First day back at school today! Except one son is still snoring in bed as he's too old to go to school and the other is old enough to drive himself. Ah yes, the days of neatly polished shoes and sandwiches with the crusts cut off are long gone! Even so, we have a hell of a lot of work to do. Ali has gone back to his 'new old' school today and already we have started putting money aside for his year of education. It was very nice upon enrolling last week to meet his Outdoor Education teacher, who as well as giving us a brilliant run down of what we could expect from the course, also warned us upfront we would be looking at around $600 for the year to cover the various trips, gear and so forth. That's just for one subject; others such as Sports Science we can expect to fork out just as much, if not more but a little warning is so very much appreciated. When his older brother started Year 13 last year we were given no such information and after 12 years of not paying too much more than the annual school fee and the odd gold coin donation, almost had heart failure at the invoices he used to bring home. In fact I'm still paying it off at $100 a month! At least the end is in sight with that and the principal was actually quoted in the local paper as urging parents to talk to the school about arranging payments after news broke about families having to resort to loan sharks in order to cover their kids' subject fees.
I hadn't even thought of doing that myself, which is merciful but I have absolutely no wish to spend this year like the last, stressing out about school costs, especially when we still have two more years to go! So I'm looking after my future self and future Ali by putting my Accommodation Allowance from WINZ into a separate back account each week. Don't get me wrong, I really appreciate any assistance I get! But no offence WINZ, $35 a week doesn't really make too much of a dent in my $1542 monthly mortgage. In fact, I don't even notice whether it's there or not! I would rather put it in a place where I can watch it grow and really do some good so that when Ali comes home waving a bill for the latest tramping/white water rafting/chopper excursion I can smile and say 'Of course son!' rather than doing a Mrs Brown-style impersonation of running around the house saying 'Jaysus' and 'Feck' for an hour and a half and making the poor boy feel horribly guilty. I don't know if I'm even allowed to do that with my $35 a week but I won't tell them if you don't!
At least that's pretty easy to set up and once it's done, it's 'out of sight, out of mind'. Liam has precisely 12 - 12!!! - days before he leaves home and I'm trying to do my best to impart a lifetime of information in order to ensure he doesn't starve to death in the first week. Initially he told me he could survive perfectly well on two-minute noodles (the only thing he is happy to cook confidently despite my best efforts) - until he heard from other students who had been there that he would get sick of those in the first week. All of a sudden he is demanding to cook dinner every night! I can see our main meals are going to be somewhat random over the next couple of weeks as he learns but that doesn't matter, the important thing is that he feels prepared. I remember when I left home at 19 I could barely do more than peel a potato and I ended up writing two cook books so guess there's hope for us all!
Apart from the crash course in cooking, I'm trying to eke as much as I can out of our tiny food budget for the next two weeks to be able to compile a decent stash of basics for the big fella to take with him; you know, really exciting things such as shower gel, cooking oil and Marmite which will nevertheless prove invaluable so that he doesn't have to spend every cent he has stocking up as soon as he gets there. It's a bit of a bugger because Inland Revenue cut his share of our Working for Families Tax Credit on January 1st without warning and this has made a humungous difference to our food shopping. Don't get me wrong, I expected it to happen once he left home but he hasn't left home yet! I'd like to see the IRD powers that be try and feed a 6'5" grizzly teenager for six weeks on thin air! You're probably thinking 'doesn't he have a job?' and the answer to that is yes, long story but it only equates to around six hours a week, which was rather different to the full time position he thought he was getting. What sort of mother would I be if I took money off the poor fella for board every week, he doesn't earn enough! You would think IRD would see that from his tax contributions! Now that we don't have his share coming in, we can really see what a huge difference it made. Still, Ali and I can live off the smell of an oily rag if it means we can put together a decent 'bottom drawer' for Liam. As it is he's already madly applying for jobs via Student Jobsearch in preparation for the big move, although options so far look pretty limited unless you like childminding or getting your kit off! Not even kidding...
I was very interested (and relieved!) to see a brilliant feature on student finance yesterday by Rob Stock here which reminded me we also have to go bank shopping to see where Liam can get the best deal for his student requirements. Mind you, I can't say that it's thanks to the banks that we know to do that; the suggestion came from one of his mates' mothers in the same situation! As Rob says, the banks are being incredibly quiet this year about blowing their trumpets as to who is the best financial institution to look after our future generation. Add that to the to-do list for the week!
Another thing to do this week is to get my health checks up to scratch for my new life insurance policy. I've had a huge response from people who are now madly checking the small print of their insurance policies to see whether they could possibly fall into the same unfortunate boat as me. Ironically I was fortunate in that I was only a Westpac Life customer for six months before making a claim, however some of my acquaintances have been loyally paying the same company for years and are horrified to think that perhaps they too, even after all this time are not actually covered. Fortunately not all insurance companies are equal. After months of ringing me as regular as clockwork, I finally let Cigna have a crack over the phone last week and the difference was incredible. I'm not sure who was more impressed, me with such a clued up consultant or him with such a clued up customer! Funnily enough he had heard I was a writer and knew that I was really going to put him through the mill with his questioning but he didn't bat an eyelid. He asked every single question that I should have been asked (and indeed have always been asked in every other insurance policy I've ever had) and in return I was all but throwing information at him, offering them to look at my medical records upfront.
The conversation with Cigna, whilst over the phone took over 45 minutes compared to around 10 minutes in person with Westpac and I felt confident that we had covered everything. I had been happy with the monthly sum from Westpac but Cigna were charging less than half again, for the same amount of cover! The guy (I can't remember his name so let's call him Jeff) was brilliant and at the end of the conversation said 'Right, as we thought, the computer is not going to accept your application automatically due to your medical history (you know, the breast lump and the dodgy smear the other company never asked about?) So from here it will go to our underwriters and they will get in touch with you if they need more information'. I was duly contacted the following day by a lovely lady underwriter who was as honest with me as I was with her. She wasn't worried about my breast lump. She wasn't in the slightest concerned about my CIN1 smear result and she actually laughed when I told her what the anti depressants were I had been prescribed and never took as they were so mild she couldn't understand why on earth the previous company had kicked up such a fuss.
Even so, she wasn't going to let me off the hook completely scot free. The deal is I have to get a mammogram and a smear test as soon as possible in order for them to accept my application AND with a better result or no worse than the previous one. But hey, I'm happy with that, at least everyone knows from the start where we're at and I have so far been really, really impressed with their service. The worst case scenario is that they will have to increase their monthly payment estimate but even if they were to double it, it will still be less than I was paying before and this time I can relax in the knowledge that I DO actually have cover!