Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Remembering the Good, Old Poorhouse Days

As I sit in our five-bedroom, three-bathroom, centrally-heated rental house, it feels like a lifetime ago that Peter and I were getting started on our life together in Dublin. Not our 2005 life, where we lived with his parents, but our 1995 life.

In March of 1995, I dropped out of law school and moved to Dublin to live with Peter, even though technically, we hadn't even had a first date yet. My parents, in a mind-boggling act of parental faith and love, gave me their tax refund check to pay for my ticket and living expenses until I found a job.

The first order of business was to find a place to live. We spent two nights in a lovely B&B, which I appreciated but I thought Peter was crazy for picking a place that cost 50 pounds a night when we could have gotten a double-room at a hostel for half that price. Then we spent several nights with a friend who was house-sitting.

The place we finally found was a ground-floor bedsit in a old house where Donnybrook meets Ranelagh. The bedsit was one big room that had the entrance in one corner, a double-bed with a saggy mattress in the next corner, a TV in the third corner, and a kitchen with a tiny fridge, small, sink and 2-burner electric stove/oven in the fourth corner. The other furniture consisted of two semi-comfortable relaxing chairs, which were in front of the TV, and a kitchen table with a couple chairs, which were in front of the drafty picture window. We also had a faux fireplace with an electric space heater.

What's missing in this description? Yep - a bathroom. The entire building (which had to have at least 10 bedsits) shared two bathrooms. The one on the ground floor had a toilet, sink, and giant tub that often harboured small creatures I called UCCs - Unidentified Creepy Crawlys. On the top floor was a toilet and sink in its own room and a shower in a separate room. To get hot water in the shower, you had to insert a twenty-pence coin into a box mounted on the hallway wall.

We were thrilled just to have found a place, especially since it only cost 55 pounds a week. Peter worked two days a week at a computer store and made 30 pounds a week. I soon found a job as a weekend nanny for 50 pounds a week. To say that we were poor would be a massive understatement. A big reason we were able to make ends meet is that Peter's parents did not cut off his allowance, which worked out to about 65 pounds a week.

The other reason we were able to make ends meet was that we became incredibly careful and draconian in our spending habits. I bought our groceries at the cheapest store I could find, even though it meant either a long walk or a bus ride. I used a list and a calculator to make sure I didn't go over our budget. We ate a lot of spaghetti and homemade garlic bread. We counted all of our pence carefully and often had to make decisions like walking instead of taking the bus so that we'd have change to take showers the next day.

It was a simple but happy life and I look back on those days with fondness. In the years since, we've gotten better jobs, earned more money, and been able to afford nice things and have adventurous outings. I still shopped with a list, but not the calculator. And I've never, ever had to use coins to pay for a shower. Our spending habits have relaxed although part of me will probably always be cheap and careful, even if I won the lottery tomorrow.

With all the economic doom and gloom, it's impossible not to feel pressure to rein in the spending, sock away savings, and hope that we have a cushion if things go truly pear-shaped. With that in mind, I've decided to undertake a new endeavour. My new blog Where Does It Go? is a spending diary. It's also becoming my economic conscience, as knowing that I'll have to account for my purchases makes me think twice about what I really need. I probably saved about 30 euro this weekend, just because I made myself think twice about every purchase.


At 13 January 2009 at 10:05, Blogger Aoj and The Lurchers said...

What a good idea! At the moment, I've not been affected by the credit crisis but, like you, I am still reining in my spending and thinking about what it is I'm actually buying...and asking myself do I really need it.

At 13 January 2009 at 14:25, Blogger Kaycie said...

I think the very unhappiest time in my life was a time when my ex was in an exceptionally well paying job and we had a country club membership. Money doesn't buy happiness. I suppose it did make being unhappy a bit easier, though.

I think your new blog is a wonderful idea. I'm going right over to check it out.

At 13 January 2009 at 15:05, Blogger the rotten correspondent said...

I love your idea. Is this something we can all take a peek at? (I'm commenting before I link, obviously!)

Our starting out years were lean as well, and like you I'm finding that I've still stuck to that program. I like spending money as much as the next person, but I like having it in the bank more.

Good for you for being so proactive about this. I really think that's 90% of the battle.

At 13 January 2009 at 17:19, Blogger -Ann said...

AOJ - It's hard. I'm a sucker for books and pyjamas.

Kaycie - So true about money and happiness.

RC - Of course anyone can look at it. I wouldn't be hanging it out in the Internet if I didn't want people to see it. :)

At 13 January 2009 at 22:34, Blogger Rose said...

Cool idea! I tend to be super tight fisted on some things and too splurgy on others (yarn, eating out too often). I might just copy your idea! Thanks for sharing.

At 13 January 2009 at 22:36, Blogger Rose said...

There's something exciting about making it on less I think. We keep our heat lower than most people I work with and we were talking about that today as one option for cutting back on expenses and also feeling like you're "sticking it to the man", if you know what I mean.

At 16 January 2009 at 20:16, Blogger -Ann said...

Rose - I'm the same way about being tight about somethings and spendy on others. Books are my downfall. If it were up to me, we wouldn't turn our heat on until we could see our breath in the house!

At 17 January 2009 at 01:40, Blogger patty said...

i envy the fact that you live in Ireland,that would be my dream!

At 17 January 2009 at 18:41, Blogger Babaloo said...

Just back from Donegal and checking in on everyone. Love your description of your first bedsit.
And I'm looking forward to your new blog, will check it out in a moment. I'm quite good at being thrifty myself. Once I start thinking about what I spend money on, a process sets in that makes me reconsider a lot of purchases - and safe quite a bit.

At 22 January 2009 at 14:24, Blogger Dave P. said...

Great post, Ann. We, too, are reevaluating our spending, even though we're doing better financially than ever before. We're getting rid of cable -- about $50/month, and we rarely watch it -- and trying to figure out how to cut down on other unnecessary expenses. My job is safe, and hopefully Amy's is for the near future, but the economy is so bad and is only going to get worse.


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