Politicians need to lead by example

Is the MP expense row over, do you think?  I’ve been following it with great interest.  It’s unbelievable to see how many of us are struggling to cope with the recession, being unemployed, trying to just get by, finding ways to save money here and there, while those who are much better off are abusing public money.  It’s no surprise that the public is outraged.  And for some to say that the media has blown it out of proportion is completely unfeeling.

Of course, the well-off are probably not going to care much, but you have over two million unemployed people who are frustrated and they will be extremely upset by the paper’s revelations.  I’m glad the politicians finally realise how shallow they are.  Some of them need to go back to their constituents and learn to live like them.

Mr. Cameron suggests that we enter a new era of thrift.  So, can they lead by example and show us how to save?  The car scrappage scheme won’t work for many of us.  We have our beat up rust-buckets that we can barely maintain with the rising fuel costs.  But it’s better that we pay the fuel only, rather than take on a new car loan when we don’t have a job to pay for the loan.  Please, how else can you help us poor constituents?  You’ll need to be very creative to get our votes in the next election.

Why buy new clothes?

I can never understand a parent’s need to make their children fashion-conscious. If you have the money to do so, I guess you can choose to do what you like.  But, there are others who lack the money, but insist that their children wear designer labels, etc.  Why?

First of all, children outgrow everything very quickly.  Not only do they outgrow the, they outlast them.  Children are usually quite rambunctious, so their clothes are often well-soiled and well-worn.  If you are short on cash, it makes no sense to continuously buy expensive clothes.

The last few jumble sales I’ve attended, I’ve managed to find some decent clothes for my girls to run around in.  They still had plenty of wear left and these were meant for them to wear for play.  Needless to say, if there were nicer clothes, meant for church or school, I would have bought them as well.  (But, sometimes, it is nice to get them a nice dress for the holidays.)  Yet, how can you resist good everyday clothes for 20p each?  Even charity shops can’t offer that.

Now, I wouldn’t do the same for shoes.  Shoes take on the shape of their owner’s feet, so used shoes never fit well.  Besides, I always worry about the cleanliness of worn shoes.  Sometimes, I feel the same about hats, but it’s not often that we buy hats, anyway.  Used socks and underwear?  No thanks.

Can you survive on Jobseeker’s Allowance

I was watching the diary of a young woman trying to live on her Jobseeker’s Allowance.  She explained what her outgoings were and how the allowance was not enough to pay for everything.  In fact, at the end of the week, she did not have any money to buy food.  I’m surprised her rent was so low – she must be in a bedsit.  It’s a good thing she doesn’t smoke, because tobacco is extremely expensive.  Yet, I have seen how young smokers still insist on buying cigarettes despite not being able to afford it.

Her outgoings were pretty reasonable, so she shows that the Jobseeker’s Allowance is unreasonable to live on.  She gets fifty pounds a week.  I don’t have any suggestions to offer her, except perhaps, to cancel her TV license.  She pays five pounds each week for the privilege of watching TV.  She can use that money to buy a little food.  She did not mention a mobile phone, so perhaps, she does not have one.  That rather surprises me, seeing the number of people using mobiles in the UK.  However, it is a luxury that should go if you do not have the money, unless you have one of those cheap pay-as-you-go plans.  We have a cell phone that is only used for incoming calls.

There are other small things that you may have to sacrifice when you are living on a very tight budget.  However, sometimes the alternatives may be more costly, so you have to work out for yourself what is best.  For example, we have a home phone and internet plan.  It may not be the best idea and certainly, the plan is not the cheapest.  But it was the most convenient in terms of timing.  We could not afford to go into pubs and coffee shops everyday just to use their free WiFi.  They expect you to buy food and drink while you are there.  Some libraries offer free internet, but their computers are slow, you cannot be guaranteed a free computer when you walk in, and you may have to drive to the library.  If you live within easy distance of the library, then this might be a viable option.  Unfortunately, there are no free phones anywhere.

You can’t really live without water or electricity/gas.  However, you can minimise your use of these utilities.  In the summertime, you might not need heating and natural sunlight can provide lighting for your room.  Perhaps, go to sleep when the sun goes down and wake up when it rises so that you don’t need to use electricity for light.  I’ve already mentioned the water issue on another post.  Even with all that, I can’t see how fifty pounds will suffice.  Though it is more than the child benefit.  You can’t feed children on the amount they give.

More ways to save water

Water is becoming a scarce commodity as more people are using more water.  As it becomes more scarce and usage continues to rise, the cost of water increases.  Although there are simple ways to save water, we find that it is not enough.  So, we have gone back to the old days of saving water, in some respects.  This was started out of necessity at the beginning, but now we find that it is also convenient and cost-saving.  We are sharing bathwater.

I know it may sound disgusting to some people who have grown up in this world of conveniences where quick showers are a daily routine.  But it is not as bad as it sounds.  Perhaps if you didn’t have a working shower and you don’t have a lot of money and you want to try some cost-saving measures, you might consider this.  Just think about those days before central plumbing was available everywhere.  People took baths in tubs and had to share the water.  Of course, you may bathe in relatively dirty water, but it isn’t all that dirty.  It is more soapy than anything.  You can always rinse off with a little more clean water.  Overall, you use less water than if everyone took a shower, albeit a quick one.

The other thing to consider is not bathing or showering everyday.  We probably do more damage to our skin with daily baths/showers.  When I was growing up, it was recommended that you bathe 2-3 times a week.  But we got in the habit of showering daily.  I know my skin is dry and flaky now.  Our ideal of cleanliness requires this daily routine but we are not doing our skin any good.  Case in point: several months ago, the Daily Mail profiled a woman in her 60s who has been living a “green” existence for 35 years.  She cleans herself with a wet rag and the reporter noted she looked clean and did not even exude a musty odour.  Now, I would not go to that extreme, but maybe skipping a bath a day or two will not hurt anyone.  However, if you are visibly dirty or stinky, I’d advocate getting into that bath immediately.

Rationing to combat recession

During the war years and the depression, many families learned how to be thrifty. Of course, the government helped by creating a rationing system. Because of the growing recession, some people have advocated that we institute some form of rationing.

I think it might be a good idea, as it will also teach young children about the importance of saving, of making-do rather than buying anything and everything their heart desires. It teaches them to value things. It might also teach them to eat healthier. At school, my kids have learned about war-time rationing and all the posters from WWII. Many of them advocated the importance of nutrition. Yet, they have not taken those lessons to heart because of the society they live in. If they were really hungry and only had vegetables to snack on, rather than all those unhealthy crisps and sweets, they might develop a taste for healthy foods.

But it is not just in food that rationing and the depression mentality would affect. It is also fuel and clothes. Women back then had to mend their own clothes, to keep them as long as they could. Sometimes, they were able to alter them a bit to make them more fashionable. Unfortunately, sewing and mending are somewhat lost arts. And women are not as creative in their fashion style as they used to be. Of course, the styles were simpler back then and I wouldn’t mind returning to them.

The fuel rationing might be rather problematic. Some of us have to travel quite a distance to go to work or school and public transport is not always easily available for these trips. It may be that we would have to live closer to work and/or school, but that is not always possible because housing might not be available, places at school might not be available, and right now, jobs are not readily available.

It would be interesting if the government does introduce some form of rationing to help us combat the recession. It may be another one of those “green” efforts.

What is the purpose of having a car?

We have learned that sometimes it is a necessity to get from Point A to Point B. That is our primary purpose for having a car. Living a thrifty lifestyle means foregoing luxury and style if it is not necessary. And a car is not necessary for that purpose. After all, most cars are not collectible – they do not hold their value regardless of how well you have kept it up.

Those beautiful sports cars, luxury sedans, oversized SUVs, and many others have the disadvantage of not only costing a lot at purchase, but also in maintenance. They drink too much fuel and they are a pain to insure. Tax is probably quite heavy as well. Then, of course, there is the added risk that they will be stolen. Most thieves would not target that beat-up rust bucket, unless they just finished a bank robbery and needed a quick get-away car that they forgot to provide beforehand.

Because we do not like empty pockets, yet we need our own transportation when public transport is not available or is too costly or inefficient, we do have a car. Only one. And even though it has not quite reached rust bucket age, it is old enough to be one. So, we have that to look forward to. Yes, it has broken down a few times, but thankfully, we have the RAC. Of course, once it sputters its last breath, we will be in search of another to replace it. Believe me, it would still have to be a cheap reliable car with some life left. In our experience, Japanese cars have good long life. I can’t speak from first-hand experience of other car makes, but second-hand experience tells us to avoid many of them.

Some might argue that they need a truck or a large car in order to haul things around. Unless you are in the habit of hauling large items around, this might not be a very economical decision. Many places deliver, sometimes for a fee, or you can always rent a van when necessary. Having a large truck, for which you must insure and maintain, can be expensive. Also, regularly driving it around town on those narrow roads is nerve-racking, to yourself and others.

In England, manuals are much more common than automatics, so they tend to be cheaper. It would be a good idea to learn to drive a manual, but we have been driving automatics so long that I’m afraid you can’t teach this old dog a new trick.

The frugal mind

Having been forced to live on a limited budget, we have learned many ways to cut back on spending. We may not be able to save, but at least we are limiting our outgoing expenses. Gone are the days that we would have a “shopping spree”. Not that we were ever big spenders, but there were times when it was necessary to undertake a shopping expedition to stock up on supplies of clothes, shoes, etc. After all, kids are constantly growing.

When they were younger, the kids never minded buying clothes from charity shops. They have not even hit puberty yet, but they are starting to get a sense of style, which makes it difficult to persuade them to shop at charity shops and jumble sales. But fortunately, we have not needed to make any additional purchases other than uniforms for school. Even for those, sometimes we had to buy clothes in a slightly larger size. It’s better to take in and up a little, then let it out as the kids grow, rather than buying more and more over time.

Our spending habits have never been extravagant or frivolous and I have never been able to understand those who do spend lavishly. Though we have shopped at charity shops, I never stopped to consider those who donate to charities. I think it wonderful that we have generous people who would donate. Yet, I can only assume that those who donate are comfortably well-off. After all, why give away so much good, useful items unless you can afford to. Nevertheless, I am grateful for their charity.

I would never have considered donating goods such as towels and bedsheets. I would use them until they were threadbare. Even then, I’d find other uses for them, such as cleaning rags. Same thing with clothes. We’d wear them until we either outgrew them or there were holes everywhere. By that time, they were not worth donating, so we’d have to tear them up for other things.

It is this frugal living that has allowed us to survive so far. It doesn’t work for everyone, especially those who are too fashion conscious, but it works for us. Needless to say, it can’t last forever. Our thrifty habits will probably not change, but we still need to have money coming in in order to get through this recession.

There is free parking in Burgess Hill

We were not looking for free parking, but as we drove through Station Road in Burgess Hill, West Sussex, we found that there were free parking on the street with a one-hour time limit.  It may not be excessively convenient for shopping at the Martlets mall, but it is convenient for the street shops from the railway to the town centre.

Don’t be fooled by that diesel trick

When we rented a car in the UK, we were told to pick the diesel vehicle as it was great on mileage. OK. So it got pretty good mileage. But did you see the price of diesel? It was about 12p per liter more than unleaded fuel. That really adds up.

We were later informed that it would only make sense to get a diesel car if you were inclined to make heavy mileage, though, the exact figures were not forthcoming. However, recently, I saw an article about how long it would take to begin seeing a savings on a diesel car. First of all, diesel cars start out more expensive. So that needs to be worked into the cost. The article compared 4 different cars, in 4 different classes. The cheapest one took nearly a decade to turn over into a cost-savings investment. That is, if you are doing average mileage. It would be a bit sooner if you did excessive mileage, maybe a year or two sooner.

So, unless you own the vehicle for that long a period, it definitely is not worth getting a diesel car. And if you are going to rent a car for a week or two, it makes absolutely no sense to be persuaded to take a diesel vehicle.

Is the train cheaper?

Recently, I made a trip to Cambridge. I had planned to go via train but when I saw the cost, the decision became a no-brainer in favour of taking the car.

Here is the cost breakdown for the trip by both train and car.

By Train:
Day off-peak return ticket to Cambridge: GBP 51.00 for 1 adult, 1 child
Bus fare to local station: GBP 4 (2 out, 2 return)

(With this ticket, we would have to travel at off peak times. If we wanted to leave at a reasonable hour, it would cost a whopping GBP 71.25.)

Total cost by train: GBP 55.00 (or GBP 75.25 for anytime travel.)

By Car:
Dartford Tunnel Toll: GBP 1.50 each way
Parking in Cambridge: FREE
Bus ride in to town from car park: GBP 2 for return fair, children are FREE
Petrol: GBP 30.00

Total cost by car: GBP 35.00

Provided the appointed two changes occur as planned, the one way journey time by train is 1.5 hours.

It took a little under 2 hours by car which included a 20 minute break to stretch our legs and use a clean bathroom at motorway services.

It seems as though the rail companies have thrown in the towel when it comes to competing on price. The thrust of their recent advertising campaigns has been to emphasise how much more comfortable a train seat is (if you get one!) and that you can work, check email and make phone calls on the train.

However, in these times of increased financial hardship, it’s the bottom line that people will consider when planning their journeys. And when it costs an enormous 50% more to travel by train it makes no sense at all.