Monday, 26 September 2016

Will the real Sad Sally please stand up?

It's proving to be a funny old week already and it's only Tuesday.  The whole of the Coromandel Peninsula is flooded and parts of it have been cut off since Sunday.  I couldn't go anywhere if I wanted to but it's just as well as today is my third day in bed with a horrible head/stomach virus.  The worst part is not being able to visit my mum in hospital and feeling so helpless and far away. Fortunately Liam is working in the same city as the hospital so has been able to go and visit her but as her only child I feel terrible at not being able to be with her during something so huge and traumatic.  Hopefully she is through the worst now but has had a couple of really horrendous days. Still, in typical Mum style she's managed to keep her sense of humour, although even she was a bit lost for words when the doctor asked if she would like to take her newly removed and far from healthy bowel home to bury in the garden!  One positive thing to come out of this is that keeping everyone updated on Mum's progress has put me back in touch with some family members on the other side of the world who I haven't spoken to for years.  It's lovely and just goes to show there really is nothing like family. It's been almost 25 years since I've seen most of mine and that's far too long.

It's a bit of a pain that all the dreadful weather and me being sick is also causing delays getting the house all ready for viewing.  You can't mow the lawns or weed the garden when it's full of puddles and this rotten weather is supposed to continue all week!  At least I can still write.  The great thing about working from home is that as long as your brain is still functioning you can still work, even if you're sick.  This morning I'm writing the Simple Savings newsletter propped up in bed with a snoring dog at my feet and a rescue kitten next to me chasing the raindrops as they run down the window.  The September one is already done but I don't know if it will go out in time as Matt and Fiona are away until October and unfortunately thanks to a last minute glitch as they were preparing to leave it was unable to be sent out.  Still, I hope people enjoy reading it when they get it!

Some subjects are harder to write about than others and the September theme of preparing for retirement was quite a challenge.  I did a lot of research on the subject for a long time and learned a huge amount but my overwhelming and recurring throught whilst doing my homework was WHY DOES NOBODY TELL US THIS AT SCHOOL?!!  According to both the NZ and Australian governments, we should all be aiming to retire with at least a million dollars in the bank.  This is not something that you want to be hearing about when you're 43 for God's sake!  At least I'm not alone there, I don't know anyone else with six figures in the bank either, not that it's the kind of thing you really ask people.  The point is, EVERYONE should be told this stuff before they even enter the workplace and WHY it is so important so that it doesn't get put on the backburner.  It's not freaking hard!  If someone had told me when I left school that I needed to save a million dollars by the time I was 65 I would have started a retirement fund then and there!  As it is, according to a recent documentary by Nigel Latta (himself a very smart and respectable chap who by his own admission will not have even half a million in the bank by the time he retires, no matter how hard he saves) a growing number of people quite simply will not be able to retire at all.  A sobering thought indeed.

Still, October's newsletter is already proving enjoyable to write and is always a lot easier when I have personal experience to draw upon.  You see the most evidence of this in the Sad Sally stories as her character is loosely based upon myself - or at least what I used to be like before I joined Simple Savings, just without the blonde hair and big boobs.   What Sally says and does comes very easily to me.  For years my kids have likened me to Bridget Jones and Sally is a bit like that too; disaster prone, disorganised and a hopelessly messy cook.  Always well meaning but a bit clueless, with a long suffering partner who is well aware of all her flaws but loves her anyway.  Sally and Hanna arrived in Simple Savings land in November 2004, shortly after I did.  When Fiona got me to write the first story I didn't really know what the heck she was getting at.  I certainly never thought I would still be writing them 12 years later!  But Fiona is a smart lady and knows that there is a Sad Sally or a Happy Hanna in each and every one of us.  Which one we choose to be is up to us - but we do have a choice.

When the stories first started they didn't even have illustrations, so all I could do was imagine how Sally would behave.  Back then it hadn't been too long since I myself had been the one hiding credit cards and statements from my husband and stretching the truth about how much things had cost (make that more like halving than stretching!) so channelling Sally the shopaholic was easy.  Hanna, on the other hand?  I didn't know anyone like Hanna.  I'd never met anyone back then who was living the dream and always got things right.  We used to have a standing joke that if Hanna was real we'd throw a stapler at her head for being too perfect, too much of a goody two shoes.  But I don't feel like that about her any more.  If Hanna was real these days I would hope to be her friend.  When I write as Hanna I think of her as being like some of my favourite Simple Savings members.  Sweet, kind and a genuinely good person who just values the things in life which are important.  When I think about it, I still write Sally as myself when in fact I've actually evolved into far more of a Hanna!  I guess that's the thing though isn't it?  That's been the point of the stories all along, to see if people can spot themselves in any of the characters and their traits.  The very first stories always used to end with 'Who are you most like, Sally or Hanna?  Which one would you rather be?'

I don't slip up too often these days but I did have a real Sad Sally experience last week I am still cringing about!  You may remember Gareth and I recently celebrating Parsley Day, which marked our first year together.  Seeing as he had only just started a new job that week and hadn't been paid yet, we celebrated in true romantic style with him shouting me a pie from the bakery.  The following week however, having received his first pay, he wanted to get me something a little more special to mark the occasion.  I'm not much of a jewellery person but I had recently mentioned seeing a beautiful ring at the local jewellers when getting a new watch battery.  It was from NZ brand Evolve and the bright blue of the stone really jumped out at me.  It made me think of blue sky and clear water and it just made me happy.  So he knew just what to get me and I love it!  Most definitely Number 1 on my 'favourite things' list.

I love the tiny diamonds too, to me they look like cute bubbles in the water.  I wanted to reciprocate in kind and knew just what I wanted to get him too.  Being Welsh, Gareth is proud of his Celtic heritage and I wanted to get him a ring to reflect that.  I found the perfect one online, a silver band with gold insert featuring an engraved pattern of Celtic knots and even better, a dragon.  What better could there be for a Welshman!


I had to move fast as there was only one left but it happened to be the right size, hooray!  It was a bargain too, at only $50.  I admit, the price did make me think twice but it was Trade Me after all and I had bought countless things from there over the years including jewellery with no problem. It never said in the description that the gold band was 9 carat or anything but that didn't matter.  Reluctantly I allowed Gareth to see the picture, just to make sure he would like it, which he did and promptly hit 'Buy Now'.  For the next few days we couldn't wait for the ring to arrive!  When it did he was at work.  I excitedly grabbed the package from the courier and took out the gift box.  Straight away I had a feeling that the ring inside may not be as we envisaged.  The tacky gold box with a bow looked like something out of one of the jewellery parties I used to go to with my mum as a kid.  I opened the box and... OK, well I admit I said 'What the f***?'

The ring, supposedly made of titanium looked almost plastic and was sealed over the top with this sort of clear resin stuff.  As for the gold band with the carvings?  No word of a lie, it looked like a sticker!  It was so bright and sparkly it looked like someone had gone to town with a bottle of glitter nail polish, and the Celtic knot and dragons which had appeared so beautifully etched in the photo above, you couldn't even see.  It even had bubbles in it and bits of 'gold' missing.  All in all it looked like something you would expect to find in a Christmas cracker.  I'd been had good and proper, and to top it off Gareth had had a rotten day at work.  'Ah well, day off tomorrow.  I'm looking forward to getting my ring, hope it arrives!' he said, brightening up at the thought.  'Um, yes.  About that', I said nervously.  From memory I think his reaction was the same as mine upon opening the box but by that time I found the whole scenario so bad that it was actually funny.  Needless to say I shall be sending the ring back and contacting Trade Me for false advertising! I have since seen the 'real thing' online at genuine Celtic jewellery retailers for around $1,400.   For now, the search goes on for a suitable replacement!

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!