Thursday 6 January 2011

VAT in the Age of Austerity

In this age of belt tightening and austere living I have made a resolution to empty my house of excess.  My kitchen cupboards are stocked to overflowing with tins I haven't used.  My fridge is full of jars of sauces only half used.  Shelves are creaking under the weight of unread books and craft projects.  I have picture frames with no pictures in them.  We have too much.

The trouble is I stockpile.  I love a bargain and love to feel like I'm getting a great deal.  Costco is a dream made in heaven.  I buy vast quantities of monster size ketchup and olive oil along with over sized cubes of butter by the dozen frozen for future baking endeavours.  At one point, my husband noted we had 12 loaves of bread in the freezer and that the 4 loaves I had just brought were not going to fit.  I have drawers of fabric, old shirts, and sheets for all those future quilting projects I have yet to start.  At the height of the terrorist alerts when we all thought our water supply would be poisoned I stockpiled bottled water and if there is ever a drought, our garage is well stocked.

I realise this stockpiling habit harks back to my children.  I have a fair bit of anxiety around not having enough.  Or rather having enough and then suddenly, not.  My parents divorced just before my teenage years began.  My cushy private education uniform was replaced with state school wear whatever you want to wear.  I have painfully acute memories of eating generic puffed rice cereal without milk for breakfast and dinner whilst using state supplied pink lunch coupons for a free hot lunch.  Money was tight.

When I went to university I remember thinking to myself that this education was going to be the key to never having to eat puffed rice cereal again.  I picked a career where I would be financially secure and provide for myself and, now, my family.  Of course, something really bad could happen but trust me, my fears have led us to be quite possibly the most over insured household in the northern hemisphere.  It is entirely possible that I have an inflated sense of my self worth.  But I most certainly don't want to run out of anything I might need.

And I am a busy full time working mother of two.  I create weekly menus and make assumptions about the contents of my pantry.  When placing my online grocery orders I tend to order things which are perishable just for that week and buy pantry or freezer items in bulk, particularly if they are on sale, which explains my daughters comment at a dinner party when she politely requested that we eat something other than sausages occasionally.  You see, I had bought 16 packets of sausages on 2 for 1 special but noticing this stockpile I had created a menu that despite being subtly different dishes every day did, however, consist mainly of sausages.  I now only have 2 packets of sausages in the freezer.  And I will never serve sausage more than twice in 1 month.  Unless maybe there is a 3 for 1, just kidding.

The bottom line is I hate running out of things.  I hate getting half way through a recipe only to find out that you have run out of corn flour or baking powder or sugar.  I don't have time to just "pop in" to the supermarket.  I barely have time to pop to the toilet more than once a day.

This economic downturn brings everyone challenges over which I feel I have little control.  Economic growth has stagnated, deficits are huge, taxes have gone up, benefits have gone down, inflation has started to soar.  Our money just doesn't buy as much anymore and this has got me to thinking, do we need all that we have.

Christmas really made our family evaluate this challenge (and my very real fears and anxieties).  We decided to have an electronic fear Christmas.  This meant nothing we bought for each other needed to be charges.  Only 2 things (coin sorters) given to the children by Santa Clause required batteries.  I don't think the children noticed although Sebastian did think he was getting a laptop he has only mentioned it once.

Over the Christmas holiday I made a concerted attempt to not buy more than we would eat and mildly succeeded.  I also tried to get everything down to having just one bottle.  You see I have such a tendency to over buy that I have 2 jars of everything just in case I run out of one which is unlikely since that one has probably lasted me for the last 2 years.  Spices are a common example.  There are 3 jars of mild chili powder and 2 jars of whole cloves.  No one uses that many spices in a year.  This year I used them up....and I didn't buy a replacement.  My new rule is unless the jar is over half empty and I have a plan for using the other half in the next month, it doesn't go on the shopping list.

I am finding a perverse sense of satisfaction now in using things up.  I used one of the 3 (that's right, 3!) jars of dark treacle in my cupboard which is good since one of the other ones apparently exploded from being out of date and had to be cleaned up - what a mess!  I have 1 bottle of maple syrup in the cupboard, down from 4 a couple months ago.  I used it in some Christmas sweet recipes.  I am down to one jar of cloves thanks to some generous lashings in the mulled wine.

There is now some white space in my cupboards.  Sometimes when I open them and see all this empty space I feel light headed and my heart skips a beat.  Feelings of not providing well enough for my children simmer in the back of my mind.  So I start examining every other tin in the cupboard and try to imagine how I might create more white space.  I have 10 tins of chick peas.  Any one have recipe ideas for using vast quantities of chick peas?  I have 6 tins of cream of mushroom soup.  Don't ask......

All of this creates loads more waste than it needs to.  I invariably come across tins with a use by date of July 2006.  The other day I found a half used jar of anchovies with a date of March 2009.  They were not far off becoming fossilized.  I couldn't find the Christmas presents I bought last April to give this December (trying to save time and money) because I clearly put them someplace safe and out of the way and now I can't find them under the weight of everything else.  So I bought new stuff.  Waste!
My commitment to our family's financial future is to use everything we got before buying more, get rid of that which we will never use, store in a sensible manner those things which might be useful and thrifty for the future.  I will certainly bin (or possibly eBay) those lofty scrap booking kits which will never never  ever find a place in my diary to get done (until the children have left for university, I have retired and then I doubt this will be my activity of choice).  I will try try try not to buy any new books until I have read all my unread books (ok, so this is never going to happen but I will at the very least remind myself of the size of the pile).

With a fair bit of luck and a good wind, we will have only what we need.  We will appreciate what we have much more and we'll save the net of the VAT increase over the next year.  Am certain this isn't what the government had in mind when they implement the increase but that'll teach them.  And my home will be tidier and clutter free (maybe not free but less).  Now all I have to do is get my husband to take a shot at the garage.....2012 here we come!

NOTE to non-Brits:  VAT is Value Added Tax and is like sales tax.  This tax increased on 4 January from 17.5% to 20% in an attempt by the government to lower the deficit caused by overspending during the last 10 years.


amanda gibbon said...

Thanks LaDawn, you've inspired me to do the same - check my cupboards first and use up what I have and ask myself if a bargain is a bargain if I don't actually need it! By the way, the VAT has gone from 17.5 upto 20%...

Mark T said...

Hmm i think you meant to say VAT rises from 17.5% to 20% !!!

LaDawn said...

I did mean 17.5 to 20....see, I'm still mourning the lat VAT hike....have made the correction to the blog text.