Counting The Pennies

There’s a lot of talk going on here about the childcare subsidy that’s been proposed for the budget by the Irish government. Very few seem happy with it and there are some ugly arguments starting where parents and families are pitted against each other; both parents working, one working and one stay-at-home parent, two part-time working parents, working from home parents, single parents. It’s a real pity. I don’t think any family has easy decisions and easy lifestyle choices to make. I personally would prefer to see a system that helps all families. What that is I am not sure. It’s a problem bigger than I. Besides, my daddy always said don’t discuss religion, politics or money with people.

Notwithstanding that advice, I want to talk about money. Mr. Fairweather works. Thank God. For a while he didn’t and we survived on social welfare mostly. It was tough going. Really tough going. And lets face it, not working and providing isn’t great for anyone’s headspace. Well, definitely not for us Fairweathers. I remember ringing a friend in tears because the Social Welfare Officer wouldn’t believe we could live off as little as we were and was threatening to not approve Mr. Fairweather’s application. I felt like asking him to come out and see what we ate and how we lived. I was on the verge of going in to the local St. Vincent de Paul Society to ask for help.

But now Mr. Fairweather works and brings in some money. Not a lot mind you, but we make do. I occasionally work from home. It’s tough going finding the time to sit at the computer uninterrupted by a curious toddler who insists that she be allowed to bang the keyboard and click the mouse and demands that I get out of her chair. So I try and work when she naps or grab an hour or two here and there when granny can mind her or Mr. Fairweather whisks her away. It makes for very slow progress and means I can’t take on a lot of work. But it does occasionally bring in enough money to cover an outstanding utility bill or surprise car repairs.

In an ideal world I would give up this part-time occasional work and work full-time in our home; raising the Little Paddler and tending to my smallholding. It’s a bit different to what people expect after spending years in college training as an architect. But I did the working in an office bit and slaving away at the computer, chasing up builders and consultants, explaining to anxious clients why something has gone wrong or taken longer than expected. The stress and pressure of the constant demand for information and decisions and the worries of Health and Safety issues and the tensions when mediating on contract disputes just isn’t for me. And as for the insurance and responsibilities that all come to rest on your shoulders should something go wrong – don’t get me started. I liked the design of a new house and the working out of how to make existing houses more comfortable, say for someone in a wheelchair, but nobody pays big bucks for those drawings. Everyone wants to bargain you down. I am not made to haggle and besides, I am already terrible at putting a value on my time and worth to start off with. But I keep on trucking because we need what little bits I get.

Mr. Fairweather and I have an idea of the life we want for ourselves and our little family. We are not the most conventional of our friends and our lifestyle is different to theirs but they love us anyway. We have decided what our priorities are and (generally keeping them in sight), are trying to cut our cloth to suit. We cut back on luxuries and try and make things last. Some of what we buy may be considered luxuries by some but there is a method to our madness. Hens and ducks will give us back eggs and meat. My polytunnel gives us vegetables and saves money. Mr. Fairweather’s boatbuilding keeps his head sane and lets face it, your mental health shouldn’t have a price tag.

Maybe it would be slightly easier moneywise if I went back out in to the workforce but for now it is more important for us that I am at home with the Little Paddler especially in the early years. We are in no rush to shove her off to early education. There are others more intelligent and qualified than I who would support this school of thought which makes me feel somewhat more confident when it comes to discussing this decision with others. So we stick to our plans and dreams and scrimp and save to get a holiday or to buy new fencing for my longed for pigs or to afford to attend a wedding we might be invited to.

And this has focussed me on budgeting; on watching the pennies. A friend introduced me to YNAB years ago. At the time it was a simple spreadsheet program that you bought as a once off purchase. It has since evolved in to a fancy animal that you subscribe to and it has all the fancy bells and whistles. Whichever version, the whole thing works on the premise that you live off of last month’s money and give every dollar (euro) a job. Bit by bit you see where your money goes – mine used to disappear on takeaway dinners, fancy coffees and cakes since you asked. Having to account for every single penny really drove it home where I was frittering money away. It also focussed me on getting the debts down quickly and starting to save a buffer for unforeseen eventualities. I did really well on it for a while and then gave up for one reason or another. I am throwing myself back in to it again and starting from scratch. It’s a bit scary realising how little money you have and how much you need to find each month just to cover bare essentials but I am determined to get on top of things again. Fingers crossed I stick at it this time. Any other budgeters with tips and advice out there?

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