Self Hope For The Helpless !

Celebrations On A Budget

Money is in short supply these days and children always want the best. Its a little like being better than the Jones' down the road - they get a new car, you have to get a better one. "Janey" in your childs class has an ice skating party at the local rink and its out of this world, with a disco and food afterwards. Your child wants to go one better - what do you do?

Well you call the ice rink and find out the cost - nearly £200 - you have a budget of £75. You are not going to be able to do that. On top of the cost of the party, there is fuel, entrance for the adults etc. It isn't cheap. So what do you do with your £75 ?

There is the option - especially with a summer birthday - of a barbecue in your back garden, with music and a bouncy castle. The bouncy castle is your biggest expense, at around £30 to £40 to hire for the day. With the rest of your money, you can buy sufficient food to feed 10-20 friends and have enough left for a better birthday cake than "Janey" had! You could also purchase a pinata, and cheap toys and sweets for party bags at the end - there are enough bargain shops around to do this and buy a cheap prize for pass the parcel or musical statues. You can play these games and more at your child's party. If your child is in their teens then you could make it a garden disco. Music is supplied by you and your CD collection. Not only will your child enjoy having more friends than "Janey" and a selection of music that they all love, their party will be remembered by more children. It will be a massive success.

There are other options of course. If your child's birthday is at a less clement time of year, then you could have a sleep over. 4 or 5 of your child's friends arrive mid afternoon with their quilts and pillows. They play until its time for party food. You have already got them a DVD to watch (it could even be one that they have had as a birthday gift - thus saving money). You order in a take away - burgers, pizza, chinese, indian, whatever. They get changed into their PJ's and settle down with their DVD and food, and you leave them to it. At the end of the film its time for cake and candles, with a chorus of "Happy Birthday" - you take this opportunity to check on what they have been up to, and to give them lights out time. This is a great way for children to bond with their friends and form long lasting friendships - especially girls. With this type of party though you must be prepared for noise, maybe mess, and also a late night for you and the children (they will stay up telling spooky stories, giggling, and messing around). The morning after, you assess the night and if any cleaning up is to be done, then they do it as a team, before they leave. I can guarantee, not only will your child really appreciate you doing this for them, it will help them with their relationships with their friends, and have them all talking for weeks at school.

The final option I am going to discuss, for a budget party is an entertainer in your home - be it a clown, an animal man (somebody who will bring along a bunch of animals to entertain and educate), a magician etc. These guys are relatively cheap at around £50 and will entertain for an hour to an hour and a half. You can lay on some party food for before or after, and maybe ask the entertainer at the end of his act or midway through to lead the chorus of "Happy Birthday". Your kids that then play party games or dance to music until your party ends, each of them leaving with party bags of course! This sort of party may suit children under 11 better.

These 3 options can all easily be done for around £75 and will be less stressful for you, more fun for your child and more memorable for their friends. Doing something different, is always better than doing the same but bigger. Different sticks in the memory because it is a change and more fun. So make your child's party different and save yourself some cash!!

(C) Copyright Dale Preece-Kelly July 2010

Brand New, Budget or Bargain

I have had brand new cars, I have had budget medium priced cars, and I have had low priced bargain cars. In this article I aim to give you my experiences of all three, in order to allow you to make an informed choice for your next vehicle.

Brand new cars - they look, smell and feel beautiful. The sales guys are paid to make them affordable to you in one way or another, by hook or by crook and you feel like you cannot say no! So are there any advantages to owning a brand new car? There are, but they are few : nobody else has driven the car ; it looks, smells and feels awesome - it's your pride and joy, you are King ; you have no worries about maintenance costs (or do you?). The disadvantages, I think out weigh the advantages : costs are high AND frequent - with a new car, it MUST be serviced by a dealer in order to keep it under warranty - you cannot service it yourself or take it to Fred's Garage down the road and due to the frequency of the initial services, and costs, the first 12 months of owning a new vehicle is very costly. The other disadvantage is that the minute you drive off the forecourt, your vehicle loses £2000-£3000 immediately, so in effect you have wasted that money!

So is it worth owning a vehicle over 12 months old ? I doubt it - given the warranty length on modern vehicles (some extending over 5 years) the vehicle will still need to be serviced by an authorised dealer in order to maintain the service manual and thus the warranty. On the plus side, purchasing a vehicle over 12 months old will see you saving the £2000-£3000 that the car lost in value the moment that the key was turned! So if you want a new car - buy one that is 12 months old and save yourself some money.

Budget cars - these are cars that have gone past the end of their warranty, and are still in good condition for their age. They may still be fairly new, say less than 10 years old, and look good with lots of additional equipment. These cars will cost you around half of the "as new" price and be a bargain at that. There are many publications which advise on the price you should pay for a used car in this kind of condition.

When buying one of these cars, you must look for as much information as possible. Number of owners, a full service history, a wad of receipts for any work completed, age and mileage (the lower the mileage the better). A lot of car rescue organisations will do a vehicle inspection, for a small fee, and it is well worth investing in. I know a person who found one such vehicle, fell in love, left a deposit, and when the vehicle inspection was completed they were told "I'm surprised you survived the test drive!" The inspector gave a list of things that were wrong with the vehicle, that would have it condemned as scrap and a death trap - the vehicle was dangerous! Some sellers will give a warranty of 6-12months with a vehicle of this type. If you are going to buy one, do not say "yes" until you have seen all documentation and had the vehicle inspected by a third party.

Bargain cars - this covers anything under £1000. Older than 10 years, higher than average mileage, little or no documentation. These vehicles have been around for so long that the documentation has been misplaced at some point, servicing has fallen into the hands of Fred's Garage, and the cleanliness of the vehicle has probably not been that well maintained. Sounds bad? But if you can not afford that much, then you do not have too much choice. Although the vehicle is not as nice as a brand new or budget item, the bargain item is cheap to buy, cheap to maintain and almost disposable - it could be replaced fairly easily should it break, by another equally placed vehicle.

On the down side, these vehicles are less eco friendly, more likely to break down, less of a pride and joy and more of an embarrassment. If these things don't bother you then a bargain car is good. As you get more disposable income then you can move up to the budget car.

Personally - I drive a bargain car. We had a new car, which was 5 years old when it started to go wrong. We traded it in for two budget cars - my wife had a sports car and I had a family saloon. My car broke down - a major problem with the turbo (this break would cost more to fix than the value of the car), swiftly followed by my wife's car! My car was scrapped, and my wife was lucky enough to find a direct swap for hers. A month later however, my wife's newest car broke again, leaving her stranded on the motorway - this car too had to be scrapped.

We do not have money to burn and consequently had just scrap value to find new cars with. We therefore now both drive bargain cars. We are more than happy with them. Cosmetically they are not fantastic, mechanically they are not perfect, but none the less, very usable. My car will actually run on eco friendly bio-diesel, although this is not readily available to buy, so we have to add vegetable oil to the fuel and this makes my car smell like a Harry Ramsden's!

I can carry the whole family, luggage and dog in my car, and it does a very pleasing 50 miles to the gallon - it is used as the family car, dad's taxi, wife's chauffeur etc. My wife can only drive an automatic, which made life a little harder as they aren't so readily available in the UK bargain car market!! We did find one, however it is a large engined thirsty beast as you would expect and is used mainly by wife for work, school runs and shopping trips alone.

Just goes to show though, what you can do for your money. We spent £500 on two bargain cars which are each around 15 years old, and have both given us (so far) 6 months trouble free motoring each. The budget cars cost us around £6000 and gave us 3 months motoring between the three of them and not all of that was trouble free!!!! So out of the three, I would choose bargain cars - although they are harder to find initially, they are easier to replace should anything happen, and your financial loss is minimal, compared to the other two options.

(C) Copyright Dale Preece-Kelly July 2010

A Tale Of Two Fuels

Your vehicle is a special thing, it gets you to work and to visit friends and relatives. It takes you and friends out for the night, and takes you to wonderful places with your family. A vehicle is a very precious thing. How would you feel if you thought you had turned that vehicle into an unusable wreck ? Here's my story.

We went to visit my in-laws in Suffolk at the weekend. We had a great time, but were only staying for one night - I had a business meeting with my father-in-law. Myself, my wife and our 3 children all went (along with the family dog)of school for a day, and they were very excited to be seeing their grandparents.

We left at 8pm on Monday night, for the 3 hour - 150 mile - journey home. The children would sleep in the car on the way back and we would carry them to their beds. About a mile from my in-law's house, I stopped and fuelled for the journey, my wife bought snacks for the children, and we set off smiling and happy. About two miles further down the road, I felt the car struggling a little - it was jerking and struggling a little with hills. My car is only worth £200 and is a 13 year old Citroen ZX Diesel Estate.

A couple of miles further down the road, I said to my wife "I don't like the feel of this." "No, I was thinking that," was he reply. We continued, cautiously up the road, saying nothing. As we got further into our journey (about another 10 miles), I noticed that the car had started to smoke from the exhaust in addition to it's lack of power and jerkiness. What was happening ? To adult insult to injury, I was required to be at an acting job at 7:45 the following day - I needed to get home without having to wait 3 hours to be recovered and then 3 hours to be towed home. I was worried.

I pulled over at the next service station, and pondered - what was wrong with my car ? I lifted the bonnet, and looked at the engine - I know nothing about car engines, I know the principles, but I'm certainly no mechanic! I checked th oil level - fine. I tentatively removed the cap for the radiator filler reservoir and noticed a shortage of water. I filled it to its max level using water i kept in the car. As I did this, a light came on in my head - when I had refuelled earlier I had put in 17 litres of unleaded fuel NOT disel! I lookd at my wife and told her, and she giggled! We found it amusing at first, but then my heart sank - what was I going to do ? I called the rescue service, who told me it was too late and my engine had suffered irreversible damage - I needed to get it syphoned out and replaced at a cost of £205! Moe than I could afford and more than the car was worth! I texted friends who might know the answer and they said the same. The services I was stopped at gave me the number of another local rescue company, I called them and they wanted £300! So I called my father in law, and asked him to search the internet for answers.

He found a blog, detailing other people's experiences with the same problem. A lot of the blogs said the same thing as the rescue service, but a few people had tried filling the tank to the brim with diesel fuel and running it. Given the value of the car, versus the cost of repair, I figured this was worth a chance. I spoke to my wife, and we agreed we needed to get home. So I set about filling the tank to the brim with diesel, we were going to chance it. The ratio of fuel in the tank was around 70% diesel to 30% unleaded. We let the car run for 5 minutes before setting off, deciding to keep the revs low and the speed to a maximum of 50 miles pr hour.

Off we went to continue our journey after an hour and ä half. Taking things slowly and gently, and talking as our children and dog slept in the back of the car. Constantly worrying about the car breaking down and not getting home. I kept checking the rear view mirrors for smoke and listening for engine noise that would tell me something was breaking. Nothing, the car was actually running very smoothly ! 25 miles and still we were ok, another 50 miles and the car was still running well. I pulled into the motorway services and topped the tank back up to the brim.

We continued slowly, and eventually arrived home at half past midnight. The car was well even though the journey had been long. The children went straight to bed after their adventure. We sighed and smiled as we walked upstairs to bed relieved the journey was over, with a positive result! I was just hoping it would be alright the next day to get me to my acting job.

Summing up, it appears that you can get away with putting the incorrect fuel type into your diesel car, by making sure the mixture is at most 30:70. With older diesel engines, you can even get away with driving your car a SHORT distance. My car appears to have suffered no ill effects, engine wise - after 130 miles there were no untoward engine noises or car movements. I had a lucky escape, and will surely suffer years of comments about my mistakes, but at least we got home safe and sound and the care is still alive.

If this happens to you, take a look at the cost versus the benefit, and give it a go, mix the two. I wouldn't recommend it to you if you have a long journey to make, but weigh up the situation. In closing, an interesting fact that my father in law dug up - in cold weather long distance lorry drivers DELIBERATELY mix the two in order to thin their diesel out, just proving that it can be done safely even though it may reduce the life of your fuel lines and fuel pump.

(C) Copyright Dale Preece-Kelly June 2010

Running Out Of Cash

Bankruptcy is a horrible word, a horrible thought, a horrible experience. It's demeaning and embarrassing and humbling. One thing for sure though, it teaches you a hell of a life lesson.

I've written articles about my life, and those who have read my articles will have heard about the amazing last 4 or 5 years in it - the last two since I met my wife being the best of all, ever. For about two years prior to meeting my wife, however, life sucked!

It all started with a motorcycle accident around 4 years ago. I hit a wall and broke both of my arms, snapping my thumb off beneath the flesh, breaking the wrist above it, and then fracturing both bones in my forearm on the other arm. I had an operation to re attach the bones of my thumb, and ended up with both arms in plaster for 10 weeks. I was walking around looking like the Jolly Roger!

Thanks to my injuries, I lost my job as a factory manager towards the end of my rehabilitation period. I decided it was time to opt out of the rat race and go it alone, and set about the course of becoming a driving instructor. To fund my new training, I got a temporary position as a factory operator on shifts. Hated every minute of it, but I was happy in the knowledge that it was just a stop gap in my life, and I would soon be making £30-£40k as the advertisements would have us believe.

Prior to my accident, I had credit cards, and they were stacking up with balances in the thousands. In my position then, I could afford to pay the monthly installments. On top of this there was the mortgage and other regular household bills which my monthly wage and my ex girlfriends monthly wage took care of, and still left some spare for other things. All of a sudden all of that disposable income was gone! Only on basic pay during my sickness and then minimum wage in my new job, it was a struggle to make the mortgage never mind anything else.

I got my trainee instructors license and began instructing new drivers. I enjoyed it despite the hours I had to work 7 days a week. I enjoyed the interaction with other human beings and had fun doing it. It started bringing in a little cash, but not much at first as it was slow to start up - the same with any new business, you have to establish yourself. Payments were still being defaulted on and awkward phone calls had to be answered, not to mention the awkward questions that came after answering. Bankruptcy was a last resort, and seemed like a dirty word - it was ultimate failure. How had I come to this?

Eventually, the financial situation took its toll on my relationship and that ended too. Left on my own in a home I could not afford to pay for, let alone heat or do anything else with, I was at my wits end. As my relationship ended, my final instructor test was due, and rather predictably I failed and had to hand in my licence. I now had no money coming in at all other than what the state were paying me. Where did I turn ?

The Citizen's Advice Bureau is where I got all of my help - they helped me make a list of ALL of my debts - that was such a scary thing to face up to - with everything I owed in the way of defaulted household bills, credit cards, mortgage, bank charges etc I had almost £150,000 worth of debt. How crazy is that ? And how had it happened ? Quite simply, just like everybody else in the world, I had lived by my means, and unfortunately circumstances changed due to my accident and BANG it was all gone and I had no way of maintaining my lifestyle. I was a victim of my own success.

The CAB then advised on what I could do. The first thing is to offer something - anything - to your debtors, and I started by paying £1 per month to each of them. This holds off County Court Judgements for a while and stops the horrible phone calls, giving you chance to breathe and time to come up with a plan. My plan was to get a decent job and work my way through it. Unfortunately due to the climate in our country and due to the "holes" employers could see in my cv, I was doomed from the start. The only way back for me was to start from the bottom and get back up.

This is what I did - my luck changed, and I got a job -but not before my house was repossessed and I became homeless, eventually moving to a property that accepted those on benefits. It was only a temporary job on minimum wage, but a job I enjoyed, and it allowed me to continue the £1 payments and keep my debtors at bay, at the same time as paying the bills for my new home. Then I met my wife - one of the first things I told her on the night we met, was about my financial situation and impending bankruptcy, and it didn't scare her away! She just smiled and said "So?" I knew we were onto a winner - the mutual attraction was there AND she was a wonderful person, open to other people's problems and not scared away easily.

4 months after meeting my wife, I was declared bankrupt. This goes on my financial record and credit score for 6 years. I was absolved of all of my financial responsibilities up to that date, and it was a massive weight off my shoulders and a wonderful feeling. I could start afresh. Despite the stigma attached to bankruptcy - if you are in a financial situation and there is no way out, then it is the best thing to do. Your true friends will stay true and your family will stick by you. Anybody new you meet, you can tell if you want to - I wear my heart on my sleeve and therefore am open with people, but that's up to you.

After 6 months my bankruptcy was lifted, but although this has happened, you still cannot get a loan or mortgage, or even a bank account. It was 12 months after the bankruptcy was lifted before I was allowed to hold another bank account, but I have one now and it feels so good. I have financial independence again at last (after 12 months of using an account in my wife's name to receive wages and pay bills). My financial life is building again - I have a job and am starting my own business too, so it's all good. My wife and I are talking about getting a mortgage in 5 years, once I am entitled and we are on our feet so that we have the stability of owning our own place. Its the last thing on our list for the perfect life (oh, we need to win the lottery too :).

All in all I have learnt from this experience, never to trust banks or debtors. None of them understand or will give you a break. They give you time, but only because their codes of conduct and the laws dictate that, but in the calls you can hear the undertones. I will never own another credit card, or take out a loan if I can help it (if its not in the bank then I can't have it - is my new creed), and I am sceptical about mortgages but I am willing to give it one last go!

So if you find yourself in a similar situation to me, then bite the bullet and take the bankruptcy option - I wish I'd done so 6 months earlier, it would have saved me so much stress and heartache and I would have been discharged 6 months earlier etc. The CAB did advise this as the best option, but I was scared and therefore delayed the inevitable. Nothing to be scared of though. It was one meeting in a courtroom with just me and a judge - a very pleasant guy, who was most respectful and dealt with the matter like it was no big deal. Made me feel okay about it. This was followed by a few phone calls from the person dealing with the bankruptcy, just to sort a few things out - once that was done I was left to my own devices until I received the letter saying I had been discharged.

Now, I'm free!!

(C) Copyright Dale Preece-Kelly June 2010