Thursday, 27 August 2015

The Politically Incorrect Teaching Blog

For many years I have carried a dark secret.  When I was 16 years old, my English teacher Mr Janes locked me in the store cupboard of his classroom, along with three or four other pupils.  We had to stay in there ALL day and were unable to talk above a whisper in case the other students going about their work completely unaware in the classroom outside heard us.  Not a soul ever knew we had been there. Was this child abuse?  Nope, quite the opposite - our teacher was helping us to pass our final year of English!  There were a few of us who, due to our own lack of self discipline had got so behind in our essays, there was no way we were going to catch up left to our own devices. Unconventional as it was, Mr Janes knew the only way we would manage it was to be physically put in a situation where we couldn't do anything else!  So a secret plan was hatched and early one morning into the cupboard we went.  I wrote four essays that day and left school a short while later with an A in English.

You don't forget teachers like Mr Janes.  I still have a photo of him somewhere sitting at his desk with a huge smile about to throw a paper plane at me.  I think when you have a real love of the subject you teach it just shines through.  Like the English teacher I had after I left school and went on to college, Mr Tomlin.  Tall, craggy and always seemingly dressed in brown and green he reminded me of a tree - but a tree who brought the whole classroom alive.  We would all sit mesmerised as he sat and regaled stories such as 'Gawain and the Greene Knight' and excerpts of Homer's 'The Iliad' and 'The Odyssey'.  Thanks to him I began a love of Greek mythology and Celtic history which has never left me.  We were all heartbroken when he left.  His replacement was a tiny woman who liked to shout a lot.  She didn't like boys and although I wasn't a boy she didn't like me either.  The classroom no longer came alive, instead we just sat around a table taking it in turns to read passages of books in bored monotone.  It wasn't long before the college canteen became a far nicer place to spend my time than in her class and in the end I stopped bothering to go at all.  Had Mr Tomlin remained my teacher I have absolutely no doubt I would have left college with another A.  As it was, I dropped out.  Amazing what a difference one teacher can make.

Back then the sum total of my financial education at school was how to write out a cheque and fill out a deposit slip.  Sex education wasn't much better but at least it was funny and we got to laugh at the poor teacher who got the job of instructing our class of delinquents how to put a condom on a banana.  I never in a million years thought I would one day be standing up in front of a class myself, much less teaching financial literacy but that's exactly what I did last week when I made my teaching debut.  To say it was nerve wracking was a bit of an understatement.  I thought I still had another week to prepare when I was called one afternoon driving two hours from home and was asked if I could change the day to the following morning.  'But I've got no notes!' I wailed.  'I haven't had a chance to prepare,  I'll have to wing it!'  'That's no problem, I'm sure you'll be fine', said the voice at the other end.  Just to top it off, among the students casting their critical teenage eyes over me was none other than my own son.  Understandably he was as overjoyed at the prospect as I was.  I got up early the next morning and scrawled down a few notes and hoped that would do.  As the Year 12's and 13's wandered curiously into the classroom, another teacher came in to tell me his Year 11 students were also going to be joining us as well, as he thought they should hear what I had to say.  Oh heck, what had I let myself in for?

As it turned out, what I had let myself in for was an hour of what was really quite fun!  The students were lovely and attentive, they asked questions, they didn't fall asleep or spend the entire session playing with their phones as I had expected and we had a lot of laughs - some at my expense and rightly so but mainly because having raised two kids their age I could speak their language and everything I talked about I was able to offer an example in terms and scenarios which were relatable to them.  Just like the many adults I had given workshops to years before, I was able to scan their faces and reactions to see what was pushing their buttons.  Seeing the light bulbs literally go on in some of their heads was hugely rewarding.  Before I knew it, my first class had come to an end.  I knew it wasn't perfect, I was still pretty rusty after several years' break from public speaking but it was all still there and even Ali admitted that for a class which had been done almost entirely off the top of my head, it was pretty good.  Praise indeed!

The best part however came in the days which followed.  I was surprised and chuffed to receive a message from a student who asked if I would possibly be able to do a class just for Year 13's about how to survive after leaving home with regard to smart cooking and shopping and so on. ' Of course!' I said.  Then I received a message from another student and then another.  Then parents started contacting me to say how much their kids had learned and could I please teach them this and that and when were the self esteem classes starting because their son or daughter really needed them?  It was brilliant to receive so much feedback after just one class and I can't wait to do more.  I'm not sure I could ever aspire to being a teacher of such amazing calibre and influence as Mr Tomlin.  I can't imagine ever dressing like Mrs Tiggywinkle and shouting in a squeaky voice at my students like his replacement either, heaven forbid!  But unconventional like Mr Janes?  I think that could be me. Although in this day and age I wouldn't try locking my students in a cupboard, no matter how much I cared about them passing my subject, can you imagine how that would go down in today's society? I'd get struck off in a heartbeat and sued by legions of angry parents!  But hey, look at me.  I survived the cupboard and I'm still writing 25 years later out of choice.  

Even if I only managed to teach one thing from that class which would stick in those kids' minds and help them succeed a little more in later life I would be happy.  But I learned a lot from that class too. These are just a few things I gleaned from that session, I thought that parents and readers may be interested to know:

1. Kids have no concept of how THEIR money and what they do with it right now relates to their future.  They don't think about things like buying houses, investing or retirement, it might as well be a million miles away.  Money education in young people needs to focus on things which are a lot closer to home.  They understand a lot - but only if it directly affects them and where they are at right now. Anything more complicated or long term, you might as well be talking to yourself because they really don't care.  They need to come to grips with how to manage their money day to day before they can even think about 10 or 20 or 50 years time.  But once they have those skills down pat, they're set for life.

2. Kids get told they have to save money, but nobody really explains WHY in a way that they actually give two hoots about.  It's no wonder they find the concept so unimportant and uninspiring when nobody ever tells them what is in it for them.  THAT is what they want to know!  Let's face it, that is what teenagers want to know about EVERYTHING.  You can literally see the penny drop once someone explains to them what they will get out of it.  

3. At least 50% of the students have jobs, but aside from the odd few putting petrol in their vehicles, the rest of their money is disposable.  They have no concept whatsoever of how the money THEY earn plays a vital part in them being able to get to uni and so on.  Student allowance is not guaranteed.  Year 12 students need to be saving the money they earn now to enable them to afford to support themselves when they go on to uni at the end of Year 13.  Kids don't realise how much it costs to go to uni.  They don't realise that their parents may not be able to support them with things like accommodation and that student allowance isn't a given.  The focus is always on passing NCEA and gaining University Entrance but not the financial implications of achieving this.  Because of this lack of information there are kids with uni aspirations every year who get a heck of a fright when they gain their UE and then realise to their horror they don't have a hope in hell of going.  How heartbreaking is that?  For those who don't go to uni, they have no concept how they need to save their money for all the things in life which continually go wrong such as needing to replace your car tyres or copping a parking fine.

4. Terms such as 'debt', 'interest', 'budget' and so on have absolutely no meaning or relevance to most teenagers.  It's like when I was a kid and we used to get told to save money for a rainy day.  What the hell is that supposed to mean?!  Kids need to know how to save money on the things they come across every day - the things they do, touch, eat, drink and want.  The other stuff just bounces off, doesn't resonate.

5. Nobody tells kids how tough it is to be on a benefit.  How depressing it is inside a WINZ office and how being on a benefit can make you feel about two inches tall.  There are plenty of kids who think it doesn't matter if they don't know what to do when they leave school because they know there is such a thing as a benefit and they think they can sit back all day.  They don't realise that being on a benefit can mean the difference between putting petrol in your car or turning on a heater to keep warm.  They don't realise that WINZ cut you no slack and will nag them constantly to find work, that their lives will be full of appointments and training and if they don't make the effort to find work and PROVE they have done so, then WINZ will find it for them and they may well be forced into doing a job they hate.  Even the teachers didn't know that!  But maybe you can't unless you've been there.

The above is just the tip of the iceberg.  What my experience so far has taught me more than anything is that kids worry about a lot of stuff that they are either not voicing or not being taught.  It's not rocket science, it's simple every day smart money management and survival skills.  My first class made kids think 'shit, I didn't know that!' and they really want to learn more.  Which is brilliant for someone like me who has all the time in the world to teach it to them!  Oh - and Mr Janes, if you ever happen to be reading this?  I totally forgive you for locking me in the cupboard!  However I still haven't forgiven you for locking me in the cupboard a second time with Andrew Burgon on my birthday...

Friday, 21 August 2015

The Pursuit of Happiness

What an incredible, twisty-turny week it's been.  I'm only here catching my breath now because I'm in bed sick!  As it is I'm not sure where to start, so much has happened and it's all been so fast - but I'll do my best.  I guess the best place to start is with Ali, because pretty much none of the events of this week would have come about if it wasn't for him.  I've written before about how big this kid's heart is and never more than when it comes to his friends.  So I wasn't at all surprised when he went screaming off in my car last weekend to rush to the aid of one of his close mates.  A lot of kids talk to Ali about their problems.  He has an amazing way of looking at the world and always knows the right thing to say.  I knew he would be able to help his friend and he did.  Even so I was more than a little perturbed when he turned up a couple of hours later with the guy and all his belongings and announced that 'he needs to live with us for a while'.

Don't get me wrong, this guy is a great kid!  He has a good heart, enormous responsibilities way beyond his years and a genuine desire to get ahead in life.  Unfortunately everyone and everything was standing in his way of being able to achieve that.  I wanted nothing more than to help him - but live with us?  Embarrassed as I was to admit it, I just couldn't afford to feed and care for another person.  All night I lay awake worrying how we were going to manage.  Ali and I had just come through the toughest couple of months we had known.  We had had barely any income for over two months, yet we were surviving and now with a brand new venture about to begin and hopefully take off, this time was absolutely crucial.  Bringing another person into the equation was a huge risk and one that we just couldn't afford to take.  Not for anyone.  

I explained all this to Ali and he understood totally.  But how was he going to tell his friend that he couldn't stay longer than the weekend?  It broke his heart but somehow he found the words.  I was proud of him, it must have been a very hard thing to do and as he prepared to leave I also did my best to explain that it was nothing personal, that I was working my butt off trying to provide Ali and me with some security but I wasn't quite there yet and I didn't feel able to provide him with the level of care that I normally would and felt he deserved.  Just like Ali, he totally understood.  'It's OK, my mum can't feed me either', he shrugged with a smile.  Just like that my heart broke.  Oh hell.  'Is she getting help?'  I asked him.  'I don't know', he replied.  I told him that there were a couple of places that they could get help from in the area with food parcels and that he must let me know if they weren't receiving anything and I would put them in touch with him.  I looked past him into the bedroom, where the spare bed had been made with almost army-like precision and once again my heart broke.  This was a 'bad kid?'  What sort of bad kid makes their bed so beautifully?  It took all my willpower not to call them back and say 'OK, you can stay' but I told myself he would be better off going back home and working out his problems.

Shortly after Ali came back and lay down on his bed with his head in his hands.  'What's up?' I asked.  'I feel terrible that I couldn't help my mate', he said.  'But you did!  You were there for him when he needed you and you gave him a place to stay', I said.  'But it's not enough, I wanted to do so much more!' he replied.  'Whatever I try to do something or someone always gets in the way.  I don't have any money because every cent I get has to go on paying off my car.  And I can't even drive my car because I don't have any money for petrol!  And I wish I hadn't wasted so much money on food and Red Bull, it's just stupid', he growled in frustration.  'Unfortunately that's how we learn the hard way', I smiled in sympathy.  'We all do it.  But think of the positives!  You're only $150 away from owning your own car.  You've been paying it off since February and in a couple of weeks you'll be done and it will be all yours and from then on your money will be your own.  It's a good car and you got it for a really good price.  And at least you HAVE a car!  Think about your friends, when do you think most of them will ever be able to get a car?  They don't even have anyone to teach them to drive!'  That swiftly put a different perspective on things.

We sat there for ages, putting the world to rights and we talked a lot about his friends and other people we knew and what so many of them had to live with.  I remembered a quote I had seen not long before which said 'If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else's, we'd grab ours back'.  'Exactly.  But that's why I feel so bad, I just don't feel I did enough', Ali said sadly.  I told him that he had done a lot more than he realised and that even the smallest act of kindness was never wasted but he still wasn't convinced.  One thing I did manage to get through to him is that sometimes, just like in our case, you just had to look after yourself first.  Because if you don't look after yourself, you can't look after anyone else.  It didn't make him feel any better, but at least it made sense.  Even so, for the next couple of days he was still down on himself and continued to beat himself up for 'not doing enough'.  The more I heard about his friend, the more I wondered what I could do to help him and others like him.  Over the last five years of raising teenagers my boys and I had dealt with a lot. Kids who didn't want to go home because their parents were likely to be drunk and aggressive. Drugs, drugs and more drugs in either the kids or their parents.  Kids who were always getting kicked out of home and made to feel unwanted or a 'problem' or 'bad'.  Kids who only had to walk in the door from school and were greeted with a tirade of name calling using language too offensive for even this potty mouth.  In the past two years alone we had dealt with four suicidal teens and five different kids who had asked if they could live with us.  What they all had in common was that they could all talk to Ali, they could all talk to me and that we had been able to help them all.  In addition I had also managed to talk three of my adult friends out of suicide on more than one occasion.  It wasn't rocket science, just instinct, natural optimism, and a knack for being able to find the right words.  And around 4am one morning I had the answer.

When it was eventually time to get up a few hours later, I asked Ali 'Weird question, but does anyone teach you anything like positive thinking at school?  Self esteem, how to feel good about yourself, that kind of thing?'  'Um, no?' he said.  'We have these kind of merit card things that we get if we do something good but that's all'.  'Do you think it would be a good idea if it was in schools?'  I asked him, 'Would it be valuable?'  'Yeah.  Yeah I do', he replied.  Now this was coming from someone who does not mince words.  If it was a bad or stupid idea he would tell me in an instant but his response was quite the opposite and we both agreed it was from around Year 9 that the wheels start to fall off, along with the warm, fuzzy nurturing that younger students get to enjoy.  As it happened I had a meeting at the local school that very morning to talk more about the upcoming money classes so while I was at it I broached the subject and asked if they would be interested in me teaching some positive thinking and self esteem tactics to Years 9 - 13.  'Yes, we would!  We should get you in this term!' came the reply.  

It was lovely to see I was on the right track and the next day I had another meeting with the principal of another school.  I told him of the many situations I had witnessed and dealt with and coming from a small town felt that surely it must be the same for him, being in a larger area with so many more students.  He agreed and said in his experience the child's home and family environment made no difference - the cases of low self esteem and depression were just as much there in children who were nothing but loved and supported than those who were abused and neglected.  However he didn't want me to do a workshop.  He wanted me to be an employee!  'I want financial education to be drip fed to my students throughout their school years', he told me.  'I want you in our school timetable and for students to be able to receive a positive reinforcement lesson every day.  They might not get it at home but we can give it to them at school.  I can tell you right now, every school in the country is going to want this'. I couldn't wait to get home and tell Ali!

I thought that sending Ali's friend back home to sort out his problems was the best place for him. Sadly it wasn't and a few days later he found himself homeless again.  This time however I knew just what to do and the next morning we drove him two hours to Auckland to start a new life with family members who would love and support him.  It was that simple, yet nobody had made it happen.  'So thanks to you, your mate is reunited with his family and thousands of kids all over NZ are going to receive classes to help them to feel better about themselves', I told Ali that night.  'Do you feel like you've done enough now?  'Not really', he replied.  'We should have taken him up to Auckland the first time!'  Honestly, some people are never satisfied but I couldn't be happier and I can't wait to get started making a difference in schools.  The more I think about it, the more it feels like the most perfect job in the world for me.  After all, I've been helping adults to see the positives for years through my writing, entirely by accident.  Imagine how much I could help people if I actually TRIED!  

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

The Marriage Break-Up Blog

Pardon my French but I don't know if I'm on my arse or my elbow at the moment!  What a difference a couple of weeks make.  I've gone from complaining I didn't have enough work to do, to trying to set up and market a new business, write financial workshops and classes, keep up my magazine column and write 30 press releases for clients in the US!  I'm absolutely exhausted!  But I'm also the most excited I've been in a long time.  I can't wait for these workshops to start, I want to help EVERYONE!  Funnily enough though I forgot one particular group of people, which is rather ironic because I am one and that's solo parents.  I think we deserve our very own workshop because my God some of us have it hard and so many of us have no one.  Nobody to support us, nobody to bounce ideas off or to give advice.  As many solo parents know, you can go for days without talking to another living soul except your kids!

I'm not complaining though.  As I told Sunday Star Times reporter Rob Stock the other day when he was interviewing me about how to manage financially after separation, compared to most solo parents I have it super easy.  I've never had to fight for child support from my ex, in fact we never fought about anything throughout the whole dividing up of assets and all that.  Neither of us begrudged each other having anything, it was all very civil and straightforward.  Emotionally it was hideous and very, very sad but with regard to who got what, there were no dramas.  Equally we never had to go to court, there were no bitter custody battles and our child support agreement is done privately.  In that respect I am extremely lucky.  In any other respect I'm like anyone else who has gone through a marriage break-up.  I've seen a lot of my friends go through them since I did almost three years ago and whilst everyone's individual circumstances may be different, the array of emotions and their harrowing intensity is the same.  We might not experience them all in the same order, but we experience them all.

I never really wanted to write about this stuff but a) Rob told me I should and b) after his article came out at the weekend I received some incredible, heartrending emails from solo parents who have it much, much harder than I do.  They are right and so is Rob.  Rarely does anyone know what they are truly getting into when a marriage ends.  Even if you are the one ending it and think you have done all your homework, nuk - you cannot be prepared enough.  There will always be a moment down the track when you wish you had known something from the start, some financial entitlement which could have made things so much easier, something more you could have done to protect yourself and the children who depend on you.  So for Rob, the beautiful people who wrote to me and anyone else in the same boat or thinks they ever might be, this is for you.

Being a solo parent is not all bad.  The best part is, you can be yourself.  Anyone who has ever felt unable to do this will understand what I mean.  You no longer have to justify or explain your decisions to anyone or worry what anyone else thinks. You also get to control the TV remote.  If you are lucky enough to have your kids living with you, being a solo parent can strengthen that bond more than you can ever imagine.  You're a team, it's you and them against the world.  I will always cherish and be grateful for this time I have had with my kids.  I might not get it right all the time and it can be daunting being the one always having to make the call with regard to advice or discipline or helping them to make important decisions but my God it's a brilliant feeling when you know you have done a good job.  To anyone feeling exhausted or overwhelmed parenting your kids alone, it may feel awful right now.  Awful and lonely and endless but trust me you will look back on this time one day and realise how amazing it was.  Tough, yes.  Quite possibly the hardest time of your life. But also an amazing time and a time where you will realise you are capable of so much more than you ever thought.  Although I still haven't plucked up the courage to use a chainsaw yet...

The early stuff is the scariest, which I'm sure you can imagine, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to work that out.  But I don't think anyone is really ready for how scary it actually is.  At various stages you will undoubtedly ask yourself 'What the hell have I done?'  In my case the first time was when I went to WINZ.  As my boys would say, shit got real.  It was daunting doing all the paperwork, it took so long, there was so much stuff I needed to bring and remember and the whole time I was looking around thinking 'I don't belong here.  I don't belong here'.  I still hate the place and I still think that whenever I have to go there for any reason but you just have to get over yourself.  One thing you learn real quick when you're a solo parent - you do what you have to.  The scariest part of all however was my first night in my newly purchased house.  I lay there freezing my arse off in my new room, the owner of a brand new home and a brand new mortgage in my name only.  Everything was still upside down all around me, it all felt foreign and wrong and the enormity and finality of everything hit me.  But things always seem worse at night.  I got up the next morning, the sun was shining, I took our two rather bemused and disoriented dogs for a walk on the beach just like I had a thousand times before and I knew I was going to be OK.

One important tip, and it could be the most important - get legal advice.  I didn't and I was lucky, I have an ex who has been nothing but fair to me and didn't stitch me up but he could have and the majority of exes will do their darnedest to make your life more difficult. The stories I hear just break my heart.  They don't think about the fact they're depriving their kids; all they care about is getting back at you, hurting you.  Many of us, especially us more emotional women, concern ourselves more with keeping things as normal as possible for the kids and plan 'nice' things to look forward to such as finding the perfect little house to make a new start in but you have to try and think logically, not just emotionally.  Protect yourself from the outset and get reliable advice.

WINZ get a pretty bad rap but I've never found them anything less than brilliant to deal with, however many people are quick to rely solely on them for help and miss out on other avenues.  Ask other solo parents what help they get.  I've never met another solo parent who doesn't have something enlightening to share. Their situation and circumstances may not be identical to yours but nine times out of ten they will have something valuable to impart.  With regard to WINZ and Inland Revenue, communicate with them regularly.  Don't be fooled into thinking you are getting all the help you are entitled to, there is often a good chance that somebody has missed something and if they have they will take action fast.  A lot of solo parents struggle and there is nothing they can do about it.  But a lot of solo parents also struggle and there IS something they can do about it.  If you are struggling to keep yourself and your children warm and fed, GET HELP.  And if you can't get help or you don't know where to go, message me on Facebook and I will get you help.  Repeat after me, Number One Solo Parent Rule - You Need To Look After Yourself.  We are too quick to go without and make sacrifices for the sake of our kids but the bottom line is solo parents can't afford to get sick.  Because if we do we can't work.  Not only that, if you get sick there is often no one else who can look after you or your kids so you have to keep dragging yourself around getting sicker and sicker until the wheels fall off and you wind up in hospital like I did last year.  The stress of the enforced separation from my boys was almost worse than the illness itself!  So please take it from me and do whatever you can to stay healthy.  Don't ever feel guilty about it because your kids need you to be well too.

I was asked recently if I get discriminated against as a solo mother and I said no.  I never thought I did until I went job hunting but yes, I actually do.  Being the sole carer of a child deems a person unreliable apparently, you see.  I admit that this revelation made me very VERY angry.  What a load of shite! If anything, solo parents are even more reliable because they appreciate the work and need the income more than anyone!  When you consider also that my kids are old enough to drive a car, buy alcohol and vote it's bloody laughable.  But at the end of the day, it doesn't matter if your child lives with one parent or two; if that child is sick or needs you, any parent will surely put them first. But whatever, people will always think what they want.  Ignorance is bliss, I probably would have thought the same about solo parents until I became one.

It's been a long post today and I have more to share of a far more lighthearted and humorous nature but I'll save that for another day.  I still have press releases to write and workshops to plan and I can't even remember what else!  And to anyone who heard me talking to Danny Watson on Newstalk ZB yesterday?  I had NO idea I was actually live on air.  No idea at all!

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

The Dawn of a Bright Future

My goodness how quickly things can change.  Maybe Maurice and Pat had a word to the big fella upstairs last week on my behalf, who knows?  All I know is that things couldn't be more different than they were last time I wrote.  Sometimes I wonder if I'm doing the right thing by sharing so much about my situation but my theory is that you never know, someone somewhere out there might be reading it and have the answer.  A different perspective, a flash of inspiration, a solution that has never occurred to you or that has always been there but you were never able to see.  And after my last post, that's exactly what happened.  Melissa had the answer.  Sue had the answer. Kenia had the answer.  Wendy had the answer.  They all contacted me with regard to different things but their message was the same.  1) Stop resigning yourself to a job you'll hate and use the skills you have to enable you to do something you like.  2) Get your name out there, tell everyone you have these skills and charge for them.  3) If you can't find a job, then flipping well create one!

So with their help and input that's just what I did.  You might be thinking 'Oh come on woman, it's not rocket science, have you never thought to do that?' Actually, no!  Sure there were things I wanted to do, even dreamed of doing but either the timing wasn't right or I just didn't need to be doing them right then.  And then I just sort of forgot really.  All those years of experience, all those skills were just meaningless words on my CV.  They looked flash but they weren't being brought to life. When you think about it though, who DOES really talk about things like that?  It's certainly not a taboo subject or anything, it just never seems to come up.  You may know what a friend's job title is but you rarely know exactly what that job entails.  I realised that after my job hunting post when people were contacting me asking what skills I had and whether I had ever done such and such. In most cases I had been doing them on a professional basis for 15 years!  But whilst in 10 years of blogging I had shared everything with readers from what I was cooking for dinner to the penguins on my pyjamas, I never once talked about what I could do.

Fortunately over the space of a couple of days, the people who I mentioned above helped me to see and no sooner had I put my name out there, or someone else had done so on my behalf than the work began rolling in.  It was pretty much immediate, amazing!  A whole world of work and untapped resources I never knew existed!  And then as if that wasn't enough, something else happened.  Wendy Gower and I are not related and have never met but we have a lot in common.  Wendy first came to people's attention just over a year ago when a national current affairs program filmed a segment on her thrifty lifestyle entitled 'Is this Australia's stingiest family?'  I've never liked the word stingy but even though the title may have sounded less than complimentary, the nation embraced Wendy and her family and since then she has never looked back, helping thousands of people improve their lives and their bank balances through passing on her knowledge.  

Wendy's experience reminded me of my own several years before.  Back in 2007 Campbell Live filmed a segment all about our family and the $21 Challenge and the same thing happened.  While there were plenty of sceptics (after all you can only convey so much information about how to survive on $21 in a seven minute segment!) there were many, many more people who wanted to know more and wanted help.  Ultimately this led to the writing of the $21 Challenge book but from then on I began receiving invitations to come and talk to groups of all kinds, often fitting hundreds of people into city libraries.  One visit to a group of struggling WINZ clients was so successful, the co-ordinator went on to introduce a six-week program in her own and other branches, based around the principles of the $21 Challenge. I even taught a three-week program at the local high school, which was heaps of fun but more importantly highlighted a huge need and a gap in the education system.  Many times I thought how amazing it would be to design a money saving program which would be made available to every high school and educational institution in NZ.  Moreover, I wanted to be the one to teach it.  But it wasn't possible.  Simple Savings was a small team and we were constantly flat tack, there was already far too much to do!  So my little dream stayed just that; a dream.  Maybe once or twice a year it would pop up in my head and I would think wistfully 'Yeah, I wish I could have done that', only for it to quickly disappear back to where it came from because it was always too impossible to consider.

I can't remember if Wendy added me as a friend on Facebook or vice versa but for a while she was just one of those 'Facebook friends who you don't actually know in person but are nice to have anyway'.  Until I wrote that post and out of the blue she contacted me to say 'You still have so much knowledge.  Why don't you go and talk to people and help and inspire them to save money the way you used to?  I know firsthand there is a demand for this in NZ but I can't be everywhere.  You could do it though!'  What, you mean go and do the absolutely most rewarding, most enjoyable thing I had ever done?  The thing I had totally forgotten all about for like - ever?  The thing which I never had the time to do before but I did now?  Maybe I could! 

The next day I took the plunge and placed my first tentative post on our local Buy and Sell Facebook community page.  Immediately there was interest and as I watched it climb my inbox started to go crazy with messages.  My post hadn't been on the page ten minutes before there was a request from the careers officer at the local school to come and do a workshop.  And then another school.  And then I started to talk about the things I used to do, the groups I used to talk to and realised that whilst there may have been seven years between me being on Campbell Live and Wendy being on A Current Affair, nothing had changed.  Saving money hadn't gone out of date.  People still needed help and didn't know how to help themselves.  And most shockingly of all, there was still next to no money saving or management education in schools.  This was apparent from all the twenty-somethings who posted on the page 'Yes, this is so much needed in schools!'  'I wish I'd had something like this when I was at school' and on it went.  And bingo.  Up popped my dream.  My dream of being able to visit every school in NZ and teach school leavers how to save money.  Or just as importantly, how not to waste it.  How not to make the same stupid mistakes so many of us adults did because we didn't have anybody to teach us and WHY.  I realised there was no longer anything stopping me from doing it.  I also realised that although the timing may not have been right before, I was so much better equipped now to undertake this job through the events of the past few years.  Before when I used to talk to people about saving money, I could talk the talk and I could walk the walk but I did it out of lifestyle choice, not necessity.  I hadn't been to the desperate places many of the people I was talking to had been.  But now I have.  I can actually convey through my experience what debt feels like.  And I know that I'm going to be one hell of a teacher because of it.

I already felt I was on the right track but just to make sure I sought advice from the wonderful Glenn Larsen.  He was the miracle worker who believed in me and fought the banks to enable me to buy Nawtypoo Cottage and has been a much valued friend ever since.  I knew he would tell me straight up what he thought and awaited his visit with fear and trepidation.  I totally expected him to say 'What the hell are you thinking you mad woman?  Sell your house right now and get yourself out of this mess!'  But he didn't.  Instead he helped me devise a plan which will hopefully help to keep a roof over my head while I'm getting this new venture off the ground.  My first school workshop is August 28th and a community one for the rest of the town will be shortly after to co-incide with Money Week from August 31st - September 6th.  After that, who knows?  Support has already been incredible and I have meetings coming out of my ears.  It's a big risk but what the heck, I'm used to taking those!  And if I'm really lucky, it might just pay off.

I'm going to call my workshops the Bright Future Program.  It just kind of jumped out at me but I rather liked it because for me it has two meanings.  Hopefully I can make a difference in people's lives and help them achieve a brighter future through my teachings.  But throughout this whole crappy few years, you my readers have helped to keep me afloat by always writing to me and telling me how positive I am in my posts.  It always blows me away to hear that because I feel like I'm just whinging!  But indeed I have always prided myself on being an optimist and to hear it from others makes me stronger every time.  So Bright Future it is!