Monday, January 21, 2008


I have a lot of thoughts on money and the cost of food but I have to admit I've been very careless about prices for a long time now. When I lived in Germany after college I knew the price of everything I bought in every supermarket. I didn't just go to one supermarket - I went to five, which one depending on what I was looking for. That was also my first time living in my own flat but following my first experience of cooking for myself the previous year during a semester abroad, I felt confident enough to move on from Ragu to making my own bolognese sauce (I started by still buying Ragu and adding tins of tomatoes and gradually worked up to doing it all myself) and even real cheese and bread instead of easi singles and that horrible long life toast bread. I only had two rings for cooking and no oven so my diet was pretty basic - potatoes, pasta, bread, cheese, sausage, eggs, milk and cereals, fruit sometimes and an occasional piece of meat although it tended to be mince or something frozen (usually chicken) which could be fried. That was the period when I was closer than I've ever been to a normal weight although my cholesterol went through the roof so I had to learn to buy pasta made without eggs and so on and so forth.

When I came home in '97 I moved in with my oldest sister as it was an easier commute to work than from home. The idea was that I'd spend a month living with her and then find my own place but as my dad got sick I ended up staying for seven months. Had a great time though as my dinner would be more or less ready on the table every evening when I got home and she'd even make me sandwiches for lunch when she was making her kids' and husband's lunches. So, no need to go food shopping.

After that, even when I moved into my own place I somehow never got into the habit I'd had in Germany of checking and knowing the prices of everything in the supermarket. I was working in my first real job at the time so even though I wasn't being paid a lot it was way more than I'd ever had before so I just bought whatever I felt like. Of course, I couldn't really afford to do that so eventually a few years later I ended up with a huge credit card bill, got a loan to pay that off, ran the card up again, needed a bigger loan to clear all that. I feel so stupid now that I let it happen but at least I'm somewhat under control now and am slowly but surely paying my loan (yes, I do still have a credit card but it has a very small limit and, except for my wobble back in October/November it is paid off in full every month). I was reminded during last week of some financial advice I read once. It was during my first real job, working for a US I.T. company and they used to send short emails around every few months with different tips for managing your finances. Of course, at 22 most of it seemed irrelevant to me, who cares about pensions and mortgages! Other than joining the mandatory pension scheme when I was 23 I didn't really think any of it applied to me. This particular bit I remember though said that you should always aim to have six months salary in savings, to get you through any rough spots in case you might not be able to work. At the time I thought this was crazy - such a lot of money, as far as I was concerned a rainy day fund didn't have more than a couple of hundred pounds in it (and rainy days meant you needed something to wear for the weekend, not that you didn't have a job). It was still close to the start of Ireland's economic boom and as I'm not a diva when it comes to work (I have a not too proud to clean toilets if that's what going to pay me attitude) I couldn't imagine a situation where I wouldn't be able to find work. And this from someone who grew up in the '80s in Ireland, hearing nothing but more redundancies and the percentage of people on the dole going up and up all the time.

Enough of that, where was I? I'm sure I had a point. Oh, yes, savings. Well, I don't have six months worth of salary in savings at the moment but my loan is down to about six months worth of salary (gross that is, still more like ten months worth of take home pay) which is some progress at least. At this stage of my life though I'm far more aware of the need to have some savings to fall back on if necessary so it's hard to keep moving on paying my debt and not feel under pressure to be saving more. I will need money to move to Germany and so everything extra I can get will have to start being put away for that. I've done a fair bit of overtime this month so when I get paid that will need to go straight into a savings account.

This week my budget had a boost when someone who owed me €40 gave it back to me. I used that for my shopping at the market, will post list separately and also bought some honey from the health food shop - it's difficult to find Irish honey anywhere else. I've stayed pretty well on track this month budgetwise (even paying for new car battery without using money from my car savings) and although it's 21 January I still have money in the bank. Practically unheard of for this time of year. I need to help this budgeting along by making sure I'm fully aware of the price of everything all the time - I've become one of those sad people who aren't entirely sure how much a litre of milk costs. So that's my aim for the next while, not just to stick to my budget because when I've spent x amount I've nothing left but to be able to have a good idea before I go shopping what I'll get for the x amount I have with me.

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