Money, money, money

187862774I’ve been thinking about budgets a lot this week – especially as my roof is leaking like a sieve and the money to fix it seems to be flying out of my bank account even faster than the water has been pouring in.

Writing a budget sounds so easy; you work out what you have coming in, work out what has to go out, take one from the other and hope that you have something that isn’t in minus figures at the end of it. As Dickens’ epitome of financial good intentions Mr Micawber spelt out in his recipe for happiness: “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure, nineteen (pounds) nineteen (shillings) and six (pence), result happiness. Annual expenditure twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and sixpence, result, misery.”

In practice it’s a never ending game of catch up where, round about now, with almost two weeks to go till payday I have to stop myself from wishing the month away. How to get a grip? Especially in November, which, for someone like me, who when I’m not blogging, writing or taking out the bins works as a part-time teacher paid by the hour and hours that vary like the weather. For example November is a bumper month, with no half terms or bank holidays and classes all in full swing. It helps compensate for August, when I don’t teach at all, or September, when classes barely get started before the month is out, and then we hit October, which starts well but then hits half term. But no sooner have things picked up in November than we hit December – just two measly weeks long ­­– before the Christmas holidays kick in.

This kind of working pattern is becoming more and more common and I have noticed that predictable full-time salaries are becoming much rarer as older workers wind down or embrace flexible working and younger ones fight their way in through volunteering, freelancing or taking on zero hour contracts. So it’s no wonder that people are finding it difficult to rely on their bank accounts to be able to cover essential regular bills. Instead, according to a survey by online money managing company thinkmoney, nine million people in this country, roughly one in six of us, are all falling back on old-fashioned budgeting methods like stuffing money into jam jars and envelopes to ensure that we have enough put aside to pay for essentials like gas, electricity, council tax and phone bills.

I’m lucky enough to be able to let my direct debits cover those vital bills but I still find myself ending the month with a couple of predictable but never really budgeted for shockers like after school club, music lessons and the inevitable new football boots/trainers/birthday party. Instead of jam jars I use the online banking equivalent of musical chairs, shuffling money from my current account to my credit card and out again until I manage to keep some money in one place long enough to settle the bill. My mum was much more hands on – though she favoured my dad’s old tobacco tins over jam jars. She saved her empty jam jars for her homemade marmalade and superstition. Every time she broke something she went by the adage that breakages always come in threes – so to beat the jinx she used to go outside and smash two jam jars to complete the trilogy before something precious got smashed. I don’t know if I buy it, but it certainly worked wonders for stress relief.

Whatever the reason it meant that we always had a lot more empty tobacco tins in the house than jam jars, so that’s what she used to stash away money for the milkman, and the paper man in the kitchen table drawer.

Now that I’ve inherited the table, and her klutziness, I’m thinking of reintroducing the reassuring sight of a drawer full of tins stashed with fivers labelled ‘school trips’ ‘after school club’ and ‘dinner money’. Looking round the house though I noticed that three of the kids have already started their own jam jar collection where each of them, with varying degrees of success, has begun saving up. Katy’s, optimistically labelled ‘Katy’s college fund’ contains a 2p coin and a button. Cleo’s is filling up nicely as she stashes up her numerous babysitting gigs towards her summer holiday, and Jack, the fool, is keeping his downstairs, within my easy reach… though I always replace what I ‘borrow’.

Hoarder though I am even I have managed not to keep hold of my dad’s old tobacco tins – after all he died over ten years ago and he gave up smoking when he was about 50. Out of curiosity, and to check that I had remembered the name of the brand correctly, I Googled St Julien tobacco tins – and what do you know – they’re selling for £6.99 each on eBay, slightly more than my mum’s weekly milk and paper bills ran to.

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