Kaching Kaching

The Thrift BookI am bad with money. It’s not an easy relationship between myself and the pound sterling (other currencies also apply) and it’s primarily based on fear.

History Indicates I Should Know Better
When I was a very small child, my family did not have a lot of money. My maternal grandmother was a single parent when her husband died very young, leaving her with three children in England. Only in the last decade have I come to realise how astoundingly strong and enterprising my grandmother was. She took her children and started again in Belfast, near to her sister who had married well, but away from the rest of the family. I’m not entirely sure why she landed in Belfast and not Derry, where she grew up, but she worked hard through the Troubles to keep a roof over their heads and make sure the children went to good schools and universities. She started a nursery which became successful and, at some point, she moved back to the Republic and had a little house by the sea. She did well. She couldn’t have done it without help, but she managed admirably.

As a result of this, my mum knew the value of money. She worked hard at school and at university and became a lawyer in challenging times. By the time she was my age, she had a house, a car and two children. Yes, funding for university was better back then and yes, she did have someone to help her out now and again financially, but she did well.

She and my dad didn’t have a lot of spare cash to throw around willy-nilly. The floor of my nursery was offcuts of carpet, rather than wall to wall – I wasn’t crawling, so what on earth did it matter? My dad’s job was uncertain, because he was a Catholic working in a Protestant industry and, in those days, you never knew what might happen. Growing up, I learnt not to ask for things, because I knew we didn’t have the spare cash for whatever new toy I had my eye on (To be fair though, my mum also had ideas about what was “common” and very often what I wanted would have fallen into that category (denim jackets, Barbies, roller blades), so that would have been another reason not to ask.), but I never ever felt deprived or poor.  We weren’t, we just didn’t have a lot to spare.

KFC will forever hold a special place in my heart because the Bargain Bucket (complete with Viennetta) was the treat my parents would sometimes allow themselves on a Friday evening.

My Sister Will Buy £200 Boots And I Will Have A Fit
By the time my younger sister rocked up and could engage in the world of commerce, my parents were doing better in their jobs and there was a bit more cash around. When she heard “no” it wasn’t because we couldn’t afford it. As a result, we have entirely different attitudes to money. She will spend big money on holidays, boots, electronics and flights and enjoy them all to the max. I probably spend the same amount of money on stupid wee things. I fritter money away on clothes that aren’t quite right, four cheap pairs of shoes rather than the one pair of shoes that would be right and actually last, I don’t really enjoy my spending as much as I could.

When I first moved to London I saved virtually every penny I had. Not consciously. I just knew everything was expensive, that I didn’t have any money and that I shouldn’t be spending it. And so I didn’t. I also didn’t open my pay cheques. I just put everything in the bank. And then never looked at my balance.

Avoiding Conflict
They say that most arguments in a couple are about money or sex. Arguments with my ex-boyfriend were about money. But obliquely. One of the most astounding arguments we ever had was over my lack of pension. At 25, I felt that putting money away for later wasn’t practical when I needed it NOW. His argument was that he didn’t want to have to be paying for me when we were old (if you didn’t take a deep breath at that, go back and read it again). Given that he had incredibly high stress levels, I didn’t actually think he would LIVE that long, not to mention the utter presumptuousness that I would even WANT to be with him when I was old after this conversation.

Obviously, I got a pension. But it was under duress and purely to stop the argument than to provide for my own future.

He and I are no longer together and I often wonder how he feels (not that he can. As a humanoid with ice rather than a heart, he is incapable of feelings #notbitterjustaccurate) about that argument looking back. Whether he feels that it was a job well done on his part or a waste of everyone’s emotional energy.

At some point I actually did look at my bank balance and lived to tell the tale. I was actually doing okay. Not about to buy a Ferrari, but I had a nice cushion in case I ever had to buy emergency flights or emergency glasses.

It All Goes Wrong
I got an ISA. I’d love to use a better verb there – I always tell my trainees that there are a hundred thousand million synonyms for the word “got” and they aren’t to ever write it anywhere I might see it – but I can’t. I went to the bank (Halifax. I highly recommend them, but am full aware that I may have just been very lucky with them so far) and talked to a lady in a glass cubicle about an ISA after a few chats with my boss. She asked me what I was saving for. I had no idea. Just in general. Every month I throw a bit of money into an ISA. I never look at it. I have no real concept of what I’m investing in. I told her NO RISK. She explained how investments worked again. AS LOW A RISK AS POSSIBLE, I said. I signed some forms. I shook a little bit.

Somewhere over the years I acquired a cash ISA. I don’t know how that happened. Again, I ignored it because it was money related. It may well have been an accident. At some point in my financial history, my ISA was no longer visible on my online banking. There may also have been a letter to explain it. I diligently filed it away without looking at it too closely.

One day I had to do something bank related. I forget what it was, but I realised that the money going out of my account into my ISA was nowhere to be seen. I phoned the bank, shaking like a leaf. The lady didn’t know. I nearly cried. I was definitely tearful.

When I make a bank transfer, set up as standing order or even buy anything online that costs more than £40, I assume I will make a mistake and lose everything, so this was my actual worst fear. My money had gone. I’d done something and it had disappeared. Yes, I still had my current account with my buffer, but my savings (in a designated account!) had vanished. I was penniless! I was going to have to go on the dole (which was bound to create a paperwork problem because I actually had a job)! I would have to live under a bridge (instead of a sad, damp basement flat miles away from my job)! I might have to move back home to Belfast and spend the rest of my life living with my mum, being permanently cold and wrapped in a fleece blanket!

The lady called me back. My “investments” (hahahahahahahaha) were fine, they were handled by a different department, she would transfer me through to them immediately.

I felt so incredibly stupid. All my life I’d been afraid of not having enough money and my response, rather than watching it like a HAWK and being smart about it, was to completely ignore it and hope it would all be fine. This is NOT what you do with things which are important. Being able to keep a roof over my head was important.

I Still Do Nothing
And yet. Rather than galvanised me to take action, I was still fairly ostrich-like about my finances. I certainly couldn’t tell you how much was in my paycheque, or how much my expenditure was. The one sensible thing I did (and this was really on the recommendation from the ex-boyfriend) was to put ALL my spending on a credit card and pay off the total every month religiously. The reasoning behind this was I could see how much I was spending (even if I wasn’t keeping track) plus I’d be making my spending “work” for me by earning rewards of some kind (airmiles, amazon vouchers, etc. He kept up to speed with what the best deals were, but ultimately I chose the rewards that worked for me).

When my flatmate moved out and I had to take over the bills, I realised that I actually had to pull myself together and take control. Organising the bills made me look at what was going out of my account, even if I still didn’t open my pay cheque. Our Finance woman has been doing this a long time, so I trusted her, plus our payroll was now online, so I would actively have to log-in to download my paycheque and really, that was just never going to happen.

Things Change, But Probably Not For The Best
Before I went to Canada to see my sister at the start of the month, I transferred her some money and I realised that, somehow, my current account cushion has been dramatically reduced. I’m going to have to transfer some money out of my savings account (not my ISA- I’ve since opened another few linked accounts to separate money out). I was a bit taken aback.

Okay, my last few (many) credit card statements had been higher than average, but I’ve travelled a lot and had scheduled dentist appointments and other planned (by which I mean “I knew they were coming”) expenses, but this didn’t add up. It seems that I have gradually become a bit of a spendthrift, just because I knew I had a bit of money in the bank. I developed a certain casualness to my spending. I was buying things I wanted – inexpensive useful things, lunches or drinks out – but hadn’t actually thought about at all.

This really hit home while I was away. I’d spent $200 in Shoppers Drugmart on moisturisers and lipsticks and was half-heartedly freaking out about it. I wanted everything I’d bought. I knew I was going to buy it, I just had sticker shock. My sister pointed out that I was on holiday and could treat myself. Yes, indeed, you’re right. Then she asked what my budget for the trip was.

I’m sorry, my what?

It’s Pronounced Boojay
I didn’t have a budget. I’ve never had a budget. I had pocket money when I was tiny and knew how to save up, but I’ve never actually BUDGETED. I didn’t spend money when I didn’t think I had any, but I still didn’t budget, I just tried to spend as little as possible. My attitude with my credit card bill was “all of this I could justify at the time. I can afford it, so I won’t think about it too much.”

Canada was remarkably different to when I was in New York a few years back. I still didn’t have a budget, as such, but I did have all my cash split up into days and I tried to spend as LITTLE AS POSSIBLE every day, which I’m sure was a barrel of laughs for my travelling companion. We went shopping and I bought three dresses, on a whim (sweater dresses, a bit bodycon. American had overwhelmed me – I forgot I had the knees I have) and then spent a full 48 hours complaining about how I’d spent that money. It wasn’t big money. I exhausted my friend’s patience with my attitude (not that she ever said anything! She’s a delight and has impeccable manners).

“What Now?” By Rhianna
I’m back in London and I have no money. I haven’t had my credit card statements, but I know I spent too much. Even writing that is bizarre as I don’t know how to qualify that as an amount. I imposed a spending ban last week, but have consistently bought something every day. My lizard-brain argument now is that there are birthdays and housewarming gifts to buy, so if it’s for someone else, surely it doesn’t count?!

Somehow, I have to grasp hold of my finances. I can’t carry on like this, even if I do have some money in the bank. A grown up woman with a job should know where her money is and how to manage it. If I don’t do it, there is NO ONE ELSE to do it for me. In olden times, your dad looked after you until your husband did. I have neither of those and I don’t ever want to be in the situation where I have to ask my mum for money. She has done without and worked hard for long enough. Her money belongs to her, not anyone else. Having to help me out because I have been too wilfully ignorant to be self-sufficient would be unacceptable. No one is going to sweep in on a wealthy white horse and rescue me from any financial issues I develop.

I shall probably need to make a list.

Sali Hughes is my Patroneus

Sali Hughes is one of my favourite journalists. I came across her in Simply Wonderwomanthe Guardian and in Red magazine and she taught me how to do makeup. When her Facebook group found a new home in Salihughesbeauty.com, I followed and was even more delighted when she joined the pool. If I had a big sister, I’d hope she’d be like Sali.

If I were to talk about women who have shaped me, I would include Sali Hughes on the list, which sounds more than a little fawning, but I realise now that it’s true.

A big part of being an adult woman, for me, is looking like one and her articles and videos help me find what my face could be. It’s how I began to love beauty and experiment a little and be brave with my money. She talks very candidly about her friendships, her relationships with her (now ex-) husband, her family and friends and her partner. I find I pay more attention when she writes about a topic, to see if it chimes with what I think and often her writing challenges me to think beyond my own experiences.

Caitlin Moran, Lucy Mangan, Hadley Freeman, India Knight, Mallory Ortberg, Nicole Cliffe, these women, these writers are friendly and witty and take no prisoners. I think of them as an online Girl Squad that I admire from across the playground.  They share truths and bring light and are pretty darn hilarious.

Anyway, this is a preamble to excusing that I’m about to rip off one of Sali Hughes’ articles.

Sali wrote an article for The Pool: The Very Simple Guide to Being a Proper Grown Up, where she details “tiny, insignificant moments and much subtler changes” which made her feel she’d grown up, that she’d done alright and “was progressing along some kind of continuum. They’re seemingly so insignificant, so unmomentous and, crucially, are mostly not age-related, but they really meant something and, for me personally, better represent a grown-up” these included owning booze, being called “a lady” by a stranger, never running out of toilet paper, making a will, checking out the care label before the garment, keeping basil alive, removal men packing her forks and thinking “fuck it” on a daily basis.

These are all great, but mine are a bit different. Obviously, the point of this blog and my project in general is to work on being an adult. I’m 32 now, so I’ve got some things worked out. Here are the small things that make me feel like I’ve got it sorted out at least a little.

1) Having frozen lemon and lime slices.
This is my number one hostessing tip. I can’t remember where I originally stole the idea from, but I read somewhere that you can slice a lime into quarters, place them on a strip of cling film and then freeze them so you always have ice and lime for a g&t. Someone once gifted me a whoopie pie tin (I believe their exact words were “I have two children under the age of three. Quite why anyone thought I would have time for making something this arduous, is beyond me, but you might find some use for this”) which I never used for whoopie pies, but did instead freeze lemon and lime slices centred in water in for a party. The effect was remarkable.  The discs were quite attractive in a water jug. The whoopie pie has since been gifted to Capon (my words were “I’m downsizing from a three storey townhouse to a bedroom in a basement flat. Maybe you have space for this?”) But I still freeze lemon and lime slices and keep them in a bag in the freezer. One of my vices in bottled water (I know, I know, it’s so bad for the environment, but it is so much fancier than tap water and is a good substitute for an alcoholic drink) and a frozen lemon slice tarts it right up. It also looks pretty good on the odd occasion where I have someone over. It looks like I’ve got it going on.

2) Having guest towels and toothbrushes.
In my family, for reasons I have never understood, we only ever use hand towels. No one has a bath sheet. Shower, dry yourself, get dressed in the bathroom or pop your dressing gown back on and dress in your room. No modesty-providing bath towels required. Maybe hand towels for a family of five were easier to keep in rotation and launder in the Northern Irish climate. Anyway, when I first moved to England for university, I experienced the luxury of my very own towels. Hand and bath. They were also soft and fluffy. In our house, towels doubled as an exfoliator. Fabric softener and fluffy towels were for Protestants (this is a Northern Ireland reference which is not meant as offence!), not God-fearing Catholics. This is something that I have yet to shake. My towels are still a now a bit on the skin-sloughing side, but the set of towels I have for guests are massive and fluffy and gorgeous. I’d use them myself if I threw caution to the wind. There’s something I find quite rewarding being able to say “here is a set of towels for you” casually to people who stay over.
I also have a stack of toothbrushes. Not deliberately for guests, but because the hotel in Korea put out a double pack every day and I came home with about twenty of them. I hadn’t realised how good they were until I had to use one and now I am mildly regretful that I gave them out to guests with such wild abandon.

3) Owning a wardrobe of what the French would call ‘ensembles’
As a nation, the UK is not known for its lingerie. That’s the French. Those fancy ladies spend their days in matching underthings without even thinking about it and apparently do not even know about “multipacks.” Well, they don’t have M&S or John Lewis, poor dears. For many many years I spent as little money as possible on underwear. No one saw it (I hardly took my time over dressing and my outfits didn’t require that level of detail), I didn’t think about it and it didn’t seem worth it. Somewhere along the line, this changed. It may have been to do with the many many “French women are just BETTER” books I read, when I realised something wasn’t quite right about my life and I was looking for some general guidance. Being particularly flat chested, there weren’t many options that were particularly pretty and nothing seemed to quite fit. Off the back of a thread on the Sali Hughes Facebook group, I re-measured myself for brassieres and found that, actually, I had a standard cup size and a small band size. This changed everything. Bras fit. They looked better. I could find some quite pretty things. It started with a few random Calvin Klein pieces from Tk Maxx that didn’t have any matching items and eventually worked up to actual sets. Now I have some particularly nice chemises and ensembles and hosiery. They are definitely not every day wear, but they are gorgeous and they do fit and I do wear them. They are displayed in an otherwise pointless drawer with tissue paper and every time I open it, sometimes even just to look, I am gleeful to have such pretty things.

4) Complaining efficiently to customer service
On the whole, Northern Irish people do not like to make a fuss when it comes to customer service. We’d sooner chalk up a bad experience to One Of Those Things and just not go back there. I don’t know whether it’s my age or living in England, but that is no longer how I do things. I will not accept poor service. I still hate confrontation, but I value my time and money more now than I do a shopkeeper’s opinion. At work I happily write letters of complaint/feedback for colleagues who fear they don’t have the language skills to take on big companies. To be honest, I enjoy writing them. I’m never rude and I never shout, but I do make a point that I’m unhappy and I won’t leave until the situation is resolved.

5) Talking to children
Kids used to terrify me. I knew I had to talk to them, but I had no idea how to do this. I’ve recently discovered that you just ask them questions. And if you have no idea what they’re talking about, ask them. Children: they’re just small people. Who knew? It’s actually quite amusing to ask kids under ten about Brexit. Find a child and ask them about Europe.

6) Being prepared
My handbag, desk drawer and dresser always have painkillers and plasters. I always have an emergency cocktail dress/funeral outfit (often the same, actually, but that says more about the universality of black, than my social life) and I can put my hands on lipbalm,  handcream or a pen in fewer than ten seconds at any moment of the day. I carry emergency toilet and taxi money (two 50p pieces and a twenty pound note) in a button bag in my wallet. Alright, perhaps I am lugging round more than I really need, but if I don’t have those, disaster will befall the day.

7) Folding a fitted sheet
There is nothing that makes me feel more like a boss (or a witch) than folding a fitted sheet and storing it in my linen box. Nothing. I can no longer watch someone manhandle a fitted sheet without involving myself.

8) Cleaning things
I like things to be clean, sparkly and germ-free. Like cookery books, when I can’t sleep, I find household craft books to be immensely soothing. Bleach, white vinegar, baking soda, Fairy up liquid, borax (although I have never actually seen borax in real life) – there’s not much they can’t do. Clean your brass with ketchup. Pop a bowl of water and half a lemon in your microwave for a minute and wipe it down. Hairspray to take biro off a wall.

I now have a fairly extensive knowledge for cleaning and maintenance and have been known to clean out the washing machine when I was drunk, because I knew I would be asleep for many hours, so that time might as well have been used productively. The trick is soda crystals and also white vinegar. You’re welcome.

I have no truck with eco-cleaners (sorrynotsorry) because they just don’t work. I heart chemicals and elbow grease. Cif actifiz makes my heart sing. I love a good pair of Marigolds (although Waitrose do a better pair in light blue which is also more pleasing to my aesthetics).

Being in a position to keep my home and possessions in tip top condition makes me feel adult. Also, when my sister called to ask how to clean her non-removable sofa cushions.

Adulting: April Roundup

April finished with some crazy weather – much more than April showers. Let’s take the temperature of my success levels this month…

Good adulting

Delightful living conditions
There are two vacuums in the flat. One is my Vaxx (small, light, short cable, flips upside down all the time) and the other is the Dyson (huge, heavy, far too many buttons and in no way intuitive). In April, I worked out (shout out to Youtube, obviously) how to manoeuvre the beast and give everything a good clean. I also emptied the canisters of both vacuums like a BOSS.

On a separate note, my hair is very long and getting a bit hairbleweedy. Emptying a hair-filled vacuum is horrendous.

Fabulous friend
This month I have tried to be a bit more active with messaging and emailing friends abroad. I’ve been very lucky that some of my gorgeous friends who live in very different timezones have been able to schedule in a phone call (or whatsapp/facebook call. Skyping seems so old fashioned now!).

This month I was in Berlin for work and my brother, who lives there, was unable to meet me for dinner, so I made a bit of an effort to navigate the U-Bahn to see a former trainee of mine and to meet her partner and baby. It was more than worth it. We had such a lovely evening and it was so great to see her as an independent adult and an excellent mum to one of the cutest babies I’ve ever had the good fortune to meet. Adorable! You’re not really supposed to have favourites at work, but I do and she’d one of them. It makes my heart warm to see her do so well and be happy.

Finally, the last Good Friend thing I managed to do was offer to look after a friend and her family when she and one of the kids had the lurgy. To be honest, I just made a veg-filled pasta sauce and brought a Sainsbury’s dessert, so it was the least I could do.

Good husband
Still not married, which is to be expected. Although I did have a gratifying conversation with a very married friend of mine who told me that he expects I will get married eventually as I am “not facially inept” and there are others who are married despite being less so. /In the middle of a rainstorm this made me laugh out loud in the street.

On the positive side, I did decide on the remaining Tinder dates. I was eventually able to let go of a chap who was lovely, but thought he could persuade me to being attracted to him and I decided that the other chap, who does like me but isn’t great at being actively interested in me, wasn’t for me.

Part of the experience is discovering what you want and what you don’t. I am confirming that I still want someone who wants to know about me and that I still do have to be physically attracted to someone to want to be with them. But the up-side is that I’m not still going out with either of these chaps out of a sense of obligation or ah-well-ness.

Brave (braver)
Travelling through Berlin, despite speaking the language, took a good bit of courage. Two lines and some map reading and I managed it. The direction function on Google maps is a godsend.

This month I have also stood my ground at work on a number of occasions, when I could have let it go. I managed to not overly apologise either.

Also, on an internet note, I have mentioned this blog to a handful of people. It feels quite odd to say “I don’t function as an adult, so much so that I’m writing about it” and then know what to say after that.

Healthy Mind & Body
I’m now finished with the dentist for the normal six months. Hurrah! I have no money left, so that’s good. Once I got over myself and calmed down a little, I realise that lying back with the hands of two people and a bunch of tools in my mouth was actually quite relaxing. For twenty minutes I didn’t need to be “on” – my only job was to breathe in and out and not talk. If it weren’t for the various whirring noises and requests to “tap tap”, I could have easily fallen asleep.

The dentist has me afraid of sugar. Or of sugar-provoked acid, at least. I’ve scaled back (in an entirely unmeasurable way) the amount of sugar I have eaten this month. I’ve definitely snacked less and had fruit FOR pudding instead of a precursor to pudding.

Art and culture
This month my mum came to visit and so we scheduled a number of things (busy people can’t argue, is surely the thinking here). Mum is a fabric fiend, so we went to Walthamstow fabric market, a part of town I had never been to, and went into at least ten tiny fabric stores jam packed with colours and textures and sparkles. Obviously we talked to everyone and spent a small fortune on fabric and ribbon.

We also traipsed out to Kew Gardens, which were new to me, despite having lived in Richmond for a year. Shame on me. Unsurprisingly, it was a delight and I am definitely planning on a picnic for the summer. I remembered how much I love cacti, that I’m not fussed about orchids, that flowers that smell are delightful and that badgers and moles still feel very exciting to someone who grew up in the city.

This was a good month for comedy. For someone who is too nervous too often, I sure do book a lot of single tickets for things. First up was Book of Mormon, which was hilarious and catchy and I understand the hype. Second up was a spontaneous ticket to see Rob Beckett at the Leicester Square Theatre. I ended up in the front row and was lucky not to be involved in the audience participation section. This was an evening that was good for my soul. I laughed so hard, everything hurt afterward.

Also, as an aside, Rob Beckett is an absolute sweetheart and shook hands with everyone as they left the theatre outside before taking selfies with anyone who wanted them. What a gent.

Finally, I got a good bit of reading done this month. Wimbledon library had a good stash.

Decidedly relaxed
The last week of April was deliberately blocked out of socialising because I had so much to do at work and knew I was going to be exhausted after travelling, tour guiding my mother and hanging out with nine year old boys. This was very good for me. I busted out some good pajamas and ate even more vegetables and tried to get some sleep. The lack of migraine proved this to be a smart set of moves.

Not such great adulting:

Confident in the kitchen
I’m actually surprised that I have nothing new to report in this category, because I feel that I spend at least 85% of my time shopping for celery and other vegetables, chopping celery or eating celery. Somehow I have  done nothing new at all.

Great hostess
I did some thinking, but not a single pick of doing. Shame on me.

Career plan
No comment.

Finishes projects
Sure didn’t I buy ribbon for another project I haven’t even got time for?