Looking Back…

Well, they say don’t look back, but perhaps sometimes it is a useful exercise. The opportunity to look at the challenges you faced and how you have dealt with them,  pat yourself on the back for doing so well, or think how you can learn from your mistakes. You can remind yourself of the good times: what went well, the things that made you proud and happy. You may have to face the dark times too, but you don’t need to dwell. Just decide how you will make things better from now on.

I have always thought of myself as frugal – certainly I have never had much money to spare. However, in the past few years, since my divorce, I have struggled with my finances and found myself falling into bad habits.

At the start of 2013 I felt very depressed and anxious. I hadn’t saved a penny towards Christmas so had put all of the presents on my credit card. I was still paying off an expensive holiday from the previous year, and on top of that had to buy my car insurance with my credit card too as I hadn’t put money aside for that either and paying monthly was prohibitively expensive. I had done a bit of credit card ‘tarting’ and was on an interest free deal, but I still owed more money than I was comfortable with.

On top of that, my eldest daughter was unemployed. She had hesitated to sign on as she was sure she would find something else quickly but had only found a series of poorly paid temporary jobs which delayed her eligibilty for any benefits.  I was having to support her and had lost the housekeeping she gave me previously. My second daughter was finishing her A levels and would be moving on to university. I was happy for her because she was ready to  go and excited about moving into the big wide world and having her independance. However, I was also aware that her leaving meant a loss of income for me: child tax credits, child benefit and maintenance from her father. None of these things were extras: they were part of my essential income. I would have one less to feed but still had to run a house and pay the mortgage.

cropped-smiley-veg-small.jpgIn the Spring I hit the big 5-0. Maybe this was the turning point. I started to read some amazing and frugal blogs which gave me some inspiration and a kick up the backside. Thanks Frugal Queen, a Girl Called Jack and Mortgage Free in particular, and all the other lovely blogs I have discovered since. I went back to some of my old books like The Tightwad Gazette and the Penny Pincher’s Bible and read them again. I knew exactly what I had to do so I began to take my own advice – I reviewed all my bills and got the gas and electricity fixed at a good price, and a better deal on my car and house insurance. I reduced the Virgin package to the minimum – I would have cut it altogether but I was stuck in a contract. When that expires I will cancel it. I planned my meals and reduced my food bill, introducing my family to lots of vegetarian meals and cheap dinners like liver and bacon casserole and chick pea curry, which is now a favourite. Instead of shopping in the High Street I became a boot sale addict. I even put some money away for Christmas – not enough but it helped a bit. The ever supportive Mr Shoestring helped me dig a veggie patch and assembled a greenhouse that we found on Ebay, which enabled us to grow loads of our own food.

In the summer I took in foreign students, who were great. Interesting, lovely teenagers from Switzerland, Italy and Slovakia who are all now my Facebook friends and were a pleasure to have in the house. They also paid off my overdraft!

I tried to get a lodger and signed up with www.fivenights.com – I wanted my daughter to be able to come home from uni at weekends and this seemed the ideal solution. Unfortunately this was not a success, but nothing ventured…

I started this blog at the beginning of November as a helpful way of recording my life and keeping myself motivated. It has proved incredibly enjoyable and I have come across some lovely fellow bloggers who have encouraged me to continue.

So, a bumpy ride, with some achievements. I got through Christmas and into the New year with the smallest of overdrafts and nothing extra on the credit card. DD2 went happily off to uni and is having a great time and doing well academically. She has also got a part time job to supplement her loan. DD1 now has a great job in town that she loves. Even DD3 got a job, serving teas at an old people’s home I have no overdraft and just £600 to pay off on the credit card. I have set up a regular standing order to put aside all the money I will need for my car insurance, tax and MOT this year, plus extra for birthdays and Christmas. I have a new yoga class about to commence that will bring in a few pounds extra every week.

I still have some anxiety around money. I need to reduce my outgoings further and bring in some extra income somehow. I have to watch every penny. I have to find the money to get kitty spayed this month and host a very cheap party for my DD3’s 16th birthday, neither of which were budgeted for.

I am not there yet – I am a long way from relaxing. But I do have a new determination to do it and  I will record the journey here!