Just as I thought (it was safe to come out of the water, no…) I had made every possible economy, it has become necessary to make even more.
Part of me actually loves making economies. That’s the part I inherited from my mother, who had somehow to manage on a post-war electrician’s wages – or such of them as was handed over to her in housekeeping each week – to bring up three big, hungry daughters. They had built their own house. At one point towards the end of construction they had a mere £15 in the bank.
My mother had a number of attributes that served her well. Firstly she was organised and she liked recording things. She had tiny, round, neat handwriting and excelled in keeping records in it. Up to the point when dementia claimed her she had a double-spread home-made book-keeping system that foxed me entirely. When she started to lose her memory she asked me to help her and I couldn’t, at least not using her system. Such a complexity of columns! And items moved backwards and forwards from one column to another, recorded multiple times under this heading and then that heading…
My budget is simpler. I fold a sheet of paper in half and make a list of unavoidable household expenses down the left-hand side and a list of what they cost down the right hand side. I then add them up on the calculator – usually four or five times because the stupid calculator comes up with a different result every single time – and every single time I discover that my outgoings are greater than my income. And that’s without food, or clothes, or petrol, or…
Mum was thorough to screaming-point. She never started to use a new gadget – a blender, say, or a lawn-mower, without sitting down and reading the instructions from cover to cover. Sometimes she read them twice, or three times. I’m sure she also attempted to read the sections in Finnish, Japanese and Serbo-Croat.
My approach is simpler. I unpack the thing, look at it and surmise what all the buttons are for. If I’m not sure what the buttons are I press each of them in turn, keeping the device at arm’s length in case something sharp starts whizzing or rotating unexpectedly. Within five minutes I know how to use it. If I don’t, I lose interest and give up.
Part of me hates making economies. This is the part I inherited from my father. He wasn’t a big spender on the whole but if he wanted something – new tyres for his racing bike; a second-hand van – he just came home with it. He needed it, he bought it. I used to be like that, but unlike him I don’t have a careful wife with a metal cash-box, each household bill carefully saved for in tiny compartments, the contents of each compartment labelled in pencil on a slip of paper. And unlike Mum, I don’t have – and have never had – a husband with a safe and useful job and a modest but predictable wage. I was married to an artist. He might get paid every six months, for a big painting. I was never allowed to know how much money he/we had.
This is the part of me that suddenly finds – or found – everything must be in the past-tense – that she had ordered £30 worth of paperbacks on Amazon. Or a gadget she didn’t really need, or… This was the part of me that couldn’t be bothered to total up how much all those odd little expenses cost. A trip to the cinema. A transatlantic phone call. That little extra box of Gourmet cat-food.
This has all gradually changed. Necessity is indeed the Mother of Invention. Necessity imposes carefulness upon you. It snuffs out your inner Mr Toad and ushers in first Mole, with his endless worrying, and then the competent, organised Ratty. This is not a decision you have to make. This is just how you change.
Anyway, last time I was bleating on about money someone very kindly suggested Ilona Richards’ blog Life After Money. Ilona is 67 now and used to be a lorry-driver. She gave that up at 59 and now claims to live on £2,400 a year and spend £10 a week on food. I am not sure how she does this, even after reading her website. She is obviously very, very sensible; probably sensible enough not to have accumulated twelve rescue cats.
It’s an interesting website and she has some excellent – if extreme – suggestions. Unfortunately most of them I discovered I was already doing. In a way this is good – I can pat myself on the back. In a way it’s bad – because what is the Mean beyond Queen of Mean? It’s the Beyond of Eternity.
On another website I discovered washing in cold water – I tried that out this morning and the clothes don’t look noticeably less clean than they did at 30 degrees. I am following Ilona’s suggestion and replacing expensive tea and coffee with hot-water + splash of fruit juice. Not enjoying, but worth a try. I am doing the ‘grey water’ thing and saving washing-up and cat-bowl water for other purposes. Nearly pulls the arms of out their sockets carrying the bucket upstairs but I’m saving the planet. I am trying the thing about moving around the house with a torch rather than turning the house-lights on, which is rather fun, if surprise-ful with twelve cats underfoot. Cats don’t need torches of course. They have see-in-the-dark eyes.
I draw the line at boys’ underpants, though. Apparently, Ilona buys these and they are cheaper and also last far longer. However, Ilona is thin, as you will see from her photo if you click on the website/Daily Mail article links. I am… well, not as thin as Ilona. Even if I could overcome my instinctive horror of y-fronts and masculine undies generally (shirts, trousers, tee-shirts no problem – underwear no!) I doubt if I could find a Boy to fit me.