Monday, 23 February 2015

Financially resilient

I hate to admit it, but I'm actually quite pigheaded.  If I get something in my head - well that's it, there's no way I'm going to be swayed from it.  Sometimes that's a good thing; such as when I'm going into battle insurance companies or something of the like.  Other times, I'm not so sure.  For example one of my mantras - at least when it comes to people who try and demand money from me is 'they can't have it if I haven't got it'.  Well it's true isn't it?  If I don't have the money, they can't have it!  And I content myself with that.  They can come and take my TV if they want, that's fine with me but if it's cash they want, well they're just going to have to wait until I've got some.  End of story. Of course I'm not talking about small local businesses here, or people whose services I have specifically requested and then found myself unable to pay; obviously they are my priority and I do my utmost to pay them off as quickly as I can.  But in the case of big companies who like to spring nasty surprises on you?  As my kids would say, meh.  They can bloody well wait.

It's probably not the most mature or realistic attitude but when you don't have any money to start with it gets to the stage where you just have to laugh if anyone asks for any more.  Either that or cry but my preference is to laugh because the idea that they think you can actually pull hundreds of dollars out of thin air is so funny!  Yesterday I started my new $75 per month uncapped contract with Woosh.  Now I bet you fifty imaginary dollars right now that even though I have been a loyal Telecom (sorry - SPARK) customer for the past 22 years, they will come up with some way to penalise me for daring to change.  Let's see what the next month brings shall we?  And then there are the companies who pretend they're being nice and helpful when they're not really at all.  Such as when I cancelled my Sky TV.  I never have liked the cheeky way they would debit money from my account a month in advance for services I hadn't had yet but I was even more miffed when I cancelled my subscription only to find they STILL withdrew money from my account a few days later.  'Oi, I'm not paying for a service I no longer have!' I said down the phone (or words to that effect).  Oh but hang on it's fine.  Even though I was already $58 in credit on my account.  Even though they had withdrawn another $92 AFTER I cancelled my service everything was going to be lovely jubbly because they would just keep that $150 worth of credit sitting in my account ready and waiting for the day when I would start up my subscription again.  So in my efforts to save money I ended up being $150 worse off AND paying for a service I didn't want and haven't got!  Jeez, thanks Sky, your generosity knows no bounds.

I've also been a bit pigheaded with my poor budgeting ladies at the local Community Trust Services. They are the most wonderful, caring group of ladies and I owe them so much but after seeking their help almost a year ago, I really want to have a go at handling things on my own now.  They helped me clarify what needed to be done when I couldn't see the wood for the trees and fed the boys and I and even our pets when we couldn't afford to feed ourselves and I will be eternally grateful.  But I'm one of those really annoying people who hate being told what to do.  I want to feel in control of my own life again.  I want to pay things off faster.  I want to be financially resilient.

That's a rather groovy term, don't you think?  Financially resilient.  I heard it for the first time a few weeks ago from the equally groovy Rob Stock when he asked why it was that some people thrive on a low income, while others drown.  It's true I guess isn't it?  Some people appear constantly downtrodden, as though they have the weight of the world on their shoulders, whereas others shrug it off.  Or maybe they just do a good job of LOOKING like they do.  I know in my case that weight never leaves me - but what's the point in letting it bring you down?  Like I said before, if I haven't got it, they can't have it.

Even so, I have never, ever thought of myself as poor.  Quite the opposite, I'm rich!  I may not have cash in the bank but I am the mother of two amazing, kind and caring young men, I have wonderful friends, I have my own darling little house which I love so much and to top it all off I live in the most beautiful place in the world.  Check this out!

I get to see views like this every single day, for free.  Ain't nothing poor about that.  You can read Rob's article here; it makes quite interesting reading, as do the comments which follow it.  I'll let him off for using the word 'poor' as he's a lovely bloke.  The thing is, when you're financially resilient you are empowered.  It's as easy as 'forgetting' your handbag.  I laughed until it hurt the other day when I found a biography Ali had written about me almost 10 years ago.  Apart from such revelations as 'Do you know?  She hasn't stopped drinking wine for FIVE YEARS', he also shared with his class mates that one of my most annoying habits was forgetting my handbag.  Little did he know that this was my guilt-free way of dealing with him and his brother's daily demands when I used to pick them up from school and beg me for lollies, magazines and other treats!  I didn't want to look like a meanie and tell them no (and let's face it, what parent can be arsed arguing?) so my way of dealing with the situation without conflict was to conveniently forget my handbag.  Every day.  Until we moved to another town where they could walk to school and were big enough to buy their own lollies.  A small triumph maybe, but nonetheless it worked!

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Swings and roundabouts

The above picture is a few years old (not to mention I'm 30kg lighter now!) but I love it because it sums up Ali and my relationship so perfectly! Ali and I are both morning people.  We might struggle to get out of bed in the mornings but once we're out we're full on and full noise - and I mean noise! We sing, we rabbit on to each other at the tops of our voices and on the whole talk a load of absolute rubbish.  But it's a heck of a funny and happy way to start the day!  These days it starts even earlier as Ali has recently started a new job which requires him to work before and after school as well as on weekends so he has to get up at 6.30am.  I actually really enjoy starting the day early; there's just so much time to do stuff.  For example this morning I had made a big pot of zucchini soup for lunch, a batch of apple and lemon muffins for Ali's lunches and chucked a chicken cacciatore in the slow cooker for dinner, all by 7.45am!

Being organised is a huge key to saving money and something I have always been quite openly hopeless at; however now Liam is safely ensconced in his new abode I absolutely refuse to let so much as a single dollar escape my grasp.  You know when you just KNOW you're doing a good job? That's me at the moment and it feels bloody marvellous.  We might be one person less in the house but there's still a whole lot going on!  It's been a really productive week and if I have my way it's only going to get better.  So far I have:

* Reduced my mobile bill by $50 - $60 per month by ringing my provider (2degrees) and asking if I could get a better deal.

* Reduced our landline and Internet costs by a whopping $120 per month by switching from Spark to Whoosh.  I just Googled 'who has the cheapest Internet plan in NZ' and boom, I now get unlimited data for $75 a month, plus a landline which I don't even need but is a nice bonus thank you very much.

* Saved $60 a month on cable TV.  We had already cancelled most of our channels a while back but now we've cancelled the whole lot.  Ali and me don't need TV, we're too busy to watch it!  If we do want to watch anything we just hook up the laptop to the TV and watch it online through our unlimited Whoosh data.

So far that works out to a saving of $2,880 a year, just in three phone calls!  Then there's the power bill.  We're now running one less computer, one less TV, no Playstation, two less hot showers a day and I've got rid of the tumble dryer so I CANT use it.  Ali and I make so little washing these days it fits on a clothes horse indoors or out and we only need to do a load of washing every three or so days, rather than two or three loads a day like we were!  Am looking forward to seeing how much difference we can make to the power bill.  I switched to Nova a while back from Contact energy and the difference was already huge at around $100 less per month but I know we can still do better!

Then there's petrol.  Can I get a 'hell yeah!' at having one less car to fill up?  That should work out to at least $150 a month.  I'm about to buy a bike for $20 off a local chap to get me from A to B but I should only need to put in $20 a week from now on to get Ali to work early in the mornings and me to and from work on the nights I finish late.  As for food, it feels as though I've spent nothing this week!  Ali the hunter gatherer who is definitely not fussy has been having wild roast pork sandwiches at school (we have heaps of these, Liam and me wouldn't touch them with a bargepole no matter how hungry we were!), our evening meals now stretch twice as far so we always have plenty of leftovers for lunches or for me to take to work, and of course we don't use as many vegetables either.  Last week I managed to put $15 left over from the food budget into savings which might not sound much but considering we still had Liam with us I was still pretty happy and hopefully we'll manage the same again this week.  My aim is to get our food/everyday costs down to well under $100 a week but you know what it's like.  Some weeks you can get away with buying nothing; other weeks you need to buy EVERYTHING!

So all in all, we're doing alright, but it's still not plain sailing.  We still don't have enough money to pay all our bills and debts off.  The electrician (who did a job for me back in November but sent the invoice to the wrong email address several times so I never received anything until the other day) is none to pleased that I don't have a spare $264 to settle the account and I almost fainted when Ali's new school emailed me an invoice for $622, with still more to look forward to.  I'm still paying off $178 from when his brother was there!  I'm sorry but WHY IS IT SO BLOODY EXPENSIVE?! Actually, make that WHY ARE SOME SCHOOLS SO BLOODY EXPENSIVE AND OTHERS AREN'T?!  Seriously, the difference is vast.  When I was at school everything was virtually free! And we still got to go on trips and do cool stuff.  I'll never forget when my mum turned up at school when I was 12 in her slippers and with curlers in her hair because we were going on a trip to the Natural History Museum in London and she thought I'd forgotten my pound coin for my lunch.  I hadn't forgotten my pound coin.  And I've never forgotten looking down from my top floor window and seeing her standing out the front of the school in her curlers either!  But I digress...

It doesn't matter what it is, crap like school bills and lost electrician emails happen to people all the time.  I'm just trying to catch up the best way I know how.  Thank you once again to Mark Zuckerberg for Facebook so I could make another $225 this week selling stuff with no fees, no postage and no mucking about.  I never in a thousand years thought I would ever be able to persuade Ali to part with his entire set of Crocodile Hunter DVD's, even though he hasn't watched them in 10 years or more.  But he did!  Guess he must be growing up.  And talking of growing up, oh my GOD the difference in Liam already when I spoke to him on the phone a couple of days ago is incredible. He sounds so grown up! So independent!  So in charge of himself!  It really blew me away, I did not think it would happen that fast.  My boy, standing on his own two feet in our nation's capital. Finding his way around and feeding himself and stuff.  All without me.  I guess we never know just how much our kids are capable of until we let them go!

Monday, 16 February 2015

And then there were two...

I'll never forget the day I brought my son Liam home from the hospital, eighteen-and-a-half years ago.  Don't worry, I'm not going to get all mushy on you!  But it took a while for us to bond, Liam and me - not through any fault of our own you understand.  After losing our first son Luke at two days old after being born prematurely, the doctors wanted to take every precaution to ensure Liam didn't contract the same Strep B virus his brother had been unable to fight, so as soon as he was born he was taken off to the newborn unit, where he spent the first three days of his life under constant observation in an incubator.  Eventually he was pronounced out of danger and returned to me but no sooner were we reunited than he developed jaundice and no matter what I did, the little bugger wouldn't stay awake long enough to feed or do anything.  This went on for a whole week and it was only by chance when a friend came to visit who was actually an anaesthetist at the hospital and found me in floods of tears, he kicked up a fuss and demanded my baby be put under lights immediately.

At first Liam quite enjoyed sunbathing in his little solarium but before long he got pretty cranky at having an eye mask permanently taped to his head.  I wasn't supposed to touch him but one night he wouldn't settle and no matter how many times I pressed the button nobody came to help as he lay there crying and wriggling in his plastic prison on the other side of my room.  He'd had enough and so had I.  I remember being so scared to touch him but I carefully picked him up and took off his eye mask.  He was only wearing a nappy from being under the heat of the lights and I didn't want him to get cold so I wrapped the dressing gown I was wearing around us both and got into bed with him snuggled up on my chest.  Immediately he stopped crying and as we both drifted off to sleep I remember thinking 'so this is what being a mum feels like'.

Seven hours later a nurse finally came in and found me sitting on the bed feeding him.  She went nuts.  I had broken all the rules.  I wasn't supposed to get him out of the incubator.  I wasn't supposed to breastfeed him (the jaundice had made him so sleepy the nurses had made the decision to bottle feed him) and I DEFINITELY wasn't supposed to sleep with my baby in the same bed!  I didn't care. He was mine, we had bonded and there was no way anyone was looking after him now but me.  We went home that afternoon and as I sat with Liam in his new bedroom at home and looked around I realised that there was no longer anyone to watch me and tell me what to do.  I could feed him when I wanted, cuddle him when I wanted, use whatever nappies I wanted - OK so I was scared out of my wits but at the same time it was brilliant!  At last I could learn how to be a good mum at my own pace without anyone breathing down my neck or telling me I was doing it wrong.

I must have done alright because that little bundle now towers over me and three days ago he left home to start a new life as a uni student at the opposite end of the country.  And after 18 years of parents, teachers and everyone else telling him what to do, he is now solely responsible for looking after and making decisions for himself. No one to tell him he can't do this, shouldn't do that or 'you're doing it wrong'; from now on there is no other way except his way and he is free to learn everything he needs to learn at his own pace. Just like the day I brought him home from the hospital.  Awesome but scary!

Last day of sibling time. 
They'd never admit to it, but these two actually get along rather well :)

I don't think any parent ever feels they have prepared their child enough for leaving home do they? But I think he'll be alright and we certainly did our best to cram as much as we could into the last few weeks.  I refused to let him leave home until he had learned how to make lasagne and thanks to all our selling of stuff on Facebook and Trade Me we were able to send him off with a really good supply of food and other essentials.  As well as something a bit special - his very own 'mum's survival guide'.  When I asked him if he would like me to get him a basic recipe book he said 'Can't you just make me one?'  So I did.  

'Liam's Guide to Life!' (well bits of it), took me two whole days and is a real labour of love.  It contains information on how to cook pretty much EVERYTHING he likes to eat, as well as a laundry guide, what to look for when shopping in the supermarket and how to make his own cleaning products so he never has to buy them when he runs out.  I hope he enjoys using it as much as I enjoyed putting it together for him!  Even though I've written two cook books before, this is the first one I've ever written in teenage boy language and it was a lot of fun.  How can anyone go wrong with instructions such as 'Bacon spits like a bastard if you have your pan too hot?'  Most recipes are written so badly, especially for new cooks but Liam's guide explains not just the HOW of everything but WHY.  As in the laundry section which contains such gems as 'Always wash your clothes separately from your towels.  Unless you like your clothes to look like shit'.  Might sound a bit uncouth to the civilised ear but the thing is, it works.  Kids remember that sort of stuff. 

So all going to plan no son of mine shall ever starve or have bobbles of fluff on his shirts.  And now our little household is just down to Ali and me and the pets.  It's weird not having Liam around and saying goodbye was horrible so I won't dwell on that.  After all, he's going to have a blast! Now is a time of new challenges for all of us. With no Family Tax Credit for Liam since 31st December (that's almost $1000 less coming in, even though he has still been in my full time care up until February 14th!) yet easily that much again going out in uni bonds, chattels and other costs to send him on his way, Ali and me really are starting off on the back foot.  Not to mention his brother left me the parting gift of a $300 fuel card bill!  We have less than zero.  But we both have a lot of determination and our bills and debts are still being paid.  And I have a feeling that the two of us are going to do a bloody marvellous job.  We already are!  Today's post is just a catch up on the last week or two.  It's been a pretty full on time but from now on it's going to be full steam ahead and I'm looking forward to documenting our savings every week.  Bring on the next post already!  

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Emotional earning!

It probably comes as no surprise to learn us writers are emotional wee beings but I think it's fair to say that when it comes to money and the competent managing of it, everyone's emotions play a part to a fair extent.  We've all heard of emotional spending.  That's the spending you do when you're having a sad day, a happy day, a bad hair day, a thin day, a fat day, a tired day, a sick day - any excuse we make when it's just all too hard and we can't be arsed so instead resort to buying a new dress, lipstick, takeaways, anything to make us feel a little better or our lives a little bit easier.  Of course, the more you do it the harder you're actually making it for yourself in the long run but we don't think of that at the time, we just want a quick fix!

Lord knows I've been guilty of that over the years and the urge to splurge can still hit, especially with two teenage boys who are professionals when it comes to tapping into tired parent emotions.  With all the ups and downs and illness and emotional upheaval of the past couple of years I have to really keep myself in check on the blue days. And when that happens I'm careful to make sure I pat myself on the back inwardly for not giving in and making careless, lazy decisions.

However I have stumbled across one emotion at least which is surprisingly useful.  Most people find it hard to believe but every now and then I get very, very angry.  Not the overt temper tantrum kind which everybody around you knows about and steers clear of but the kind which stays inside and just simmers secretly for days until it reaches boiling point.  Fortunately that doesn't happen often, which is good as I don't think it's a healthy way to be, keeping all that negativity inside but the good thing is, sitting at the bottom of my hellhole in recent months has taught me how to channel it and put all that powerful emotional energy into something productive instead.  Believe it or not, I have discovered that anger can be very profitable!

The first time this happened that springs to mind was at the end of last year at the end of my second bout of pneumonia.  I had hardly been out of bed in two months which meant I had been unable to find work (or every time I did I had to turn it down due to sickness).  The boys bless them were unable to contribute much either as they were both in the thick of exams and studying and with the bills racking up more and more and getting further behind the old self esteem couldn't have been much lower.  I was officially (at least in my opinion) the most useless mother and provider on the planet.

Then one night as I lay awake worrying about money as usual and getting angier and angrier at my sorry state of affairs, for some reason I thought randomly of all the junk under the stairs.  We'd just kind of pushed a load of stuff under there that we didn't have room for when we'd moved in 18 months earlier.  I had no real recollection of what was even in there but made a mental note to check it out when the boys were at school the next day.  The next morning I hopped out of bed, dragged everything out from under the stairs, cleaned it up and started listing it on our local Facebook Buy, Sell, Swap page.  I have no idea what got into people that day but everyone went crazy and were actually fighting over my listings!  Being on Facebook there were no success fees, no postage costs, no waiting or hassle whatsoever, just straight cash profit. The more interest my listings got, the most it fuelled my energy and determination and by the time the boys got home from school I had made over $400.  I made another $200 the next day.  My self esteem was back up through the roof!

Of course another great example of how I used my anger in a productive way was in the case of battling the insurance company recently.  Throwing a mental fit gets you nowhere, you have to be cool, calm and 100% confident of all your facts so that you are unable to be argued with.  I actually won not one but TWO similar cases the previous year when I was unfortunate enough to be involved in two car accidents in quick succession.  One of them was particularly unpleasant and I ended up laying a complaint against the claims officer who was investigating.  Just as with my recent life insurance case, as soon as I got angry, I got results.  In the case of both car accidents, the claims against me were withdrawn, the fault on both counts was found not to be mine and I was refunded $600 in excess fees.

This week is a little different in that it wasn't my circumstances that made me angry but an actual person.  I could feel the situation eating me up more and more and getting into more of a state about the injustice it all when I literally stopped myself short and said 'You need to do something productive with all this, girl!'  And I was absolutely right.  What was the use in getting my knickers in a knot when I had so many other pressing things to do and think about?  My son was leaving home in just over a week and we needed money.  I wanted to send him off with a decent supply of essentials - food, bathroom items etc to stand him in good stead when he arrived alone in an unfamiliar city - but now all my benefits for looking after him had been cut this was proving nearly impossible.  We hardly had enough money to feed us every week now as it was, how could I possibly scrape up enough to buy a whole second stash of supplies?  By doing just as I had before.  By getting angry and putting all that energy into finding things we could do without and selling them on Facebook.  Like these boots.  Much as I love them the money I could make from them was more valuable than having flowers on my feet and I managed to sell them for the same price I paid!

Of course the great thing about getting all productive this way is that you can feel any anger or negative emotions lift almost immediately and get replaced by the feeling you're doing something good. I made $120 that afternoon just selling a few bits and pieces and watching my success motivated Liam to do the same and he sold $100 worth of his own stuff.  Now I don't have to worry and Liam and me can go to the supermarket next week and get all the basics he needs to start his new adventure.  Being able to do that for him is hugely important to me, I want him to go off and be able to feel as though I've done all I can to prepare him.  I guess this tactic may not work for everyone but of course it doesn't have to be anger that fuels you, whatever emotion floats your boat will do I'm sure.  The important thing is that you make it work for you and turn it into something positive.  After all, we have emotional spending - why not emotional earning?  People have said to me in the past 'But surely eventually you run out of things to sell - what happens then?'  The funny thing is, you don't.  There is always something more you can live without, something more you can find.  This story I wrote for That's Life magazine a few months ago proves that - I found talking to Lauren incredibly inspiring!

I still have more things to sell and was even more glad I got my bum into gear when I received a bill for $45 in Sports Science fees for Ali and over $300 in oven repair fees from last year.  That one was a bit of a nasty shock!  To be fair I should have expected it but as the repairs were carried out last November and I still hadn't received anything I thought they had forgotten and I was in no position to chase it up!  As it was, they just had the wrong email address.  Still, I'll just keep on selling until they're both covered.  It's so rewarding not to have to eat into my bank account.  After so long without money I'm still absolutely terrified of spending it to the extent that I still have some debts to pay off fully but I'm making sure everybody gets something each week and have paid off another two in full.  I even managed to pay to get my car serviced (which was thousands of kilometres overdue) thanks to a wonderful kind hearted mechanic who did the job for me for half price after reading my story in the Sunday Star Times!  It's a long, slow journey but I will get there and every day it gets a little bit better.  Time to go and face the day, so much to do!

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Looking after ALL our future selves!

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!