The Change Jar And Poor-Folk Tips
0 comment Tuesday, June 10, 2014 |
A lot of frugal-living blogs and advice are geared toward people with a steady, reliable (actual) income, not people who live on benefits. The assumption (or hope) is that benefits will be a temporary state and that you will constantly be striving to find employment. However, for some people that's not possible, or perhaps you've made a conscious choice not to due to family requirements or personal health. I'm not going to sit here and preach at you about what you should choose; I'm horrified that women on forums will actually attack each other for deciding to work or deciding to stay home with their children - we're all in this together, why the hatin'? But still, the only advice anyone who is in my situation or similar seems to get is "first, get a job".
Let's face it: that's not always easy, and there are people in the UK actually committing suicide due to employment presssure. The economy right now isn't in the best of shape, and people who have been out of work for ages would find themselves working really depressing jobs and probably earning even less than if they just stayed home. But, staying home to tend for their kids means they are one of "THOSE" people who sponge off the work of hardworking taxpayers. So, most people I know in a similar situation to mine are damned if they do, damned if they don't, and continually setting their sights toward a future which includes a high paying job, a mortgage, and a fancy car.
If that's your dream, then go get it. No one will hand it to you; it means reskilling, hard work, and days you probably wonder if you've gone mad. But I'm going to suggest another way - rather than continuously living for tomorrow, make the most of today, right now.
For my part, I realised the chance of me ever owning a home is slim. Indeed, the rush to buy a home may be putting more people in debt in the UK; in this unstable economy you may be asking for more stress, not less, when agreeing a mortgage. A few years ago I decided "my house" would be the house I was living in at any given time, and I got into the habit of asking landlords what sort of changes I could make to a place whilst I lived in it. Most landlords are amenable to the ideas of tenants sprucing up a house; it means the value of their property goes up without them having to worry about doing any of the work. I've painted, put up new lighting, done some gardening and so on in past homes. This home I'm in now is one of the more extensive homes I've ever worked on, mostly due to it obviously being a cash-cow and nothing else, so little work has gone into it. This means I have a load of scope to improve the place, and I am doing so. I've painted my son's rooms, worked on the garden, am in the process of getting some new insulation installed (which reminds me that the landlord needs to come round and get the loft cleared out), and may even be calling upon the Council to make some improvements for my own better mobility. I am not treating this rental as a temporary stop, in other words. This is MY house, and will continue to be my house for as long as I want it to be. True, there's no mortgage I'm paying into and I will maybe never actually own the place unless my landlord decides in their old age to be generous (and it has happened before, so who knows?) However, for now, this will do, and will serve me till I can no longer get up the steps. If it gets to that point, it's time for the retirement home anyway.
In the meantime, I care for this place as if I own it; I wash the walls, I call for insulation evaluations and other advice on making the place more efficient for myself and my son. If something breaks, I try to fix it, if I can't, I call the landlord immediately. Everything else, I keep in as good nick as I possibly can. Nothing irks me more than weed-infested gardens and old outbuildings half-falling apart. Fix it! Repair it! Use it! I don't have the money NOT to keep things in good use.
Growing your own food goes without saying; and I know that a lot of people in dire straits don't have a garden. But if you've got a window, you can at least grow some herbs to spice up your cooking. There are options as well - if you live on a council estate, petition to have some of the space outside your council building for communal gardening; this is something catching on in other areas and provided you keep it up, the council is more than happy to encourage it as well.
Another tip a lot of people suggest is using charity shops and thrift stores as your usual shopping places. Now, normally I would wholeheartedly agree, however I live in a rather expensive area, and the prices in thrift stores here are, shockingly, often no different from shopping the sale aisle at Marks & Spencer. Why, I have no idea, but it's true. Therefore, I think in this case you need to decide whether you want something in fashion, or you want something with a bit of character, and therefore make your choice. Me, I'll go for character every time, BUT I don't go trawling the thrift stores on a regular basis. I don't buy clothes unless I absolutely have to do so - this means I'm down to one pair of trousers or shirt that hasn't fallen apart to the point I can no longer repair or reconstruct it. I'm also not big on house-y items that just sit on a shelf, doing nothing. If I'm not going to use it, I don't buy it. I enjoy collecting tea things from all over the world, but I actually use every teapot, every tea cup I buy. Buy those second-hand things, sure, but not merely because it's a bargain.
A great savings trick I've learned is utilising a change jar. The change jar is awesome; it's like my own personal nest-egg stash - and considering I don't have anywhere near the amount of money to do a usual nest-egg stash like most people, this has really saved my neck several times. Last year, a week before Christmas, I was completely out of food. I was going to get money in, but not till Christmas Eve Day. Since I always bung change into the change jar, and had done for almost a year, I had a good amount, and I took it down to the counter machine. I walked out with a whopping �57! That was certainly enough for groceries for the week. Today I'll be doing the same thing, and there's at least �20 in the jar, so certainly enough to buy food tonight and for sprog's lunch tomorrow before the DLA arrives and I can manage to do the real shopping. Put all your spare change into a jar and forget about it until an emergency arrives. Chances are, if you're on benefits of any kind, you're living very hand to mouth, but you can still put a little cash away for a rainy day, and the change jar definitely works for this. I am at a state now where I alter the change jar for either saving up for troubles or for depositing in my son's savings account.
Real shopping involves stockpiling. To many people, stockpiling means filling your larders with ready made, sugar-ified cereals, ready made biscuits, crisps and frozen pizzas. That's a decent enough start, and when you see that "three-for-�5" we think we're getting a good deal. But this is a point I cannot make enough: cheaper does not always mean better. My mates may be buying their white loaf of sliced bread that costs pence, but I can assure you nutritionally my own homemade loaves are much better; the extra fibre fills the kids up faster, and keeps them full for longer. There's extra protein in the flour I use (spelt and kamut) so even if sprog picks over his breakfast he's still doing better than if I loaded him with sugary cereal. The speciality flour I use brings the price up, but because I make my own bread, I can afford to use speciality flour. The payoffs are worth it. This is true of a lot of foods in the store - I bought 2-for-�5 breaded chicken strips today - and I bought a whole chicken for the same amount of money. My son will eat the breaded chicken and that will be that. For my part, I will cut up the whole chicken I've bought, marinate the breasts for stirfries or barbecues, cut off the leg and thigh meat to use in stews, and either roast the carcasse to make stock, or I'll fed the dog for the entire day. I'll get a week's eating off a whole chicken, and sprog will get probably all of two days. It's not even saving time; slowcooking isn't difficult - slinging a pot of beans on the stove with some meat and veg and forgetting about it for an hour=bean soup. This is why I'm trying to get my son's reliance of packaged meat sorted out and we're getting there, slow but sure.
Another trick for us poor-folk on benefits is taking a good, hard look at all the stuff we do have which we think is so very necessary, but isn't. This is going to come as a shock to some, but Sky TV is probably not as important as you think it is. It fills in the hours, true, it bides the time, and it's addicting, but addicting time-wasters isn't good for you. If you're watching telly because you're bored, that's a good clue that it's time to find a way to fill in that time. Take a walk, have a coffee break and have some friends over. What about learning a new skill? Learn to knit, learn to crochet, to sew, something which will actually be of use to your family, and break out your favourite radio station instead. Wean yourself away from the telly a half hour at a time. Cable costs a fortune, and just like losing the cigarettes, you might be shocked at how much you save, but also just like cigarettes, it's no good going cold turkey. Think about whether the new cellphone is a want or a need. I use my phone as a phone; I don't need constant reminders, radio stations, or the internet on it. Chances are you don't either. Keep the cell phone for emergencies, not just chattering to mates, and save your minutes.
Barter, barter, barter. One of the main traits of People Like Us is we have pretty much been made to feel as if we're worthless and skill-less due to our lack of job. I'm appalled at this kind of thinking, but it happens everywhere. The thing is, unemployed doesn't mean unskilled. Chances are you're good at something which your neighbour isn't. Why not pool together and learn to trade off skill for skill? Maybe you're handy with a drill and have the power tools to put up some shelves for a woman who bakes amazing cakes? I have found my homebrew is amazingly popular with a lot of the lads, and therefore can trade rather readily for handiwork if I can't take it on myself. Electrics, plumbing, handiwork...find a way to make it happen, and trade the ability around.
Now let's say in addition to the above, you're adding disability to the mix. I can heartily say disability sucks. Words cannot convey what it's like to watch the person you were disappear so far away that no one believes you were ever anyone but the person in the wheelchair/without legs/what have you. Ask me how I know with all the smirks and up-down looks I get when I confess I am a former bodybuilder. It sucks, but you aren't going to get it back. Make your peace with it. Also make your peace with the fact you have absolutely nothing to prove to anyone, including you. Do not force yourself to suffer along stoically because you're too proud to take on benefits or help round the house. That's not courageous, that's stupid. Find ways to make your life easier for yourself, and do realise you may have to fight for it - there are resources out there for gardening, athletics, get-togethers, transport, the list goes on and on. But no one is going to tell you what those are unless you ask, and in some cases no one will be able to find it unless you look for it yourself. Take the help; trust me, it will make life a lot easier and free up time for things you actually want to be doing, other than cursing at how you can't get up the stairs/out the bath/out to shop.
I could go on (and on, and on....) but for now I'll leave it as is for the time being. Seize the day, no matter how much you have in the bank.

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