Tuesday, 15 February 2011

A Cheap Valentine (and other gifts)

I am often told I am a cheap date.  It’s kind of a standing joke but also true.  I was always the woman saying ‘let’s go for a picnic and keep the money towards the deposit on a house.’
Consequently, Valentine’s Day is on the 15th of February or later in our house.  The reason will be obvious to you frugal folk out there. 
If you go out for dinner, buy flowers or do pretty much anything else on the 14th of Feb, or for that matter the weekend just before it (sometimes just after it too if the 15th is on the Saturday night) you can bet your bottom dollar that you will pay up to twice the price for the same thing.

A similar rip off happens with weddings.  Tell the florist the button-hole posies are for a wedding and the price can double.  I know someone who was best man and contacted a hotel to ask the price for a reception.  He then asked the price for the same facilities for a birthday party and it was a lot less.  He booked a birthday party and they brought the flowers from the church to decorate the tables.  No one missed the extra bits of razzmatazz and the happy couple started married life with a bit more cash in their pockets.

On the 15th  of February, you can get dinner for the normal price, (or go out early as we usually do and get a 2 for 1 deal at 6pm on a weekday), and oysters, red roses and valentine’s cards are all reduced in the supermarket and cost next to nothing.  Especially the oysters as they won’t keep! 

One year I came home with a large bunch of red roses from Tesco for 50p and I could have had any amount of them.  I also netted a cashmere jumper for my beloved for £2 in the sale, and a huge quantity of fresh king prawns going begging at a silly price at the fish counter that had to be eaten that day.  There were so many that we could not eat them all.  They had already been frozen, so with a flash of ingenuity I boiled them briskly in a pot and then froze them.

The thing is, it sounds mean, doesn’t it?  Do I still love him as much if we celebrate Valentine’s Day on the 15th, or if we book the birthday party instead of the wedding?  Or have we just seen too many advertisements saying things like ‘because she’s worth it?’…
My take on it is this:  the ‘mean message’ comes from subtle marketing to get us to part with money.  It happens because someone wants to make money out of us, not because it is truly mean to spend less on things like that. 
The original intention of Valentine’s Day was to let someone know you fancied them when you were too scared to say.  Just like the original intention of Christmas was to celebrate the birth of Jesus and the exchange of gifts was meant to be symbolic, not a massive spending spree to be regretted when the credit card bill comes in, in January.  The original meaning has been hi-jacked by shopping.

Speaking of flowers, In an office where I once worked, we were having a whip round and each contributing £5 for flowers for someone who was in hospital.  When we contacted the florist, the £35 we had amassed was only enough to get a small bunch of flowers delivered. 

I suggested we went to the supermarket across the road and got £35 worth of flowers and took them to the hospital ourselves.  Face it, in many supermarkets you get a lot of flowers for £35.  I had florist’s cellophane and ribbon at home and could have made them up into a large bouquet.  This was not about saving money, you understand, it was about the person getting something nicer for the same money.  However the organiser of the gift thought that was ‘mean’ (I am still trying to work that one out too) and arranged for a small bunch of flowers to be delivered, then drove up to the hospital to visit empty handed.   
It used to be nice to take flowers from your garden to give to people but no doubt that is considered mean in some circles too.  It is actually nicer, and chances are the flowers will be unique and will not have been treated with pesticides or used up precious water in parts of the world where people do not have enough to drink.I once picked a selection of February flowers from my garden and gave them to my beloved on valentine's day.  how proud was I of having a wee bunch of flowers to pick in  my garden in February!  - Since you ask, snow drops, pussy willow, christmas roses and sprigs of contoneaster covered in red berries.

I still remember the lovely bunch of hand-picked flowers carefully arranged in a margarine tub with oasis in it, which someone who was totally broke took to the crematorium for me when we suffered a loss some years ago. They were the most special thing there and a lot of thought and love had gone into those flowers, as well as the courage to bring them and not to mind what others might think. 

When a close friend was getting married and I saw the florist’s price list with button holes listed at £5 each I was appalled.  That is £5 for one carnation and a bit of greenery!
I offered to make the buton holes and the bride was delighted.  She an I did it together and bought florist’s tape and two bunches of carnations for a total of £5 and added ferns and foliage from the garden.  We made all 10 button holes for £5, or 50p each and they were lovely.  There is lots of florist’s tape left to lend to someone else, too. 
The fact that it was us potential recipients of the button holes who made the suggestion gave the happy couple permission to do it without seeming mean.
I spent my money contributing to the reception as a wedding gift (I bought the champagne), which saved them a bit more money.  Like I said, it is not about being mean but getting best value and spending money on the things that matter. 
I love to get gifts that help someone get ahead, or contribute toexpenses of an event like a wedding as a gift.  this is especially handy with young people who need some money mentoring as it gives them the idea of being thrifty with money and helps them out at the same time.

In a similar vein, I bought a year’s supply of mail order nappies as a gift for a young couple who had a baby, knowing that babies get too many clothes anyway and there can never be enough nappies. they were not the sort to have re-usable nappies or that would have been an even better present. 
 I also got them some other almost-new b baby things, such as a wicker crib for virtually nothing at the car boot sale. When the couple concerned had finished with the crib, we gave it to someone else.  I got my £2($1.50) worth of pleasure out of that one! 
I now get the child concerned birthday and Christmas gifts of properly fitted leather shoes along with car boot sale toys.   This saves the parents money as well as being a nice gift, which I think is the optimum combination.
As a house-warming gift, consider things like curtain rails, blinds or linoleum, or even phone or electricity vouchers.   People are unlikely to get them from anyone else and it will save the reipient money.

So think about the person concerned and what will be useful rather than what you can find in the shops.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

where did all the money go?

In the recent and painful economic downturn what I have been wondering is this:  If everybody is harder up, where has all the money gone?
Did it just disappear?  You do hear that a lot of money just moves electronically from one place to another but does not come into existence because it is not taken out of the bank.  In other words, if we all want our actual money at once, we are in trouble because there is not enough to go around.  That is what happens when bank get into difficulties I believe, and also when everyone sells shares on the stock exchange at once.
However, this crisis was apparently all started by companies selling on mortgage debt and that money did presumably exist because someone, somewhere bought a house with it. 
It seems that the number of new millionaires is still increasing, so someone is making money out of all of this.  It is just not the average person on the street.
It hasn’t burned us much as yet and for this we are very very thankful.  A friend of a friend has just come back from Ireland and says that people are going hungry because the cuts in benefits are so severe that benefits are only available for a limited period of time. 
Their homes have been re-possessed and they have nowhere to go and no money at all.
 If anyone out there knows anything about this, please post it on the comments section of this blog.  We are not hearing much about it, but the media did report that people were going hungry in Iceland last year.  How are they doing now?  What about people in the USA?  I noticed a book on Amazon.co.uk (Although it is American I could not find it on Amazon.com) about how to survive whilst living out of your car, if you cannot afford to pay rent and feed yourself.  It was written in the 1990's - the last recession. But how great is that, to survive it and write a book about it.
Car living by Jane Archer

It raises two questions:
1.       What can we all do to help each other when times are tough?
2.      How can we best protect ourselves from future hardship?
A sense of community and getting to know your neighbours is the very best safety valve there is in hard times.  That is how many countries have survived in the past, and it is a win-win situation.  That way we can share skills and resources rather than fight each other.  

Getting to know the neighbours is not always easy and someone has to make the first move.  I had fun leaving tubs of strawberries on our neighbours’ doorsteps and it broke the ice. 
We put a bench in our front garden too because in summer people are outside more.  Getting involved or just starting something locally works too.  It doesn’t need a committee if it doesn’t hold any money, so just do it.

Living frugally (but that doesn’t mean depriving yourself, being mean or doing it at other peoples’ expense) has been the secret of our wellbeing for many years.   
When I first started on the simplicity path – on my own at the very start, but hubby quickly got the plot when the credit card debt disappeared – I came across a book called ‘How To Feed Your Family on £4 a Day’ by Bernadine Lawrence.  
An Inspiration!

I had it out of the library and renewed it many times.   I took it back briefly as I could only renew it a certain number of times but when I went to get it back a few weeks later it had been got rid of!
I had been unable to get hold of it again until last week when I found a second hand copy on Amazon.co.uk. (it is not available on Amazon.com) It has been re-printed twice and became ‘How to Feed Your Family on £5 a Day’ in the second edition.
The food is all costed out and amazingly little has gone up in price since the 1990’s except the water cress. 
The recipes are good basic healthy food but the reason I love this book is because it is inspirational.  Bernadine went from having a good job, to being in a high rise flat with four children and on benefits.  Her strategy enabled them to live well despite having little money.
She fed 2 adults and 4 children very well for £5 a day. 
I actually hadn’t thought it until now but we fed ourselves for that much quite easily when we were paying off the mortgage and were highly motivated – admittedly we had 3 children rather than 4. 
In recent years I have found the bills creeping up again and am now back on focus with the grocery bill, and have challenged myself to reduce spending whilst not compromising on quality, so watch this space.

It is not the amount we spend each week that we focus on but the overall average over the course of a year.  This is because if we find something cheap we tend to stock up on it.  In some months we have  a lot more garden produce than others.  So far I have spent more and not less but watch this space.

We do not have a big garden and it is vertically challenged (the main part of the garden is almost as high as the roof of the house.)  It was mostly subsoil when we moved in because the top layer had been removed to reduce the height of the hill behind the house. 

The front garden now has some vegetables in it as well as the small poly tunnel and veg beds we have at the back.   For the front we choose food plants that look pleasing such as runner beans with their nice flowers, rhubarb and strawberries placed in amongst the other plants.  Think of a lawn as a green desert, and increase the size of the borders to grow salad crops.

This is a place to share your own inspiration about saving money and managing on less, so feel free to add your own ideas. 
We will be starting our courses on ‘simple living in an urban setting this year' so watch this space. They aim to help people get ahead whether or not they are in debt and - well - it certainly changed our lives for the better so why not learn from someone who has done it?
If you have enough savings to last for a year and no mortgage you can sleep at night without fear.   It can be done!