car. Fortunately everyone involved was fine - but Mildred wasn't.

'I'm so sorry Mum, I'm so sorry', he said over and over again.  'I don't care about the car, it's just a car.  I'm not angry, I'm just glad you're OK!' I assured him.  I was glad for the two new tyres I had just bought too, otherwise things could have been even worse.  The hardest part for me was not being able to get to him.  For almost two hours I waited at home, picturing my poor boy waiting alone in the rain, not realising that several witnesses had stopped to help and that he and the other driver were being well cared for by police and ambulance officers.  I never saw Mildred again but I almost fainted when a police officer showed me the photos a week later.  My boy had been so, so lucky.  And I really didn't care about the car at all.

The only other thing I did care about was the fact that I hadn't paid my insurance for three months.  I had received a letter with regard to my policy's impending lapse but there was nothing I could do about it, I didn't have the spare $400+ to cover the arrears.  From where I stood, I had a written off car with no insurance, I owed over $5000 to the finance company and was also presumably going to get stung for the other driver's vehicle damage as well.  Despondent, I rang the insurance company and explained what happened.  'I can't imagine I would possibly be covered but I can't afford another vehicle so I'd better at least cancel the policy', I said.  'Hang on hun, I'm only new at this but I think I might be able to help', said the woman at the end of the phone.  'Can I put you on hold while I talk to my supervisor?'  'Of course', I said, feeling touched but none too hopeful.  A couple of minutes later she was back on the line.  'We can cover you', she said.  I swear to goodness I could feel her smiling down the phone.  'If you can pay $132 today that will bring your vehicle policy up to date and we can process your claim'.  It meant using our whole food and living allowance for the week but I didn't hesitate - just when everything seemed so hopeless, my luck had turned around!

So, for a very pleasant change, rather than slagging off insurance companies I would like to give a great big shout out to Tower insurance.  Ever since I switched to them a while back I have found their service to be nothing less than consistently brilliant.  Dealing with them is always fast and easy and their staff are all so lovely, friendly and professional.  In particular I would like to thank a lady called Frances who dealt with my claim.  She rang every two days just to ask how Ali was and to make sure he was coping both physically and emotionally after his frightening experience.  Mildred's pre-accident market value enabled me to pay off every cent I owed to the finance company AND the $1050 excess for Ali being under 21 AND I still have enough left over for a whole mortgage payment.  So funnily enough, things have actually worked out rather well.  I may not have a car any more - but I no longer have a horrible debt either and most importantly I still have my son.  I shall miss Mildred but I'm in no rush to have another car.  One thing is for certain - if I ever do, I'll be saving up first and paying for it in cash!

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Should I stay or should I go?

Today's post has been a long time coming.  I'm writing it for various reasons; because I need to let it out, because I need to try and make sense of all the thoughts that are going round in my head and because I'm hoping that perhaps you, dear reader can help point me in the direction of the path I need to follow.  I apologise if my ramble is long; whilst I can't divulge everything I would like to out of respect for the privacy of others, I think I can impart enough to enable you to understand my predicament.  In a nutshell, I am currently teetering on the edge of making the biggest decision of my life.

Exactly three years and two months ago I became the proud and very nervous owner of Nawtypoo Cottage.  I fell in love with our new home instantly and vowed I would never leave.  Unfortunately this honeymoon period was shortlived and much as I still love my little house, these last three years have been pretty much a constant hell.  There you go, I've said it now.  I think my boys would agree too, that on the whole it's been bloody awful.  I don't know whether I'm jinxed or something, sometimes I think I must just be a really bad person - but everything that can possibly go wrong these past three years has done so.  Even so, I've hung in there, clinging on to my house month after month in the hope and belief that things will get better.  The problem is, they haven't and I think after 38 months of taking two small steps forward and three giant ones back, I have finally come to the end of the road.

First I guess I should bring you up with the play on my current situation but I want to make one thing clear.  I'm not doing this to look all 'woe is me' or because I want sympathy.  Some things have been my fault but a lot of them, the biggest ones haven't.  I'm doing it because I don't want people to think that living a frugal lifestyle doesn't work.  I don't want people reading all the things I've been doing to save money and thinking 'hmph, well it's not done her any good, has it?' because it has.  Without the knowledge and skills I have to get through each day, I would have lost Nawtypoo in the first six months.  To put it bluntly, I've just had an absolute shitload of rotten luck.

To quote the Queen herself, this past year in particular has been a 'annus horriblis' - make that 18 months actually.  I have lost three jobs since last October alone, none of which have been my fault. I have been on a medical benefit since January - not because I am sick but because I have been caring for someone who has been.  Going out to work has not been possible during this time and I have been granted a benefit on the grounds of acute stress.  Incidentally I have to say that WINZ have been nothing but incredibly helpful and supportive during this time and indeed ever since I became a solo mother.  I know not everyone is so fortunate but my local branch totally rocks, I dread to think where I would be without them.

Losing my job at the local newspaper at the start of the year was a bit of a bummer but was understandable given the circumstances.  Things were going to be harder financially for sure - but as long as I still had my That's Life! magazine column we would be OK.  I had been writing it for nine years and that was what paid for the roof over our heads.  Of course, no sooner had I said that than a couple of weeks later I received a phone call from Australia, advising me with regret that all their freelance columnists were being let go and from now on everything was going to be done in house.  So while their weekly money saving column still says 'with Penny Wise', it's not me and hasn't been for a long while.  Still, nine years is one heck of a good run for a magazine column, you don't come across those too often!  And it was always going to come to an end one day; it was just unfortunate that for me the timing couldn't be worse.  In addition, poor Gareth became ill shortly after.  Despite numerous tests doctors never really got to the bottom of it but it was so debilitating that he had to give up work in April.

When I think about it now, if I say so myself I've done bloody well.  I've kept up with my mortgage, kept the bills paid and kept us all fed, on $500 a week.  Wherever I can I sell stuff on Facebook; more often than not this pays for our groceries and then I can put more money towards bills.  I don't have an Eftpos card so I am never tempted into spending more than necessary and I don't even have a car any more.  When we ran out of firewood we went to the beach every day and collected driftwood because there wasn't room in the budget to buy any more.  I'm not saying that to be 'oh look at me, my life is so hard', I'm saying it to show how frugal I've been.  I've literally tried everything to hang on to my home.  And most of the time, I don't mind.

But you know what?  I really feel like I'm done.  I can't do this any more.  This morning I have 69c in my bank account and that's all we have for the next two days unless I sell some more stuff.  I can't keep supporting us all this way.  I'm so sick of being stressed out and exhausted from spending every minute of every day thinking about how I can make things better and coming up with no answers. Gareth just started a new job today and I'm now at the stage where I can pick up more work (although that's a bit more difficult these days with no car) but it's too late.  I don't think we can bounce back from this.  Not even a small bounce.

So this is my dilemma.  I have just paid my mortgage for August and I don't know where the hell September's is going to come from.  I'm pretty confident things are going to hit the fan.  There is just one thing I can do which will make all of this go away - sell my house.  The housing market is going crazy where we live and I already have people queuing up wanting to buy it - and I haven't even had it valued yet!  I guess what is stopping me most is pride.  Pride and not wanting to give up.  When my marriage ended I was told I would never own my own home.  I did.  I was told I wouldn't ever live in anything but a tumbledown rental in a shitty part of town.  I ended up achieving the opposite.  And I love Nawtypoo, it tears at my heart so much to let her go.  But as Gareth said, I bought Nawtypoo because I wanted to give my children a secure roof over their heads.  I didn't want us to be in a rental that we could get kicked out, as happens to so many lovely families here.  Once the boys left school and were old enough to leave home, I didn't care what happened to me, but I wanted to at least be able to do that.

And I have done that. As Gareth also pointed out, I've done what I set out to do.  Maybe now it's time for a new chapter.  I know in my heart he's right, I'm still just having trouble letting go.  I can hardly blame the poor bloke for wanting me to get a wriggle on, being with me right now must be a bloody nightmare!  Seriously, he deserves a medal; much more than a medal.  Right now I can't even buy him a bar of chocolate to show him how much I love him.  It's been tough on all of us for too long.

Well would you look at that.  I seem to have written myself out of my dilemma.  Which was to ask, do I hang on?  Do I stay and keep fighting, keep trying to make things work at the expense of my health, my sanity and my loved ones' happiness and well being?  Or do I sell my house, be debt free and start again with a clean slate and hopefully a nice little profit to boot?  It's a no brainer isn't it.  Even if we don't know right now where we'll end up it's got to be better than this.  Ladies and gentlemen, you heard it first here.  Nawtypoo Cottage is officially up for sale.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

The School of Life

If there's one thing I've always told my two boys it's that 'I don't mind what you do when you leave school, as long as you're happy'.  Which as we all know is the important thing.  However what I didn't realise until recently was that what I really thought was 'I don't mind what you do when you leave school, as long as you're happy.  But ideally it would be great if you went to university because it sounds nice and everyone will know how clever my children are'.  Fortunately for me, obliging young chaps that they are, that was the plan for both of them.  Until recently, that is.  And as it turns out, I don't mind at all.

Years ago I remember seeing a plaque on a lady's wall which said 'For things to change, first I must change'.  As I mentioned in a recent post, we have been undergoing some major changes around here and there are still bigger ones in the pipeline.  I try not to write too much about my boys these days; as far as I'm concerned they are both adults with their own lives and they don't really need Mumsie broadcasting their every move to all and sundry.  But I am going to write about them today because I am proud of them both for making brave changes and jumping into the unknown.  

Liam you may remember, went away to uni half way down the country at the start of 2015.  He quickly settled in to uni and whilst I gave up all hope of being able to teach him to cook, he still managed to survive.  He loved Wellington, loved his friends and as his second year commenced he loved his new flat too.  There was just one major thing he didn't love any more - his degree.  Whilst the first year was really interesting and enjoyable, the second year was far from what he expected. Every time he came home for a visit he confessed to feeling more and more disillusioned with his course and he wasn't the only one.  Being the first bunch of under graduates in a brand new degree, Liam and his fellow students were, for want of a better expression, guinea pigs and as the second year progressed, more and more of them were becoming frustrated at the lack of direction.

Despite various meetings, complaints from parents and several students already dropping out, by the time they reached half way through the year, they were actually learning more teaching themselves on YouTube than they were in class.  With just one more year to go, Liam was far from confident about the likelihood of being able to find work in his chosen field once he had graduated.  'How on earth will we be able to get a job in such an advanced field?  We haven't learned anything all year!' Each term was the same and he would try and hang on through the next, hoping that things would improve but to no avail.  The only thing that was keeping him there was his love of Wellington and the people around him and the fact that, already now half way through, he didn't want to drop out.

A couple of months ago he came back for a visit and we had a day out together in Hamilton.  Over a huge plate of wedges with all the works, he once again started to tell me how he just didn't know what to do. He didn't want to give up but the fact of the matter was, he just wasn't happy.  The second year of his course was still proving to be a huge letdown and once again he was feeling far from confident about his job prospects if he did see it through.  Being the first bunch of graduates in a new degree, it wasn't as though they had the reassurance of seeing where previous students before them had ended up in life and where their qualifications had taken them.

I could see his dilemma and didn't envy the poor lad at all but was struggling to know what to say for fear of steering him in the wrong direction.  Then out of the blue a middle aged man, possibly older, approached our table, along with his wife.  I had seen them sitting over the other side of the cafe.  'Hi, I hope you don't think this is too weird!  I'm a pastor and I have received a message for the young fella here.  I didn't want to leave without giving it to you.  Do you mind if I share it?'  'Umm, no?' Liam and I looked at each other nervously.  'Here we go', I thought.  'We're about to get a sermon in the middle of the bloody cafe!'  But what he said next surprised the heck of us both.  'You are struggling with some big decisions', he said to Liam.  'You have had a disappointment and you don't know what to do or which path to take.  Don't be scared to go after what you want.  Do what you need to do to be happy.  Everything will be OK, in fact everything will be great!'

Liam and I were absolutely gobsmacked.  How on earth could this guy possibly know what was on his mind?  We had barely even started our conversation?  'Um, OK, thank you!' we said, still lost for words.  No sooner had the couple left the cafe than we wanted to run out and find them to ask him more, but by the time his words had sunk in they had already driven off.  A few days after that, Liam called me to say he had made the decision to leave uni.  'No way am I forking out another $4,000 for another term of teaching myself on YouTube, I can do that for free!' he said.  I couldn't argue with that logic; in fact I was proud of him for seeing it that way and saving himself such a large amount on his student loan.  Besides, now I got to have my eldest boy back and closer to home!  Maybe I could finally give him some cooking lessons!

Liam wasn't the only one struggling with big decisions.  For a long time now Ali had his future planned out.  He was going to leave school at the end of the year and then go to uni to do a Psychology degree.  His heart was so set on it he had already made the decision to commit to six years of study in order to get his Masters.  The only decision he really had to make was which university to go to.  There was just one thing standing in his way - Ali detested school.  Academic he most certainly was, to the extent he could be anything he wanted - but a conformist he definitely wasn't.  Every day his tolerance as a young man still confined in a child's environment grew less and less and he realised he couldn't wait to achieve his independence.  He wanted to join the adult world and earn his own money now.  Seeing my boy as miserable as he was, no way was I going to talk him out of it.  He left school at the end of last term and hasn't looked back.

So now both my boys are out there in the big wide world!  Liam (the most un-morning person I have ever met, if there is such a word) is getting up at 4am every morning and driving to the city, where he works from 6am until 6pm and then drives home again.  He's been so busy I don't even exactly know what he's doing yet!  In typical Liam fashion he just says 'Oh, some labour thing'.  He doesn't really care what he does, he's just saving up to go travelling.  Ali, keen to learn a trade has been doing all sorts from plastering to building before settling on being a painter.  It always makes me smile to see him come home covered in plaster and goodness knows what.  I'm really proud of them for being strong enough to make changes and doing what they needed to in order to be happy.  I think a lot of adults could learn from that - me included - and I have,  But that's a whole other blog!

Thursday, 18 August 2016

$21 Challenge Day 7 - Out with a bang

'Last day of our $21 Challenge today!' I told Ali this morning.  'Thank God', he said.  'What?  Pah, we've eaten really well this week!' I protested.  'I know, just kidding', he grinned.  Indeed I couldn't help but chuckle to myself as I served up dinner last night; chicken pie with roast potatoes, kumara and green beans followed by plum and apple crumble.  Ali just polished off the last of the chicken pie for lunch and I still have a ton of chicken left for tonight's dinner - last night's dinner was made just from the wings and legs alone!  There isn't much left at all in the freezer but what did jump out at me was the bottle of cream, which meant just one thing - we could finish our challenge week with Ali's favourite dinner, 'Pasta with Chicken, White Wine and Cream' from the $21 Challenge book!  Talk about going out in style!

I still have to work out the final tally but either way we've done bloody well.  Even before the challenge our weekly food bill was low.  We usually get a $20 vegie box from the local greengrocer each week, as well as a $25 meat pack from the butcher, who does a different range each week.  Not only does this give us plenty of variety and makes us try new dishes and cook new things, it also means we get all our meat and vegetables for just $45 a week and half the time we can stretch our vegie box to last two weeks.  I think that's pretty good value already so the fact that we went without BOTH these things this week AND spent less than the price of just one of them is not a bad effort at all!

It's nice to know I haven't lost the knack, in fact quite the opposite.  It was interesting to note too, how many of our week's meals came from the $21 Challenge book and the fact that these were by no means just dragged out for the Challenge but even after all these years all of them still feature regularly at our family table.  I also made it through the week without laundry powder, dishwashing liquid, pet food and even electricity!  Yes, I am still cooking in the dark every night.  I hope the inconvenience of having no kitchen lights makes itself apparent in the next power bill!  I also learned that when you think you only have enough toothpaste to last one day, there's actually another whole week left in there!

Most of all however I learned how kind people are.  As soon as I announced on Facebook last Friday that I was doing a $21 Challenge out of necessity, I immediately received a lovely message from a friend I haven't seen in years, which said 'I have some spare cash this week, let me help you out.  Doing something good makes the soul feel nice'.  Of course I declined her offer but was truly touched, especially as we haven't seen each other in such a very long time.  That night I also received a message from a local chap who I had ordered a load of firewood from for $50.  'I've decided to give you that firewood for free.  After all, you've helped me out in the past', it read.  'Nooo, I can't do that!  I'm more than happy to pay, I budgeted for it!' I said.  'Tell you what, do you have any fruit in that garden of yours?  How about we do a swap?' came the reply.  Now I can't swear to it, but I'm pretty sure he must have read my post in our local 'Pay It Forward' page on Facebook, offering free oranges, lemons and mandarins!  'Yes, I do!  you can have as much as you like!'  I typed back.  'Sounds like a fair trade to me!' he said.  Then Sunday morning my phone beeped with a message from another friend.  'I see you're living on $20 this week.  You can double that at least if you come round to my place this morning and do some cleaning - today only, mind!'  That was one offer I did accept!

All in all, I ended up making another $130 through that cleaning job and selling stuff on our Buy and Sell Facebook page.  But I still stuck to my $21 Challenge principles and didn't use that money.  For one thing, I had already announced I was doing a $21 Challenge and I was committed to seeing it through - but it made me feel even better knowing that I did have money there I COULD fall back on but still didn't need to resort to using it.  The only rule we did bend was on the very first night of the Challenge.  Gareth and I had already planned a movie night that night, with a DVD and treats.  That was, until I realised we only had $20 for the whole week.  Taking it out of our food budget was not an option and not being big spenders or extravagant romantics we had been looking forward to it.  There was only one thing we could do - raid the coin jar!  Not that there was much in it anyway but we managed to scrape together enough for a $3.50 DVD rental, a bar of chocolate and a bag of popcorn. Doesn't cost much to make us happy!

One very sorry looking freezer!

It's almost time to cook my final Challenge dinner and one of the best things about it is that it is so quick and easy.  As a rule I don't miss eating meat but I will tonight, as I watch the others while tucking into my Pumpkin and Chickpea Casserole!  I must say, I'm not looking forward to tomorrow though, when we have to do one heck of a grocery shop.  I could really do with that $30 transaction fee the bank took off me!  We don't even have flour any more and we're almost out of butter and cheese, both of which will get used up tonight.  But still, we've used up a whole lot of things this week which wouldn't have got used otherwise and I'm really proud of both our efforts and our resolve.  You can bet I won't be celebrating with a glass of wine though, the only glass of bubbles I'm looking forward to is Diet Coke!