Tuesday, 31 March 2015

The Choice is Yours

Ali and me having a brief catch up dropping off lunch over Beach Hop! And no, the shirt is NOT of my choosing!

Sorry it's been a while!  Have been working a LOT of extra shifts for one of our country's biggest festivals, the Beach Hop. It's supposed to be a five-day festival but more and more people seem to stretch it out to a week these days or even two!  During this time our tiny town of 4,000 people is pushed to bursting limit with around 120,000 rock n' rollers, classic 50's and 60's cars and authentic music and dress of the era. It's quite a spectacle! Not to mention one heck of a way to bring a huge amount of money and work into our little community.  At the club where I work our team slogged our guts out for up to 14 hours a day non-stop serving drinks to the masses. It was awful and awesome all at the same time!  Still, as many people liked to remind me 'think of the money', and that part was definitely a bonus.  Mind you, it would have been nice to hold on to the extra cash a bit longer.  I haven't even been paid yet but as soon as I do it will be going to the local mechanic where my car is currently getting new brake pads!  And I'd rather not talk about the $159 anti-barking collar I just had to order from the vet for Liam's flipping motormouth dog...

It happens to us all doesn't it, 'things' getting in the way like that?  No sooner do we find ourselves with a little welcome extra dosh than Murphy sees fit to throw us a curveball and send it someone else's way.  I'm not easily offended but by golly I had my nose put out of joint a while back when someone told me in no uncertain terms it was my fault I had no money. Granted, they didn't know anywhere near as much about me or my life as they thought they did - but even so, who SAYS that? Especially to someone when they're struggling!  The thing was, much as I hated to admit it, this person really made me stop and think.  According to them, I had had a choice when it came to some of the bigger expenses in my life.  Yeah yeah, I know - perhaps I shouldn't have bought a house, maybe it was too big a commitment.  They weren't the only ones to tell me that and I soon learned it for myself but I had wanted to give the kids some security.  Too many people get kicked out of their rental homes in our town in the summer to make way for holiday makers who are prepared to pay more.  I didn't want that to happen to us.

But apparently it wasn't just about the house; there were other things too.  Why did I cripple myself every month trying to pay off $7000 for Ali's braces?  I could have simply said 'sorry, no can do!' Plenty of other people in the world have to manage without braces.  And the $600 vet bill for Hubble's teeth.  The dog was 10 years old, why didn't I just have him put to sleep?  These were just a couple of examples of things I had written about over the past year or two.  I paid that money because I didn't think I had a choice - now here was someone telling me I did?  I started thinking.  OK with the dog I guess I did.  This person certainly wasn't the first to tell me I should have just had him put to sleep, I'd heard it at least a dozen times - even from the vet himself when he realised what a struggle it was going to be for me to pay the bill!  But this was Hubble - Liam's beloved companion who had slept on his bed every night since he was eight years old.  He had never cost us a cent before now, never had a day of ill health and as Liam pointed out 'He's 10 years old Mum.  Even if it is $600 that only works out to $60 for every year of his life.  That's not much compared to YOUR dog!' True dear boy, very true.  So the decision was made.  Maybe we were being silly and emotional but Hubble the toothless wonder lives to bark another day.  And bark and bark...

As for the braces though, this matter gave me a bit of a jolt.  You see I didn't think we had a choice but to get those braces.  We had already put them off a year after the orthodontist had assessed him because we didn't have the funds but now another dentist literally called me out of the waiting room to show me my son's teeth and tell me that he HAD to have braces - and soon.  His teeth were a mess, the x-rays proved it and they were only going to get worse and cause him severe pain.  Put yourself in my shoes, did it sound like I had much of a choice?  This dentist had nothing to gain either personally or financially from Ali's braces but if he was trying to guilt trip a mother in front of her child by crikey he was doing a stirling job.  What mother wants to think of her baby in pain, especially if it can be avoided?  I had already rung WINZ and asked if they could provide assistance and was told no; I honestly couldn't see any alternative.  On the positive side, my word that orthodontist knows his stuff.  A year down the track, Ali's criss-crossed, mish-mashed teeth are all perfectly straight and in line and the results have been so good he should be able to have them removed well within the two years we signed up for.

Whether those decisions and others were good or bad, what really stood out from that conversation was that when it comes to spending money, large or small, you have a choice.  And unpleasant as that conversation may have been, I took it on board and have kept it in mind ever since.  I have a choice. The buck stops with me.  I can't say it's ALWAYS going to stop me from making bad choices but a lot of the time it does.  I'm a bit peeved at the brake pads wearing out on my car because apart from not having a car at all (which isn't really too sensible when you live miles from anywhere) I can't see I have any other choice but to get them replaced.  Let's face it, brakes are rather important, especially when driving over mountains!  Not to mention the squealing, grinding noise is really not cool when out in public.  I definitely would rather not have the bloody dog collar issue though.  I'm only trying it because the neighbours and I have tried pretty much everything else to stop Hubble's continuous barking and I don't know what else to do.  If it works, well it's peace of mind for me when Ali and I are working and peace and quiet for the rest of the neighbourhood.  If not - well, let's just hope it works.  Once again it's my choice and it's a choice I'm angry with myself at spending so much money on but it's Liam's dog and I promised to look after him.  I tell you what though, this is the absolute last resort!

Fortunately things like new brake pads and citronella dog collars don't crop up too often but there are still countless other choices we have to make every day on a smaller scale.  They are just as important because all those little things can add up to just as much as brake pads before you know it!  One of my biggest struggles has always been organisation, which is really annoying because being organised is such an enormous key to being successful at saving money.  Being organised means no expensive takeaways, no late fees, no extra trips and wasted petrol.  I knew Beach Hop was going to prove a challenge for me because with both Ali and I working long and different hours, I was going to have to be super organised just to keep clothes on our backs and food in our stomachs.  The first couple of days went pretty well.  During my free time I caught up on washing, kept on top of the housework and cooked lunches and dinners.  Even though this sometimes meant cooking a roast dinner at 6 o'clock in the morning, it was done and I felt ever so efficient and in control of things.

Little did I know however just how insane Beach Hop was going to get!  By halfway through the festival, proper sit-down meals had become a thing of the past.  I would leave dinner ready made at home thinking I was going to be finishing at 8pm only to find we were still working flat out at midnight with no chance of getting away.  Even if I had brought my dinner with me it wouldn't have worked out any different as I had no time to sit down and eat it and several of us resorted to buying hot chips during shifts just to pick at and keep us going.  We were all in the same boat - the whole TOWN was in the same boat!  It was annoying but couldn't be helped.  The more Beach Hop went along, the more the wheels fell off at home.  The hours we weren't working everyone was just too dog tired to do anything but try and catch up on sleep and by the time it was all over I had literally no clothes which weren't soaked in beer and there wasn't as much as a loaf of bread in the house.  I must say poor Ali was brilliant during this time; he could see what it was like and just fended for himself. Mind you most days he was working long hours too!  If nothing else I made sure I brought him his work lunch on the days I could - at least then one of us didn't have to spend any of our wages on junk food!  Once again it was in my mind that I had a choice and this was a choice I was determined to get right.  At the end of the day, I think that the choices you make are nobody else's business.  The important thing is that if you ever find yourself up the creek without a paddle, you recognise and take responsibility for how you got there.  If nothing else, you'll know what NOT to do in future!

So that's our town's busiest time and biggest money maker done and dusted for another year.  I felt hugely proud to be a part of it!  And now things will begin to wind down in our dear little town as the cooler months approach.  Work will no doubt be a lot quieter and I'm not too sure what the future holds at this stage.  I've felt pretty out of control the past week or too.  I haven't been able to keep an eye on the bank balance and can barely tell you what bills have gone in or out!  Am really looking forward to getting back to normal and back on track; however I did notice when the power bill came in that Ali and I have saved $50 in our first month as a duo!  Hopefully next month will be even better!

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

R.E.S.P.E.C.T - is this really you and me?!

Look at this.  I absolutely adore this photo!  How happy and relaxed does my boy (on the right) look?  I can't believe the big fella has been gone over a month already but suffice to say I stopped worrying about him when this popped up on my Facebook feed a couple of weeks ago.  He loves his new city, thinks his classes are 'sick' (that's extremely cool for those not familiar with teen speak) and has made a heap of wonderful new friends.  Which was a huge relief for this mother to hear as just a few days before he had slept in and missed both his powhiri (official welcome) and his campus tour, hence had absolutely no idea what he was meant to be doing or where he was supposed to be.  'I don't think I'm cut out for uni life Mum', came the woeful message.  'Of course you are', I replied, with more conviction than I felt.  'All you have to do is get your arse out of bed in the mornings!'  And then spent the rest of the day fretting that perhaps my beloved eldest wasn't indeed cut out for uni life and had dreadful visions of him spending the next three years wandering campus, friendless and miserable or having to drive all the way down there to bring him back.  All day I worried about my gentle giant, out there in the big world alone, so far from home and not knowing a soul, yet I managed to refrain from texting him every five minutes throughout the day until 9.30pm that night when I could take no more and asked in fear and trepidation if he was OK.  'Oh yep I'm all good now, I'm on the piss with my mates haha', came the reply.  I've lost count of how many times I've heard that since!

Being seven hours' drive away is far enough but when I left home and ran off to the other side of the world it was so expensive to ring home (around $50 - $60 for one phone call from NZ to the UK!) that Mum and I could only afford to ring each other once a month.  How times have changed.  Liam and I can talk as often as we like for no cost at all!  We have Facebook and texting to message each other, we can video chat on Skype and send each other silly photos via Snapchat.  Which comes in very handy when needing to check important matters in a hurry such as whether your milk looks close to boiling or if your broccoli is 'done'.  Feeling like a change from sausages, spuds and eggs, Liam decided to have a go at making macaroni cheese for the first time the other day.  'It says I need a medium sized pan. That's a pot ay?' the first text popped up.  'Yep!'  I replied, chuckling to myself.  A few minutes later I receive a Snapchat picture of the aforementioned pot with the beginnings of cheese sauce.  'Does this look OK?' the caption asked.  'Perfect!' I texted back.  A few more minutes passed until another text arrived. 'Ugh, the milk's taking ages to boil!' 'Turn the heat up a bit then', I replied. 'But not too much and keep an eye on it 'cos milk is a sod for boiling over'. 'OK', he texted back.  'Bless him!' I smiled to myself all indulgent-parent like.  Upon which another Snapchat image flashed up of a blackened saucepan completely devoid of liquid and a few sad pieces of what used to be macaroni stuck to the bottom.  Accompanied by the caption 'I think it's f**ked'.  Alas, there was nothing for it but to reply 'Yep.  That's definitely f**ked mate'.

Still, apart from that small mishap, my boy's cooking skills have improved in leaps and bounds and he is eating some pretty well balanced meals. In fact I think he's eating more vegetables now than I could get him to eat at home!  And I was rather relieved two nights ago that he knew how to put out a fire when one of his stove elements caught alight.  It was a little late when I received the text 'Holy shit my stove just caught on fire!' to realise this was a scenario we hadn't discussed.  'Jeez!  Are you OK?  Do you know what to do?!' I texted back in alarm.  'Yeah it's OK, luckily I read this thing telling you what do to when I moved in', he replied with a smiley face.  Well thank heavens for that!

Finding a job so far is proving a bit of a challenge but he's trying, both job hunting independently and through an employment agency.  As soon as he moved to the city he decided it was pointless having a car sitting at home for the next three years and sold it to his brother (that was interesting, we had to get a neutral mediator in to agree on the price!) And initially he thought the streets of Wellington would be paved with gold when he applied for a waiter's job advertised via Student Job Search.  With the pay listed at between $45 and $75 an hour for just a few hours a week, Liam thought his fortune would soon be made.  Until a more thorough application revealed that this job wasn't your average waiting on tables. No siree, if you want to be a waiter earning that sort of money you have to be prepared to get your kit off!  You could indeed make $45 an hour if you were prepared to prance around bare chested and bow-tied at various locations like a Geordie Shore wannabe.  As for the $75 option?  This too was available - as long as you agreed to attend stripping lessons!

So the hunt for a slightly more normal part time job goes on.  And of course there's the whole money juggling thing as a student, making sure you have enough money for food and most importantly beer.  There have been a couple of hard lessons learned (such as if you want to be able to eat you shouldn't really spend $100 on jeans in your first week when you only have $200 to begin with) and things like PS4 games have to go on your wishlist for a very long time because you never know when you're going to need money for important things such as pot scourers.  But on the whole he's managing extremely well.  I couldn't be prouder of him!  And somewhere along the line our relationship has had a bit of a shift and a couple of new things have crept in; namely a new-found respect and appreciation between us both.  Gone are the exasperated sighs, the bribes, the demands and the 'world owes me a living' attitude.  Instead it has been replaced by a genuine appreciation of the people who love him and anything that comes his way. Conversations between us are always pleasant and respectful and don't tell him I told you but we've even been known to say the 'L' word a few times!

Monday, 16 March 2015

When life gives you weevils..

The beach yesterday after Cyclone Pam, who was mercifully kind to us!

Good grief, has it really been two weeks since my last post?  I suppose a couple of things have indeed gotten in the way, such as a tropical cyclone and a bee sting which caused my hand to swell like a blown-up rubber glove and rendered me unable to do pretty much anything for a while! But I'll let you into a bit of a secret which I never shared when I was Penny.  If I go quiet for a week or two you can pretty much guarantee it's because I'm down in the dumps.  Yes, even Jack the seemingly eternal optimist occasionally gets struck down with the blues!  I'm a great believer in 'if you haven't got anything nice to say, don't say it at all'.  So I don't and that includes my writing.

Especially if the root of the problem is just me feeling sorry for myself.  You see when Liam left home a month ago I expected miracles to happen overnight.  With my delightful and adorable but high maintenance eldest now living independently at the other end of the island, I envisaged it wouldn't be long before Ali and me would be rolling in money.  He recently started a job at the local fishing shop and works there before and after school and on weekends.  He buys everything he wants or needs for himself, including petrol for the car he has just bought off his brother and is paying him weekly for.  I bought a second hand bike in great condition for $20 on Facebook and use my car as little as humanly possible.  We don't watch TV, use minimal power - I can't wait to see the difference in the next power bill - in fact we use minimal everything really!

So why in heaven's name did it feel as though we were getting absolutely nowhere at all?  In fact, as I looked around one afternoon it seemed as though things were actually WORSE than they were before!  I can honestly say I had never had so little food in the house in my life.  We had no eggs, no sugar, no butter, no cheese, no oil, no rice or pasta, no stock cubes, not even a tin of tomatoes - all the things I could normally scratch together to make SOMETHING, I had none of. And I couldn't afford to go and buy a single one.  Most heartbreaking of all was when I went to open a brand new 5kg of flour and found there had been a split in the bottom of the bag and it was full of weevils.  That just about did me in, I could have used that to make so much!  But now there was nothing for it but to throw it out.  'Holy shit!' Ali said when I showed him the fridge and pantry.  'We literally have NO food', I looked at him seriously.  'Honestly Mum, we still have more food than Sam* (Ali's friend, not his real name)', he said matter-of-factly.  'We do?' I asked in amazement.  'Oh yeah, they have way less than this at their house', he assured me.  I knew he wasn't kidding either; he has given them his own money several times before now to enable them to buy bread and milk.  They always pay him back, even though he tells them not to worry about it.  Anyway that pulled me up pretty short. Quit your whinging Jack.

Even so, it irked the hell out of me that we weren't further ahead.  I guess the best way of putting it is none of the money I earn is mine; it's all gone on bills from the moment it goes in my account.  I receive $133 per week Working for Families tax credit from Inland Revenue and that has to feed Ali and me, put petrol in my car, pay for haircuts, printing costs, posting things to Liam, doctor's, chemist, car registration, everything.  Which isn't very helpful when you get stung by a poxy bee and have to spend $40 of that money on antihistamines just to stop your hand exploding!  Still, most of the time we manage OK.  There just comes a time when you eventually run out of everything and by the time you use that $133 to buy your flour, butter and so on again, well there's bugger all left for anything else so it feels like you're no further ahead really.  Don't worry, I know I'm incredibly lucky really.  I haven't had to buy vegetables for weeks, my ex-husband and my mum have kept me supplied with produce from their gardens. My ex also brings us meat quite regularly.  If it wasn't for them - well, I don't know how other people get through. I really don't.

But for every step backwards there's one in the right direction to match. I was right about predicting Spark would penalise me when I changed phone and Internet providers recently. In fact the very next day after I wrote that blog I got an invoice for $171 for services from February 23rd to March 31st. My services with Spark ceased on February 22nd.  I wrote and asked why they were charging me for a whole month's worth of service I no longer had?  They responded because I hadn't given 30 days notice I would be changing.  I told them they had already had my custom for 22 years and I would happily go back to them should they come up with a better deal - but not if they made me pay this invoice.  They agreed to waive it and said they hoped to be able to lure me back in the future.

Then I received a letter from Inland Revenue advising me that my $133 per week Working for Families tax credit would be continuing until March 2016 based on my income.  Which I realised had halved in the past 12 months according to their figures!  A quick phone call and as of April 1st Ali and me will be entitled to $30 a week more. Hopefully this will help to ensure we can always buy flour from now on!

So once again things are on the up.  Even if it's only a small up, it's still an up!  And I apologise for getting down in the dumps on you.  The good thing is, I never stay that way for long.  It probably sounds as corny as anything but my way of thinking is, if you do your best to be kind and live a good life, then life will be kind back to you.  For example the other day I advertised on our local Facebook Pay it Forward page that I had way too many apples going to waste in my garden and invited people to come and help themselves.  This resulted in 12 families coming round and picking them and 10 of them I would never have met otherwise.  It was lovely to chat to everyone as we picked bags full of apples and there is still so much fruit on the trees you wouldn't even know anyone had been!  The same week I met one of my neighbours for the first time and told him the same, to help himself to whatever fruit he and his family needed.  Their property backs onto ours and I apologised for the unkempt state of my back yard, explaining that now Ali had a job he was too busy working all hours to get time to mow them.  Blow me down but it turns out Ali's boss is his son and he offered to mow my lawns for free!  You just never know what good fortune is around the corner!

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

With Compliments...

How good are you at receiving compliments? Or just as important, giving them? For my whole life I have been rubbish at both, until recently. Funnily enough I was going through a particularly hideous patch when a friend said to me as I sniffled and sobbed down the phone at him, 'Look. All you need to do is accept how others see you. It doesn't matter if you don't agree with them or can't see what they see. Once you just accept it, your life will be much easier'. And you know what? He was absolutely right. From that moment on my life DID become easier – and a lot more pleasant too. This very wise chap hadn't even known me very long. He had no real knowledge of me, my background, my friends, anything. He was simply a neutral person observing the situation from the outside and my goodness did he open my eyes.

It's such a shame I didn't know this years ago. All the years I was married, every time my (now ex) husband told me I was beautiful I immediately responded with 'no I'm not'. If a work colleague or employer tried to tell me I was smart or clever I would shrug it off and say it was nothing. If a friend I hadn't seen in a while said I looked great, I would disagree strongly and insist how awful I looked instead. All in all, I guess if anyone tried to say anything nice to me at all I would simply fend them off with a negative. DUH. What an idiot! Can you imagine what my self esteem was like? Yet how many of us do this to ourselves? Who knows what a difference that could possibly even have made to my marriage if I had simply enjoyed receiving those compliments and – now here's a thought – even give some back? But nooo, one can't possibly accept or believe anything nice anyone has to say about us, can one?

Still, better late than never and I am proud to say that since that conversation with my friend, my perception has changed. I'm happy to accept compliments should they come my way and appreciate each one. If a friend says I look great, I smile and say 'thank you'. If someone tells me I am beautiful I blush and giggle like an idiot. But a very happy idiot. If someone says I've done a great job it makes me happy because I would have achieved my goal. Sometimes it's still hard but the more you do it, the easier it gets.

And now I'm so much better at receiving compliments I'm 100 times better at giving them too. Not just willy nilly you understand but when I see something that is truly beautiful, or kind or impressive; something that makes me smile or touches my heart, I no longer keep it in but instead tell that person. When I ran into a friend in the supermarket who got married a couple of weeks ago, I couldn't resist from going up to tell her how stunningly beautiful her wedding photos were and what a perfect, happy day it looked. Once upon a time I would never have done that but they were so beautiful I just had to tell her. She looked a little surprised to begin with but was genuinely chuffed I took the time to seek her out and tell her and was all smiles.

And sometimes what happens next blows you away. Like the other day when I wrote to the lady who runs our local Facebook Buy, Sell and Swap page. I had never met her and still haven't but thanks to her I had made $480 that week. Our group has thousands of members; so many of us love this page and have come to rely on it and she does an amazing job. I thought it was really important that she knew it and that I was grateful, so I dropped her a message via Facebook to thank her for setting up her wonderful page and let her know of all the times I had been able to feed my kids, pay my bills and hang on to my home, all because she had had the vision and fortitude to provide this wonderful free service.

Her response came back just a few minutes later. 'I am so glad this page has helped you with the endless amount of trials we all face every day. My daughter is telling me now that you are such a nice person who lights up a room when you walk in. One day we will meet, God bless'. Wow. I received that message five days ago and it still warms my heart. I had no idea when I smiled at that lovely lady's daughter every time I went to get a sandwich from the bakery that I was lighting up the room! And if I hadn't paid her wonderful mum a compliment I would never have known. But from that moment on I decided to make it my mission to light up everywhere I went. I don't really know how to do that but my usual, scatty, chatty disorganised self seems to have worked so far!

I do consider myself to be a warm, affectionate sort of person but I'm not someone who says 'I love you' a lot – not even to my kids, although of course they know I love them to bits. However I've been doing more of that lately too and I'll keep on doing it. Life is too bloody short not to say what's in your heart. And it's too short not to listen to what is in other people's either. So accept what they say. Receive it graciously. And most of all, believe it. If someone else thinks you're fab enough to pay you a compliment – well then you ARE.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Fake it 'til you make it

When my now ex husband and I were first setting up home together and getting married, we spent a lot of time with another couple who it seemed had it all.  Their circumstances and life stage were almost exactly the same as ours, yet whereas everything in our home was either gifted or bought second hand, everything in their home was brand new and beautiful, from the furniture to the many stylish accessories.  Whilst the female of the couple was naturally a creative girl, with a flair for making things everyday things look gorgeous, it was still obvious from the moment you walked into their home that they had spent a LOT of money.  Much as I was deeply fond of our lovely friends, I couldn't help being more than a little envious.  We were all no more than 20 years old.  Why did they have so much more than we did?

Having never borrowed anything more than a library book from anyone in my whole life at that stage, it took a few more years before the answer became apparent.  There was me thinking that they had pots of money and just paid cash for whatever they wanted.  After all, that's what we did!  We didn't have credit cards, hire purchases, not even an overdraft.  I honestly thought everyone paid cash upfront for everything, just like we had for our hideous brown 1970's lounge suite and rickety washing machine.  It never occurred to me for a moment that all the gorgeous possessions our friends had were all on the tick and they had acquired them that way because they couldn't actually afford any of them.  Once I did realise, I stopped being jealous and actually felt sorry for them for being a couple of bloody halfwits and racking up such an enormous amount of debt from such a young age.

Except by then I wasn't really in a position to judge as with the passing of the years we were now guilty of doing the same.  We were driving around in brand new double cab utes which we upgraded every couple of years and went fishing in a brand new boat which matched the colour of the car. Other people's children came to play with ours and referred to the boys' playroom as 'Wonderland', thanks to the vast amount of toys they had, including many rare and never seen before ones I had sourced from overseas thanks to my magic credit card.  Not surprisingly most people in the town thought we were loaded.  Who was to know that the car and boat payments almost crippled us every month for five years?  And that when that five years had finished we would get an even bigger car and an even bigger boat to ensure we struggled for another five years?  Thank God I discovered Simple Savings when I did.  Mercifully my kids were too young back then to remember what it was like to have so much, or I shudder to think what they would have turned out like.

The thing was, I didn't actually like it when people thought we were rich.  Of course these days there's no danger of that!  Although it's still pretty easy to fake it so that nobody realises you're broke - it's just there are a lot smarter ways of going about it than racking up thousands of dollars on hire purchases and loans.  Which is just as well as nobody would lend anything to me anyway!  But I knew I was doing a good job when I even managed to fool my ex husband.  Now I don't mean that in a nasty way, as ex husbands go he is about the best anyone could possibly ask for.  We still have a great relationship and can talk about pretty much anything.  So when discussing my financial woes as usual a few months back he had no problem with telling me ever-so-gently while I sniffled,  'No offence sweetie but perhaps if you didn't buy so many clothes?  Every time I've seen you this summer you're in a different bikini and that's just for starters!'

Me on Melbourne Cup day in my $15 designer frock and $2 shop fascinator!

At which point I promptly burst out laughing through my tears.  Because my ex is one hell of a difficult person to trick but I had successfully managed to fool him with my brilliant selection of second hand or mega cheap clothes, including five bikinis for $20!  I have to say, I love my wardrobe and am very proud of it.  From my favourite cherry Element summer dress to my posh dress with black roses I wore for Melbourne Cup day  and my designer dress with gold brocade I wore to Liam's graduation dinner, I NEVER pay more than $20 for ANYTHING.  Some bargains I grab online from OnceIt, which is a website which offers different bargains at up to 80% off designer and other funky labels every day but mostly my wardrobe comes from good old Facebook Buy, Sell and Swap.  I can pick up as many as six or eight garments for $15, all in excellent condition.  Just one purchase like that takes care of pretty much all my clothing needs for a season and the funny thing is, I get far more compliments about my clothes now than I ever used to when I shopped brand new!

I never pay for haircuts either and sometimes it shows but the hairdressers in the local salons always tell me what great condition my hair is in when I go there to get my fringe trimmed for free.  The rest I've been cutting myself for years, layers and all.  It's easy when you know how!  As for skincare I shall share with you my secret cleansing elixir.  Water.  That's it - nothing else.  I know, shocking isn't it?  How can I not use ANYTHING else?  Simple - someone recommended it to me.  We both used to spend a fortune on skincare and could just about have had shares in Lush because we thought we HAD to put SOMETHING on our faces.  Then one day he just stopped and his sensitive skin problems stopped along with it.  He encouraged me to give it a go but I couldn't bring myself to do it until one day I ran out of my beloved Lush products and was too skint to get any more.  I had no choice but to give his method a go and whilst my skin went absolutely bonkers for a few days in protest at not getting slathered in gunk, all of a sudden it cleared up.  Pimples and other nasties are a thing of the past and now I wouldn't use anything else!  I just make sure to use a clean washcloth every day to rub my face with, I think that's pretty important.  This system works so well that my acne-prone 16-year-old abandoned his prescribed products and gave it a go instead.  The results were much faster and the improvement was far more noticeable than anything else he had ever tried!

For moisturiser I use rosehip oil and that's all.  It is a bit expensive at around $35 but one small bottle lasts so long that it's actually better value I think than most other alternatives.  The only thing I haven't been able to fake with much success is waxing.  I did try to wax my own eyebrows once and the local beautician still falls about laughing when she remembers how she had to come to my rescue. Even then I had to draw part of my eyebrows in with a ballpoint pen every morning for weeks.  So much for saving money!  And then there's the other waxing - you know, the South American variety. Apologies for too much information but ever since I heard first hand of a beautician's apprentice actually 'sticking herself together' trying to do her own with disastrous consequences and her boss actually having to close the salon to rush to her house and rescue her - well, I figured some things really are best left to the professionals.  I do hope neither of my children are reading this - for years I've been telling them I'm going for a facial.  Do you have ANY idea how hard it is to remain deadpan when you return home to your kids scrutinising your face and saying in all seriousness 'Hmph, I don't know why you bother Mum.  Your face doesn't look any different!'